This morning was a perfect wake up. Nobody else was out of bed and it was perfectly quiet. After gusting winds over the last two days, there was barely a breeze and the ocean looked to be perfectly still. Gradually, the sounds of life began, first as a simple conversation with my wife, then with the pounding rubber of joggers out for a run and the whir of bike tires as Schwinn’s sped by. Before long a surveyor’s measuring tape was plotting a lot for new construction. The day had started. The quiet was gone. So it is with people.
Back when I first moved to Williamsburg (VA not NY), my father was a policeman. Right around the time he started the job, William and Mary was hosting a concert of the renowned band, The Grateful Dead. Keep in mind that this was somewhere around 1974-75 and the love happy Sixties had given way to the reckless Seventies. As far as my father was concerned, The Grateful Dead were the most degenerate dudes around. He still tells a story about that Jerry guy that I’ll let rest with Mr. Garcia and allow to linger in my father’s mind. Because of my father’s visceral feelings about the haze-inducing jam band, I was forced to learn about the Dead on the sly. I knew the popular songs, but as far as being a Dead Head, I was nothing close. I was a casual fan.
I don’t remember the band ever playing William and Mary again, but they made their way to Hampton from time to time. For some reason, I never went. Let’s call it respect for my father. Maybe it was fear, but I never did make it to a concert. Years passed, I did what I thought grown ups did…got married… and then did what about fifty percent of grown-ups do, got divorced. I spent a few years solo and capped it off with a jaunt to Bonnaroo. Rat Dog was playing with Bob Weir and I bailed on that show for some other side stage band. I’m not sure why I blew that show-off, but by then, I had started to appreciate the Dead more. Many of the people that I ran around with in those single years were versed in the ways of the band and I started to take an interest actually paying attention to the Grateful Dead.
My son and daughter developed an interest in the Dead and I became more interested in the band at my kids’ insistence. I’m still no expert in the Dead’s history, but I won a gentleman’s wager with my brother in law about the past memberships in other bands of Bob Weir. Still, though, I had never seen the band in person. Not with Jerry Garcia, not with Bruce Hornsby, and certainly not with John Mayer.
That all changed this past Sunday… Sorry, Dad… I had a mostly good time.
First, a little background. Since I teach and have summer’s off, each summer with my step children has had a theme. Painting, reading, math, naps, the Y, and camp have all been themes of our summers. They are a little older now, so I made my own theme this summer and I called it the Phish summer. While working on a school project last week, the first day of summer vacation, I put Phish on Pandora and got lost in the music. While driving, Jam Nation was on the radio and Phish helped me pass the miles. The summer of Phish and by proximity in terms of musical flavor, the Grateful Dead, was born.
My kids had been holding tickets for the show in Camden for many weeks. On Sunday morning, I decided to buy a ticket last minute and then surprise them at the BB&T. Everything went according to plan, although parking was a bit of a hassle. Twenty-seven dollars for a cheeseburger and beer is an abomination…thanks, GUY, you should rethink your branding and gouging strategy. Love your TV show…
The night was perfect, not hot, not humid, sunny and breezy. There was a weirdness about being at the show, but I was totally open to the night. People were walking around with their big blankets, their super expensive margaritas, and an impatience for some whacky tobacky that I’m pretty sure most had already taken in. We got settled on the main vertical path on the lawn which looked like a fairway on the PGA where they let the spectators cross, no grass. Finally, the show started and I was blown away.
An older guy than me jumped to his feet, hit the dirt track, and began some sort of Grateful Dead inspired Tai Chi. He moved through the different movements in time with the music and on several occasions nearly morphed into a break dancer in tie dye. He was in a trance and stole all of the attention of those of us sitting under the blue #3 as opposed to the BIG #3 on the wall. The amazing thing about this guy was that he captivated the crowd more that than tattooed blondie next to him. Her curvaceous sway held no dominion over the scintillating blur that was the Dali dancer. He foretold of the weirdness that would come.
I made a decision that was based on large part finances and hopefully, a larger part, maturity, that I was going to enjoy this show in the comforts of sobriety. The notes were crisper, the songs fresh, John Mayer was awesome, and I was able to take in the freak show that was spinning around me with a fertile infatuation. I became so involved in what was happening that I could feel the music and watch everything going on in my little Dead world with razor sharp precision. There was one woman who was bitching the whole time. There was one guy who was the drug dealer for his group. There were easily fifteen bull ring nose piercings, countless shoes without a match, and one father who was getting ready to be dragged back into reality.
The details of family drama don’t amount to anything good when they are spilled in a modest blog, but let’s just say that I used my belief in independence and people taking charge of themselves to make the greatest dad proclamation ever, “I don’t give a %#!k, you guys figure it out.” As adults, I counted on my children to solve their problem before the intermission was over. I had arrived alone and thought that since I live in the opposite direction of my children, that I would be going home alone as well. More on that later, but I was left to solve the problem due to my stately presence, I suppose, and just as the sun when down, the sky lit up.
Within the crowd, it was almost as if a swarm of lightning bugs had taken flight. I never knew so many people had prescriptions to medicinal marijuana, but for some strange reason, they were all convalescing on the lawn under that relaxing tunes of The Grateful Dead. The lady in front of me who had been herking and jerking through spasms remembered from her days at Studio 54 offered me a hit on her joint. I passed, not my thing. The drug dealer guy partook and then offered her some of his. It looked to be more than just organic and she wisely went Nancy Reagan and said, “No.”
About this time, the Dead went into a drum thing. There are songs that will stop me and have me doing nothing. Star Witness by Neko Case and Brother’s in Arms by Dire Straits are a couple. During the drum thing, I totally forgot where I was. Awe is about all I can say. There was no more watching the mind-altered zombies walking around. I couldn’t hear the people on their phones yelling, “I can’t see you!” As Russ Coale said in True Detective, “I was mainlining truths from the universe.” I’m not kidding, everything kind of stopped for me in the moment. I was glad to be there, to have been abject in the sibling drama, to be seeing the Dead for the first time without any guilt for betraying my father.
Melodramatic? Perhaps. That was my moment, though. The over priced ticket, the bloodsucking parking, the cardboard burger with image-busting impact, and even the family drama went away in that ten or fifteen minutes. We left soon after, to beat the traffic. Enlightened, I noticed a group of people outside the fence dancing. It was something right out of a Kubrick film, sort scary, sort of pity-inducing, but overall really cool. These folks came for the music, not the show, not the wallet-draining treats, just the music. Thinking of them, and really the whole night, made the drive to take my son home cool. I didn’t leave my daughter there. She left with her friend at the intermission. (Drama inducing…)
In fact, the calm allowed me to rationally handle traffic on I-76. It gave me the courage to say, “I don’t think so” when the GPS tried to send me back to the I-76 quagmire. Nearly three hours after leaving Camden, I was home. Normally, it would have taken me about fifty minutes to get home, but the construction and jaunt to Amish country tacked on a few extra minutes. I never knew those guys drove in the dark. So many reflectors… In the wee hours, my dog and I settled in on the couch and that was it for my first (and probably only) Dead and Company show.
I know I’m not as experienced as some, but this did everything nature needed it to do for me.
During the school year
I attend meetings to learn more
About being a better teacher
All so I can flex out
Of an in-service day in May.
The sun is shining,
The air is heavy, and
There is one last baseball game to be played.
Honestly, it feels like Williamsburg
Way back in the eighties.
After months of coaching and
Trying to balance
A life of many directions
This is the week to get back
A morning run on an indoor track
Is nothing like the trails
At York River State Park
Or the perfumed pavement
Of DOG Street, but those memories still inspire.
Coincidently, the Eagles are playing
One of the soundtracks associated
With living on Longhill Road,
Before streaming music and
Way before the vinyl revival.
The Long Run.
Williamsburg has been in my dreams,
Two nights in a row
I found myself wading in the creek behind Lafayette
Part scientist, part hunter, and
So appreciative of the natural beauty in those woods.
What of this drive to exercise or
Relive whatever it is Wet Biology is suggesting?
I could be traveling the world
Like my old friend who seems to be around San Antonio right now,
But I think the life vibe is just telling me to get going.
Off-work work days do something to the mind.
They let thoughts run free
Giving a break to the weary way of the grind.
Funny how a soul finds comfort
In the familiar.
Exercise. Home. Fresh Starts.
Photo Credit: Google Images
From the journal of Carter Hamorton…
In its archaic sense, husbandry means to care for the house. At one time, I suppose that meant tacking down shingles and keeping raiding bands of marauders from pillaging the homestead, but it sure means something different today. We are a breed that has been domesticated to the point where social manipulation has removed every reason for our existence from being. It’s a wonder women keep us around at all. From what I hear, there is a lot of discussion by women about the ways husbands from all over the place fail to measure up to whatever standard there is for them. In fairness, there is probably and an equal amount of comradery built over a beer and venting of the idiosyncratic ways of wives. Maybe that is why we are so necessary to each other, but I do question if husbands are going the way of the arctic shelf.
Those are the thoughts that run through my head when I’m driving. I get behind the wheel and have some music playing too loudly and my mind starts passing the time. Perhaps driving has become so comfortable in my big rig that I’m not really too concerned with what’s going on around me. I don’t have to shift gears and there is some kind of buzzer or vibration that will remind me of danger, should it come my way. If only the car makers could invent something to keep the deer off the road. Such is driving…
Only this time my wandering mind was tripping during a basketball game. I was sitting in a crowd who was there to catch a holiday high school matinee that featured two evenly matched teams. I was there with my notebook and phone. The notebook, old school, is useful for jotting notes. Sometimes, I prefer to write instead of typing notes into the phone. My phone was there to let a friend know the score of the game because he is too proud to step into the lavish gymnasium where the game was being played. He is city and blue collar. The school is country and full of gentleman farmers, mostly horse people. Truth be told, most of the money probably isn’t with the farms, but more with the financial management types that have moved into the far reaches of the county.
Anyway, there I was at the game minding my own business and taking stock of the crowd. My hometown was represented to the left. To my right were the teams who were waiting to play the third game of the tournament. I was nestled into a peaceful plot of my own with no one to talk to. It was wonderful. The game was tight, but in the end, one team pulled away much like a Sixers game. Small mistakes piled up for the home team and in the end, the guys could not make up for what they had done wrong. A perfect life lesson…
As the end became less in doubt, the crowd began to change for the next game. A father, who was being dragged along by three elementary school aged children, corralled them into a small space several rows below me. He held their snacks and did his best to dole them out while his urchins jumped, stomped, pushed, and struggled to keep the Ring Pops from turning the bleachers purple. He looked tired in his “Life Is Good” t-shirt. His jeans had gone about as far as they could go and his facial hair was bordering on beard length. There was definitely too much growth for a razor. He would need clippers to trim that hedge down.
I thought how nice it was for him to take the kids to the game and let his wife have some quiet time. Modern day husbandry is more about not being around as much as it is to protect the family and the property. Good husbands know when to get out. I’m guessing this has been the idea for hundreds of years and the most concrete reason I can come up with for that is golf.
The frustration on the father’s face was growing. He became more insistent in his orders. He grabbed the dancing son and stuck him to a spot next to him. He threw the Ring Pop away. Father brought them to the game and they were going to watch the game. Little did I know that his frustration was not just about the kids. In came his wife with her friend. They were dolled up in suburban glam, knee high boots, tight jeans, bangs, and fancy bags. Their makeup was too much for a high school game, but enough to throw the scent off of whatever they were trying to hide.
He looked to his love with an expression pleading for help, because after all, he had asked her to go to the game with them before she got the bright idea to come with her friend. For the record, her friend’s husband wanted nothing to do with the game and since this December day was in the sixties, he went golfing. The husband with three organic anchors sitting next to him in the prime basketball watching seats near the floor, got the following response from the women he loves, “Oh dear, let’s go up here with Duerson family.”
I did a quick peek behind me to see more kids and a similarly QVC styled mom getting up to do the cheek to cheek kissing thing. I turned back to the husband just in time to see him mumble something about having something shoved into a nether region. I assumed this was not a pleasant thought for him, yet he rose and gathered all of the food and coats. He walked up the steps as if heading to the gallows or having been lambasted for something in the bathroom, be it hair, smell, or amount of time under the soothing waters really doesn’t matter. He looked my way and shook his head. I nodded back and gave the “I feel you brother” grimace.
About that time I heard, “Excuse me.” To my right stood another pair of boots and jeans, but this time, no bangs. This hair was straightened to the very edge of it’s potential and if there is a thing called country gothic, this woman had it. She was horse elite and Vampira all in one. She kept walking and instinctively I looked to my right, away from her, to see who was with her. Not surprisingly, I saw a gentleman who was older than me with the beginnings of a combover dressed in a suit that was vintage Miami Vice. His threads were not old, quite the contrary. He had the loafers, no socks, and the thin jacket. The difference was that he also had a fancy scarf. I felt underdressed in his presence. My jeans, running shoes, and an unused golf shirt don’t reflect much of a fashion style, only a need to be comfortable.
“I don’t know where my wife’s going,” he said. He was breathing hard and seemed noticeably older than his wife.
I looked back to her direction and she was already in the other section of the bleachers and taking off her coat. Their age difference was not as great as my initial observation as it became obvious of the additions and subtractions that the doctors had provided her. Of course, there was the possibility that she was a vampire and had been around for eternity. Perhaps this is why her husband was short of breath. Maybe she had been draining him of blood.
I replied, “She didn’t make it easy for you.”
He said, “She never effing does.”
With that, he puffed along in his loafers. Once there, he sat next to his wife, pulled out a comb, straightened the thinness above, and committed himself to staying awake as long as possible. He was at that age when an afternoon nap has the same power that the mythical cool breeze had in his youth. Only this time, his head bows down in sleep instead of standing at attention.
I couldn’t help but think these two guys were perfect examples of the dwindling importance of men. They were dogs to be commanded, oxen to carry heavy loads, or horses to never be ridden. They were husbands and like most of the husbands I know, devoid of anything masculine, resigned to life on the farm, surrendered to the almighty power of our wives. Face it, any guy who tells you he is in charge is either wrong or abusive. We are beholden to our wives and as society evolves those things that were once the dominion of men reach extinction, we better figure out how to make a change lest we go the way of Dodo birds, dinosaurs, and the ABA.
With my head numb from the combination of basketball and sociology, I got back into my truck. A Duran Duran song came on and I didn’t even have the testosterone to change it. The school is close to my home, so I made it there before the song was over. I got out of the truck thinking about the first time I heard D&D on MTV and how I swore I would never choose them over my classic rock gods from back in the day. They are, however, one of my wife’s favorite bands and I rarely change the station, even when I’m alone. She has that kind of influence over me…
I turned the knob on the door and was greeted by an adoring dog and a “Hello” from my wife somewhere in the house. The television was on and it looked like I was in for the effing movie with Mr. Darcy again.
I thought, “I need to get my clubs out.”
The question, “Can You Go Home?,” has been on my mind for the last year. I moved from Williamsburg in 1990 and have been back a couple of times a year since then. I think about growing up there with a much different perspective than I had when I lived there. Who knew I would miss the old Second Street or hanging out at Jamestown Beach? But can you really ever go home?
So many of the people that I used to hang out with have moved on. They live in far away places like Tennessee, North Carolina, California, and way out in New Kent County. My old friends went off to college or jobs and we all kind of went different directions. I often feel like I lost connection with the folks I used to see every day during high school. It’s certainly no fault of anybody’s that we lost touch with each other, it’s just the way of things.
When I go back to Williamsburg, I’m a tourist. I have a hard time understanding 199 and Old Town Road just isn’t the same without the Corvette parked outside that trailer on the curve. The first outlet mall is gone and the Pottery Factory may as well be extinct. There is also a Wawa which is the 7-11 of my haunts up here in Pennsylvania and I think, “Maybe I could come back.”
Moving back to Williamsburg probably won’t ever happen for me. I’ve established roots outside of Philly and no matter what the sports announcers say, Philly is a cool town. The same stuff that happens here goes on in the ‘Burg. Occasionally, I read Google News and see that someone got shot at a Farm Fresh or people are running real estate scams. Stuff happens everywhere and in Philly there is an honesty that I appreciate. There’s a “with us or against us attitude” that doesn’t always serve the area well, but it sure does keep things interesting. I don’t think I would ever want to lose the Philly attitude.
Over the past year, I’ve written weekly stories and many poems about my time in Williamsburg and I have enjoyed the memories. To my Williamsburg friends and family, you will never know how much my time there meant. Really, it was everything. I have laughed and cried (yeah, sometimes I cry about stuff) over the course of the year as I delved into stuff I thought was forgotten. It all started with a last minute decision to go to the LHS homecoming in 2015 and the chance to hang out with great people. Reconnecting in person was so much better than through the “social medias” and it made me feel glad that I got guilted into braving the I-95 corridor and its hellacious traffic.
So Williamsburger’s and LHS-ers, I hope you will continue to check out the blog, but the time has come for me to change patterns in my writing. This is the last “Williamsburg Memories” that I’m posting. I appreciate the comments and support you’ve offered over the year. Most of all I appreciate, no that’s not a strong enough word… I love that you made Williamsburg a happy place for me. You guys are great!
Of course, I say that this is it, but then again, you never know…
Wet and Dry Biology was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Wet Biology was a perfect mix of college, games, and humor for me. In the class, we studied the ecosystems in ponds, streams, and rivers. We caught critters and learned to identify them. We conducted mini-studies and learned how to use the library at William and Mary. In Dry-Biology we studied plants and their winter buds. We went to Jamestown and York River State park to count deer scat. It wasn’t my thing.
One project for Dry-Biology involved studying animal tracks. Since my father was a police officer I figured he would have the stuff to make a mold of any tracks that we could find around my house. Finding the tracks would be easy because I lived on Carter’s Grove Plantation and there was nothing but woods around our house. The problem was waiting for a time when my father and I could coordinate our schedules. He worked rotating shifts and I was always at basketball practice or games. Finally, we found a night that both of us would be home. We headed out into the dark in search of any kind of tracks.
There was a service road in front of our house that led down a hill towards the James River. Before heading into the woods, the road wrapped around a corn field. There were no lights to help guide us and we walked along the road with a flashlight like climbers trying to summit Everest. A cold wind blew off the river and the tall pines creaked and leaned against each setting a very Vincent Price mood.
Sometimes I got scared living so far off the main road. In a field across from our house, stakes marked the location of settlers that were killed during an attempt by local Native Americans to reclaim their land. When I was home alone at night I often wondered if the spirits ever rose from their shallow graves to visit their old lands. At the time of our walk, I was also reading Truman Capote’s, “In Cold Blood.” The combination of the cold, the wind, the stakes, and the images of someone driving to our far removed house started to scare me. All I wanted was to find some tracks, pour the mold, and get back home.
We found some raccoon tracks and did just that. I wasn’t interested in waiting for the stuff to dry, but my father made sure we waited long enough for the mold to set. I scooped up the mold and headed back up the hill with a determined sense of purpose. I wanted no part of wandering spirits or vagabond murderers. Fortunately, neither appeared.
Unfortunately, deer flies were waiting out on Jamestown Island for our spring deer population scat study.
We used to go to the movies because there was nothing else to do in Williamsburg. There probably was, but we thought it was cool to take a road trip down to Newport News or Hampton to catch a show. Most of the time that meant going to one of the New Markets. I’m not sure either of them is still there, but we saw a bunch of movies in those theaters.
On one occasion, we went to the Village Theater. If I remember correctly, the prices were cheaper because the movies were in the later stages of their run. On this particular night, we were going to see Risky Business because one of the dudes in our crew had a thing for Tom Cruise. I doubt there was anything to it, but my old friend, who would show up on my doorstep in the dark of night some twenty years after I last spoke to him (Thanks, Hub…) really had a thing for the Scientologist.
Getting to the theater was a challenge as another in our crew had to see a video by Survivor. He made us wait as the VJs kept promising that it was coming on, but like most teasers, it was way down on the playlist. Finally, the song came on and while it was good, it was not as unbelievable as the sleeveless, muscle man had claimed. With time running short, we hopped into the Grand Prix and raced down the dirt road from my house to the Village Theater.
The movie ended up being a teenage classic. Sometimes when I see it now, I think about going to the Village and how that part of Newport News seemed so different than the rest of it. It did have a village feel with its tree-lined streets and classic lampposts. Why that stands out to me as such a strong memory is a mystery. Maybe it was the area. Maybe it was the classic style of the theater. Maybe it was the way we ragged our friend for the Survivor video. In all, it was just a good time.
Then there was the drive-in. When I was a kid my family would go to the drive-in somewhere down there in Hampton/Newport News. I saw the greatest cartoon movie of all time there, Wizards. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the greatest cartoon movie of all time, but it had (has) an interesting message. It’s just a basic good over evil, small hero overcomes a tyrannic dictatorship…hopefully, we avoid that when we vote in a month… Back to the theater… The movie that stands out for me the most was Bolero. My Tom Cruise fan friend and I gathered up the gang and headed for the drive-in. I was the only one old enough for the show, but my friend’s brother had told us which ticket line to get in. Evidently, the dude taking tickets in that line never checked for identification. He would ask how old you were, but never desired to see any I.D. “It’s not a lie if you or they believe it.”
We followed the directions perfectly and there was our guy. Nervousness started to settle in for the young-ins in the car. When he asked us to roll down the window so he could get a better look at everyone, nearly every zit in the back seat popped. They knew we were busted and it was about as much as their pimply faces could stand. He gave us the once over and then said, “Enjoy, fellas.” With that, we were in. For what it’s worth, the movie was not very good, cinematically okay, but the plot…? Forget about it…
The last movie I saw in a theater was Star Wars whatever we are up to now. I had a recliner, chicken fingers, corn bread, and some of Kentucky’s finest. 3-D glasses made the screen jump through the haze forming as a washed my dinner down and the recliner nearly induced a food coma sleep. This time I was with my family and loving every minute of the whole experience, even the movie. There are a ton more options at the snack bar and the price of seeing a movie is way more than at the Village and the drive-in, but every now and then I still like taking in a film at the theater.
Good times in the ‘Burg…
Ethan had recently turned twenty-one and felt every bit of the arrogance that comes with the drinking age. He commuted thirty minutes to college and was realizing that life cannot be an avoidance of real responsibility. The previous two years were about stretching out and seeing what life away from home was like. The truth was that the only change for him was the lack of a curfew. He also had a roommate, but they didn’t travel in the same circles, so that wasn’t much of a change for Ethan. The lack of respect he held for his freedom left him walking across a floor or Milwaukee’s Best cans and sleeping through classes he had already passed in high school. Now he was sitting in summer classes, hoping to rehabilitate his GPA and finish college in a reasonable amount of time.
The thing about summer classes is that they are humiliating without the proper context. For Ethan, summer had been about freedom and being away from school. The days were for working and the nights were for getting into trouble. Summers always brought a party, but this one was going to be different for Ethan. The days would be about school and the nights were for working. He figured that being twenty-one, the nights could start whenever he got off work, but he was not excited about his first summer class, Human Relations. The class was about cooperative learning and problem solving. Small groups were formed to lead activities and to also provide lunch for the day. It was the kind of scenario that drove Ethan crazy. He didn’t want to go to class and talk. He wanted to sit in the back of the room, take notes, pass a test, and get the credits. The professor promised that this would not be that kind of class.
“Each day we will start in a circle and recite our Full Value Contract. Basically, you will be committing to being present, giving your best, and respecting others.” We will discuss different aspects of human relationships, such as trust, communication, problem-solving, and decision-making. In this room, we are all equal and have a duty to participate in all discussions. With that, my name is Virginia Squires. I’m a doctor, but if you would, please call me Virginia, I would be most appreciative.”
The course was already like nothing that Ethan had experienced in his college education so far. The professors had been distant, either by attitude or physical distance. Each course seemed to be a lesson of impersonal behavior, but this one, while not what Ethan wanted, felt different. Virginia was old, like retirement old. Her hair was white and she wore clothes better suited for Leave It To Beaver than Miami Vice. She spoke with the mixed up English and southern accent that is old-time Virginia, but she did so without the venom that so many southern debutantes can wield.
“One more thing,” she said, “we stop early and everyone must stay for lunch. We eat together for a reason. People eat with their friends, not their enemies.”
With that class began. There were no desks or chairs, only large pillows. The official name for the course was PSY 310 Human Relations, but everyone knew it as the pillow class. Ethan sat with his group and did the usual listening. He spoke briefly when it was his turn and quickly found himself drifting into a summer siesta.
“Ethan, are you okay?” asked Virginia. Her tone was sweet, but her eyes were sending a different message. She was making it clear that the pillows were to create a casual atmosphere and not to become a sleep aid. Before Ethan could answer she asked another question, “Ethan, what do you like to do for exercise?”
“Uh, I like to play basketball.”
“Great, tomorrow you will do our first biographical presentation. Make sure you mention something about basketball. May I ask where you are from?”
“Oh, do you know the Band Box?”
Everyone knew the Band Box. It was the coolest record shop around. The floors were wooden and creaked when walked across. Vinyl and cassettes filled every bin and cool rock star and black light posters covered the walls. Besides music, a person could get concert tickets and choose from a multitude of smoking tools. Ethan discovered Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, and The Clash there, although he never told his parents that he went there. His father forbade him from going to the store given the Band Box’s reputation as a head shop.
“I do. How do you know the store.”
“I love Led Zeppelin,” she said. Everyone started laughing at the thought of Mrs. Clever rocking out to Zep. “Actually, my son works there. He’s a music guy.”
She had made her point and done it in a way that spared Ethan the embarrassment of a scolding by a college professor. Still, though, she had let Ethan know that his near slumbering behavior was not without a consequence, he had been assigned to present about himself and basketball. Ethan was still a salty sort and not deft at massaging a delicate situation. He came from an athletic, Texas, military background that valued the certainty of making a point without feeling. Sports instilled a sense of competition where winning was the only goal. Being from Texas, Ethan carried that wild west defiance of the Lone Star state. His connection to the military through his grandfather had taught him that survival and destruction where the way of a soldier.
“She wants basketball, I’ll give her basketball,” thought Ethan.
The next day everyone milled around the room getting to know each other. Some people were drinking coffee, others eating their Egg McMuffins. Ethan sat alone working on his lines to let Virginia Squires know that she would not intimidate him no matter how proper and soft-spoken her attacks came. He would do his speech and then be done for the rest of the course. She would realize the error of her ways and maybe even apologize for being so passive with him yesterday. At least, that was the way it went when he had been taking to the steering wheel on the drive to class. Everything changed after the Full Value contract was said. Ethan lost every bit of anger and even felt a sense of guilt. Virginia was an old lady and had done nothing to Ethan. In fact, she had gone out of her way to be nice to him. It was Ethan who was creating the stress in the situation. All he had to do was talk about himself. There was no need to crush her. No need to win anything. No reason to make an ass of himself.
“Ethan, tell us about yourself.”
“First, Dr. Squires…”
“Virginia,” she said.
He started over, “First, Virginia, I would like to apologize for nearly falling asleep yesterday. As for me, I’m a transfer student from ODU and I’m working in Colonial Williamsburg. I like all kinds of sports, but especially basketball.”
“Have you ever been to a professional game?” asked Virginia.
“I saw the Rockets and Bullets play a preseason game a couple of years ago. When I was a little kid, I got to see Dr. J. and George Gervin play with…” Ethan hesitated and Virginia smiled. He realized that she knew what was coming and was okay with what he was about the say.
“…the Virginia Squires…” The class started laughing.
Virginia seized the floor, “Do you guys think I’ve ever heard that one before? Ethan, what do you like about basketball?”
“I like the movement and how each play is kind of a predetermined uncertainty.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“The offense knows where they want the ball to go, but they have to take what the defense gives them. They can’t force anything, they must take what they are given. To score is predetermined, at least in theory, but how they are going to do it is uncertain for the offense.”
Virginia thought for a moment, “Ethan, how is that like human relations?”
“Wow, I’ve never thought about it like that. I guess if we go into a situation thinking it’s going to be one way, then we might miss opportunities that could present themselves.”
“Exactly, flexibility is one key to our dealings with others. Thank you for introducing yourself today.”
With the grace of Julius soaring to the rim and the dexterity of George Gervin flipping his finger roll, Virginia Squires had snuck a lesson into Ethan’s presentation. For once in his life, he didn’t think of it as a threat that needed to be dealt with. Instead, he received the gift she gave him. She had presented Ethan with a seed, that while slow growing, would serve him well. The three weeks would pass quickly. The paper towers they built that were meant to symbolize creativity. The whisper down the lane games stressed the importance of clear communication. The friendly lunches broke barriers in Ethan that no other classes had been able to do. He started to see the value of teaching people social skills and the importance of problem-solving in every aspect of our lives. He even started talking to the people in his class and got to know some of them away from school. The course was more than credits. It was life changing.
Thank goodness for Dr. Virginia Squires.
My wife is the best. She puts up with the up and down moodiness that I can spread around in ways that can be most difficult. She has a way of keeping us three boys in check so that the house can stay far away from the frat atmosphere we would allow it to devolve into. My wife is an equal in every way which props me up when I need and knocks me down when I need that as well. I can’t imagine being without her because life is never as good as it is when we are together.
She walked into the coffee shop a full facade of anything real. There was a perfect tan all over except her hands, feet, and swaddle of skin under her neck. There was the big jewelry, the costume of it all put together at a Macy’s counter. The earrings, necklaces, and bracelets all playing second fiddle to her two carat diamond wedding ring. Her mid-level heels pushed her retirement aged curves beyond the point of where they had been twenty years earlier when teachers her age thought she was the hottest thing going. Now she survived on the guise of confidence and the miracle of foundation that hid her deep set lines of age.
She was pushing sixty-two, but but she led a social life that took advantage of every moment. Today she was meeting a man her age, but he carried himself in a different way. Where she sported a mini-skirt and low cut blouse, he wore Dockers and an Oxford shirt. His hair was cut like his clothes, conservative and business casual. He was holding onto an old man look in a most relaxed way, no wrinkles, no paunch, and no formerly buffed muscles. He looked good and had no idea why because he just went about life in a direct way.
Their mid-morning meeting had the feel of a first date. There was a bit of awkwardness when they said hello. There was also a bit of familiarity as he grabbed the back of her arm as she balanced against him for a kiss on her cheek. They ordered coffee and leaned in over their cups taking stock of their public situation. Perhaps this was a coming out party. Was it possible that they had been carrying on secretly and this was their first time alone in public?
“I’ve been playing a lot of golf,” she said.
“Really. How is that?” he said.
“It’s great, different from tennis. I can play a round with anyone and don’t have to be matched with someone.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“I’m better on the course now, too.”
“I don’t throw my clubs anymore. I used to get so mad. One time I dumped all of my clubs right there on the golf cart.”
“Probably not the best place for that kind of display.”
“No and learning to control my passion has made me a better player.”
She felt the need to talk. He listened.
“Tennis, though, that’s how I stay in shape,” she said.
“And it works very well for you.”
She smiled, “Thank you.” She was a little embarrassed for with all of the work that she put into looking the part of a sexy lady, her true feelings were anything but confident. She knew her arms were sagging and her hair was only salon bottle dark. She knew her time was passing, so she covered for her lack of confidence with a self-centered focus on the accomplishments of everything she had done, was doing, or wanted to do. She went on with a stream of her nervous talk. He listened patiently projecting interest while masking whatever it was he was thinking about behind his poker face and timed nods of affirmation.
“I love going to the movies. I just saw Dory at the dinner theater place.”
“I’m not sure about this election. I used to take my students to Richmond. We would meet the most important politicians.”
“Broadway is the greatest, don’t you think. My daughters and I just saw Hamilton. Did you and your wife go?” This was her not so subtle check on his marriage in an effort to gain insight into his intentions.
“Yes,” he said.
She kept going, “My father was in the military. We moved around a lot. It meant keeping friends hard. I think that’s why I do so much. When we settled in Williamsburg, I knew this would be the place for me.”
“I’m not a big fan of the climate. I prefer Arizona, but this is home.”
“Did you ever live in Arizona?” he asked.
“No, but we went with my daughters and grandkids last Christmas. It was perfect.” She was making sure he understood she was still married. He knew this was a weak proclamation.
“You hardly look like you could be a grandmother.”
“It’s the tennis, I guess,” she said.
“Or the new golf attitude.”
They sat looking towards each other with less first date nervousness and more of a “now what” agenda. As the coffee cooled, so did her energy to keep things moving. She leaned back and took in all that he was. He was handsome and professional. He was also married to a former colleague of hers. While she had been friends with the other teacher, she always had more interest in him than she did for his wife. She was nice enough, but she could never put her attraction to him in a place that would allow her to be close friends with his wife.
“Why are we here?” she asked.
“Can you to come over Friday night?”
“I’m not sure what to say. I’m flattered and I would love to, but what about your wife?”
“She’ll be there.”