Fresh Starts

 

compass_study_28492526773229During 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.

Today.

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.

Yesteryear.

After months of coaching and
Trying to balance
A life of many directions
This is the week to get back
To fitness.

Now.

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.

Smile.

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.

Carefree.

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.

Embark.

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

Can You Go Home?

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

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.

“Risky Business, et al…”

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…

The Virginia Squires: Both of Them

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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?”

“Williamsburg.”

“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.

The Night a Basketball Team Nearly Died

As I am writing this, Radio Paradise is playing the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Why I’m thinking about the craziest basketball practice ever, I don’t know, but I am. It’s too bad that as I write, I think the haters might still be circling the gym at LHS, but I have to get this down. Maybe they have gone away, although, there were plenty of carcasses to feed them back in 1982.

As I remember it, our coach called a practice for Thanksgiving night. That’s right, THANKSGIVING NIGHT!!! We all expected a light practice after a heavy meal, but those thoughts were soon pushed right up next to that extra helping of sweet potatoes I had when the monkey drills began. Nobody said a word because each of us feared that if we opened our mouths that dinner that we were so mindful of might make an appearance.

Finally, we got around to running our offense and working on full-court presses and with the hour getting late, it looked as if it would be time to go. Not so.

“On the line.”

We all thought, “Sprints, really? Coach, it’s Thanksgiving, please have mercy.”

“4 in 24.”

No mercy was to be had. The rule was that each of us had to run a sprint (suicide) in 24-seconds. If we all made it, that counted as one. We ran until we got to four. We ran. We ran some more. We ran a lot more. All our coach said was, “On the line.” He never told us the times. Soon there was a revolt against those who were having a tough time making it in time. The future minister very nearly invoked a spiritual wrath on the umpire’s son that teetered on fire and brimstone. Somehow it ended with us making it to four and no one throwing up.

That practice was bad, ugly, and such a good memory. A year ago I got to laugh it up with some of my old teammates. We all remembered that night the same way, like a bunch of middle aged men who had suffered a little and come through okay.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Note: Since I wrote this post, I’ve started practicing with my team. We are young and not big, but I think this will be a fun bunch to work with. Thanksgiving will be a night off and I will stuff all the food in that I can. I’m going to enjoy every bite without that voice in my head going, “On the line.”

Thanks, Coach Farrior

I don’t know what is the most important lesson a coach can share, but I know Coach Farrior said something that inspired me off the basketball court. I wrote an essay in his History class. I have no idea what it was about, but he took me aside and talked up my writing. I may or may not be any good at getting my thoughts on this electronic paper, but I know that the encouragement Coach Farrior gave me helped inspire me to write more at a time where I could have just as easily not written. Thanks, Coach Farrior.

Being Franz Klammer

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I moved around a lot as a young kid. Fortunately, most of my moves were in the same city, so I got to keep all of my friends. One of the places where I lived was nicknamed Snake Pit Acres. The “snake pit” was a standard apartment complex with four apartments per building, two downstairs, two upstairs. Our apartment was upstairs with a view of a large dirt pile that must have been made when the land for the complex was excavated. We only lived at Snake Pit for a couple of years, but looking back, I can say that it wasn’t as bad being there as the name suggested.

First, there were plenty of areas to play. There was a basketball court and it would be the place where I would start to develop a love for shooting hoops. There weren’t many other basketball players there, so I would spend most of the time firing up jumpers and pretending to be Dr. J. Keep in mind that this was still the days of the boring NBA versus the crazy, stylish ABA and I loved the red, white, and blue ball. Julius Erving was the first basketball player that I would follow and even when he broke my heart by beating the Lakers with a vicious tomahawk dunk on Michael Cooper and defying gravity with the greatest reverse lay-up in history, I always thought of Dr. J. as my favorite player. Magic and Kareem would ascend as well, but Doc was the first.

Getting out on the court and shooting can be a spiritual. I used to get lost in the Walter Mitty of the whole thing, draining buckets to win every game. I loved beating up on Dave Cowens and the Celtics, but at that young age, I had no understanding why. Later I would know, Boston and LA hate each other in basketball and I could not stand those green uniforms. Please don’t confuse my dislike of the Celtics for anything other than sports. The teams in 80s were great and the rivalry between my Lakers and Boston was the best ever. Too bad both suck now. It wouldn’t matter because I’ve converted, going with my basketball DNA and hanging through the years of tanking to live and die with every move of my 76ers! “1-2-3-4-5-6-76ers…”

There was also football at Snake Pit. I never played organized football, so the backyard variety was all I knew. Kids from Carver Gardens used to walk over to the apartments after school and we would have some good games. I wanted to be Drew Pearson or Roger Staubach. That’s right, a Cowboys fan… I haven’t been able to convert to the Eagles.  Since I never played, all those dreams of being a wide receiver would peak in the playground of the Acres.

The last thing that captured my sporting imagination was the swings. I always wondered if I could swing hard enough to go all the way around the pole. Physics says it’s possible, but I didn’t have the stones to go Jackass and see if it I could do it. Then, again, the swings were an opportunity to dream and the big dream in 1976 was to be a downhill skier. The Olympics that year featured a crazy high flying race to the gold by Franz Klammer. He pushed his skies to the edge of disaster, caught flight, and regained control of his rocketing body to ski into first place. My friends and I would swing and jump out trying to go as far out as we could. I don’t remember there being any mulch or tire chips to cushion our landing, so “falling gracefully” became a real thing long before Buzz Lightyear hit the scene.

Maybe my time at Tam-O-Shanter boulevard was less about sports than it was about imagination. Dr J., the Cowboys, Franz Klammer, each was a dream that help me to pass the time and got me outside doing things. I had imagination instead of a calendar full of travel practice schedules. There were no video games or the internet to wrestle for my attention. Heck, there wasn’t even cable or MTV yet.

There was play and I got to go outside and play.

Awesome.

Photo Credit: https://media.zenfs.com/en-US/video/video.pd2upload.com/video.yahoosports.com@898e12b7-1e49-32a9-b163-7348460b33af_FULL.jpg

Thanks, Coach

My first experience at James Blair was Pre-Algebra class with Jamal Oweis. I was homework adverse, but never crushed by the first year teacher. Could it have been because I played sports? High school allowed me to know Coach Oweis in the tumultuous times of whatever varsity sports was becoming. Through the madness, he treated me with respect and a careful prodding coaches must use with average kids playing in small ponds. Each year I ask Jamal if he will accept my late homework. He answers, “No,” and adds that he doesn’t want to change the grade. Thanks, Coach…

The Night My Dad Tackled a Drug Dealer

There are times when we all need to understand that our father’s can be bad asses. We need to see that their manliness can be summoned for righteous purposes. We need to see that they are not snoring corpses who don’t know anything about anything, but we all need to know our father’s are strong and still have a bit of the caveman DNA that protects us from lions, tigers, and goats that got set loose in a marijuana field.

I got to see my dad in all out John Wayne one night. “Williamsburg was humid that evening,” my friends. Come to think of it, Williamsburg is always humid in summer. My friend’s mom dropped us off at Blow Gym on William and Mary’s campus. We were there to play racquetball. Coincidently, my father had just finished playing and was hanging out on the stone wall that separated the inside of the campus from Richmond Road. He looked tired and worn out. To a thirteen year old kid, he looked old. Given that I was in junior high school and therefore knew everything, I was pretty sure that I could outrun my father without a problem.

He sat there in cut off jeans and a white T-shirt wiping the sweat away from his graying hair and rubbing knees beaten up by a blue collar life. The other guys there were also policemen and one was on-duty, but dressed in plain clothes. Again, I thought that there was no chance these guys could stop a small caper and forget about running down a major criminal.

Through the heavy air came a young dude striding in typical William and Mary preppy clothes from the time. His Polo shirt with the turned up collar gave him an air of prosperity, but the three police amigos saw something different. They saw a drug dealer who had been ordered to stay off campus, yet there he was carrying a satchel and walking towards a dormitory.

What happened next may have been the most important part of my childhood. My dad turned into a linebacker with the speed of Usain Bolt and the hops of a champion high jumper. He and the other policemen jumped the five-foot fence and went after the Nike wearing preppy drug deliveryman. Before they were out of sight the trespasser was on the ground and being cuffed. My old, tired father was the first to make it to the dealer. He took him down quickly and with the help of his mates arrested the criminal. His bag had a some hash, some acid, and plenty of weed to raise the dopiness in the dorm by more than a little. Oh, and there were no guns needed in the arrest.

Through the hazy night air, I got to see that my dad, while not someone who would use that kind of discipline at home, was capable of putting a hurt on me if necessary. Some might think that kind of observation is sad since it’s based in a bit of fear. I kind of like it because my father was never one to be tough or physical at home. I knew, though, that he could do whatever was necessary to restore order, even in that advanced age of late thirty, early forty something.

As my birthday comes around and I’ve long since passed the age that my father was when he was tackling drug dealers, I’m having two thoughts. The first is that my son, who is twenty, better think twice about jumping on my back in Staples because I’ve still got enough left in the tank to take him down. The other thought is that I don’t want any part of my dad. I’m not sure if I could win that one.