Out for a round,
The early years of play
Happened so very often.
Cheatham, where the sun fell 
On the western skyline,
Kingsmill with the five dollar rounds,
College credits at Deer Run,
And sneaking on the Spotswood
For executive fun,
Plenty of putt-putt
With By-Pass Road trick shots
And tourist jammed mini golf
On Richmond Road.
Out for a round,
These latter years of play

Few and far between.

I seem to remember it this way…

Those guys lived across town, but they may as have been in different country. Even though we all lived in Williamsburg, the kids in York County went to Bruton High School. Those of us on the other side of town went to Lafayette High School. Most of the time, we had very little to do with each other. Sports, though, would bring us together, but once pony league and rec basketball were over that was it for hanging with the Bruton kids.

There was actually a crosstown rivalry between the two high schools. The games packed quite a bit of emotion because Lafayette was the big school while Bruton was the little school that always wanted to be big. In reality, Lafayette was barely a big school and more like Bruton than any of the Rams were willing to admit, so we carried an attitude that would deign an air of superiority.

I came to the Williamsburg schools through the York County, so I thought I might be able to pull of a Jimmy Carter and bring the two schools together. I reached down Penniman Road to some old classmates and opened a dialogue about any parties that might be happening in the area. My friends waited while I made the call.

“Steve, Brad Rust, how have you been?”

“Brad? From Lafayette?” he asked on the other end of the line

“Yeah, man, I’m looking for a party. Heard there might be something on Waller Mill Road. You going?”

“You’re not thinking of going, are you? It might get a little crazy,” he said.

“It’ll be cool. We won’t cause any problems and we’ll bring a little something for the house.”

That was enough for him to hear and he gave me directions. He also warned me that the king, Al Jefferson would be there. Al had a reputation of being a Lafayette hater who would take any Ram unlucky enough to be caught away from the heard. I wasn’t too worried about Al because he and I had played on the same baseball team for six years and we got along with each other then.

“We’re in fellas,” I said.

Rob, the cautious one in our group asked, “Are you sure we should go to this?”

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” said Chet, “Besides if it’s no good we can go back to the Carolyn Court. My dad is going to Gloucester.”

“I don’t know,” started Rob, “we never go to their parties. What if we get jumped or something?”

“No worries, Rob. We’ll know enough people that there won’t be a problem,” I said.

At 9:00, Rob, Chet, his brother Brett, and I headed out on our journey to the other county, which was nothing more than a ten minute drive. The party was in full swing with cars on both sides of the road. We decided it would be best to park at the end of the street just in case Rob was right and we did get jumped. His little Dodge Dart was not much on weight and we had once picked it up to fit in a tight parking, but if we were being chased by an angry mob, there would not have been enough time to get out of such an extreme parking job.

As we turned up the driveway to the party house, I turned back to the group and said, “Stick together and don’t cause any problems.” We went in and there was a moment where time sort of stopped. The music kept playing, but the conversation and card game took a break. I couldn’t tell whether they were surprised that we were there or if they had been expecting us. I saw Steve down the hall in the kitchen, so I headed straight for him.

“Steve,” I yelled out and reached to shake his hand.

The shake was lukewarm, like the house gift I handed him, but his advice could not have been more accurate. “Don’t stay long,” he said.

I dismissed his warning and headed back over to the table where a game of poker was being played. Our parties never had poker. The only games that I could think of at our parties were horseshoes and quarters. I recognized a couple of kids at the table, including one that I had played baseball with, so I gave them all a “What’s up?” and kept moving through the crowd. Occasionally, I would see someone I vaguely recognized from elementary school and we would catch up. All was going well, but then I had this strange feeling that I was alone. Where were Rob, Chet and Brett? They had been right behind me and now they were gone.

“Oh well, I’m having fun. They’ll be alright,” I thought.

In the time before cell phones and social media, I’m not sure how word spread so quickly, but one of my knucklehead friends must have called some of our other friends and they were all out in the front yard enjoying a dip. Unbeknownst to them, the poker game was changing to a game of checkers and Lafayette was about to get jumped.

Steve saw me sitting on the couch and quickly came over. “You guys better leave now. Trouble,” he said.

I knew this was a warning that could not be ignored, but it was too late. I got out of the house to find a crowd of Panthers circling a small heard of willing and severely outnumbered Rams. The worst of it was that the few extra kids that crossed the county line had much bigger egos than their fighting skills could protect. I gave the whole thing about five minutes before someone was going to lose a tooth.

I quickly followed the energy to the source and who did I find standing there? It was the king Lafayette hater himself, Al Jefferson. “What’s up, Al?” I asked.

He looked over and was super confused. He probably saw me in my little bumble bee yellow baseball jersey and not as one of the dudes he was about to have beaten to a pulp. He looked back to my flannel wearing friends and back to me, “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Just having some fun, Al. We didn’t come over here to have any problems, even left something for the house in the fridge,” I said.

“You should’t be here. This is our party.”

“I know, Al, but we didn’t mean any disrespect. We can go, but man, you guys know how to party. I was having fun, but don’t want any trouble.”

He got that crazy look out his face like the time he tried to run Rodney Johnson over at home plate, which did not go well for Al since he gave up about a hundred and fifty pounds to Rodney. I was bracing for a mauling and using every bit of my drama class schooling to make it look like I wasn’t scared.

“Let ‘em go,” he said to the crowd. He turned to me and said, “Don’t come back.”

“Alright, thanks man. I’ve got to get something from the house.”

I turned and walked back into the party, past the vacant poker game, by the shocked gawkers, and straight to the refrigerator. There on the bottom shelf was our gift to the house that I grabbed before retracing my steps back through the angry mob. My friends were already gone and waiting for me in the car.

“See you around, fellas,” I said and walked down the street to Rob’s car.

We headed back to Chet and Bret’s hotel house. There was a lot of the bravado being spewed about how we could have whooped up on those “Bruton boys,” but I knew we had gotten lucky. I just listened to the guys talk their smack. Fortunately, King Al, was not as hard as his reputation, although, years later some unlucky soul would run into Al’s evil side, which landed the king in prison.

Thankfully, our gift was now cold.

Photo Credit: gratisography
I used to try
Staying up to midnight
With all the hoopla
Of shot gunning beers,
Simple fire crackers,
And champagne.
Now I try to stay up
While watching Anderson and Kathy
Make inane conversation
And wondering how people
Stand in the crowd of Times Square
Without taking a leak.
It’s too much anymore,
So around 11:30
I check out,
Turning off the TV
And wanting back 

That hour and half of sleep I missed.

I seem to remember it this way…

“Brad, where are you heading?”

It was weird staying at the Williamsburg Inn. So many of the guys I went to high school with worked there now. I found it uncomfortable that they were holding doors for me or bringing me room service. It was weird.

“I thought I might just walk around town for awhile, I answered. “I need some time to clear my head.”

Eric, who had been a couple of years ahead of me was always one to offer advice a little on the cautious side. Once after he left for college he told me to be careful at parties and make sure I studied. I didn’t listen.

He said, “There’s a storm coming, so be careful.”

I nodded and headed for the Governor’s Palace. The walk was just long enough to get me worked up about my job. The higher ups were making decisions about our company that were going to cost a number of people their jobs. We were a small company, so everyone was close. I was the point person for the layoffs, but I disagreed with my bosses’ decision. They were going to trim the wrong side of the business by getting rid of workers instead of cutting administrative positions. The workers were producing, but the leadership was sucking the business dry. People like me should have been losing their jobs, not the ones making our products.

After a short walk, I found myself standing at the Governor’s Palace wall.

The wall was not as tall as it had once been. When I was in second or third grade it seemed much higher. Back then, I was supposed to stay at the Colonial Games until my mom got off work. Instead of listening to her, I decided to run around Colonial Williamsburg, but I didn’t have a ticket to get back into the Palace grounds. I knew I would be in trouble if I wasn’t there when she came looking for me. Since I was still at an age where I was more afraid of my mother than the possibility of getting caught breaking some rule, I decided to climb over the fence and get back to the games.

I got in with no problem.

Years would pass and I would find myself walking on a cold, rainy day with George Washington. It wasn’t really him, it was Mr. Tom Gardener who was in charge of Buildings and Grounds for Colonial Williamsburg. He had given me permission to hunt at Carter’s Grove and we were walking the areas where I was allowed to go. He said nothing as we walked, but as we came out of the woods behind my house, he turned and said, “Just you.” Then he got into his green truck and drove off.

That weekend two of my friends came over and we headed into the woods for an afternoon hunt. We picked a prime spot and just sat. The winds off the James River blew the tall pine trees together. They clacked and creaked. A gray sky and the wind combined to make a miserable day in the woods, so we decided to head home early.

Once we were back on the dirt road heading towards the house, we caught a glimpse of a hunter’s orange cap off in the woods. Thinking nothing of it, I waved and we kept going. The next day my mom got a call from Mr. Gardener asking that I not hunt out there anymore. It seemed that the hunter had been a vice president and he had turned me in for being out there with my friends. I was more than a little angry at the guy for ratting us out. While the incident faded away, it would be with me for years. A few years later Mr. Gardener would die and I would work for the VP without holding a grudge. I guess I had moved on.

Now I stood looking at the wall I had scaled as a youth, thinking this would be one crazy way to get a little peace. Life had been spiraling out of control and I needed a break from the insanity. I was at a crossroads professionally. There was so much going on in my job that I could not manage the pressure. Logically I knew what had to be done to keep my job, but ethically I felt this process was wrong. Before the pressure got to be too much, I figured I would do something wrong in an attempt to find the right answer to my dilemma.

The grounds of the Governor’s Palace has always been special. I loved being out by the pond or running around the maze. The crunch of the shells on the walking paths and the musty smell of the boxwoods always brought a calm. With everything that was going on around me, I thought spending a night on the Governor’s grounds might be just what I needed to break the indecision that held so tightly to me.

So thirty-five years after my first scaling of the wall, I climbed over again. A storm was coming and I knew that I would need shelter, so I checked out the coach houses and the stable, but both were locked. The palace, itself, was out of the question, so I headed for the ice house. I remembered that there was a key hidden under a bench in case of an emergency and hoped that it was still there. Luckily, it was and I unlocked the door and stepped into the ice house as the rain began falling.

My old hunting friends had given me a bottle of George Washington’s Rye whiskey from Mount Vernon and I decided that this would be the night I would break the seal. I sat back against the wall and started to drink. At first the whiskey burned, but later I drank without feeling. Then I heard the shells crunching and I knew someone was coming. I huddled in the dark sure that I was about to be caught. I was right.

“How are you doing, Brad?” asked Mr. Gardener.

I couldn’t even answer. I looked at the bottle and took another swig. It was smooth like water.

“It’s funny we should meet here,” he said, “the last time I saw you was out at Carter’s Grove.”

I asked, “Who are you, really? Come on, you can’t be Mr. Gardener, he passed away when I was still in high school.”

“True, I did, but I’m here now. What do you have to say for yourself?”

I took another drink. “Nothing, but why do you ask?”

“Brad, you are sitting in a cold, wet room during a heavy storm drinking whiskey in the hopes that all of your problems will somehow go away. Does that sound like ‘nothing’ to you?”

He had a point, though I believed the bottle was playing tricks on my mind, I was struck that Mr. Gardener had said more to me in these few minutes than he had back when he extended his permission and trust so that I could hunt at Carter’s Grove. I started thinking about what probably happened when the hot dog eating vice president called him about kids hunting out there. I guessed Mr. Gardener just listened and took the hit without trying to weasel out of anything. I also guessed that he was disappointed in himself for trusting that a fifteen year old would do the right thing.

“Did you get into trouble when you let me go hunting?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Did you explain that you had told me not to bring friends?”

He shook his head, “No.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I didn’t feel like I had to. I got yelled at for letting you go hunting. If I had just said no to you, I would have never gotten in trouble. You being out there with your friends wasn’t the issue. Although it seems to be one for you.”

Interesting. He had gotten to the very root of the problem. Getting yelled at, for him was about accepting responsibility for his actions, not the actions of others.

“I’m sorry I did that to you. When they asked me to go, I should have said no. I knew I was wrong, but I did it anyway.”

He smiled and stood up with his lanky frame struggling to stay hunched over in the low ceiling of the ice house. He extended his hand and shook with a warmness that I did not expect from a dead man.

“Be responsible for yourself. Control what you can. Everything works out when you do.” He ducked as he went out the door, “Finish that bottle and then lock up. You best be out of here before the storm ends.”

Then he was gone without even making a sound on the walking path.

I took his advice and turned the bottle up three more times, chugging just as hard as I could. The rain was coming down harder now and I didn’t have any gear to stay dry. By the time I had the door locked and the key back under the bench, I was both soused and soaked. There were security cars parked in the lot where I had initially climbed over the wall, so I headed back around the pond and climbed over into the Matthew Whaley playground.

The walk back to the Williamsburg Inn would take about fifteen minutes and the rain would stop as I passed Bruton Parish Church. I knew what I had to do at my job. I had to be honest to myself and at least attempt to convince the higher ups that they were making the wrong decision. If they agreed with me, some jobs would be saved. If they didn’t, then I would probably have to find somewhere else to work. My old friend Eric was standing at the door when I got back.

“You alright, Brad? You’re soaking wet.”

“Eric, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you. I’ve got to go home and take care of some things.”

He nodded with understanding, “Everything works out that way.”

At least that’s how I remember it going…

I’d finally made it to eighth grade. This was the top of junior high school, so the year promised to be a great one. I had two classes in the annex, but the rest were in the main building. The only one that was upstairs was an Algebra class with the toughest teacher, Mrs. Geiger. She would turn out to be one of a few math teachers who would scare the daylights out me, but who would also prove to be teachers that I truly respected because they actually stood for something.

One day I found myself hanging around the library too much and caught with barely enough time to make it to Mrs. Geiger’s class. As I hustled past the principals’ offices, I was forced to make a decision. I either went up the “UP” stairs or went to the next stairwell and used the “DOWN” stairs. I knew that I was risking detention by using the wrong stairwell, but I figured that no one would be in the hallway, so I would be safe. Besides, Mrs. Geiger’s classroom was just a couple of doors away from the “DOWN” stairs.

I had grace going up those stairs. My feet barely hit the ground as I made it to the turn for the last eight steps. Given that I was skipping stairs, that meant only four more steps and I would be home free. Was I really using math to rationalize my poor decision making? Alas, I forgot to show my work for standing at the top of the stairs was my baseball coach. Normally, this would not have been a problem, but he was standing with Mr. Palmer, the principal.

“Uh, young man, what are you doing?” Mr Palmer asked.

“Trying not to be late, sir. I know I shouldn’t have used these stairs, but they’re quicker,” I said.

“Please use them again. They will get you to my office just as quickly.”

I was assigned a Saturday school, which was unheard of in our school. Mr. Palmer had decided that I needed to be an example to others that had such disregard for the rules. He was letting everyone know that this sort of insolence would not be tolerated anymore. After all, kids just weren’t respectful of authority as they had been in his past.

The Saturday came around and I was the only one sentenced to the detention. I got to the library, took my seat, and waited. There were no adults to supervise me. No Mr. Palmer. No Mrs. Geiger. No Coach Oweis.

“Hmmm,” I thought.

I knew that it was a bad decision that had put me in this situation. I also knew that there wasn’t anyone to check on me, so if I wanted to walk around I wouldn’t have to worry at all. I got up and headed down the hallway. First, I went to the gym and looked for a ball. Nothing. The PE office was locked, so I decided to check out the rest of the school.

This was my first time in an empty school building. There is something both soothing and creepy about vacant schools. The hum of the lights replaced the sound of screaming kids. The hallways seemed wider and the floor shined like I had never noticed. It was almost blinding until I got to the “DOWN” stairs. That was when the light changed and I could see clearly that I was meant to run up these stairs again.

“Who’s going to know?” I thought.

I hit those stairs with every bit of speed I had. I never slowed down and when I got to the top, I sprinted the last few yards to Mrs. Geiger’s room. I expected to see her door locked and the lights off. What I actually saw could not have been more unexpected. Mr. Palmer, Mrs. Geiger, and Coach Oweis were in the room together. There were other teachers there, too. They were laughing and listening to music. They drank coffee. Some wore jeans and others sweat pants. It was a strange sight. They actually looked like normal people. But why were they in school on a Saturday morning?

Mr. Yates, who had nearly written me up for calling General Joe Hooker, “Mighty Joe Prostitute,” saw me in the hall and waved me into the room.

“Come on in, Chris. We’ve been waiting for you,” he said.

I should have just stayed in the library. If I had been chosen as the example for using the wrong stairwell, what would Mr. Palmer do to me now? For a minute, I thought about running.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea, Chris,” said Mrs. Taylor who had taken up position behind me. She was cool, but she had the PE teacher aura that makes a person wonder how far they could take something if needed.

I went in and sat at my seat in front of Mrs. Geiger’s desk. She made me sit there, even though it was out of alphabetical order because…well…maybe I didn’t do a few homework assignments, or watched recess during class, or forged my parents’ signatures on a couple of bad tests.

Mr. Palmer started, “Chris, we are part of a group who can see into the future. You will be put into situations as a parent and teacher that will require you to make decisions that will have great impact on your children, step children, and students.”

“Step children? Hmmm…,” I thought.

“And that is why you are here,” started Mrs. Geiger, “we want you to know your future, so you are ready when the time comes.”

They passed me a cup of coffee which for some reason I drank. I didn’t even like coffee then. Almost immediately I started having visions. I saw me talking to my children about staying out too late. I saw me talking to my step children about being snarky to their mother. I saw me talking to my students about finishing assignments and the importance of exercise. In each dream, I seemed frustrated that the children were not listening to me. Why wouldn’t they just do what they were told? 

“And that is the lesson,” said Mrs. Geiger, “Kids don’t do what they are told because they need to test the boundaries. What they need are people who will help them understand the consequences of their choices, not just dole out punishments.”

Mr. Palmer added, “We can’t change your actions. You will make the choices that you are supposed to make, but our meeting today will help you when the time is right. Mr. Oweis, do you have anything to add?”

“Chris, could you get around faster on that inside pitch and pull the ball to left field?”

“I’ll try coach.”

I was free to go. As I stood up to leave, I was quite shocked that no one was there. There was no coffee, no principal, no teachers, and no reason for me to be in this room. My shock turned to fear and I bolted out of the room, past the “DOWN” stairs, and without a bit of hesitation, I ran down the “UP” stairs. I made it back to the library and waited for my parents.

Years would go by and I would eventually become a teacher. I would also become a father and step father just as foretold back in Mrs. Geiger’s room. One day I was faced with a dilemma. Should I send a student to the office or let him slide for his infraction? What egregious mistake had the young man committed? He didn’t speak English. He also didn’t speak Spanish and since he never answered my questions, I was beginning to think he was just playing a game by pretending not to understand. 

I was the one who did not understand. Soon I would.

While I was telling the young man about the potential ills of the world if he did not learn to talk to me respectfully and how completing his writing prompts was most important to his success, none of which he understood, my vision began to roll like when my black and white TV would need adjusting. At the end of the gym I could see Mr. Palmer, Mrs. Geiger, and Coach Oweis having a serious laugh. I shook my head to clear things up, but it was about to get weird because they were heading towards my office.

I took a breath, apologized to the kid for being ridiculous, and ran through the gym to my office. He had no idea what I said and was probably wondering why I ran off so quickly. I had to see if my old principal and teachers were really in my office. Sure enough, there they were.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

“Just checking in,” said Mr. Palmer.

“How are you, Chris?” asked Mrs. Geiger.

“Fine? Really, what’s going on?” I asked.

“You know what’s going on, Chris,” said Coach Oweis. “His inability to speak English is a big deal. Why don’t you just teach him that. The health stuff will come later. And remember, you didn’t do your homework either…”

“And you made prostitute jokes,” said Mr. Yates.

“Where’d he come from?” I thought.

“And you broke more than a few rules, yourself, hypocrite boy,” said Mrs. Taylor.

“Where’d she come from?” I thought.

Coach Oweis continued, “Chris the trick is to plant seeds in the students. You may never get them to like school, but you can help them enjoy learning and get them thinking about important lessons..”

“Like you guys did for me… Gotcha.”

And there I was, alone in my office, thinking of James Blair Intermediate and how to help students from Mexico who don’t speak English or Spanish. 

He rolled into work
Ready to scrape up the mess
The tourists left
When they ate with their mouths open.
He would work breakfast
And split for Chetham Annex
With the 1776 smell all over him
For nine holes in the afternoon.
At least that was the plan
Until Bill and Mary
Called in sick and no wait staff was there
To feed the cattle moseying in.
The bus boy took his orders
From the single mom supervisor
And learned the ways of a waiter
As the herd got restless.
He found his way,
Selling the buffet like it was five star
Just so he wouldn’t have
To remember to go in the kitchen.
Brunch ended with no drama
And only one table a serious mess.
He left with enough in tips

To pay for that round of golf.

There was a moment in fifth grade when I thought I had done the scariest thing ever. I rode the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens. I spent a summer working the ride in green suspenders. We rode every morning. After awhile the thrill waned a bit. Then a few years ago my wife and I took BG in and found that the thrill had come back…for the roller coaster…the thrill has never left for my wife. Hopefully, we all feel about “The Monster” as Vincent Price did when he asked me, “May a ride again?” Of course…

A friend had the coolest baseball glove,

I think it was a Wilson A2000.
The leather was soft and dark
From all the oil it held.
The strings were tight and
And hung like long hippy braids.
Its shape was molded into
A ground ball gobbling machine.
Not only did he have the coolest glove,
He also drove the coolest Bronco.
The color was green,
Both his ride and my envy.
Years later, I would find
A water soaked Wilson,
Take it home, dry it out,
Tighten the strings, oil it up,
And have catches with my son
Until the leather finally rotted too much to hold the ball.
Years later, I’m riding high in a black 150,
A grandpa truck, not a youthful Bronco.
Each time I see a vintage Ford though,
I think of my old friend and his glove.

Mr. Ellis, I was in seventh or eighth grade when you called me to your office. I was scared, but knew what was coming. I skipped lunch detention thinking basketball would keep me out of trouble. You made sure I understood that being an athlete came with a responsibility to set a good example. Sometimes I did, sometimes not, but I always heard your voice telling me to do better. I hope my students get that lesson from me. And to think it happened because you taught me instead of just putting me in after school detention.  

Thank you, sir.