The Wood Brothers are playing,
I’m back in Williamsburg
In the heat of a swampy Tidewater day.

It’s raining outside,
A cool Pennsylvania New Year’s Eve rain
And that delta blues groove is drawing me in.

I could be sitting next to the James
With the wind blowing lightly,
The spirit of Carter’s Grove as conflicted as ever.

The land fit for a king,
Supported on the forced servitude of slaves,
Evolved into a sanctuary for me.

And The Wood Brothers are tapping into that energy
Sending my soul to that place where I care
The one where I wish I could wave my hands to erase history

The history of slavery,
The history of doubt,
The one where my head spins without reason.

Truth is those cool breezes spoke to me,
I knew they were telling me things could be better
For us, for me

That people could get along,
That I could be cool with me,
That New Year’s Eve could be sober.

Those breezes are still with me,
They blow a little stiffer now,
Especially, the warm one about caring and purpose

For I’m traveling,
With the energy of the new year,
And maybe I’ll wind up in Williamsburg for real, maybe not,

But one thing is sure,
I’m open to messages everywhere,
Apathy has no shot.

It’s interesting to look back at a journal,
To see where the energy had been alotted,
To find an understanding of the winds,
To just remember what has happened,
Where things went off course,
Those happy moments worth writing about,
The ideas jotted down and forgotten.

It’s interesting to think forward about a journal,
To see how I might allocate my energies,
Catching wind and sailing along
Into new experiences, thrilling or not,
Creating memories that make smiles and wrinkles
Whether on point or far from wanted,
Each worthy of an entry
To be jotted down or forgotten.

Rushing memories,
Fleeting emotions,
Songs of a cold basement,
Signs of the bad
And worse
Of times.

Rays of brightness
Slow a running mind with
Cooling thoughts and
Songs of enlightenment,
Signs of the most exciting
And frightening
Of times.

A brilliant dimness,
The perfect antidote
To the ups and downs,
A song of truth and love,
Signs of eternal commitment
And security
Within these times.

Many years ago
I made a move to teach
At a high school.
After elementary school and middle school,
I figured I had seen just about everything.

I hadn’t.

Besides the normal school stuff,
I got to learn a whole new faculty.
One man was a longtime teacher
Who was nearing retirement.
I only knew him in passing, but he was always around.

He ran the hallways during his planning.
His choppy steps were quiet
And he always listened to something
Loud enough on his headphones
To bypass his downgraded hearing ability.

After he retired,
He stuck around.
Using his guile and experience
From teaching the hardest of students
To manage the toughest of all teaching jobs, the substitute.

And he ran.

After a quick Clark Kent change,
He was out of his bow tie
Making his way around the building
With a pace perfect
For memorizing his lines in the script he carried.

I never knew he was an actor,
But he was great,
Never letting on that he had cancer,
Never suggesting that he could not beat it.
His anger seemed manageable as he reasoned with his struggle.

Yet, he remained upbeat
Running as much as possible,
Reading during quiet moments between classes,
Standing through the rigors of standardized testing,
Acting as if he was on the mend.

We last spoke about two weeks ago.
He did some quiet judging of education,
How we are missing the importance of what we are
By focusing so much time on testing
For he had been a man of relationships, no matter how difficult the student.

Word came today that Kirk passed away.
Cancer took a good man away from us all too soon.
He lived with a dignity and honesty
Few will ever approach.
So long, Mr. Fetters…

Time has a way of distorting perceptions.
An athletic career is probably never
As good or bad as a retired athlete remembers,
So making comparisons to the present in the past’s context
Are sketchy at best.

I’ve been coaching for awhile now,
Really a millisecond in the life of my career
As a physical education teacher,
But it’s interesting
Thinking back to how I was as I watch my players now.

The demands on today’s players are too much.
Year round, open gyms, specialty coaches
It’s ridiculous
Because all the special stuff
Doesn’t help kids know how to play better.

I couldn’t survive in this environment.
I liked the seasons,
Winter basketball, spring and summer baseball, and
Fall was mine to piss way,
To just be a kid.

Yet, somehow I got as far as I could
With an understanding of how the games are played,
A sports IQ if you will, and yet,
As I coach today, I know there is still more to learn,
Mostly how to understand what I don’t…arrogance, egoism, delusion…

Then I think, maybe I’m carrying that baggage
Thinking I know the best way
Wanting the kids to be something they cannot be,
Wishing this wasn’t a recreational stop in their careers,
But something that brought some pride to the school.

I think about wanting to play Bruton.
I think about warring against Denbigh or
Sweating it out against Hampton and how
We tried to do right by our school coaches
So our school would be respected.

We knew when to pick and how to roll.
We understood that baseball is dynamic and
Standing around only creates an attitude of passiveness.
Whether it was coaches or players
We were together.

Then I remember some players
Who rode the drama train when they didn’t get what they wanted
And they turned on the coaches or teammates
Robbing us of whatever unity
We worked so hard to build.

Now I see
Then was not so different than now
I understand how time smooths the rough edges
Yet I can’t shake the idea that I can coach “as we should be,”
Not allowing the existing culture that so many are willing to accept.

The turnaround starts when kids carry equipment.
The attitude changes when kids drop the comebacks after being coached.
Hustling, making the correct play, dropping the stat line,
All of these things matter.
Helping the kids understand that is the hard part of coaching.

Looking back,
I think my coaches made those priorities.
They all had their way, but togetherness, team pride, and accountability
All rose from the standards that they set out.
Those lessons mattered more than my launch angle at the plate or a three on the court.

The time has come for some Coach Jones confrontation.
The controversial one once took a cocky white boy to the side and said,
“Son, you look disrespectable.”
Maybe this was the wrong word, a malapropism, but the message was clear,
“Get your shit together and represent your team correctly.”

It took me “being me” to learn the lesson the hard way,
But I got the message because my coach helped me to understand.
My talent level didn’t change, but my attitude about what it meant to be an athlete did.
Perhaps we need a little of that Melvin mental chiropractic adjusting
To align some of our pasts with the curvature disorders of the present.

I sure hope my coaches remember me as a team player.
I hope they remember me listening to them.
I want my teammates to have thought me a good teammate,
Better yet, a friend, someone they could count on
To be in the right place at the right time.

Ah, that what then…

A photo by Thomas Curryer.

A song came on the other day
Making me think of you.
The music was slow
And I could feel you close,
Your curves, your hair,
How warm you are.
The rhythm swayed
As we did so long ago
In the darkness of uncertainty.

So many years later
Just the first few bars of this song
Brought a smile to my face and
A feeling that you were right there
Making things right
With all that you are.
The beat goes on
Today as it did then,
Only now, with a lightness of permanence.


Photo Credit:

“What about you, do you want to play on the varsity team?”

“I did, but I guess not now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“That’s why we’re here, right? You’re cutting me.”

“No, I want you to play on the team.”

“Oops, I do.”

With that, I was on the varsity basketball team. When Coach Farrior called me over to the middle of the gym, I was sure I would be cut. Little did I know how much I would learn and how fun my basketball experience would be. There were two sophomores on the team that year. Tim Marsh was an athletic point guard with quickness that I would never know. He was also confident enough to sing Jack and Diane before practice in a way that would have made Marvin Gaye and John Cougar (Cougar-Mellencamp, Mellencamp) fall over laughing. I was a spot up shooter and Danny Ainge type of annoyance on the court. Without a fearlessness to playing defense, I would never have been able to play basketball. Whatever the reason, Coach Farrior kept me on the team.

There were many rules to being on the team. Most had to do with scheduling and since there was only one gym at Lafayette practice times were regimented. There were two practice blocks. One week the boys went first and the girls went second. That would switch the next week. During the non-practice block we were supposed to go into a classroom and have a study hall.

Supposed to…

Coach Farrior would set the tone at the start of the season and stay in the room. I can only imagine how bored he must have been. I sat back in the corner trying to balance open eyed naps with getting some homework done. I assumed the rest of the team was doing the same. One day, Coach left the room and that was it. Court was in session.

Mondays were the best because my older teammates were out committing “crimes of gossip” that needed to be brought up and judged by a testosterone fueled jury of adolescent males. As I remember it, Maurice would bring the court to session. He would announce the charges, most often those would be levied against someone who had dared to close the door to a room at a party. Whenever there was a strong denial or weak defense, JIP would bring his Shaft like intensity and call “BS” to the whole thing. Finally, there would be a confession and the sentence was a public humiliation of laughter.

Again, as I remember it, one person took most of the brunt of this kangaroo court. I was stealthy, so none of my stuff got prosecuted and there was plenty enough to strap me to the laughing chair for many practices. When the season was over, I tried to get the same thing going with the baseball team, but we just weren’t funny enough to make it happen. Too thin skinned, I guess. No matter, the basketball court was something I still laugh about today.

You never know who you might meet. Growing up in Williamsburg, I had the opportunity to meet, or sort of meet, some famous people. I can’t say that any of them really got to know me, but here are some snippets of what is was like sort of meeting some celebrities.

Bruce Hornsby: There is not an ounce of celebrity in this guy. He is a regular dude. When I met him I tried not to drool, but it didn’t work. Bruce was patient with my ridiculousness and then just went about talking to me as another guy who grew up in Williamsburg. Super cool. I saw Bruce in concert a few years ago in Delaware. The show was magic. He played alone, just the songs and his piano. He played all types of music and even included a few of his hits, but he played with confidence and purpose that inspired me to get back into writing. More than getting to hear him play Mandolin Rain or The Dreaded Spoon, I got the sense that he was having fun. I was lost in his virtuosity and would put that show up there with EWF, Santana, and Clapton as the best I’ve ever seen. His show kickstarted my writing, something I had neglected for far too many years. Blogging came soon thereafter, and if nothing else, I have fun doing so. I’m no Bruce Hornsby, but I love sharing my writing.

I owe him…

Margaret Thatcher: I’ve written about her before and I wish I had been dressed a little more respectfully when she acknowledged Matt and me standing beside the road as she headed to a state dinner with other world leaders. She was the only ‘important person” to acknowledge us standing there and my cut off jeans and a torn white Yale gym shirt I adopted from the lost and found at William and Mary were beneath old Maggie. She was a lot nicer than the dudes who drove by. They didn’t even look over. Heck, Reagan arrived in a helicopter and never even passed us by. Mrs. Thatcher did, though, and I thought it pretty cool.

Susan Lucci: I held the door for her as she got off the Skyride at Busch Gardens. That was a big thrill for a sixteen year old kid in blue knickers and a puffy shirt. I read recently, that the Erica Kane character was a some sort of archetype for women on the soaps. I’ll admit to watching Days of Our Lives, so my knowledge of Erica Kane’s groundbreaking model is not on any of my lists of expertise, but Ms. Lucci “watched her head and step” as she exited the gondola, just as I had asked her to do. Then she kept right on walking to the Festhaus where there was some kind of promotional thing going on. If there was anything archetypical going on, it was appreciation, as Ms. Lucci was all smiles and quick with a thank you as she left the ride.

Vincent Price: He was O.G. and riding high as the voice in Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He walked onto the platform of the Loch Ness Monster, scrunched into the back seat of the ride, and rode twice without so much as a hair out of place. I remember him asking with his great theatrical voice, “May I ride again, son?” I just waved the train through ZZ Top style. When he returned to the station, Mr. Price thanked all of us on the platform. He was polite and expressed his appreciation for our help. Classy.

Lawrence Taylor: Yep, the Hall of Fame football player. I benefitted from his success through a donation he made to our (we went to the same) high school. I can’t imagine the pressure he must have felt to be the kind of athlete he was, but I also can’t understand the man he became. We had an opportunity to talk after he gave a disappointing speech at our high school and I walked away from the conversation thinking that he was a person who operated with different values than me.

That’s it.

I guess I haven’t gotten to meet very many famous people. I think I sat next to Andrew Wyeth at a diner. I’m sure I stood next to Kate of Plus 8 fame in a mall. She was doing a good job of not being recognized, but my double take at the mall map gave her a bit of panic, if it was her. I’m also pretty sure I was behind David Chappell in line at a Toys-R-Us, but I didn’t talk to him as he looked busy with Easter shopping, if it was him. Neither did I spend any significant time with the people I met. Mostly, I know them from first impressions. I guess it’s true that the first impression sticks with a person a long time. What has stuck with me the longest is that for all of their fame, these celebrities were “real” people. I got a sense in these brief encounters of what each person might be like. I don’t know for sure what they were all about, but it’s kind of cool to realize that celebrities are just like us, only with more attention given to what they do.