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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I rarely think of cold when remembering what is was like growing up in Williamsburg. As a middle school kid, winter was not that big of a deal. In seventh grade, though, there was one frigid day and six of us decided to meet in Merchant’s Square for a day of adolescent shenanigans. There were three boys, Brian, Greg, and me. There were three girls, Lori, Melanie, and Sandra. We were there to hang out, but for the guys, there was the thought that maybe our gathering could lead to something more. Hormones…
Times were tough in America. The economy was tanking. The country was disillusioned with the government and banking on newly elected President Carter. The death penalty returned and it snowed in Miami. The times were not good. However, all of that worldwide angst was good for Tidewater. The number of military bases in the area were kept busy with threats to American interests. One base that must have been active, although no one would know for sure because it was shrouded in secrecy, was Camp Peary. I had been on the base once, but all I remember about the camp was the deer and waiting for my grandmother to finish talking to some officer’s wives who lived on the base.
Camp Peary was rumored to be a training place for spies. A friend’s father claimed to have worked for a spy agency that trained at the base. He told us that future spies would play games of tag in Colonial Williamsburg. Their goal was to get as close to people as they could without blowing their cover. We never believed him because the Cold War seemed like it would be far away from Colonial Williamsburg. Even though the town was portrayed as the cradle of a revolution, Williamsburg had evolved into a maze of pancake houses, 7-11s, and cheap motels. On this abnormally cold day, when the hormones of youth were starting to flow, the Cold War would make an appearance on grounds fertile for starting revolutions.
We met outside of Casey’s department store. Four years previously, I spent hours in this store running up and down the stairs while my aunts looked for the Aigner boots or bags. There would be none of that today. After our initial awkwardness, we paired off and started walking down DOG Street. Ahead of us was a tourist group on a walking tour. The group looked to be from somewhere in the Middle East and given the times they stood out in lily white Colonial Williamsburg. There weren’t many people out due to the January chill which only added to the contrast of this small group of visitors.
“You guys, check out that dude over there,” said Sandra.
She pointed at a guy that was standing behind the wall of Bruton Parish Church. He has a camera and looked like a tourist, but he was taking pictures of the Middle Easterners. We walked to the Cooper Shop and watched the guy at the church. He would snap a photo and then write in a notebook. He wore jeans, a puffy ski jacket, and hiking boots. He gave off the image of traveling student, but his haircut was anything but college length in the mid-seventies. In fact, his closely cropped hair, coupled with his precision moves at following the group, led Brian to say, “I bet he’s one of those spies.”
Greg said, “Let’s follow him.”
So we did. Whenever the tourist group moved, the spy guy moved, and so we moved. We made sure to look at the sights and act foolishly. We went with this all the way down DOG Street until we got to the King’s Arms Tavern and Melanie had a bold idea.
“Who can get closest to Spy Guy?” she asked.
She took our game of hide-n-seek to another level. We were switching to tag. The girls didn’t want any part of the challenge which meant the guys were being put into some kind of evolutionary test of masculinity and potential compatibility. The three of us looked at each other and decided it was game on. Another tour group coming down the street. They were French speaking and making quite a ruckus. Brian was the first to cross the street and got to within twenty yards of Spy Guy before he peeled off. I got as close as Brian. Greg who was well on his way to touching Spy Guy when a couple of trench coat wearing enforcers grabbed Greg and took him behind the Raleigh Tavern. At the same time, the five of us were hustled into the Kings Arms Tavern by similarly stealth like goons. We had no idea what was going on, but the guys, with their cropped hair, big coats and dark sunglasses were wearing the wrong costume to be Colonial Williamsburg employees.
Through the window of the tavern I could see the French group and the Middle Eastern group come together. The two groups morphed and a man switched from the Middle Eastern group to the French rowdies. The Middle Easterners kept on going towards the Capital and the rowdies, with their new member, turned left on Botetourt Street and jumped into a van that took the defector away. A few minutes later we were reunited with Greg in the kitchen of the King’s Arms Tavern. Spy Guy was with him.
“You kids need to go home,” he said.
“What just happened?” I asked.
With that we were back in the cold. Ten months later, the Shah of Iran was in town and the protesters were everywhere. Rumor has it that the Shah snuck out of the Lightfoot House to the Williamsburg Inn through an underground laundry tunnel. I’ve always wondered if there was a connection to our little game, but I’ll never know. For what its worth, none of us got dates either.
Saturday night was family night at the Hamilton house. Fred, who was a recent transplant to Williamsburg from Arizona would bring us all over to his house just about the time his step father fired up the grill. I was never sure if Fred wanted us to stay for dinner, but the burgers, dogs, and basketball were hard for us to walk away from.
We were such regulars that we had chores, talked back Fred’s mom and step father like they were our parents, and even received consequences for our idiocy. Once I made fun of Mr. Hamilton’s job on a submarine and I found myself eating alone on the back porch. Either way, inside or out, the hot dog was perfect and the family nights were a lot of fun.
There was a regular crew. I was the only basketball player. My hoops skills were average for high school, but my confidence in my abilities often bordered on delusional. There was Glen, who had Superman features, played football and smiled a lot. Brian was the cocky one in the bunch who loved no-sleeve shirts and swore he was the desire of every girl in school. Brothers, Donald and Ronald, filled out the group. They were also from out west and had a cool arrangement with their father who lived in a hotel. In all, the regulars were a decent bunch of dudes.
Then there was Fred. He may have been the best basketball player of the bunch. He could put the ball on string and dribble you to sleep. He brought the Arizona game east with spins, crossovers, and between the legs moves that the establishment coaches weren’t ready for yet. He also brought a dislike of running, conditioning, and defense that kept him from ever playing in high school. On his driveway, though, Fred was transcendent.
Whenever the Williamsburg night life failed to provide a heartbeat, we would stay at the Hamilton’s house and play 2 on 2. The games weren’t much more than some dribbling and a long jumper, but the sweat was as real as our desire to win. I never wanted to lose to the younger guys who weren’t basketball players. They always wanted to beat my teams for the satisfaction of sticking it to the “white shadow.” Eventually, we would tire and have our version of an NBA dunk contest.
The basket was just above the garage, so it probably measured just under nine feet. None of us could dunk on a ten foot goal, so this was the perfect hoop for us to live out the dreams of throwing one down. We all had a style, Glen brought power, Brian came with finesse and a lot of talk after his dunks, I like to fly from as far away as possible, Fred always finished with a scissors kick, and the twins never dunked. Nobody ever got more than an eight, because everyone thought that their dunk was the best. It was all fun until the gutter got pulled down and we were banned from dunking thereafter.
One night the games were fierce. The young-ins were feeling like they had a chance. All week long at baseball practice they had been talking smack about how Fred and I were done. I paid them no attention during the week which only fueled their energy. In our last game of the night the score was tied at ten. We always played first to eleven, so Fred and I needed a defensive stop and score to shut Glen, and mostly, Brian up. Glen had the ball straight out from the basket and I locked in for the stop. Then it happened.
Fred’s sister got home from work. As she was walking up the driveway, I caught her eye and for a second lost my focus. Glen drove right down the middle and by the time I looked back he was already airborne. All I could do was duck. He threw down a garage door shaking dunk that ended the reign Fred and I had ruled with over the last year. Brian went crazy. Fred packed a lip. Donald and Ronald were looking at a Muscle and Fitness. I drifted off the court towards Fred’s sister. We would hang out together through the rest of the summer. Then she would go to college and I would get dunked on again.
Those were great nights. College would bust us all up. We would see each other on the odd holidays, but we never played basketball again. I wonder what would happen now. I can only speak for myself, but if we had a dunk contest, it better be held on a seven foot rack. Thirty years does a number on jumping.
We all boarded the bus with our gear and fast food breakfasts. The sophomores headed to the back seats while the freshman filled in where they could, such was the hierarchy of the junior varsity baseball team. I was a freshmen splitting time at first base and trying to get used to not playing all the time. I still had hopes of being able to play in college, but I didn’t think my life was all about baseball. I thought that I was willing to do whatever it took to win, but looking back as an old timer now, I didn’t take the game nearly as seriously as some of the other guys.
One of those guys was named Pete. He was a sophomore and might be described as scrappy or a fire plug. He was crazy confident, shared his excitement of all things readily, and generally led with boisterousness. The back seat was his throne and the boom box was his staff. Besides being a team leader, Pete was also the self-appointed DJ, which meant a steady diet of classic and southern styled rock.
On this morning we were making the trip to Hampton High School. Late April can bring the hazy, hot, and humid in Tidewater and this day was no different. The grass held every bit of moisture that could not hang in the air and the intense sun was a sure sign that the ride home would be a smelly affair. We got on the bus and headed down Longhill Road for I-64.
With all of the windows down there was little use in talking. The ride was going quietly until we got to Lee Hall. That’s when Pete got himself all jacked up on Skoal and started his pregame ritual.
“Where are the tunes?” he said. “I gotta have some tunes if I’m gonna be my best.”
He got his box fired up and hit play. For once there was something current-ish, the Police with Message In a Bottle. I perked up a bit, but only to be disappointed as Pete shut that down nearly as fast as it started.
“Ah, no, get that shit outta here. Can’t hit a baseball that. Gotta have some Top. Gimme some Top and I’ll go 4-4-4,” he said accompanied with the hand gestures to boot.
We had heard this before. “Gimme Top, Gimmie Skynard, Gimmie some Hank” and always the same result, no feast only famine. But the team indulged Pete and his motivational histrionics because if nothing else it was funny. Today, though, his box did him wrong. Just as the Texas trio was about to bust out Cheap Sunglasses, the tape got eaten. There was no saving the cassette or Pete’s mood. He was devastated and looked as though he might be out of the game mentally. So it is as a superstitious adolescent.
“Put the Police back on,” I said.
Pete did rewound the tape to the beginning with so little excitement that I feared his soul might drain the batteries. He was sucking the life out of this long, hot bus ride. And then the music hit, “Just a cast away an island lost at sea-o/ Another lonely day, no one here but me-o/ More loneliness than any man could bear/ Rescue me before I fall into despair-o…” And with that I got lost in the music and forgot all about Pete getting four hits.
We got to the field only to find a few rotten crabs sprinkled around the dugout. The “Crabbers” had gone easy on us with the stinky shell fish this year. We went through our warm-ups and the game began right on time. Pete, who had been unusually quiet during infield, half heartedly stepped up to the plate. The pitcher delivered the first pitch which Pete promptly smacked into left center for a double. He then stole third and scored on a passed ball. We were up 1-0 and less than ten pitches had been thrown.
Since I was sitting the bench on this warm Saturday, I decided to get involved with the country cousins, John and Sean. These guys were country cool and all out fun. They also loved their chewing tobacco. Being the serious athlete, I stayed away from such vices, but on this day, boredom and peer pressure would get the best of me. The cousins were trying to see who could spit closest to the center of a circle drawn in the dirt. The key was to have a glopping mouth full tobacco spit. I decided to go with John and the Levi Garrett thinking the leaf tobacco would be better than the finely chopped Skoal.
Boy was I wrong. I packed my cheek tight and nibbled on the ball of tobacco and really couldn’t manage all of the juice in a competitive way. I did, however, succumb to the trippy effects of the tobacco and began to get a buzz. A couple of innings passed and Pete was back up to bat. Another single, he was two for two.
I kept chewing. The cousins began to notice that I was not moving much and started spitting sunflower seeds at me. I couldn’t even get up to move out of their range. Sean had a high pitched girl laugh that normally drove me crazy. Today it just added to the spins. Before I knew it Pete was up again and got his third hit of the day.
Somehow I missed out on most of the game. Going into the last inning we were trailing by two runs. The first two guys grounded out. Then we got a single and two walks. Pete was to be the next batter.
“Brad, get loose,” said Coach Frasier. “When Pete gets on you’re hitting. Don’t forget to tell the ump.”
Stop it. Really? He was putting me in today? The day I started (and ended) my tobacco chewing experience… There was no way I could hit the ball. Out in left field the telephone poles were swaying like they were in a hurricane, only the wind wasn’t blowing. Thank goodness Hampton was changing pitchers. At least I would have a little time to clear my head.
Pete stood in the on-deck circle with me. He could tell I was out of sorts. “Tobacco?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it, this game is over.”
For the game to be over Pete was going to have to get a hit off of Cedric Brown. This guy threw wicked heat and three years later signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds. He stood on the mound and threw the fastest ball I had ever seen or not seen as was the predicament being caused by Mr. Garrett’s product.
Pete stepped out the box and nodded approval at the called strike. Then I thought I heard him singing. I could have sworn he was singing Le Grange by ZZ Top, “Have mercy./ A haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw./ A haw, haw, haw. Cedric must have heard too because he chuckled. Then he really threw the fastest ball I’d ever seen.
Pete hit that ball about as hard as any ball has ever been hit. He took off for first while the outfielders took after the ball that finally stopped out by the telephone poles. Jim and Troy scored easily, but Joe was not so fast. He turned around third and in a moment of clarity I told him to slide. He didn’t and managed to step over the tag putting us up by one run.
At least now I could hit with no pressure. That was a blessing and I fouled the first ball by the grace of a Dali inspired magic moment. The next pitch was a dribbler to the shortstop for the third out. The bottom of the inning was routine with John, the country boy, striking out the side.
The next week we got on the bus for an equally long trip to Warwick High. We all took the same seats as was the ritual. Somewhere around Lee Hall, Pete could take the silence no more and began his pre-game ritual.
The hotel magnates of Williamsburg created a major challenge for the kids who wanted a quiet place to swim. Believe it or not, some kids don’t want the craziness of a public pool or the social commitments of neighborhood pools. Fortunately there are more swimming pools in the ‘Burg than 7-11s, so there are plenty of places for the quiet kids to swim. Except, of course, for the aforementioned challenge put down by JAL Enterprises.
JALE was a company formed by Sicilian brothers who had a piece of just about all of the small hotels and restaurants in Williamsburg. Junior, who wasn’t really named after his father, was the oldest. Anthony, the middle child, was the momma’s boy. Luciano, the youngest, was not only smarter than his older brothers, he was also way meaner. Together they formed an enterprise that kept the tourists in cheap motels and sparsely used swimming pools for years upon years.
I was lucky. I grew up in an apartment complex and had access to a bean shaped pool. The hot and humid Williamsburg summers sure felt better with a chance to swim, so when my parents moved us away from the apartments I had some misgivings. A house is nice, but I missed the pool. Unfortunately, as I got old enough to drive and preferred to lounge by the pool like an adult, I had no where to swim. The way I saw it, I had my choice of pools.
JALE saw it differently.
The Sicilian trio had decided that only paying guests would be allowed to use their swimming pools. They posted signs proclaiming such and left it to the honor of us to respect their rule. Yeah, right… At first I started going to the pools alone. I never had a problem then. Once my friends realized what I was doing, they decided to come along. The hotel managers were quick to catch on and with the power of JALE behind them, they chased us away. Like every great development in weaponry, we devised ways of tricking the managers, so that we appeared to be hotel guests. We would get plain white towels and the plastic tags for keys from friends who worked in hotels. When the managers would see us, we would flash the “keys” to save them the trouble of walking out from the office. We also rotated our swimming to different hotels so that there was less of a chance of us being recognized.
Mondays were saved for the Sheraton on Richmond Road. The trick to getting in there was to pass by the desk around 10:00 because there people were checking out then. Sometimes we would set up at the indoor pool so we didn’t appear to be sneaky and then swim through to the outside. Tuesdays were tough because the Hilton pool at Kingsmill was a long walk from the parking lot. Our trick there was to go down to the racquet club, change, and then hit the pool after “working out.” Wednesdays were evening swims at the Holiday Inn on Capitol Landing Road. This place was chill because there was a lifeguard who let us come in. The rest of the days, we randomly hit hotels around town trying our best to be invisible.
Only JALE was on to us. Junior heard that there were some townies breaking the “No swimming” rule and convened his brothers.
“Let’s use this as a learning experience for Cornelio,” said Luciano. Cornelio was his son and he was in high school, although he went to a private school. The plan was for Cornelio to trail us and then get the managers of whatever hotel to kick us out.
Cornelio was the worst kind of arrogant. He came from a family that had worked hard to build their modest empire of hotels and pancake houses. His family had also made the mistake of spoiling him with whatever he wanted. Because of their love, he thought he was a powerful person. As he started tailing us, we had no idea who he was, so our normal routines were quickly busted. With nowhere else to go, a few of us met at Jamestown Beach. Cornelio followed us there.
“Who’s that guy with the red Corvette?” asked Joe.
“I’m not sure,” said Bob, “but he’s always following us.”
I said, “Yeah, I saw him at the Carolyn Court when we got kicked out of the pool.”
“He was at the Captain John Smith, too,” said Joe.
“I’m going over to ask him who he is,” said Bob.
Bob started walking towards the red Corvette and all of sudden the engine roared and the wheels peeled out. The driver had his window down and his middle finger up as he passed by. His license plate gave him away, “Cornelio 1.”
Finding out who Cornelio 1 was could not have been easier since my dad was a cop. Once we knew who we were dealing with, our summer became less about swimming and more about having fun with our budding resort kingpin. We would drive from pool to pool while he followed us never stopping to swim. After awhile he would get tired of following us and then he would zip off to whatever spoiled kids do during the day. Then we would go swimming. The rest of the summer went on like this until school started and the pools closed.
Winter was a different animal, though. There was one place with a giant hot tub that was the heart of JALE. The Econolodge on By-Pass Road had a dome and health club that was the pride of the family business. We were fortunate to have a friend that worked in the club and she was directly in Cornelio’s sights. When we found this out, we convinced her to get him to give her pool passes, something his father and uncles would never approve of. She worked her magic and got pool passes, which only cost us tickets for her and her boyfriend, David, to see The Police at William and Mary Hall. Once she got the passes, Mary quit because she really didn’t like working there anyway. We, however, were just getting started.
Everyday after practice we would head over to the Econolodge and sit in the hot tub. The water felt so good and we were so relaxed because we had passes from the Cornelio, the Great. One day while we were kicking back with the occasional condensation drops falling from the roof of the bubble, the elders of JALE walked in. Luciano recognized us.
“What are you guys doing in here?” he yelled.
“Relaxing,” I said.
“You’re not allowed in here. Can’t you read?” Antonio said while pointing to one their signs. At that moment, Cornelio walked in with a cocky smirk on his spoiled face.
“Yeah we are,” said Joe. “Tell them, Cornelio. You gave us the passes to swim here. Remember, we’re Mary’s friends.”
The elders looked at Cornelio and he knew that he had not given us any passes. He did remember giving Mary the passes. Either way he was screwed. The steam was really rising now.
“Did you give them passes?” Luciano asked his inept son. While Cornelio figured out what to say, we dried off, and produced our passes. Luciano simply pointed to the office and Cornelio walked away.
We didn’t see Cornelio again. When summer came around, we moved on from JALE and started scheming ways to get into the Colonial Williamsburg pools. The Motor House had putt-putt and the Inn had banging hot dogs. One day, we saw the red Corvette pulling into the Gazebo. Because we were ignorant dudes, we pulled in behind “Cornelio 1” ready to let loose with a barrage of smack talk that would have been well suited for the fields and courts of Quarterpath Park. All we could do, though, was laugh because Cornelio got out of the car with his restaurant uniform on. His dad looked our way and smiled as he tore off towards Richmond Road.