50 shades of gray Allen, days 16-17
So as I’ve moved into my high school years, it seems I’ve fallen off the actual year cycle and into the academic calendar. So be it for the entry.
It had been a mail-in contest, with one entry per person. So I sent in 30 with the same address and different name. There were my parents, Ed & Cathy, and my brothers and sisters. And there was Bill, Frank and Steve that I made up just to name a few. But when the award letter came back it was in MY name.
We had won then right to buy two $3 tickets for $16.50 each. They were at the top of the right-field bleachers, looking right into the sun as the day game made its way into the late afternoon. But hey, we were there and that’s all that mattered.
And when the game came down to the final at bat, we watched as Bill Russell slapped a single to center that the Phillies’ Gary Maadux couldn’t field and allowed Ron Cey to score from second. It was epic and my dad and I were there!
My freshman year, however, was just odd.
I was still terrified of girls, but that was about the furthest thing from my mind.
Well, I’m a guy. So while it wasn’t the furthest thing from my mind, I wasn’t really concentrating on them at this point.
No, it was all about survival. It was about avoiding the likes of John Condos, the older guy who lived down the block from me. He seemed intent on having me push pennies around the rim of a toilet seat or something, and that just wasn’t gonna happen.
Because aside from John, everyone else seemed to think I was a junior or senior. I was a big kid at that age, big enough that more than a few friends hung out with me just to avoid the typical hazing the underclassmen got. Little did they know I’d avoided all manner of confrontation to that point in life, only having two fights through age 15. And both had ended badly for the other guy.
This year’s first memory was my friend James King and some of his other friends getting a little trouble with the law. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that as smart as that group was they acted pretty dumb. The only major problem for me that arose from it was that since I was close friends with James, the campus cops decided I must know something about what was going on. And so for a few weeks they religiously followed me into the gym at lunch time to watch me play basketball, I can only assume they thought some ill-gotten booty would be exchanged from James’ foray to the dark side of the law.
After about a month I had had enough of feeling like a criminal when I was likely socially sanitary than Mr. Clean. My mom drug me into the principal’s office to meet with Mr. McGrath, where she explained that I had better be left alone or there would be hell to pay. Mom was not a master negotiator, she believed in good ol’ blunt force diplomacy.
This was the year that former Beatle John Lennon was killed outside his apartment in New York. I was OK with their music from the 70s and all that, but it wasn’t like they were the end-all-be-all of the world. They were guys, in a band and the sang well. That was it. But when he was shot, you’d have thought the world was coming to an end.
Being much more of a football fan than a Beatles fan, I was a little put off when they interrupted Monday Night Football to announce Lennon’s death. It lasted only a few seconds, with the Patriots and Dolphins not missing a beat on the field. But when asked about it by some staff member of the Burros Blockbuster school newspaper, I gave what I thought was a pithy response with, “I’m sorry he’s dead, but I just don’t think they needed to interrupt Monday Night Football to report it.”
Looking back now, not a great response. But the ire it drew from the school paper’s adviser was a little over the top. She wrote a commentary and cited me as being “… apathetic vermin …”, and that’s where she crossed the line.
The next day Mom and I were back in McGrath’s office. She had been a little perturbed after the campus cop thing, but she was in full-on attack mode now. Had his desk not been so big, I’m sure she would have gnawed his leg off.
McGrath pulled in the teacher, who’s name escapes me now and instructed her to apologize for the commentary and that she had to write a full retraction in the next issue of the school paper. At first she refused. But when McGrath indicated that he already had her termination papers in hand if she failed to comply, she relented and fell in line.
All this time I’m in freshman Geography, being taught by the offbeat teacher named Frank Mazer. Mazer was unlike any other teacher I ever had. He had this strange sense of humor (still does, by the way) and unlike other teachers, he seemed to
really care deeply if you got the material. He didn’t just want you to learn it, he wanted you to genuinely get it.
As basketball season rolled around, I found out that he was the freshman coach. I went through tryouts and ended up as one of the 15 young men to make the squad. I wasn’t a front line player, but I hustled my way into significant playing time. I dove for so many balls that Mazer would later nickname me the Human Bruise.
That moniker didn’t stick, but another one did – Magic Gut.
There has always been a lot discussion and interest into how this name came to be, and why I even let it exist as it seems derogatory in nature. But trust me, when considered against the other names I was getting called, it was clearly the best of the bunch.
One day while playing basketball at lunch (long after the campus cops had stopped being my lunch-time “fan club”) we were in there playing hard and having a great time. On this particular day, we were all acting as our own play-by-play announcers, ‘broadcasting’ our maneuvers and trick shots as we executed them. It was kind of dumb. But hey, we were freshmen!
It was in the Spring and the NCAA Tournament had just ended, with Michigan State having defeated Indiana State for the title. One player emerged from that game on a media rocket ride, and his name was Ervin “Magic” Johnson.
So as I took the ball at the top of the key, I decided to drive to the hoop and began by ‘broadcast’…
“Magic fakes left, dribbles right, spins to the hoop and scores! Magic Johnson rolls it in!”
It was at that moment that Greg Markarian, chimed in with, “More like Magic Gut!”
Everyone laughed, but it wasn’t at me. And that made all the difference.
A few years later I did the same thing to Rob White. But we’ll save that story for a few chapters down the road.
That summer, while playing in my final year of Senior League, I had my first and only multiple home run year. I hit one of Jimmy Lawler and one off Paul Bergens. Those feats of strength jump-started a great season in which I struck out 30 times in 18 games.
Yeah, the pros were sure to be impressed.
My sophomore year was a little less strained. I knew my place with women and it was either as the “coveted” big brother or as the undatebale material guy. Either way, i was OK with it, so let’s move on!
When basketball season rolled around we had tryouts and there were a ton of guys going out. We all hustled our butts off for two weeks to impress coach Al Sedios and then gathered in the locker room after the final session to find out who had made it and who was going home. Sedios started slowly reading a list of the 15 names of the guys who made the team, and when he stopped reading mine had not been called.
This was really the first of a series of moments in my life where I really thought I knew what was going to happen, but this time it didn’t. As we left the training room and headed to our lockers, some of the guys tried to console me. It did little good. There were guys on that team I knew I was better than and all my mind could was race in a feeble attempt to ascertain why they got picked and I did not.
I went home, flopped into bed and cried.
The next morning I sat in front of a TV watching Saturday morning cartoons. I had found a six-pack of 7-Up in the garage and was drinking them as I watched the likes of “Thundarr the Barbarian” on the screen. I’d polish off a can, crush it and rifle it into the fireplace. My mom would walk through the room occasionally, looking me over and just letting me sit. She new I was ticked and I think even she was a bit miffed.
Then the phone rang.
“Tim, its for you,” she called from the living room. “Its Steve Fry.”
“What does he want?” I scowled.
“I don’t know, just come and take it.”
I did and said hello.
“Hey Tim, its Steve. I was just wondering why you weren’t at practice today?”
I had been in a bad mood that morning, that put me in overdrive in a heart beat. “Real funny Steve. How about we meet somewhere and I kick your ass?”
I’m guessing that Sedios must have heard that through the earpiece on the other end, listening to Steve’s call as he made it from the Burroughs coaches office. I heard the rustle of a phone being given to someone else and then he came on the line.
“Tim, this is coach Sedios and I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” said Sedios.
He went on to explain that when he was reading the names the night before he must have skipped over mine, telling me he was as nervous to read the names as we were to hear them. Of course, none of us were counting names, we were just listening for our own.
He related how when the team’s practice had come to an end that morning that the guys were all on the line and he only counted 14. “Where’s Allen?” he asked, to which Fry had responded, “You cut him last night.”
Oh to have been a fly on the wall of the gym that day.
When I coached years later, that one experience proved more valuable than just about any other athletically. It gave me the perspective of being cut when I had never been cut before. And it allowed me to show compassion to those I was having to let go from the team.
At the end of that year we played a game in Palmdale that I will never for get. It was a very intense game and right before the final buzzer a huge fight broke out. The benches cleared and when the melee was cleared, the refs were ready to call the game a double forfeit because neither team had any players left.
It was then that Mazer, having been sitting with Sedios on the bench, pointed over to where our team had been sitting. And still seated was myself, the pacifist. I thought the reason they were fighting was stupid, so I just sat there and watched the whole thing. And when the refs confirmed that I hadn’t moved, we got the win.
I got my first job sometime this year as well, working for Mr. Dye at Compard Computer Center. We sold these things called Apples and they were just cool. Mr. Dye’s task for me was to learn how to play all of the games that were available for them. Yeah, play games. All afternoon. And get PAID for it. Life was good!
As time passed I got into repairing them as well. One day a guy brought in a machine that was in a wood case, not too much unlike the one see at the right. When I went to fix it it had a serial number of a bunch of zeroes and something like 48 at the end. We logged it, repaired it and sent it on its way. Knowing what we know now, I’d have kept it and gave him a new one. That thing had probably come right our of Steve Wosniak’s garage and today would be worth a ton.
Burroughs baseball came and went, with nothing substantial in the mix. And summer was now void of much of the action I had seen previously because I was too old for Little League. So it was work and summer school so I could finish up Driver’s Ed and get my license.
Next time, I become and upper classman!