Saturday morning, I have to drive 14 year old Sandor to his job at 10:30 am. He’s a busboy and a crazy popular pizza restaurant. But today is different, I’ve convinced my husband, Alex, the sometimes curmudgeon, to drive with me and stop by the wonderful Hot Springs Farmers Market afterwards.
The top is down, I have a convertible, the morning is beautiful and our son, Sandor is in the back seat.
Alex looks over at me. ” I can’t believe you made me wear this sweatshirt.”
“Come on, it’s soft and nice and new, what’s the problem?”
“I like my old red sweatshirt. I don’t care what people think.”
“”You look really nice, though,” I pleaded.
“Sandor, she’s being mean to me.”
I rolled my eyes, looked at him and smiled, “What? I’m making you go to the Farmer’s Market on a beautiful Saturday morning. That’s so awful? I’m sounding like a Jewish Grandmother, right?”
“What ever, the Elite Eight, NCAA, first game starts in three hours.”
I playfully smacked him. “What ever, I’ll have you home two hours before tip off. Just enjoy the morning.”
And then were were silent for a moment. I looked in the rear view mirror and locked eyes with Sandor. He smiled at me. “What? What are you grinning about?” I asked him.
He just shook his head, “You guys are adorable.”
We got Sandor to his job on time. I stopped the car and looked at Alex, “Adorable. He called us adorable. You know what that means?”
Alex pulled a cigarette out, waiting to get out of the car so he could smoke it. “Hell yeah, he’s calling us old.”
“Exactly!” I said.
“It’s ok, we still got it,” Alex said to me, trying to dismiss the fact Sandor called us “adorable.”
Alex and I now comfortably fall into old people grumbling, bickering, bitching.
I looked at him. “We still got it?”
“Hell yeah,” he replied ruefully, like a dude from The Outsiders.
“Well ok then. Let’s tear up the Farmer’s Market.”
*Apparently I will never ever, ever get back on Google Adsense, cause nine years ago I messed up. That means I’ll probably never make money from this blog. So….you comments and support mean everything…otherwise why would I write. Let me know what you think. Please.
Every week day, I get up, get dressed, do make up, hair, perfume, pick out jewelry and head off to work. And here’s what I’ve noticed in the past few years. On the rare occasion someone says “you look nice” ,”that’s cute” or “you smell good” it’s never ever a man. Ever. The only people who say anything remotely positive are young women. Yesterday, it was my friend Tasha…she’s 28 or 29 I think. The day before it was my daughter Lex (you can always count on daughters).
Now, here’s the part of this story that really gets me, and I promise, I’m not looking for compliments. I hear men compliment younger women (20-38) all the time. I understand at that age they are simply more attractive. I was fairly hot when I was twenty eight and living in the Keys. But men, you could find something nice to say if your tried, I really believe that.
I think the problem is men are scared to say anything nice to a woman 40 and older. I think they are afraid we’ll think they are creepy, misogynistic, sexist or slimy. Guys, if you say something like “hey baby you look smokin’ hot this Monday morning” you’re right, I’ll think ugly thoughts about you and I’ll work hard not to punch you in the throat.
If instead you say, “good morning, Diana, you look nice today,” you will absolutely make my day. I promise. I really need the compliment now.
When I was 28 or 30 I didn’t really need your compliments. I knew I had it going on. Men, when you tell a beautiful 32 year old how amazing she looks it’s kind of like putting sugar in the Cool-aid. Young women who post a lot of selfies probably already know how hot they are.
But when you say something nice to a 50, 70 or 80 year old woman it’s different, every kind word is like a lovely salve on the wound of time. When you say something nice to a grown woman, I promise you ninety nine percent of the time…you’ll make her day.
Wait, I’m going to revise my stand. You don’t have to stop compliment the pretty young girls, you just need to include us too. (I don’t want to sound old and bitter and jealous. Too late? Damn It.
I tell random men they look nice all the time. I tell strangers they smell good at the grocery store (if they are wearing smell good stuff they want to smell nice) , I tell bank tellers I like their Picasso ties, I told a dude at the Dollar Store yesterday that his high tops were cool looking. A compliment makes people smile, it makes people happy, so who am I to deny other people joy.
So men, fear not! It would be wonderful if you said something nice to a woman over 40 today. Don’t be afraid. If she misunderstands…she’s an idiot.
PS: My husband is excluded from this blog. He said something nice as I left the house this morning.
This week at work I had a yellow legal pad page half filled with deals to close and projects to finish for clients. I realized for the second time there were literally too many to get finished in four days so I did what Sandor, my 14 year old, told me to do. I “put first things first.” That’s right I prioritized my list. It’s not rocket science but it made my week a lot more productive and financially rewarding…in a big way.
Sandor, who is in 8th grade, is part of a public charter school. And much of the schools new focus has been Stephan Covey book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Sandor and I debate the seven habit some times. Number seven is “Sharpen Your Saw,” meaning keep balance in your life. do the things you love like yoga or yodeling instead of working all the time. Any time Sandor wants to lie in bed and watch stupid videos on youtube he tells me he’s “sharpening his saw.” And I call BS.
“Putting first things first” is one of the rules we agree on. We talk about it every now and then, usually when I’m driving him to school and he’s got a lot of projects going on. But this time, he was the one who reminded me on Monday night when I was griping and complaining about all the stuff I had to get done, in just a few days.
Maybe I should listen to that kid more often. Except when he tells me one shower in three days is plenty.
If you want to read the book you’ll find it on Amazon for less than five dollars, if your lazy and want to check out the seven habits in less than five minutes here’s the Wikipedia link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People
Let me know what you think and as always you are welcome to share this post.
Sandor is 14 and this weekend he started his first job. He’s a busboy at a local pizza joint. Saturday and Sunday’s during the day. That’s what we agreed on.
As soon as he found out he had the job, Sandor started calling his buddies to tell them what was up. He was so proud and excited, and so was I.
My first job was closer to home. I ran blue prints for my dad’s architectural office on the weekends. The blue print machine ran on ammonia and the smell was so terrible nobody could work while the blue print machine was being used. I made ten cents a sheet. On a busy day I could make eight or ten dollars. Big money.
But Sandor has a real job, with strangers. He has stuff he wants to buy now, things for his dirt bike, a double base for his drum kit. Expensive stuff. So I told him to get a job.
Folks have had all kinds of different reactions to this news. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal but I was wrong. Several people said he’s too young, that he should be enjoying himself and have fun while he’s a kid. I agree.
The most surprising response came from his dad, Alex. He’s generally the “hard ass” in the family. He started working five nights a week when he was fifteen and never looked back. His first fear was Sandor would follow in his foot steps and go into the food service world. Trust me, there’s no chance of that. Sandor knows his dad worked 70 hours a week and it nearly killed him.
Alex was one of those who said he should “enjoy his childhood.”
On his first day, he dressed carefully. Collared shirt, lots of deodorant, hair perfect.
My feeling….. he’s fourteen. He’s not a child. Not an adult, but somewhere in between, so he needs to step up his manly duties.
Most men over fifty have heard that he’s “working” and have been really pleased, even strangers. They shook his hand, gave him the thumbs up and slapped him on the back. They seemed to be relieved that a boy in his generation wants to work, manually. Sandor’s friends are seriously jealous. Apparently, they wish they could work too but their parents won’t let them.
So parents, why aren’t we letting our young adults work eight hours a week, on the weekend when it doesn’t interfere with school? Some of our kids want to work, and that should make us proud. Why don’t we let them except some responsibility?
Are we trying to baby them or are we just too lazy to drive them back and forth?
After his first six hour shift busing tables Sandor was absolutely wiped out. His legs and feet were spent. He was exhausted but soooooo happy. When I picked him up he went on and on about buckets of ice, silverware and dirty dishes. He told me about waitresses who told him he did a good job and Hispanic ladies who bossed him around. Lord he was proud of himself and that’s a wonderful thing. He was proud of what he did, without me. And about the money he earned.
Of course child labor laws are a good thing. But maybe it’s time we stop coddling our kids. I think we’ve gone overboard. Sandor will go to college, he will be educated. But a job seems to give him a sense of pride and purpose, one that hanging out with his buddies, playing video games and jumping on the trampoline, doesn’t. He’s proud of himself.
Sandor is soaking in a hot tub now, hoping it will help his legs and feet. But this weekend he made $72 dollars and he’s got big plans!
Recently my youngest son said these words, “A girl at school told me my eyebrows were on fleek.”
Boy says,”On fleek, it means on point or good…something like that.”
An hour later I tried to use the term. “Honey, dinner was on fleek, tonight.”
“Sorry mom, that’s not working. You probably can’t say that. Sounds too weird.”
Vocabulary is a bizarre thing. It can make you seem cool or really really old. Slang words come and go so fast by the time adults figure them out they are out of style.
Hearing an older adult still using the word “bling” is embarrassing and painful. Bling faded out at least ten years ago. If I used the word “cheddar” in place of money my kids would probably push me out of a moving car.
I remember how horrified I was when my fifty year old mom said , “Vice President Dan Quall ‘delish. I’d scoop on him.'” Noooo! Everything about the sentence was wrong, especially her use of the term “delish and scoop.” Grosss!
So this year when I looked at the new words in the dictionary I told myself to be cautious. I’m not gonna jump up and tell a client not to “throw shade” at me if they treat me disrespectfully.
I’m not going to tell my husband his idea for fixing a lamp with duct tape is “weak sauce” and I’m not going to accuse my co-worker of a “humble brag” when she tells me she “only volunteered at the homeless shelter twelve hours last week.
The one word I might hang onto is “microagression”. Because that’s legitimate. Microagression is subtle or unintentionally saying something that belittles a minority or group. There’s an older guy at work who constantly refers to women as “you girls.” He says things like, “Well you girls just couldn’t understand how important it is to change your oil on a regular basis.” Hey, I’m not a girl and of course I understand the importance of oil changes. He doesn’t mean to offend me but man he pisses me off.
It’s fun to study the new words and phrases, but if you’re older than thirty be careful. You’ll end up sounding older than you are, I’ll have to give you the “side eye” then “ghost.”
PS…I learned yesterday “on fleek” is already out.
My youngest son has a good friend with terrible manners. He’s a nice 14 year old boy, kind and generous to a fault, but this kid almost seems proud of his bad manners.
After I spent twenty dollars at Taco Bell for fried chicken tacos, quesadillas and tacos made out of Doritos, Sandor said, “Thanks Mom, that was awesome.”
Then he shoved his friend, Jake. “Say thank you, chicken butt!”
Jake shoved back”What ever.”
I’m pretty sure I sighed and rolled my eyes. We’d been through this before. “Alright Jake, I’m not unlocking the car and were gonna stand here in the parking lot until you say thank you.”
He smiled at me, his shaggy hair nearly covering his eyes. Then he looked at the ground and mumbled something I literally couldn’t understand.
“Nope,” I smiled at him. I was playing hardball. “Not good enough.”
Sandor didn’t even mind me calling his friend out. Jake’s terrible manners made him a little crazy.
Finally, Jake looked at me. I didn’t know if he was gonna flip me off or say something nice. “Thanks for the food.”
“Perfect,” I said as I gave Jake a big bear hug.
We have a serious rule in our world about good manners. Sandor is the youngest of four and the rule is pretty well etched in stone. If you are rude or disrespectful, you can’t come over. But I understand some parents don’t have the same obsession, so if I like the kid, and I like Jake a bunch, I try to work with them. I figure it’s “my house my rules.” And when Sandor goes to hang at a friends house, their parents get to make the rules.
Once everyone was buckled up I turned off the radio. “Jake, good manners will make your life way easier.”
“How? My friends like me for my jokes, they don’t care.”
Sandor said, “Dude, you’re not that funny.”
Jake and I both ignored the comment. “Here’s the deal Jake, if you have good manners teachers will like you more. That’s makes your life better. If you have good manners parents like you more. Then you get invited to go to more cool places. Cause in the end it’s my call, not Sandor’s, who we invite over or take to the movies or laser tag or whatever.”
“Yeah, we took Sam to Florida with us because he had good manners,” Sandor added.
“And think about this,” I was on a roll with a class A lecture. “If you get pulled over by the police, and you will get pulled over and you have good manners there’s a way better chance he’ll let you off with a warning. If you’re a punk with bad manners he’s gonna definitely give you a ticket.”
At that point I made myself stop, even though I wanted to keep on going. I was on a roll. I turned up the radio and let the boys ignore me for a while. But I was still thinking. It’s easy to teach good manners if you start when your child is young. Then people praise them for having good manners and the circle starts rolling. But once a kid turns into a teenager it get’s tougher. They resist. Jake almost seems to think good manners make him seem weak.
Maybe if we explain how good manners can benefit them, kids will understand. Maybe.
I got out of the car to let Jake out at his house. He was about to climb out of the back seat when I said, “Thanks for coming over, Jake.”
He stopped. He knew it was a trap. Then Sandor leaned over and whispered something to him. Jake got out of the car and mumbled, “Thanks for having me over.”
Then he gave me another sheepish smile and a hug.
Now, if I can just get my son to stop burping like a monster in front of me.
I’m trying to figure out if people actually read my blog…..so…
**I’ve got five free Be Nice Bumper Stickers for the first five folks who post a comment on the blog. Just email me your address and I’ll mail your bumper sticker!
I have a really good husband. We’ve been married for twenty or twenty two years. We both always forget. We also have two really wonderful dogs.
Aries is a German Shepard/Wolf hybrid. I thought I was buying a simple female German Shepard. A fat man in a red corvette lied to me.
And then there’s Spots. He’s a stocky white dog with weird brown spots. He’s a pit bull mix that showed up in our yard, emaciated, with cigarette burns on his head. I swore I would never have anything to do with a Pit Bull of any kind, but all this dog does is wag wag his branch like tail and he tries to make us happy.
Last night I was lying in bed watching a PBS show about barns in Arkansas. Spots looked deep into my eyes and I started rubbing his silky ear. “Look at those pretty spots on your ears. That one looks like an island, that one looks kinda like Cuba and that one looks like a water bottle. You have the prettiest spots, Spots.”
His club of a tail thumped heavily. He was in doggie heaven. So, he rolled on his back and snorted cheerfully.
A few minutes later Spots rolled over to stare at me again and I started rubbing his nose. Slowly, I ran my thumb down, between his eyes and I said, “You are so handsome. Look at your weird eyes and think neck and sausage like tail.” In less than a minute he was asleep. So happy to be loved.
When was the last time I rubbed Alex’s ears? I don’t think I ever have. Have I commented on his nose or ears lately….last week I told him I was going to trim his Eisenstein eyebrows or shave them off in his sleep. And what have I ever said about his tail? Maybe years ago.
You see where I’m going? If we treated the people we love like the pets we love the world might be better. Man, I would love it if Alex stroked my hair, scratched my neck or told me I was so beautiful and sweet, even though my breath smelled like roadkill.
I need to rethink good behavior, bad behavior and our reward system.
Sure, Spots and Aries give me unconditional love. But so does Alex.
The next morning, Cal dressed and walked into the kitchen. Tara and Rachel were already eating pancakes with syrup and strawberries. Typically, Tara slept until almost eight. The kitchen in the morning belonged to Cal and Rachel.
Tara looked at him but didn’t really smile. “I’m taking Rachel to school this morning, Cal.”
Pouring a cup of coffee, Cal nodded. Mark Greenland was already changing his family .
Driving to school, Cal banged on the steering wheel. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do and this was a foreign feeling. He prided himself on being a man who always approached problems with a system. He studied them, laid out a plan, then took action. But now he was lost.
What he really wanted to do was find Mark Greenland and beat the shit out of him. But that would do at least three things he was sure of. First, it would get him arrested because the kid was a minor, only seventeen. Second, it would cost him his job. And finally, it would turn Rachel against him. She wouldn’t understand. She didn’t know enough to understand and he couldn’t tell her.
Then Cal had a thought. Why not tell Rachel the truth? Tell her the whole story. She was a smart kid, she loved him and her mom. She was old enough to understand. He and Tara could talk to over dinner, explain everything and then move forward. If Rachel knew the truth about Mark, she would be safe from him.
Simply having a plan made Cal feel better immediately.And it was a good plan, one that would help bring his family back together. Because he was moving forward, and simply telling the truth, Tara might even possibly start forgiving him.
At 3:00 Cal was on the field, holding a clipboard and pacing. He was waiting for his team, but what he was really waiting for was the cross country team. By 3:30 his coaches and team were on the field. And so was the Cross Country team, but Rachel and Mark weren’t there.
While his guys ran laps, he found Murphy, the cross country coach, in the bleachers with a notebook and stop watch.
“Hey Coach,” he said as he sat down next to Murphy.
“Hey Cal, what are you doing up here?”
“I didn’t see Rachel. Where’s my girl?”
“Oh, another runner needed to get some new shoes but he didn’t know where the New Balance store was. Rachel offered to go with him. I hope that’s ok. It’s Mark Greenland, he’s a good kid, and fast.”
Call nodded and stared across the field. He didn’t see his players, didn’t see the coaches or benches or field goal posts. He only saw a vast and empty space. A terrain unfamiliar to him but he knew he had to find his way across.
After telling his assistant coach to handle practice, Cal walked to his office and called Tara. He told her what Coach Murphy had said. Then waited for her to respond.
“Cal, oh my God, if you had just done the right thing. If you did what we agreed you needed to do, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. You realize that, right? But for some reason, that I still don’t understand, you decided to cover for this kid and now look what’s happening. Cal, do you understand this is entirely your doing? This is all happening because you didn’t do what you said you would do. All you had to do was THE RIGHT Thing!”
Finally he was able to speak, “Tara, here’s my plan. Rachel is smart. Tonight I’m just gonna tell her the whole story. I’m gonna tell her the absolute truth. She’ll understand. ‘
“You can try Cal but I don’t know if that will work. She’s never really liked a boy before and they were texting this morning when I was driving her to school. You should have seen the look on her face. If it hadn’t been Mark, I would of thought she looked adorable. You have to find a way to make this stop. You have to. Hang on a second. I just got a text.”
The phone was silent and then Tara was back. ‘It was Rachel. She just said she’d be a few minutes late. She said she’d be home by seven.”
“Seven? No, tell her she needs to come home now.”
“Cal, I don’t want to start a fight with her before you even try to talk to her. Thirty minutes won’t change anything. But you have to fix this, you have to. If you don’t I’m gonna talk to Mark on my own.”
“I’ll fix it. I swear to God I will. At this point I don’t care what the fuck I have to do. I love you so much Tara and I’m so sorry.”
Cal waited, but she didn’t respond.
Tara’s car was parked in the driveway. Cal parked, took a deep breath and got out of the truck. There were lights on in the house but not on the front porch.
His wife was sitting at the kitchen table staring at her phone.
“Have you heard anything else?”
No, I texted, “I love you,” but she didn’t answer.
After opening a bottle of beer, Cal sat down next to his wife.
“I’m just gonna throw a pizza in the oven for dinner,” she said absently.
“That’s fine, whatever is easy.” He took a sip of his beer. “Tara, Rachel has never ever been anything but smart and kind. Hell, she’s perfect. We have to have faith in her. She’ll get it, she’ll understand.”
“I hope you’re right but she’s also a fourteen year old girl. I remember what I was like when I was that age Cal. Think about the girls at school.”
“No! She’s not like them Tara. Rachel is nothing like most of the kids I see…..She’s sweet.”
Tara sighed, “I know she is. She’s really sweet. And maybe that’s part of the problem. We’ve protected her too much.”
Cal heard a motorcycle pull up in front of the house. By the time he got to the door, Mark was gone and Rachel was walking up the stairs grinning. She was carrying her backpack and a helmet. “Hey Pops!”
“What were you doing on a motorcycle, Rachel? You know that’s not ok.”
“I know but it’s all good, I promise. Mark was super careful and he even made me wear his helmet so I’d be safe. His car was broken down so we had to take his bike. It was amazing.”
“No Rachel, you can’t do that. You can’t just jump on a motorcycle and take off. You have to talk to us. You know how we feel about motorcycles.”
“I know, but I promise, we were super careful. Really. And I’m home now. ” She hugged Cal for a long time, and he knew it was because she had so much fun, not because she loved him.
Cal pushed himself away and said, “Go inside. Your mom needs you.”
But by the time he stepped away from her Mark was already gunning the bike, and then he was gone. the chicken shit was scared to talk to him. He wouldn’t even look at him.
When Cal walked into the house Rachel was telling her mom about the adventrue. Tara was silent, she put plates on the table and waited for Cal.
They all made it through their first slice before Cal tried to start the conversation. “So Honey, I need to talk to you about Mark.”
“I know you think he’s too old, Pops, but we’re just friends.”
Cal shook his head. “It’s not that Rachel. I need to tell you about him. He’s not like he seems. He’s flirting with you to try to get at me cause he’s really mad about some things that happened last year.”
“Mad at you, why? And what do you mean he’s flirting with me to get at you? What, you don’t think a senior like Mark would think I’m good enough to flirt with, for real? ” She looked at her mother. Tara tried to hold her hand but Rachel pulled away.
Cal pushed on. “No, that’s not it. It’s just that Mark and I had an issue last year and he said he was gonna make me regret a decision I made about him. I think he’s gonna just try to hurt you, as a way of getting back at me.”
Rachel’s beautiful blue eyes were now rimmed in red and her bottom lip trembled”Mark and I are friends, it has nothing to do with you. Nothing. You know he says such great stuff about you and I can’t believe how you’re trashing him. That’s crazy. He told me you guys wouldn’t understand because I’m a freshman and he’s a senior. He warned me and God, he’s exactly right.”
“It’s not about age, Rachel. Just listen, please?”
“Fine, I’m listening.”
Cal hesitated. He told Tara he would tell Rachel the whole story but now he wasn’t so sure. “Last year, after a practice I found Mark doing something bad, something he wasn’t supposed to do.”
“Something bad? What am I? Four? What was Mark supposedly doing?”
Supposedly, the fact she used that word hurt. But Cal knew he had to keep going. “Mark was selling drugs to some kids, little kids.”
“Little kids, what kids, how old were they?”
“I don’t know, maybe 5th grade, that’s not the point.”
“And what kind of drugs?”
“Jesus Rachel, does it matter? There was some pot and some kind of pill.”
“You don’t even know what kind of pill it was?”
“Rachel, stop. That’s not the point.”
“Everything you are saying is ridiculous, you don’t even know what he was “selling” to these kids you know nothing about. And besides, he’d never do that. He told me all about his mom, about his whole family. They are a bunch of druggies and he hates that, he hates drugs.”
“Honey it’s true,” Tara said, leaning in closer.
“There’s no way, that’s not him.” Rachel looked at Tara, pleading. “Mom, you don’t understand what he’s been through. You don’t understand how hard it’s been for Mark. You guys are just saying this because you think he’s too old for me. But age doesn’t matter. Oh my God, I can’t believe you would make up this stuff just because you don’t like him. Mark warned me you might do something like this. I can’t believe he was right.” The tears were starting, she wiped them away as though anger was a weakness.
Cal stood up, then sat back down. “We’re not making it up Rachel. I swear. Honey you know we only want the best for you , you know that. Mark is not a good guy. When I tried to talk to him about the drugs the next day, in my office, he went freakin’ ballistic, it was crazy. He’s not a good guy, Rachel.”
This time Rachel stood up, tears rolled down her cheeks. “He’s nothing like you’re talking about. You have no idea. ” She took a step back from the table.” It doesn’t matter that he’s a senior and I’m a freshman but you can’t see that and he told me you would be like this.” She stepped even farther away form them. “Why can’t you understand that we are old enough to make our own decisions, to know who’s right for us? Why don’t you get it? You have to stop treating me like a child, because I’m not one anymore.”
And then she was gone, up the stairs. Gone.
The clock in the living room clicked, the pizza remained untouched, Cal and Tara were silent. They had no words. Nothing to say. For almost thirty minutes Cal waited for his wife to speak. Every time he tried to say something she shook her head, telling him to stop immediately. And so he did.
*Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think and Part 4 will be up next Monday.
Part II in a series. A Dangerous Game
The next morning, Cal dropped Rachel off in front of the High School building a little early. She tried to kid with him, to play their game, but the best Cal could do was smile and tell her to have a good day. She looked at him before getting out of the truck like she wanted to take his temperature. Something was obviously wrong.
“I love you sweetie.”
“I love you too, Pops. I’ll see you on the field after school.”
Mark was waiting outside his office. He looked as though he hadn’t slept. Quietly, he sat down in front of Cal’s desk and put his head on his arms. “Coach I’m so sorry, God I’ve never done anything like that. I swear it’ll never happen again. Please don’t report me. I’m begging you. You and this school and the team are all I have. You know football is my only shot at going to college. I can’t believe I’ve messed everything up like this. I’m so sorry. Please Coach, I’m begging you, don’t turn me in. I’ll do anything.”
Cal closed his eyes and nodded. Mark seemed truly sorry. He understood how bad he screwed up. “Alright, it’s between us, but you’re off the team for the rest of the year.”
Mark’s head snapped up, “What? You can’t do that. I have to play.”
“Mark, I can’t just completely close my eyes. You were selling weed and what ever that pill was to little kids. I should turn you in, that would be the right thing to do. But I know where you’re coming from and I want you to have a shot at college. We can make it all work next year.”
“No fucking way! You need me! You can’t kick me off the team, you know I’ve got scouts looking.”
Shaking his head Cal tried to control his breathing. ” It’s just for this year. I’m sorry, Mark. but that’s it. You can go out for the team again next year. The scouts will still be looking, but for now, that’s it.”
When Mark stood up, he knocked the metal chair over. “No fucking way!” He screamed, ” You can’t do that. God dammit your talking about my life, my life! I’m not gonna let you fuck me like this. And you don’t have any proof. What will you tell people. No fucking way you’re ruining my year.”
“Son, you need to calm down and sit down. My decision is final. I’m sorry but you made a mistake.”
“Fuck you!” Mark screamed.
Cal stood up. At six three he was four inches taller than Mark and 75 pounds heavier. Cal consciously tried to control the building rage, it was like a heat creeping up his body. He stepped closer and looked down at Mark. Softly he said, “You’re off the team for good, now get out of my office and stay away from my football field. It didn’t have to be like this you stupid punk.”
“Fuck you! God damn it, fuck you,” he screamed as he slammed the door. “Your going to fucking regret this James. I’m gonna fuck up your life.”
Cal stood for a full minute, then sat back down in his chair. What the hell just happened? Where did all that come from? He tried to dissect the conversation, if you could call it that. How had it gotten away from him and so out of control? Over the years he’d had to deal with a lot of really angry young men but this was something else. Cal leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes again. He hated that he’d lost control and called Mark a stupid punk. He shouldn’t have done that. Frustrated, he looked at the ceiling and said out loud, “I swear to God I was trying to do right by that kid.”
It had been a year but Cal could still hear every word that came out of Mark Greenland’s mouth that day. Opening a bottle of water Cal tried to remember when he’d last actually seen Mark. It had been at least a year. Once the season ended, last year, players and fans stopped asking about him. He just disappeared. Cal never saw him or even heard anything about him on campus, which was fine. He didn’t want to think about that situation ever again. So why, after a year was Mark back in his weight room? That smart ass grin made him want to take his head off. Obviously, Mark was trying to antagonize him. But why now?
Somebody was knocking on his office door. “Coach Cal, can I come in?”
Jose Fernandez stuck his head in the door and grinned. He was a freshman and still so excited to be on the team. “I thought you’d want to know McKenzie made a 45 yard field goal this morning, Coach D saw him.”
“That’s amazing, Jose! His longest by three yards, right?”
“Yes sir.” Jose was McKenzie’s holder.
Cal stood, slapped Jose on the back of the head and walked into the weight room. “Thanks for letting me know. I needed that.” Most of the guys were gone. He glanced at the clock. 8:05. He’d spent thirty minutes reliving the Mark Greenland nightmare and was late for his first period class. Study hall, no worries.
Classes let out at 3:15 every day and most of the White Deer Destroyers were dressed out and on the field by 3:30. Stragglers ran laps without being told.
Cal and three other coaches, all with clipboards, discussed the plan for practice while the team’s offensive and defensive captains got the team stretched out and warmed up. The team was in full uniform and lined up across the field in three rows.
Cal looked up as they did high knees and then jumping jacks. They were really good boys and he was caught in a moment of overwhelming pride. They trusted him and were willing to work so hard. They literally did everything he asked. Then he saw Rachel at the other end of the field, stretching and laughing with some other cross county runners. From that distance he couldn’t quite make out who the other kids were.
When Rachel saw Cal looking at her, she gave him a big silly wave and he involuntary waved back, with the same enthusiasm. Glancing at the other coaches, they knew better than to laugh.
Ten minutes later, as the team got ready for tackling drills, he watched Rachel and the three other runners take off. He thought he remembered her telling him they had to do one mile interval training this afternoon. They would run a mile, rest for five minutes, then run the same mile faster, then one more time after that. The goal was to run as fast or faster on every mile. It was grueling. Cal couldn’t imagine what his players would do if he made them do that.
The track was built around the football field but Cal wasn’t really watching Rachel and the runners anymore. He was focused on his boys. They were so close to the playoffs if he could just keep them focused. Forty five minutes into practice Cal looked up as Rachel and another runner, a boy, approached him. Lord, she was so graceful and long legged. She made running look easy. Normally, as she ran past him, he would have yelled something silly at her like “Too slow Chicken Butt!” But he couldn’t think of anything clever as she approached. He studied the guy running next to her. His pace was different and he was obviously trying to match her stride for stride. She looked over at the guy and smiled.
Cal realized he was holding his breath as the two runners sprinted toward him, then just as they passed, Mark Greenland looked over and grinned, not at Rachel but at Cal.
Then they were both gone, already at the far end of the track. Cal watched as the pair left the track and disappeared onto the cross country trail.
It was only six when Cal left the football field. The players were still cooling down, but Cal needed to be home. After putting the Ford into drive, he found his cell phone and called Tara.
“Hey Honey, how’s it going? Is Rachel home?” He tried to sound normal.
“No, not yet, she called an hour ago and said a friend was giving her a ride.” He could hear background noises. The news was on and something was sizzling on the stove.
“I don’t know, she said a friend from the cross country team. ”
“But who is it Tara? Did she say?”
“Cal, she’s in high school now, we have to give her a little room. She said she’d be home by 6:30. It’s all good sweetie. She’s fine. Come home. I’ve got a dinner surprise for you.”
“I’m on my way.” How was he going to explain everything. He’d never told Tara what happend with Mark. He was too ashamed, to embarrassed, to admit how it blew up in his face. The truth was, he didn’t know how to explain what happend. Then Tara got busy with a new gallery opening and the subject of Mark never came up. Nobody cared about Mark Greenland. Cal knew his wife would be furious and disappointed in him for not turning Mark in, for not doing what he should have done. For not telling her what was going on, but at the time he was just relieved it was all over. He didn’t want to bring it up again and he didn’t every want to think about Mark again if he could avoid it.
Twenty minutes after Cal got home he heard a car door slam. He was at the door before Rachel got to the porch. He studied the ratty car in the drive way. One headlight was burned out. Cal locked eyes with Mark, then that kid had the nerve to smile and wave at him, like they were buddies.
Rachel ran up the steps and gave Cal a hug. “Hey Poppa Bear.”
He hugged her back but never looked away from Mark, “Go inside Rachel, your mom needs you.” He pushed her gently toward the door and started down the steps, but Mark backed up and took off. Cal watched his tail lights disappear and wondered what the Hell he was going to do and how he was gonna stop this little shit.
Tara already had dinner on the table. The last thing he wanted to do was eat, but he knew he had to act as though nothing was wrong. He didn’t want some kind of blow up at the dinner table but once again everything was spinning out of control.
Cal put his napkin in his lap and picked up his silverware. For the second or third time today he tried to sound normal. This was new to Cal, he never pretended to be anything but honest. He cleared his throat. “So Bucket Head, who brought you home tonight?”
Rachel was glowing. She glanced at her mother and smiled. “Mark, he’s on the cross country team now. Pops he used to play for you last year but then he quit, you know him.”
Cal nodded. “Yeah, I remember Mark.”
“Yeah, he said you were awesome. But now he’s running track and he’s really good.. Fastest time after a week of practice. He cracks jokes while we run, it’s really funny And he writes songs.”
Taking his time, Cal cut I piece of his pork chop. “Isn’t he a senior?”
“So, he’s too old for you, right?”
Rachel instantly looked at her mom, for support, for reassurance? Cal didn’t know. Women were like that and it confused him. But he knew he had to move carefully or both of them would be mad at him.
“It’s not like were going out or anything. He just gave me a ride home. Don’t make such a big deal out of it. Please?”
“Sure Kiddo,” Cal said, staring at his plate. He didn’t’ know which way to move, what to say. But he knew Tara was staring at him, wondering what the story was. Why was this messed up kid giving their daughter a ride home?
“I’ve got to take a shower.” Rachel kissed her mom on the cheek, but she didn’t even look at Cal, before vaulting up stairs.
Once Rachel was gone, Cal helped Tara clear the table. They were silent and Cal knew what was coming. The questions, the interrogation. Why hadn’t he turned Mark Greenland in. Why was that kid still at White Deer, giving her daughter a ride home. Cal didn’t have an explanation. He knew what he should have done but now it was too late. And he knew he should have told Tara what happened. But he didn’t. And now this. He never thought he’d have a lapse in judgment like that. But he was wrong.
Finally Tara said, “So you didn’t tell the administration?”
“No. And I don’t know how to explain what happened to you.”
Tara started putting dirty plates in the dish washer. She rinsed each one, carefully and then finally said, “So you never did what you were supposed to do, you never reported this psycho and now he’s driving my daughter home? You lied to me.”
“I never lied to you Tara and I’ll talk to her.”
“And say what? They are friends, she’s obviously got a crush on him. But you’re gonna talk to her? And what exactly are you going to say? How are you going to explain all this. Jesus Christ Cal, I trusted you to do the right thing. I can’t believe this. I trusted you. How bad is this kid Cal?”
“He’s just a stupid kid, Tara. I can handle him. I’ll fix this, I swear to God. And think about this,they just met, what a week ago? It’s nothing.” As he spoke Cal James knew he was lying, in a way he’d never lied before. And he knew he was simply saying what he desperately hoped was true.
There was a senior high football coach in the semi-rural Arkansas community of White Deer. Cal James was probably the most popular man at White Deer High School. He was loved because he won the State three A Championship two years in a row, and that always makes a coach popular. But he was a ridiculously friendly man. Coach Cal high-fived little kids, hugged grandmothers, taught his players to act like real men and made up corny names for nearly everyone he met.
Coach Cal had a smart and pretty wife, Tara. She worked at the Art Center downtown, coordinating programs and soothing the egos of high maintenance artists. One of the reasons she fell in love with Cal, ten years earlier was because he was so unlike a lot of the artists she dealt with everyday. He loved life, he loved their family, he loved God and his team. He did not brood or obsess. Even when the team lost, he accepted responsibly, analyzed and created a plan to move forward.
On a sunny Wednesday morning in October, Coach Cal parked his fat black Ford F 250 in front of the high school building and looked at his step daughter Rachel. She was so adorable and bright Cal smiled every time he looked at her. Rachel was in ninth grade so being in the high school building was still pretty new and a little exciting. He could see that in her blue eyes.
“Alright Bucket Head, get out of my truck and have a good day.”
“Ok Pops,” she smiled at him and gathered up her backpack and flute case.
“Are you running after school?”
“Yes sir, we’ve got practice from 3:30 to 5:30.” She pushed the door open.
“Alright, I’ll see you on the field then. And do me a favor, stop being such a bully. I’m hearing stories all the time.” He grinned at her and she smiled a little.
Just before slamming the big door closed, she pushed her long strawberry blond hair back and let out an exaggerated sigh, “I promise,” as though the request was just too much. It was one of their many running jokes.
Driving up to the football field he said a little prayer. He thanked God for Rachel. She was still so sweet. And he knew first hand that wasn’t always the case with teenage girls. She wasn’t snarky or mean or sarcastic. She was almost a little too naive and that worried him sometimes but made him love her that much more.
Cal was the only father Rachel had known since she was four years old. Her biological father, Jamie, lived down in the Florida Keys. He owned a little beach bar and gift shop. When Rachel was a baby he’d gone to prison for bringing a boat load of weed in to Miami from Jamaica.
After serving three years, he came home. Both he and Tara realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t going to change and he really wasn’t very good at being a dad. So they split up on friendly terms, knowing it was the right thing to do. Tara moved back to Hot Springs with Rachel.
Jamie called sometimes and came to visit Rachel every couple of years. But he was never a father, more like a silly uncle who tried to win her over with hundred dollar bills and sea shells.
Cal parked his truck in front of the weight room door. He could hear the clanking of weights before he opened the door.
When he opened to door he bellowed, “Alright. Today is the day!!!!”
The fifteen players in the smelly concrete room hollered back in unison, “Yes Sir!” Then went back to their weights, some in teams others worked alone.
Cal took a second to look around the room, he checked each station one by one then yanked a clipboard off the sign-in table and read the names. Slowly, he walked to the bench press in the back corner of the weight room. He stared at the young man, lying on his back pushing the loaded bar up. Unlike the rest of the players in the room he was wearing jeans, a tank top and boots.
“What are you doing in here Mark?”
The young man slowly returned the bar to it’s rack. He sat up and smiled, “Hey Coach. It’s been a while.” He stretched, intentionally showing off his upper body.
“I asked you what you were doing here.”
“Just, thought I’d get some work in. That’s ok, right?”
“No, not with the team. You need to leave.”
“Oh come on Coach, you can’t still be all jacked up about that shit last year.”
“You need to leave, Mark.”
Mark Greenland shrugged, smiled again and stood up. “Whatever you say Coach, you’re making this a lot harder than it has to be.” The room was still noisy with banging weights, as he slowly walked toward the door.
Cal walked into his office and closed his door, something he rarely did. Looking out the window he could see Mark sauntering toward the high school building.
Cal James had been a football coach in some capacity, for almost fifteen years and he knew Mark Greenland was the biggest mistake he’d ever made. He regretted the decisions he’d made last year about that kid every day. But there was nothing he could do now. He’d already screwed up. But why was Mark back in his weight room, obviously trying to piss him off?
Last year his team had been so strong. There were two games left in the regular season. The White Deer Destroyers were 7-1. And Mark Greenland had been a big part of their success.. The kid came from a bad family with all kinds of issues,but Mark was a gifted athlete. He was fast, physical and found holes that weren’t really there. It had been a while since Cal had trained a kid who was so much fun to watch and averaged nine yards a carry. And if the Destroyers were having a hard time containing a quarterback, Cal could put Mark in as a defensive end. But some of his sacks were so brutal and violent all the coaches felt a little guilty. They were legal but Mark hit boys with so much obvious rage and hatred, it worried Cal. He’d thought about asking Mark to hold back just a little but couldn’t figure out a way to word it without seeming soft. All the hits were legal but they still scared Cal just a little.
Three times last year he called opposing coaches the the morning after a Friday night game to check on quarterbacks Mark and laid out.
Scouts from colleges, good colleges were already showing interest. Cal talked up Mark, sent tapes and worked with Mark and his mom on what they needed to do. It was pretty obvious Mark’s mom was messed up on something but Cal didn’t know what. She was too skinny, with dark hollows under her eyes. Mark bossed her around or dismissed her completely most of the time. She obviously loved the kid but wasn’t really mom material.
On a Tuesday night the year before Cal was about to let all the guys go. They had worked hard and were exhausted. But he changed his mind suddenly. “Everybody take a knee.”
Some simply sprawled out on the turf, others tried to stretch. “Listen guys, we’ve got two games to go. but I’m telling you now, If I see a Skol can anywhere, back pocket, truck dashboard, back pack, I don’t care where. You’re missing a full game. If your momma calls and says there’s a Skol can in your underwear drawer. You’re not playing. You understand? So listen, pat your buddy on the butt, pat your self on the butt, just make sure there’s no freakin’ can in your pocket. I’ve got teachers complaining about some of you actually dipping in class. It stops now. That crap is poison. Yes sir?”
“Yes sir.” they answered with the strength they could muster.
After the team left, Cal stayed in his office. He actually had papers to grade from his health class. Sometimes he asked Rachel or Tara to help him but he’d given the class an essay, and he wanted to read the answers himself. The topic was, “How do we stop tobacco use in high school.” Hopefully, simple threats worked on his players this week.
It was a cold clear night and the Ford was slow to warm up. He drove across campus then turned toward the basketball gym. There were three people in the shadow of the school sign. Mark Greenland was handing a kid, a little kid, maybe fifth grade something. Cal his his high beams and put the truck in park. Mark smiled at him. “Hey coach.”
Cal stared at him, the two boys looked like they were about to cry. One pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head.
“What’s in your pocket.” the little boy didn’t speak.
“Nothing Coach, I was just loaning him some money.”
Cal extended his hand “give me what ever it is in your pocket.”
The smaller kid sniffled and tears started rolling down his face. He handed Cal a wad of tin foil with something inside. He opened it. There was a little pot and a single yellow pill.
“What is this?”
“Nothing Coach, it’s not even their’s. It’s for their dad. He’s got a lot of medical issues.”
“Shut up Mark.”
“Hey Coach, you don’t want to make a big deal out of this. It’s nothing. Just forget about it.”
“Shut the Hell up Mark. And don’t try to tell me what I want to do.”
“I’m just saying Coach, you don’t want to fuck with this.”
Cal stared at Mark.Who was this kid? “You need to stop running your mouth now Greenland, get the Hell out of here. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Do you understand?”
Mark shrugged and started walking across the parking lot, toward Sonic.
Cal focused his attention on the boys. “Where do you two live?”
Both boys pointed to the trailer park across the street.
“Get in the truck, right now.”
Cal didn’t speak again. He left Mark in the shadows of the school sign and drove the boys who were both shaking and sniveling across the street. “Which one?”
They pointed to a dark trailer. There was a beat up pickup outside but no lights.
“You both live here?”
“Yeah, we’re cousins.”
Cal got out of the truck and walked up the sagging porch steps. He knocked on the door but got no answer. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He waved for the boys to get out of the truck. One of them had a key and opened the door. The smell of cigarettes and cat pee hit him hard.
Should he stay and wait for their folks? He looked at the boys. “Do you know who I am?”
“Alright, I expect to see you both on the football field tomorrow right after school. You understand. If you don’t show I’ll be right back here on your porch. You got it?”
“Now go to bed.”
That night, nearly a year ago, was a long and miserable one. Twice Cal had considered moving into administration, maybe accepting a vice principal position. But he knew there would be too many situations exactly like this.
Cal stayed up most of the night thinking about his options. He knew what he should do, what he was supposed to do. Report Mark to the principal. Because the incident was on school property he would probably be expelled, maybe even arrested. That’s what the kid deserved.
Cal also knew, because of his family situation, his academic career was over if he was expelled. He probably wouldn’t finish high school and definitely wouldn’t make it to college. And Mark was really a smart kid.
His second option was to keep it to himself. Not tell the administration. Kick him off the team for the year and hope he learned a lesson. At least then he’d still have a chance at finishing high school.
Just after midnight, Cal woke Tara up. He had to tell her, he had to tell somebody.
Curled up in her blue and pink fuzzy robe, she listened, without speaking for fifteen minutes while Cal told her the story, then laid out the options and the pros and cons of each side.
Finally, she said softly, “Honey, you have to turn him in. He was selling drugs to little kids, what if those were our sons. If he’ll do that his capable of almost anything. And if you don’t tell it could cost you your career. White Deer is a little school, we don’t want that kind of kid in there with Rachel. Let me ask you one question. Does Mark seem like the kind of kid who will “learn his lesson” from this?”
Cal thought about Mark’s smile, even when he knew he was busted. And he just kept on lying, it was no more difficult than breathing for him.
He looked at his wife and shook his head “no, he’s not gonna learn any lessons.”
“I know it’s hard, Honey, but you have to turn him in.” She stood up, offered him a hand and pulled her husband off the couch. “Come on. Let’s get some sleep.”
Cal accepted the help, but he felt uneasy. What was he supposed to do? He still didn’t really know. Maybe sleep would help.
I hope you enjoyed Part One.
Part II will be available on Thursday, February 2. Do me a favor, if you enjoyed this share with a friend. Thanks.