Monday, September 27, 2010

Football and Clouds: Johnson City 1970

Now that I realize I spent most of the year of 1970 in Tennessee (and not Iowa) I realize that I first started football then as well.
That was not my first dream. Being a comedian was what I wanted to be when I was about five years old. But when I hit my early teens, my desires changed to sports, and of those sports football was the thing for me. I wanted to be a wide receiver. Well, I still wanted to be a comedian, so maybe a comic wide receiver? No, I was actually an athletic person and was very good at catching a football. My father spent a lot of time with me there in Tennessee, in our neighborhood just outside of Johnson City, throwing the football to me, long and short, straight and over-the-shoulder. This was one of my few lone connections to him--just he and I out of a family of four boys and one girl--as no one else in the family liked to watch football, let alone toss the ball around. (Another connection, later, became plants and gardening.) He had grown up without a father (my grandfather had been a WWI navy pilot and 'scout' (he'd go up an a balloon/blimp tethered to the ship and look out for coming enemy aircraft, a dangerous job) and had come back from the war shellshocked (post traumatic stress syndrome, nowadays) and my father never really saw him. We kids never met him. But, that's not football.
So, there finally came the day when I was going to enter the 7th grade. I'd gone to the county school but my parents had paid for me to enter the city school--East High--in Johnson City and I was going to join the football team. We lived out in the semi-sticks (well, all of Tennessee was pretty much the "sticks" to us back then), an area that was a development not yet developed that had only a scattering of houses, a lot of empty red dirt lots and a lot of woods, pastures, small tobacco farms and such. So on the day of my first practice (maybe a week before school was to begin) I recall riding my Stingray bike down the hill and over to where the creek was, my mind full of football and anticipation. I was telling myself that, "This was it!", the beginning of my fame and fortune (more or less that was my fantasy), the start of my football career.
But as I sat on my bike among the wild fields and the creek, I looked into the sky where it was blue and there were tall white clouds building up and up. Beautiful clouds. And my mind wandered there, into the dreamscape of the white and blue, the billowed terraces of cloudwork.
Football turned out to be quite different than my dreams of it. It was rough and dirty and they wouldn't let you drink water until the end. That's not to say I didn't like it, but let's say that I wasn't as well prepared for the aggressive aspects of it as I was for the more sublime. But I stuck through the practices, made the junior varsity team (but not as a starter), had a pretty cheerleader interested in me. And then came the news that we were leaving for Iowa that fall. Moving . . . But, this was not a bad thing. Our family, all of us except perhaps my father, had been wanting to get out of Tennessee, that little strange northeast corner of it. So, this was welcome news. I was ready to go. And, I quit the team.
The guys razzed me about it, called me a quitter (I guess I was) but, I wasn't really playing any and we were moving and, to tell the truth, I was more interested in other things.
I did play football in Iowa, but I found that I was not really the overtly aggressive type. I didn't have enough of a mean streak. My mind was always off somewhere.
In the clouds, I guess.

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