Afraid of the Ball

On the sidelines today, I experienced a different brand of dad. The guy next to me sported an American jawline and was outfitted in a Team USA soccer jersey. Something about him suggested an internal combustion engine—pistons pumping, sparks firing—but he was less than motive. Instead, he was heated metal in some slow expansive burn.
It was no coincidence that while watching USA Dad, and when remarking the fast outstanding veins in his neck, I randomed thoughts about acute geologic pressure.
The guy’s jaw was tightly clenched, molars against molars. Alchemy rarely works, in which case his compressed back-tooth fillings didn’t eventuate a diamond: pressure can only do so much. I’m guessing, though, he—at the very least–manifested a tension headache while watching his son slack in the backfield.
His wife, down the fence-line, occasionally offered a placative: “It’s ok, Honey–he probably doesn’t hear you. At least they’re having fun.” There was a question mark in her voice.
Our kids and their kids were both doing really well on the field on this bright and sunny October morning; it was a tight match. Cayde didn’t have a goal to brag of, but had scored some good defensive plays. When in doubt, kick it out. Clenched-jaw dad would occasionally pull out his iPhone to take pictures as the kids scrimmaged. It’s what parents do on a bright and sunny October morning, and when their kids are playing soccer and when the throng of parents cares more about available shade than who’s up by what amount. We take pictures, memorialize the sun, and snap shots of little legs in motion.
When USA guy’s kid was rotated out and took a water break, his dad offered him a seat in much the same way an interrogator would offer a perp a hard-backed chair. I learned American dad had actually been shooting video.
“Look at this, Brian: that’s the ball and ten other kids. Where are you?” He was showing the highlight reel to his kid, waving the iPhone in a vaguely menacing fashion. “You’ve got to be faster–lookit the other team.” Mom came over, I thought to save the poor brow-beaten kid (Dad was on his second reel). But she joined in: bad cop and less bad cop. “Sweetie–you’ve got to run faster. Don’t be afraid of the ball.”
“But the ball’s so fast,” Brian said, dropping his head. At which point, American dad berated him with two more highlight reels.
The game was really good. It was the proudest I’ve been of the kids. 4-3 was the final score and we were all excited, stoked in part by the caffeine that was necessary to fuel an 8 a.m. game, but mostly by the kids’ performance because they were so on point.
Immediately after the game, Cayde and I piled into the Beetle to get down to Liberty Station–a place which remains a blind spot for me in my otherwise highway map of a brain—but we made it to the green space next to the water, the site of this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Buddy Walk.
We arrived in time and we were fresh off victory; a ‘second-line’ style New Orleans brass band began joyous trumpet as we joined the DS Awareness march–the parade that is the focus of the annual event. Some of my best friends were there, Jenn was wagoning Finn and his new buddy Logan around and–with the planes from Lindbergh following the windsock’s whim and launching slightly to the north today through autumn light and blue skies, it was a fantastic afternoon. Everything about the Buddy Walk is positive. When the trombones quiet, the adults get to talk. The conversations run a full gamut. Finn dances. We don’t reveal to each other that we’re crying behind sunglasses. We hug.
The event last year was intimidating to us, this year joyous. I should’ve taken a video with my phone, and showed everyone the highlight reels. I, for one, am not afraid of the ball anymore.
Luck to Brian.


Ninety by Nine

Walking away from the soccer game this morning, already sweltering despite the 9 a.m. start time, I asked Jenn (I thought rhetorically): “Remember when it used to be brisk in October?” The weather app had at one point this week suggested it would be 92 degrees and raining this morning. A look to the left revealed nothing monsoonish on the horizon–just a particularly white-washed blue and some scattered cirrus; still it was creeping up to ninety by nine.
“No,” Jenn said. “I actually don’t. September and October have always been the hottest.”
Which Jenn empirically knows, having sweltered in the no AC pre-fab trailers of underfunded schools during her tenure.
“It’s always been hot in October.”
But there was a time before that, and I guess it must be a fading memory at this point, but I do remember when the breeze reversed in October and ferried with it an autumnal briskness. Jenn and I spent a lot of time at the coast those days–pre-career, pre-family–up on the cliffs above the Scripps Reserve, catercorner to my school, and late at night when the heat had probably long-lifted.
“No,” I counter–“It used to get cold. The first chimney fires were always in October.”
And this week, the chimneys did get lit: one night only, like a premier event. On Wednesday, it rained. Sweaters were pulled off the shelf briefly, smelling like wool having sat too long, the sartorial equivalent of a dog having dodged a bath for two weekends in a row. Dirty sweater weather, fulminating ash; over-eager chimneys and a new BBQ pit punching mesquite smoke into the air. (The new BBQ joint down the block serves up TX/OK panhandle fare and–seeing as I blaspheme on the regular–could there be Carolina BBQ instead, gawdammit…)
It got hot the next day. Super hot. Back to shorts and rolled-up cuffs. Luckily, we got central air this spring, in which case it’s now hot in October, just outside.
When central air was installed, it was an ordeal: the contractors found the attic trusses ultimately too narrowly configured–old standards–and they had to saw old wood to make room for new work. They labored for days.
I asked Jared, the apprentice: “Seemed like a pretty difficult job, yeah?”
J: “Usually I’d say ‘no big deal’. But, truthfully, that was the fucking toughest job I’ve ever done.”
I asked Jared to rate the gig on a 1-10 scale. He never gave me an exact answer, but there was an ashtray in the backyard full of Camels smoked down to the filter, which was answer enough.
Jenn said: “I don’t remember October being cold.” It used to be, then October and Spring became hot vs. the otherwise; on that rainy day, walking home from my neighborhood, smelling the smoke–the one day it was chimney smoke and not the BBQ pit roiling up a mess of ashes–there was the question: could it just be nice again?