The Worly Building
‘Round the Tree and Through the Tires
by Rick Brown
The title may remind you of a tune about going to Grandma’s house in a sleigh in the snow … but it’s far from that. It’s a reference to my inglorious, and very brief, football career.
Unlike a lot of fathers in the 1950s and 60s, my dad never, ever pressured me to play sports. And while that was a great relief, it conversely meant he rarely … if ever … came to see me play either.
Not that I’m still PISSED OFF about it.
In retrospect, games were mostly after school and he was working. That … and I sucked. Sure, I ran track pretty well. But football and basketball were the “glory sports”. By that I mean, there were a lot more girls watching. (There was no such thing as “girls’ sports” in the 1960s so they watched.) Possessing only one functioning eyeball made all the difference between team sports involving a ball and running in shorts and a tank top. After the humiliation of Little League Baseball you’d think I would know better. Still, I felt enormous pressure to play football. After all … it made MEN out of BOYS!
There were the slogans! Okay, clichés in some peoples’ point of view. But they were plastered on the walls of the boys’ locker room like the Ten Commandments in a town hall lobby in some backwater burg … haunting you with unquestionable authority.
“A winner never quits and a quitter never wins!”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” (My personal favorite.)
I was good enough to start on The Olmsted Falls Bulldogs 8th and 9th grade teams. But we won our very first game in grade eight, never to win again until final game senior year. So being a starting end didn’t really mean that much at the tender age 14 or 15 … on this particular team. We were a small school playing larger ones and that didn’t help our cause.
Mostly I played defense, with a rare appearance offensively. I recall one specific instance when the coach sent me into a game on the offense. It was 9th grade. Thankfully, for me at least, our quarterback (Dave) threw the ball towards the OTHER end and it was intercepted. Dave and I got to the guy with the ball simultaneously. As I wrapped my arms around his legs our QB punched the ball out of his hands and we recovered. Then … back in the huddle, Dave looks right at ME and excitedly yells, “WE CAN WIN THIS GAME!!” … implying he might throw the ball to ME this time!!
And I thought … “Hmmm … you really think so?”
It was then I realized I might have a lack of competitive instincts.
Anyway, I don’t remember catching the ball … or dropping it either. But I do know we lost the game.
You may be starting to assume I hated football. Actually, I rather enjoyed playing in the games at that age. It was PRACTICE I loathed. Hated it with a passion.
In those days, the younger teams at least, had pretty … uh … basic equipment. We didn’t wear “spikes” until high school. Football was played, as was basketball and track, wearing Converse High Tops … Chuck Taylors as they are fondly referred to now. But in a way this made it seem fun, the games at least.
Games were played on a nice, soft, grassy field. Practice, for some unspoken reason, was on dirt. Dirt that had nails, pieces of glass, and rocks in it. Perhaps this was to “toughen us up”. We had drills, one of which I totally despised. The team would get into three lines parallel to each other. The coach would then flip a football onto this DIRT and the three guys at the head of each line were supposed to DIVE for the ball! And I would be standing there in my line, dreading my turn, thinking to myself (of course) “But we play our games on GRASS not DIRT with NAILS and GLASS and ROCKS!”
Then there were the coaches. Sure, some of them were really nice guys. But there were enough maniacs to make you feel like you were in the Marines. One such coach, his name was Coach Bloodlust … or Bloodsucker … Coach Sunday Bloody Sunday … something along those lines. This guy LOVED the blocking sled. Now this sled was nothing like the sleigh you took to Grandma’s house. It had two padded “dummies” attached to a crossbow type “spring” with a sort of “sled – like” giant tray behind and under them for the base. Again, my teammates and I would get into two lines. The front guys crouched down in a three-point stance until Coach Bloodbath yelled, “GO!” Then you both were supposed to EXPLODE into the dummy in front of you and push the sled as far as you could. Sometimes Coach Bloodlust would have a couple players STAND on the sled … you know … just to make it more fun … because … you know … it was about 300 pounds heavier.
Now if Coach Blood Blister didn’t think you EXPLODED to the point you were supposed to EXPLODE, he would invariably yell out, “BROWN! ‘Round the TREE!” And I … or anyone else who hadn’t EXPLODED enough, would run around this tree WAAAAYYY over at the other end of the practice field of dirt filled with nails and glass and rocks!! The dreaded tree seemed to be a mile away. It probably wasn’t more than ¼ mile … but running in Converse High Tops with the wind obnoxiously whistling through a cheap plastic helmet, chin strap digging into your 15 year old boy whiskers made EXPLODING seem like a much better option next time.
I decided to continue my misery … er … I mean PATH to MANHOOD … by going out for the varsity squad in 10th grade. I knew I’d never make the high school team. But I would have been happy playing first string for a losing Junior Varsity team. Trouble was, I was naïve to the excruciating pain involved with “2 a days”. At this level, practice began in the middle of August. ALL DAY practices with a lunch break in between called “2 a days”.
And I wandered into all this a couple days after “2 a days” began. I was LATE … which was a mark against me already. I had been at a Luther League Convention in Dallas, Texas where I fell in love with the first girl I ever felt up.
But that’s another story.
These twice-daily practices were in the heat of the dog days of summer. Common wisdom … and I use that word quite loosely … was that drinking water during exercise was BAD for you … made you cramp up. This wasn’t such a problem with after school practices in September. In 90-degree heat it’s a different story. And Coach Blood Sausage & Co. came up with this terrific idea to help us get though both the morning and afternoon sessions of tackle sledding, ball diving and such on dirt with nails, glass and rocks! At the midway point of each practice session we would all grab the sides of our helmets, growl like BEARS (or Bulldogs), while running full speed toward a vat of “Joy Juice”. (Drinking the Kool-Aid was not a phrase known to humanity at the time.) This juice of joyness was lemonade made with SALT instead of sugar. You know … because 3 ounces of salty Kool – Aid is much better for you than that H2O cramping thing!
That first day’s afternoon, one of the quarterbacks said to me “Brown … you run GREAT routes! But you NEVER CATCH THE BALL!” While this hurt my feelings (I was still obsessing about the girl in Dallas) I realized it was the bitter truth … and a harbinger of things to come. Still, I made it through my first day of “2 a days”.
When the sun arose the next morning I felt as if several people had been hitting my body with rubber hammers all night. I dragged myself out of bed. I DID make it through the first half of the a.m. practice. But after the thrill of the Joy Juice regimen things got weird.
For some reason still a mystery to me, the offensive coach mistakenly assumed I was a running back. He pulled me out of the “blocking sled” line and told me to join the offensive guys. Maybe he thought I was somebody else. I never ran with a football in a real game in my entire illustrious Junior High School career! The coach was not to be deterred. He pulled me to the front of a line of running backs. There, spreading out before me was a length of truck TIRES about 20 yards long. The side-by-side stream of tires seemed to end at the horizon.
Coach handed me the ball.
Then he barked, “RUN THROUGH THE TIRES BROWN!!
“But coach! I’m not …”
“THROUGH THE TIRES!! NOW!!” he screamed in my face.
And I immediately thought to myself, “There aren’t any FUCKING TIRES on a FOOTBALL FIELD!!” This seemed stupider than diving on dirt with nails, glass and rocks in it.
But I put my head down and ran as fast as I could “through the tires”.
And when I got out of the final tire I lifted my head up to receive maybe the biggest surprise in my 15-year life. Unbeknownst to me … two other coaches were at the end of the tires holding tackling dummies … which they swung at me and SLAMMED into my head and gut!
The smelling salts finally brought me back to consciousness.
“You’re not a running back are you Brown” the coach said … again in my face … looking down at me lying in the dirt with nails and glass and rocks next to the tires.
“I tried to tell you.”
I was told to go into the locker room and wait for lunch break. Instead, I stumbled in and took off my ill fitting football uniform (I was late remember?). I took a shower, put on my “street clothes”, hung my equipment on the practice field fence … and walked home … never to play organized football again.
I felt liberated … like a blocking sled had been lifted off my shoulders.
I have the utmost respect for my teammates who stuck it out … played with enthusiasm and dedication until that final victory last game senior year. I’m sure they have their stories and lessons to share.
As for me … after numerous trips ‘”round the tree” … and one fateful saunter “through the tires” I did experience one very big life-changing epiphany walking home alone that hot August afternoon.
“A winner may not quit. But a quitter sometimes wins.”
There’s no crime in not doing something that doesn’t suit you. It may be the only way to discover who you really are.
The Non Fiction Theater of the Truly Mundane
By Rick Brown
Scene: The wine bar section of Le Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro. At the back (downstage), servers come and go, making coffee at the coffee stand, bussing tables, etc. Rick is seated alone at a small table eating lunch at the front of the stage. Behind him, stage left is the empty wine bar. A few empty tables are near him stage right. Soon two girls and a guy, all in their mid 20s, enter, take off their coats and sit at a table next to his. Bob Seeger’s “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” … sung in French … is playing in the background. Soon the group begins to chatter about restaurants, focusing on salads.
20-ish something guy – Have you had the Caesar at Sage Bistro? It is to DIE for! It is AWESOME!
20-ish something girl # 1 – REALLY? I mean O M G ! … that total place is … like … so very, truly … I mean … beyond AWESOME!
20-ish something guy – You really, really should try the Caesar there! They even GRILL the romaine LETTUCE! IT … IS … AWESOME!!
20-ish something girls # 2 – WOW! AWESOME! You mean … it’s like … like … a BARBEQUED SALAD!! Off the barbeque!! WAY AWESOME!
Bob Seeger’s “Old Time Rock n’ Roll” … in French … continues to play in the background.
20-ish something guy – No, no, NOOOOO!!! There’s no barbeque sauce on it or anything like THAT! They just grill the romaine lettuce so it has grill marks.
20-ish something girls # 1 and # 2 (In unison) – Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
Rick (Thinking very loudly to himself) Geez … that’s weirder than French Bob Seeger.
Rick – himself
20-ish something guy – his AWESOME 20-ish something self
20-ish something girl # 1 – her AWESOME 20-ish something self
20-ish something girl # 2 – her AWESOME 20-ish something self
Best of Stage 2
The Worly Building
Best of Stage 2 is somewhat of a hodge-podge of the past year’s four shows Shadowbox Live has staged in the 2Co’s Cabaret tradition. Fortunately, the show is divided into four separate sections, with performances in context of each individual theme. This makes the presentation more a four-course meal rather than say a Whitman’s Sampler. (I’m showing my age here … for those in the dark … a box of various types of chocolates and candies.)
First up is Killer Blues. Nikki Fagin emerges from the crowd belting out Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man”. She sets the bar high for the show’s music. Brandon Anderson does a nice job serving as a re-emerging master of ceremonies for the Killer Blues pieces. The music continues to be stunning. Julie Klein’s smoldering rendition of “Stormy Monday” makes it obvious why the tune is a blues standard. And Jennifer Hahn keeps the heat on with a torrid take on Led Zeppelin’s “You Shook Me”.
Sandwiched in between all this bluesy bliss are a couple enchanting sketches, both penned by Martha King DeSilva. Mary Randle is wonderful as a woman griping about sharing workspace with a perky co-worker in “It’s Not Just a Cubicle”. Nikki Fagin again takes the stage for “For Whom the Bell. Like, Tolls.” Ms. Fagin’s portrayal of an oh-so irresponsibly earnest freshman disputing her D+ grade for a book report is both charming and nostalgic.
The second course consists of scenes from Vampires. I have a couple issues with this section. Beginning with “Perplexity” (which actually is from Shadowbox Live’s collaboration with Ballet Met and later added to Vampires) Nikki Fagin leads the other dancers through an incredible display of superb dance and articulate choreography by Katy Psenicka. This is a delight for the eyes and ears.
Stephanie Shull’s edgy … seemingly dangerous vocals on “Helter Skelter” (The Beatles) immediately following, is a fabulous exclamation point. And the ensemble performance of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” makes for a double punctuation. But the Vampires section peaks here.
Vampires gets too dark for my taste after that. As fabulous as the dancing and singing is on Nine Inch Nails “Something I Can Never Have” (Stev Guyer and Amy Lay), the piece implicitly wanders close to the edge of Lolita like fantasy. I’m not assuming this is intentional. But the guy sitting across from me seemed flummoxed when he asked me about it.
And while the three presentations after this are all well crafted performances with dazzling choreography, Best of Stage 2 drags itself to the end of Act I, making the entire show too long. Ironically, an ensemble show with no actual plot lines about vampires can work effectively as a whole … at Halloween time. But in the context of monologues and sketches divided by rock songs, less would be more. The end of Act I was just too much blood sucking for me.
Act II works much, much better. The third course is served up by “Woman with Radio” (Katy Psenicka), who simply changes stations on her radio as tunes from Torch Songs are presented stage right. Stacie Boord’s “Crazy” (Patsy Cline) is a tortured country and western gem. (Tortured Songs?) “Bright Lights and Promises” (Janis Ian) is both brooding and brilliant with Julie Klein’s vocal prowess. And Stephanie Shull stunningly sings Joni Mitchell’s “Chinese Café”.
The high point musically of the entire Best of Stage 2 ...hands down … is Brandon Anderson and Jennifer Hahn mesmerizing anyone within hearing distance on Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Their voices blend into a sound playful yet poignant … achingly urgent but somehow restrained. Prince would be proud … in a pouting way of course.
The final course of Best of Stage 2 is a wonderfully lighthearted Busty Slingshot (Julie Klein) guiding us through excerpts from Burlesque. The jokes within the sketches appear old and corny. But in the hands of notable comic actors like Brandon Anderson, David Whitehouse, Amy Lay, JT Walker III and more, this is a wonderful closing segment for the evening. The songs are strong. Nikki Fagin takes us on a 1980’s flashback with Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry”. Kristy MacColl’s “In These Shoes” is ably performed by Noelle Grandison and Julie Klein. And Katy Psenicka’s campy “If I Can’t Sell It” (Karen Gallinger) is always a naughty treat.
The company fronted by Stev Guyer closes out Best of Stage 2 with a rambunctious, infectious ensemble rendition of Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain”. This is a delightful touch to end an evening of diverse entertainment. If you have never been to one of Shadowbox Live’s Stage 2 productions then Best of Stage 2 is a perfect fit. The spectrum of approaches and themes will give a newcomer a delicious taste of what happens Wednesday and Thursday nights in the Worly Building in Columbus’s Brewery District.
Best of Stage 2 runs through April 11th.
For more information please go to:
Between the Sheets
The Worly Building