I am flying. Not the good kind of flying like in dreams. This is the very bad kind of flying. The worst. I just got hit by William Camps. We are both in full football uniforms. This was my father’s idea. He is our football coach at Hurley Elementary School on the outskirts of Salisbury, North Carolina, and the flying is the result of a drill or a demonstration of some sort in which we intentionally collided. It demonstrates that I never want to line up on the opposite side of a line against William Camps. It demonstrates that Camps has an innate understanding of physics, force application and kinetic energy. I weigh about 25 pounds less than Camps and am exactly two and a half times less tough, but that was a given that never required demonstrating.
I make it to my feet. Just a little wobbly. “Let’s do it again,” my dad says. Camps shrugs. He clearly doesn’t want to do it again. I’m not terribly enthusiastic about doing it again either. But we line up against each other and get into our stances. He goes low, hits hard and lifts up again. I fly five feet further than last time and skid to a halt in the dirt. The next thing I recall is several faces looking down on me in a circle with some light in between that eventually resolves itself into the sky. I may be able to move, but I’m not ready to try yet. My dad pulls me to my feet easily. “You’ll be fine. Rub some dirt on it,” my dad says.
Rub some dirt on what? My brain stem? This is one of his catch phrases. A bad bruise? “Rub some dirt on it. You’ll be fine.” It’s not modern medicine as we know it. It’s more of an old school ethos. Acknowledge your wound and move it along because we have better stuff to do than sit around crying about your boo boo.
When you are young, you want to be tested out. What are your limits? How will you know when you reach them? You can’t ever reach them without pushing yourself. Finding them. Then rubbing some dirt on yourself and moving on.
“Do you give up?” I have had Tim Lippard in a full nelson for twenty minutes on the floor of my living room. My arm is falling asleep. His face is starting to turn purple. “No,” he answers. “Do you?”
At a certain point, my basic humanity kicks into gear despite the fact that I am a sophomore in high school. I let him go. “I escaped,” he says, his lips less blue now. I groan. You can never actually beat Tim Lippard, though you may throttle him nearly to death. I admire this quality even as it irritates me.
I think this explains why the British eventually gave up ruling India. They were exhausted by their own brutality, demoralized by what it took to rule. A gaunt determined Gandhi had more true grit than they did.
…Later I am playing tackle football with the big kids in my neighborhood. If you don’t require stitches and can walk home with no limp, it’s been a great fun day playing tackle with the big kids.
Steve Earnhardt is too slow to catch you. If he did, there’s no doubt he’d inflict maximum pain with minimal qualms. When he is not trying to murder people legally on the football field, he is bullying them relentlessly at the Pine Valley bus stop where time stands still as we wait on a brick traffic circle for a bus that may never come. David Lyerly employs the horse collar tackle early and often. He is a tall skinny guy, but his brutality makes up for his lack of bulk.
I am elusive. Not fast. But quick. Full of fakery and jukes. My survival instinct has provided me this one athletic gift. I am a scrawny boy in a big kid’s game. I could be broken in a moment of carelessness, so I take much care.
….At the Hemingway Museum in Key West, I am reading an article through a glass case about some war wounds Hemingway got that make me think of rubbing dirt on things and carrying on. Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver in World War I on the Italian front. This is how the article goes:
“Although Lieutenant Ernest M. Hemingway of Oak Park, Illinois was wounded in 237 places, he carried a helpless comrade to safety before he collapsed. He is cited to receive the Silver Medal of Valor, the second highest award of the Italian command. He writes:
‘The wounds from the trench mortar didn’t hurt a bit, and the machine gun bullet just felt like a smack on the leg by an icy snow ball. I go up and got my wounded to the dug-out. It gives you an awfully satisfactory feeling to be wounded; it’s getting beaten up in a good cause. There are no heroes in this war. We all offer our bodies and only a few are chosen.'”
First of all, if I ever got wounded in 237 places, I’m pretty sure I would not be doing anything heroic after that unless moaning and dying are considered heroic. I doubt seriously I would get an awfully satisfactory feeling from being wounded. I love his phrase about getting beaten up in a good case, but I prefer not to be beaten up in any cause if that’s possible.
…I am walking with Robyn in Manhattan down a narrow sidewalk in the Financial District. Roughly a thousand times a day people in New York City pass within inches of each other in spaces too narrow to fit. Sometimes we brush each other gently. Usually, we each make some kind of micro adjustment just as we are about to collide so that we never do. I do my part as I come toward a young, well dressed guy hurrying along the sidewalk. He does not do his. Which is why his shoulder smacks hard into mine. He keeps hurrying on without a moment to spare for an apology or acknowledgment that we bumped into each other.
“What an asshole!” I say out loud. He probably hears me and certainly doesn’t care. He’s on the next block running into someone else on his way to his job in mergers and acquisitions where he can’t wait to start yelling at his secretary for nothing and chopping up some company into smaller more efficient pieces while firing all the best people and keeping the worst.
Each day in this loud crowded city we march into the mobs to take part in our work days. Trying to do something brilliant. Or at least significant. We make a way for ourselves on busy sidewalks when none appears. We push ourselves into the A train even when it is clearly too packed to fit anyone else.
….I was determined not to be late for a job interview when the A train appeared at the platform one day filled to max capacity before it even arrived. No one got off when the doors opened. I apologized to everyone and plunged into the mass of humanity. The doors closed. I looked out at the people who hadn’t been able to fit into the train standing on the platform sullenly waiting for their next chance.
There are no heroes in a crowded subway car. We all offer our bodies. Only a few are chosen.