In honor of Signing Day...
This was a recent short story/ e-journal entry about 'Official Visits' taken by MZHS's most famous Gator...I still have that Alissa Alps autograph...enjoy- ML
Somewhere between three and four in the morning, I had had enough. Maybe it was the stale warm bottles of light beer that I'd been given or the complete dreariness of abandonment that been dogging me for the past few hours, but it was all starting to close in about me. It seemed clear that my only option was to leave, soon.
In the strange yellow light of a third floor loft apartment somewhere on the outskirts of Chicago I stumbled to my feet and with unsteady movements straightened my sweater and hitched up my jeans. I stared at my upside down body and let the warm fuzz of alcohol envelop my senses until I convinced myself that most definitely did not look drunk. Once I was presentable enough I gave the couch a once-over, checking for any items that may have spilled from my pockets. I hadn't spoken to anyone for at least an hour and a half. The only noises I had to keep me company were the clacking of keys and my own shallow breaths in between swallows of flat beer. I checked my pockets for my room key and wallet and found them both snugly positioned where I'd left them at the beginning of the night. Surveying the contents of my wallet I counted the length-wise folded ones when suddenly a wave of recognition and regret spilled over me. I had no idea what a cab cost but I hoped that $11 was enough. It would have to be, because that was all I had left. That and an autographed glossy of Alissa Apls and her 33 triple D breasts. How strangely this evening had gone.
The picture was a gift for a good friend. I hadn't honestly wanted to go to the strip club but nothing on this trip was really my choice. In fact nothing I'd done over the past month seemed to be my decision. I was lost in a place where the perception of things and their actual value were rarely reconciled. My worth in this strange world was based on things I hadn't done yet. People I didn't know liked me or disliked me based on a supposed future that we all conceivably shared in common. I followed along because at 17 I knew two things: that there most definitely was something great about life, and that up until then, I had no idea what it was. So when coaxed by giggling sophomores and bearded Juniors to ask Alissa for an autographed picture I complied. It was easy. The rough part came the next morning in the hotel when I found out what recruiting was really about, but for now, I needed to sleep.
In Atlanta I'd spent most of my visit talking to a female bartender in a place called Pat Hurley's back yard. It was the kind of place that makes you cringe when you think back on your college nights and the sh*t you used to drink and the dancing you would shamelessly subject the other patrons to. The kind of place that Jesus wouldn't take a dump in. All-together unholy but wonderful at the same time. There is an intangible solemnity that surrounds those places that I basked in all evening as I took shot after shot with a 45 year old woman bartender named Teresa.
"The trick is to not look like you're in high school." That's what I told myself over and over as I glanced back and forth from the dance floor to the scuffed and grafittied bar top. Occasionally I raised my face to shine a sheepish grin at Teresa or to accept yet another shot bought for me by the owner, who sat on a stool at the opposite end of the bar watching me with a silent enjoyment as I raised each and every shot in cheers to him. As he saw things, this was his duty. The football players were regulars and their presence certainly boosted business, so it was only right to take good care of their recruits, because honestly we were really his recruits too.
"What's this one?" I shouted over the deafening music of the dace floor. Teresa was sliding two shot glasses brimming with neon yellow liquid in my direction. A smile rested on her lips and the hint of something else dancing around her eyes. I saw her mouth forming words but I couldn't make anything out over the sound from the speakers. "What?" I called back.
In a move that was half cowboy and half cheerleader she planted her elbows on the bar top and shifted her weight forward, pivoting on her elbows and lifting the lower half of her body off the ground. Smiling she leaned her face and hair in close to my ear and whispered "Lemon Drops." She smelled better than any woman I'd ever know and even through the smoke and musk of churning bodies I could make out her scent. It was terribly attractive.
"Sounds good to me" I shouted as she leaned back to check my reaction. Honestly, I could 't have cared what was in the shot. I would have drank gasoline so long as she leaned in close to whisper it to me. She was just far enough from me to bring her shot to her lips without bumping into my chin. I drank the concoction down quickly, never taking my eyes from her as she balanced on the bar. She lingered a second more to shoot me one more long-toothed grin, then she collected our shot glasses in between three nimble fingers and planted her feet lightly again behind the bar and swayed off to pour more drinks. I realized then that I was leaning forward, quite awkwardly, over the bar. I relaxed slowly back into my seat and caught the owner grinning smugly at me from his stool a few feet away. I smiled a nervous smile as he raised his glass in salute.
The next morning as I inventoried the contents of my pockets, about to head down to breakfast I found a card mixed in with my keys and change. I flipped it around until the type was right-side-up. It read only Tim Halstead, Manager. On the back in swirls and arcs that piled upon each other, forming lavish curls of lettering the words "You're a cutie. Come see me again when you're in town. - Teresa" rested almost on top of the faded gray paper. A shock of satisfaction smashed into me and I smiled a big goofy one and looked up to share this discovery with someone, anyone, but I was notably alone. I held the card in my clumsy fingers for longer than I should have and almost regretted having to place it in my pocket to finish collecting my things. On the elevator ride to the lobby I traced the shape of the card in my pocket with my free hand as I shifted the weight of my duffle-bag on my shoulder with the other.
But trapped in a depressing apartment in somewhere in Chicago things were much more bleak. I broke the long-standing silence with a brief announcement to any interested parties "Soo, um, thanks for letting me stay for a while, but I think I'm heading out." The clacking of keys came to a dead halt and two pony-tailed girls in pajamas and glasses craned their necks backward to meet my eyes, a quizzical look on each of their flush faces. Silently outside snow was falling on Lake Michigan.
What followed was a barrage of inquiries and pleas of reconsideration. Things like "But it's sooooo cold out right now" and "you know you're nowhere close to your hotel" were slung in my direction as one of these studious girls went to fetch another beer while the other tugged playfully at my coat. Finally I conceded to one more beer whilst we worked out a plan for departure. My ride, and incidentally my host on this the last and decidedly most uneventful of my official visits to potential colleges, had gone downstairs nearly three hours ago. He'd left me in the company of two young law students fully engrossed in their term papers. Not the most suggestive of situations, but I wasn't complaining, for an hour at least. Then the talking stopped as they trotted back to their computers and I was left with a 5-pack of warm Corona Light and not even a television to keep me company.
Now they were convincing me to stick around until Dill, my absent host and more notably my only ride, returned from his weekly pleasure tour of the downstairs neighbor. "Perfect" I thought, "he gets laid and I sit up here and get drunk watching law students spell check term papers. This is going to make a hell of a story for Lat when I get home." I leaned back with my freshly opened beer and listened as the pair of adorable coeds entertained me with stories of campus life and parties. I spread my arms across the back of the couch and relaxed into the soft fabric. I pretended I was home in my buddy's basement telling them about my travels of late and how much fun I had, even if all of it wasn't entirely true. I smiled politely as they talked on and on watching the falling snow just beyond the blackened window and I kept thinking of Boston and the things I'd seen there. Snow was following me everywhere these days.
All dorm rooms eventually start to look alike. It gets so you can't tell one from another. One city from the next. As I watched my host standing by the dinning room table running his hands along the shiny metal seams of a hand-held industrial staple gun I wondered just what he intended to do. Seated at the table his roommate was talking to me between bites of left over steak and lobster I'd carted back from the restaurant the coaches had taken us to. He laughed occasionally at the things he said, every time covering his mouth and nodding furiously. His roommate, my host, was too absorbed in the staple gun to hear much of what was being said. This was certainly an odd pair if ever I saw one. I glanced about the dingy room to the Boston skyline illuminated in the evening sky and was thankful that we never had to crash with our hosts on these visits. I needed a tetanus shot just to go into the bathroom.
The other recruits and I had dined that evening at an establishment of some note in the Boston area. I didn't see prices on the menu and I counted at least three Mercedes and one Bentley come through the valet stand while we were coming in. At the urging of the coaches we all ordered the three pound lobster, a steak and an appetizer each. I'd made it through most of my potatoskins (which in reality were halved potatoes coved in cheese and sour cream) when my steak arrived, seated triumphantly atop a bed of steak fries.. I wanted my dad to be there for that one moment so he could see me take a bite from this steak in this restaurant in this City and hear what he would say about it all. I imagined what he'd say as he took a bite of the tender meat "This ain't bad, but you know what i needs? Fresh Lemon. Yup. That's it. Fresh squeezed lemon".
As the rest of our party tore heartily into the feast that lay before us I deliberately slowed my pace, enjoying the satisfaction of chewing, and the lustful anticipation of each bite. When i consider going back to being a carnivore, this is the meal I fantasize for myself. I stopped half-way through the monumental cut of beef. "The rest is for Pops" I thought to myself, and began cracking and sucking the tender bits of the bright red lobster that lay waiting before me. The waiter politely showed us the best bay to approach a lobster and pointed out to everyone exactly where the "oysters" were located, though I was the only one curious enough to try them.
The lobster proved too much a meal for any of us, and as we talked about home and drank our drinks they wrapped up the remains of our meals, and brought out the check. I couldn't make out the exact price but I saw a three in the left had position, and with six of us eating I don't think it was in the three-digit price range.
Overstuffed on a fine meal and the day-dreams of college life I exited the bus in front of the stadium behind the others. It'd snowed the week before so there were small deposits of the stuff laying about. It was little more than slush but still I was excited. I paused for a moment to kick a small pile of dirty snow that lay peacefully on the sidewalk. I had never seen real snow before. The stuff we got in Georgia growing up was nothing like this. As I crushed hard chunks under foot I imagined what a winter in Boston would be like. I let me mind drift into a scene of soft falling snow and white courtyards filled with passing students. I let this idea swim around in my head for a while. A coach saw me lingering and came over to ask what the hold up was. "Snow" I explained with a childish grin. "I've never seen snow like this before." The coach looked amused. He smiled down at the foot prints I'd left and then back up to me and stated plainly "Yeah, this sh*t's everywhere in the winter."
The girls gave up on entertaining me after a while. They were trying to finish their work before break and they'd been stuck with me on the promise that Dill would be back in an hour or so. It was now going on five hours. Dill's sex-olympics, while one for the record books, was hindering their night now as well. Incidentally, Dill was not the real name of my host in Chicago. It was Matthew Dillson. Everyone just called him Dill. He was an average football player from Wisconsin with great hands and a thing for blondes. I can't remember if I ever actually wanted to sign there, but after I was ditched for a cleat-chaser until four in the morning with a pair of over-energetic law nerds and warm beer, lets just say they didn't make my short list.
Gator tail tastes like catfish. Catfish and country-fried steak. With some tartar sauce and salt you couldn't even tell what it was you were eating. It just tasted like everything fried you'd ever eaten in your life. Brown and delicious. I finished my gator and refilled my plate with shrimp and carrots. I ate as I looked around at the tables of dozens and dozens of me, looking more confused than even I was. Tearing meat with our teeth we regarded everything as somehow distinctly ours. The stench of over-confidence hung all around. Even chairs and tables seemed as if they were arranged for the pleasure of each of us, according to a grand orchestration of our desires. I have never seen such a display of pandering outside of movies or television. It was obscene.
We sat in long carpeted room that was adorned with similar-sized and shaped photographic portraits. The last few rows began in color washed and faded and progressed into bright and violently saturated greens and blues and oranges. I wandered over during post dinner conversations the other recruits were having about bigger schools and envelopes filled with money to observe the nameless figures staring out over the scene. To listen to what they might be saying as they watched us consume and consume.
Aligned in neat rows of years and sports these accomplished many told their tales from the brief frame of their wooden casing, singing praise for each and every second they were alive. To me it seemed that even the ones not yet dead were somehow passed, waiting for the person who's only job it was to update the living and dead faces with a departure figure and a period. What an odd position to have; denoter of death.
I noticed the faces and regarded the distinction that some of the names held. I watched their eyes follow me from one frame to the next as my gaze fluttered over mustaches and bangs and sideburns and lipstick. Fresh-faced students, some dead and buried now, gleaming through the dusty tones of black and white and hoping to be remembered by someone foolish enough to come too close. Suddenly I wanted to leave. I felt a disastrous urge to quit this company and tread back to Georgia without these heavy burdens in tow but I knew I had no choice. I was 17. What else was there to do besides go along.
A Comment from the author after ML posted:
As far as Richt's ping-pong method goes, it makes complete sense that it's an effective way to snag young athletes. Granted I was a third-tier recruit, but on my visits I spent less than 20 minutes with any of the head coaches at my schools, if I saw them at all.
Mostly I talked to GA's and drank Budweiser tall-boys with sophomore kickers and hit on fat chicks. Spending some personal time with a coach, even over a game of ping-pong, would have meant a lot to me, especially back then.
Now, just gimme the tall-boy and the fat chick.
1/31/2008 8:42 AM