The Problem With Being a Boy…
It had been sometime the year before, about halfway through the football season. Every spring, Eddie would start dreaming about playing for the football team the following year. He was too small for many of the positions, but after much figuring, he imagined he might make it as a field goal kicker. He had seen the kickers on TV with their skinny little arms and their clean uniforms. That mattered not to him; they were on the team. They were football players.
It was hard for him to imagine that the kickers, being football players, ever got bullied by anybody. So, he had decided that the upcoming summer would be one of practice for him. Then he would screw up his courage and sign up during the spring meeting for the team.
When the day arrived in late April for the sign up, Eddie was too frightened to sign up. He had walked down to Mr. Evans room, where the signup sheet hung outside the door in plain sight, but too many kids were hanging around every time he walked by. Finally, during last period, he asked
to go to the restroom. Instead, he scurried down the stairs and through the basement hallway to Mr. Evans’s door. His heart swelled up. He would do it. The sheet was gone.
After school, Eddie resolved to go back down and ask Mr. Evans where the sheet was. When he arrived, the door was closed and Mr. Evans was inside speaking with Tank Jones, one of the starting offensive linemen. Eddie thought about waiting for Tank to leave and then going in and asking for the sheet, but what would he say?
His mind ran through it. “Mr. Evans, I was wondering where the sign-up sheet was. I’d like to sign up for football next season. I know I can’t play quarterback or running back – (though Eddie often had visions of breaking around end on a pitch play and outrunning the fastest defenders to the end zone, running right past his dad who was on the sidelines talking up one of his political connections. He imagined the political connection dropping his popcorn and interrupting Eddie’s dad, and stammering, “Uh Hank… Hank! You do know your boy just ran around end and is about to score the winning touchdown? I’ve never seen anyone that fast. He’s the best Spring Creek has ever had. Hank! Shut up about your stupid political plans and watch your boy!” – no, even with his vivid imagination Eddie knew he couldn’t run the
ball, or tackle, or even block….) – Mr. Evans, I know this may seem funny but I want to sign up. Right now. I think I can kick field goals. I think I can win games for Spring Creek. I’m tired of people thinking I’m a nobody. I want to be somebody.”
Eddie looked down at his own spindly little arms. He looked back through the glass at Mr. Evans and at Tank Jones. Tank was as big as Mr. Evans. Tank was a man, and Eddie was a boy. He turned around and walked back through the hall and up the stairs.
That night, Eddie lay in bed, thinking. A plan erupted. He hadn’t signed up, but he could practice field goals anyway! If he started the next day and practiced everyday till school was out and then all summer, then by fall he could just show up at practice, pull out a tee, set a ball on it and say, “Coach, watch this.” Boom. Good, from the 40 yard line.
“Coach, that’s just a warm up. I’m good from much further out.”
Coach wouldn’t be able to resist someone automatic from that far out. He’d be on the team.
That had been the spring before when all this figuring had taken place in Eddie’s mind. He had indeed gone down to the park that next day with a football he borrowed from his friend, Von. He had located a large tree with a
wide spread of limbs. He had then walked off what he figured to be 30 yards, nudged the ball down into a little pile of leaves and moss, and then backed up a few feet and sidestepped a few feet to his left like he had seen kickers do on TV. He had looked around to see if anyone was looking, had raised his arm, like some kind of signal, though what kind and to whom he didn’t know, taken a couple of quick stutter steps to the ball and kicked, trying to extend his leg out on the release. The ball had spun quickly away, angling to the left. It had glanced off the top of a neighboring bush and skidded across the ground, stopping a full 20 feet from the base of the big tree.
“Dammit. Dammit all to hell!” Eddie had yelled out. It was the same phrase he heard from his dad so many times. “Eddie! Dammit…” Eddie had walked up to the ball and kicked it as hard as he could. It was over. He couldn’t do it.
So, as it was, spring had turned slowly into summer. Summer had eventually led to fall and the beginning of school and the Spring Creek Varsity Football Team was without one Eddie Denker, field goal kicker.
As I said, it happened halfway through that football season. Spring Creek was 2 – 2, having lost one game by two points. Eddie hadn’t been to a
game yet, but read the scores in the paper. He wondered if they should be 3 – 1 if he could’ve kicked a game winning field goal in one of their losses.
It happened midway through the first quarter of the fifth game, the first one Eddie attended. He hadn’t wanted to go, but his little brother Bruce had been called to substitute for a classmate selling concessions. Eddie’s dad made him walk Bruce to the game, and to wait until it was over and make sure Bruce got back home okay. Eddie was just hanging around near the top of the bleachers when he saw Bruce working his way through the crowd with a flat container half full of popcorn bags. All of a sudden a boy came up to Bruce and started taking the bags from the container one by one. He did it as casually as if he was moving checkers on a board. Every bag he took he handed back to one of his friends. Eddie saw that at first Bruce was smiling, probably thinking he was making an easy big sale. But when the boy had removed the final bag of popcorn and had sat back down, it quickly became clear that he had no intention of paying Bruce. Bruce just stood there, looking from one boy to the other. He said nothing.
After all, what would he say, a ten year old boy against at least four high school boys? Eddie could see the bewilderment on Bruce’s face. Just
then, Eddie saw one of the boys throw a handful of popcorn at Bruce’s face, and yell out, “Get outta the way, you little punk! I can’t see the game!” There were no adults around, and Eddie knew it was his job as the big brother to go down there and take care of little brother. He knew it. So what if the boys were older and bigger? He could at least get Bruce away from them and then yell some cusswords at them, and then he and Bruce could run away. At least appear to help his brother.
But Eddie stood there and watched. He saw a second handful of popcorn go up at his brother’s face and he saw one of the boys stand up and shove Bruce out of the way. Bruce caught his balance and worked his way back out of the crowd and back down the bleachers toward the concession stand.
Eddie didn’t see Bruce again until the end of the game, out by the front gate.
“How’d it go? Make any big money?” Eddie asked.
Bruce was silent. The air was chilled with the heaviness of fall. It was a dark night. The lights in the stadium started to go out as the two boys crossed the road toward home. Eddie wished for the next day when he could go up into the woods alone and find the remains of a giant chestnut stump, a
flickering death remaining from the grand era gone by. He wished for things before he was born. He made himself try again.
“Make any money at all?”
Bruce sobbed a little. “No. “
The boys turned and made their way down a familiar alley.
“I ain’t doing that again, Eddie.”
“You know why. You ask me, yet you know why.”
Eddie walked on quietly for a moment.
“I’m sorry, Bruce.”
The boys walked on, emboldened to be together, yet afraid of what they didn’t know.