Friday, September 17, 2010
I admit that landing a new girlfriend during my first official St. Thomas Aquinas High School Friday night football game would be a tale of epic proportions in and of itself. But three? In one night? But there I was, walking on the track that separated the sidelines from the Aquinas stands, and there they were, radiant in their senior-year voluptuousness. The girl who posed this singular question walked briskly towards me, with her two equally-stunning companions behind her. She was striking. Long, flowing auburn hair, clear lip-gloss, cowl-neck sweater, boots, and black and gold Aquinas jacket. She deftly grabbed my arm in hers and walked softly with me. I looked up in the stands and there was Mr. Thomas, the father of one of my classmates from grade school and also a freshman at Aquinas. He blurted out, "Hey, Matt. You're doing alright, freshman!" Yeah, I thought. Not bad for an overweight guy with horn-rimmed glasses who barely knew the correct route to home-room.
Yet, here I was, on a brisk football-Friday night ( we wore proper Autumn gear back then, since, unlike nowadays, high school football games didn't start when the summer temps were still in the 90's!) parading not one but three ravenous beauties before the admiring home-field spectators. Before I could hash out the evening's festivities with this obviously nubile trinity, though, the two ladies behind me suddenly, without warning, burst into loud laughter, as did the auburn-haired vixen who was now no longer glued to my arm. "Yeah, right, Freshman. Like we're gonna go do it behind the stands. Fuck off!"
Normal people would be permanently scarred by something of this magnitude. But not me. I would survive several similar events during my high school years. I thought about that night, though, last Saturday as my brother Pat was induced into the St. Thomas Aquinas Athletic Hall of Fame. As Mark, Mike, and I stood around slurping beers and waiting for the program to start, I looked around at the gymnasium and the hallways leading to the classrooms and I thought about high school. Particularly, I thought about Friday night football.
Some remember their high school years by their academic prowess, but I didn't possess much of that, either. I was a C+ student, at best. Loathing math, I tended to lean towards Literature, Journalism, and Speech, even though I was petrified most of the time to stand up in front of the class. I tried joining a few clubs, but many of them met when I wasn't able to attend, and the ones I did like seemed populated with the same popular people. Since I wasn't an athlete and I wasn't a particularly gifted student, I found myself hanging out with a few of the "burnouts", guys who favored smoking marijuana, cars, and, most of all, music. We'd talk about bands, albums, guitarists, and car-stereo-systems. We'd talk about which women we'd like to "do", although nobody in this group of burnouts ever had a date. But, they were my group, my clique. So during lunch-periods, I'd sit in the back right-hand corner of the lunch-room, away from the players, cheerleaders, and National Honor Society members, hum the intro to "Won't Get Fooled Again" or "Dazed and Confused", and count the days until high school would be over. But I still missed Friday night football games. And I couldn't go to them. Not because of my failure with the Raquel Welch-triplets but because of my seven-year Friday-night standing-date with the a semi-truck at Lemmons Market.
Early in my sophomore year, I got a job at the grocery-market down the street from my house. I was a "bag-boy", a guy who packed groceries in paper-sacks and carried them out to customers' cars. Sometimes they'd even tip me. I'd put in several hours during the week doing this after school, but the night that was a required work-shift for every Lemmons employee was Friday night. That's when the truck would come in for the week's delivery. Everything was off-limits on Friday night if you worked for Dick Lemmon. Dates. Parties. And yes, Friday night football games. The truck would arrive at around 6:30 p.m. and we'd routinely stay until midnight, unloading the truck, unpacking cartons of Stokely green beans or Tide laundry detergent, and stacking them neatly on the shelves.
Most of my co-workers were older than me, some out of high school, so they didn't care about Friday night football games. But I did. During the day on Friday, I'd hear the conversations about who the opponent was, who was driving whom to the game, and where they were going afterwards. I'd be able to experience none of it. I had a an engagement with a 2-wheeled dolly and an ink-price stamper.
It was glorious. Football on Friday nights in northeast Ohio is as sacred as any feast-day on the Church calendar. And it was a Norman Rockwell-setting of a high-school football game that evening. The sky was clear and the air was crisp. Our side of the field was loaded in black-and-gold. Their side of the field was filled with the reviled green-and-white that could only represent the sinister, unholy Central Catholic Crusaders. The smell of popcorn and hot chocolate filled the air and kids threw tiny footballs back and forth over by the fence, near the blocking-sleds. It seemed both strange and wonderful seeing some of my teachers there, too, nodding to me as I walked past them en route to my seat, dressed in black and gold gear, huddling with their mates. The girls in my class who were cheerleaders looked even more radiant and un-touchable in their make-up, lip-gloss, and short skirts. Heck, Sandy Shoup even waved to me once when I walked past. Yes, this was truly a magical evening.
Although not many burnouts went to the games, there were a few there. Some of them had forged a party-alliance of sorts, the "Little Kings Gang", named after the small, seven-ounce bottles of beer that they would purchase by the metric ton each Friday and Saturday. They were planning their itinerary for the evening, where they would ride around after games well into the night, draining the contents of those small bottles, crashing parties, and basically putting other Stark County drivers at risk. I wasn't sure whether I would join them. But I knew one thing. I wasn't unloading 50-pound bags of water-softener salt or stacking infinite numbers of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup-cans on top of each other. I was here. I was also fairly sure that whomever I hung out with after the game, it would almost assuredly include a double-cheese-and sausage masterpiece from The Pizza Oven, the greatest pizza that has ever or will ever exist in this solar system.
Mogadore. Like many small towns and villages across the Buckeye state, Mogadore lives for Friday nights. Although the town only has about 4 thousand people, it has a rich football tradition and a long history of success. The school has won 4 state championships and has won multiple league and regional titles. During the start of football season, they post small signs on the front of telephone poles and trees which dot the main streets in and out of town. I've never been to a Mogadore home-game but I hear it's a tough ticket. I like riding through it when I'm done with work on Friday. You can sense the seismic activity of excitement with people of all shapes and sizes decked out in green and white. Parents litter their front porches with signs depicting their son's jersey number or "M.H.S. Cheerleader Lives Here". It's a scene played out all over the counties that make up northeast Ohio, but it's particularly strong in and around my hometown. In the cafe here on the corner next to the Speedway gas station, they've been talking about that night's game all day. And over coffee and eggs the next morning, they'll continue to rewind play after play until somebody brings up next week's game.