Here is an outake from my novel, Overtime.
Another thing I see is this: one the other side of the far chain-link fence is a back yard. There is nothing unusual about it. It’s just a slope of grass dropping away from a little house that, like most of the houses around here, is past its prime. But, there is a clothes line. One of those old-style things with a center pole that opens like an umbrella. You used to see them around here all the time thirty or forty years ago. Every so often, when the weather is good, a young woman comes out there and hangs out the wash and then, late in the afternoon, takes it back down. I don’t know exactly how I came to focus on this. I think for a long time it happened without me particularly noticing it. To me it was for a while just slow movement, like clouds or city traffic. But now I wait for her like you would wait for release from prison.
It is not what you might think. I don’t look at her like men – like I – looked at pictures in the magazines. I would never have looked at this woman at all when I was alive, and I have never looked at a woman the way I now look at her. You never really know where you are until you have been somewhere else and now it seems to me that I rarely if ever looked at a woman in my life who wasn’t making some kind of effort to get me to look at her. I did not know there was any other way.
You take a basketball player. You take a guy who has natural gifts – quickness, jumping ability, maybe even a natural shooting stroke. But, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to be king of the hill. I ran into a few of these guys early in my career and made mistakes on them. I learned soon enough that this type of player – I’ll say person, not player, because this is exactly what this guy is not – a player. Anyhow, this type of a person, you are wasting your time with them. You won’t ever have the last word with them. I don’t mean that they will back-talk. What I mean is that at some point, they just won’t follow you. When push comes to shove. Its like they have some kind of internal limit and they won’t go past it. Even if it means the difference between playing time or not playing time or even winning and losing. And it does mean the difference between winning and losing. Always. No matter how talented these guys might be, if they don’t have that will to beat the other guy, they will lose at the varsity level. You could take a bunch of football players who wanted to win and beat five of these talented guys who don’t care. I could, anyway.
So, long ago I stopped paying attention to anyone who wasn’t trying. As a high school coach, you can arrange things so that the world more or less comes to you. That’s true with players, who know that their fates depend on your opinion. Not much explanation is needed here. In high school, playing varsity ball is the ticket to social status and success. You can give a kid the kind of glory he will never have again, even if he becomes a CEO. And you give it to him at the very time when he most needs it. And you can take it away.
But it is also true with the school’s administration, if you win.
If you put a winning team on the floor and raise a little pride and interest in the community, the administration – your bosses – will fall in line. I never prepared for any of the classes I had to teach while I was in the best years of my career. Even though that was, supposedly, at least, what I was getting paid for. I could not even tell you what some of the classes were. Probably couldn’t have told you at the time. I showed my classes movies about Pearl Harbor and D-Day and archeological digs in Egypt and rarely hit a lick otherwise. No one complained. Once the principal called me into his office out of a class that I had neglected to the point where even I felt bad about it. I knew what was coming. Parents had complained. Probably the parents of some girls – boy’s parents would never complain, they would not want their sons to be on the wrong side of the coach. That’s why the classes I “taught” were almost always all boys. But there were some girls in this class who were from good families – their dads were engineers at one of the local chemical plants – and I knew what had happened. Some of them had gotten together, compared notes about my lack of performance in this class and now I was going to have to face the music.
I remember how I felt walking down that hallway. Scared. Embarrassed. Like a high-school kid. And right when I had finally gotten things to click with the basketball team. I had been there five years when it happened, and I had finally gotten the team into the state tournament. We won sectionals and lost at the regionals to the team that went on to win it all. But it was the first time my school had been there in more than ten years, and we got good coverage in the papers – stories about past glory being restored and like that.
But now I knew that I had finally taken it too far. I did not know the principal very well at that time. He kind of kept his distance, which I expected at that time, and which was fine with me. The less said the better, I thought. But my impression was that he was a straight guy – one of them – who when push came to shove would come down on the side of academics, of me having to do my real job. I knew that my complete neglect of this class would not be tolerated, and there could be pain in it for me. If I was disciplined it would make the papers – I already had enemies by then – and that would be a real problem for the program and my control of it. I might have to move.
I was wrong. The principle had called me in to see if I would play golf with him. There were a couple of guys in his club that had been following the team and wanted to meet me. It was his club and a free game for me.
And so I learned to put first things first. You win and everything else takes care of itself. And It gives you more time to concentrate on the thing that is important – winning.
It was also true with women. I am a tall, athletic, but unhandsome man. As a high-school coach, I did not have enough of a salary to really support a household. I was completely absorbed by a career that, in terms of material wealth, would certainly never lead anywhere. Any woman who married me (several did) chose to live in one of the smaller, older houses in our small and old town, and she chose to work full-time outside the home, even when the kids were babies, so that we could make ends meet. I had no real connections, no family money and certainly no training in manners. Looking back on it, I probably had a bad reputation about how I had treated women in the past, too. I never considered that at the time. But after two or three winning seasons in this town, I had women falling at my feet. More than once I was propositioned by the wives of men who made lots more money than me, were better husbands and fathers than I ever became and some of whom had the power to fire me. All of this came – I still believe this to be true – completely unsought.