The Blue Chip

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A highly prized recruit signs with his dream institution.

Submitted: October 17, 2018

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Submitted: October 17, 2018

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The old man was reclining in his La-Z-Boy with the Wall Street Journal folded in quarters on his lap and a neon green highlighter in his hand. Still trying to make his fortune.

I guess he could have done worse in his fifty-two years. He kept spouting all this optimistic shit like, ‘Fifty is the new forty,’ and, ‘There’s plenty of run left in this bull market,’ and, ‘My best years are still ahead of me.’ My favorite is, ‘I can still bench press my body weight.’ Shit, I wish he would give up the delusion of youth. It’s kind of pathetic in a man his age.

I had the TV tuned to the Texas MABI football halftime show, waiting for the second half kickoff against our hated rivals, Diloot State Tech. Texas MABI was my team and had been since I was a little boy and my dad had taken me to see them play. I had all the fan gear – jerseys, pennants, spiral notebooks, sweatshirts. You name it, everything I owned has the TMABI logo on it somewhere. I framed my recruiting letter from legendary coach, Clyde Harrow and hung it on the wall of my room. A full scholarship at the Cowpuddle campus and the promise of playing four years of college ball kept me up at night. Just let me get out of this Podunk town and make my name as an all-American linebacker and I’d never return.

I leaned toward the television to watch the tackling techniques of the MABI linebacker. I studied the player’s footwork, paying attention to how he threaded through the line and shucked blockers to reach the DST running back and bring him down. A low, sympathetic, guttural grunt when the two men collided came from me involuntarily. The slow-motion replay from a camera angle behind the offense showed a close-up of the linebacker’s face, and I noticed the intensity in the player’s eyes and saw the change in attitude as he closed in on the runner. “Ker-Bam!” I said, when the linebacker impacted the runner in slow-motion. There’s a guy that lives for football and violent physical contact. “I’m just like him,” I said to the old man, in his recliner comparing the quotes and trends of the market. He glanced up at the TV, over the rims of his reading glasses, too late to see the play.

“Uh huh,” he said and stuck his nose back into the paper.

The doorbell rang, and the old man rose to answer. “They’re here,” he called to the old lady in the kitchen.

“Just a second,” she said. “I’m taking the cookies out of the oven now.” She hurried into the living room, straightening her hair and removing her apron. She was decked out in a nice knee-length striped dress that camouflaged the poochy belly left from having three babies. There’s a picture of their wedding on the mantle, and, even if it is weird for me to say, back in the day she was quite a looker. I kind of shuddered at the inappropriate image of her and me.

“Are we expecting company?” I asked. Diloot State held a 23-21 lead early in the third quarter, but Texas MABI had the ball and was nearing midfield. I slid across the couch, closer to the television and turned up the volume. I hoped the visitors wouldn’t stay long and interrupt the game too much. At worst, I could excuse myself and retreat to my room and watch the end on my smaller TV.

“It’s a surprise,” said the old man, folding the paper neatly into the recliner’s cushion and heading for the front door.

They held hands and greeted two men at the door and led them into the living room to meet me. The old man paused the game and spoke to me. Fuck. I don’t need this distraction. MABI is in the red zone and should at least get a field goal which would put them ahead.

“There’s somebody here to see you,” said the old man.

A heavy-set man, salt and pepper hair, and dressed in gray slacks and blue blazer stepped forward and offered his hand. Under his left arm was a clipboard stuffed thick with paper and secured with heavy rubber bands.

“Nice to meet you, Ernie. My name is Coach Nalley and this is Coach Hooks.”

“Hi,” I said. I stood and shook hands with Coach Nalley.

The younger and slimmer of the two, wearing jeans and a mustard polo with black stitching stepped forward. “Bill Hooks,” said the man, shaking my hand. “I’m the recruiting coordinator and hospitality director.”

The old man cleared his throat and said, “Coach Nalley and Coach Hooks want to talk to you about playing for them.” He turned and winked at the two men, “Isn’t that right?”

The old lady wiped the palms of her hands on a dish towel and said, “Yes, Ernie. They’re interested in your future and where you’ll go when you leave here.” She glanced at the old man who surreptitiously zipped his finger across his lips at his wife.

I saw that, you twat. They’re wearing traditional periwinkle and mustard MABI colors.

“Absolutely,” said Coach Nalley. “We want you to join us and be a part of our team. How would you like that?”

“Sure. Do you think I’ll get much playing time? Maybe start?” A vision of the Diloot State running back flashed across my mind and I imagined myself in a stadium surrounded by eighty-thousand screaming fans and the sensation of shrugging off blockers, planting my helmet in the chest of the runner and driving him into the ground. The thought was of both anticipation and an eerie sense of déjà vu.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. We’ve watched your tapes and believe you have every tool we’re looking for in a player. Plus, the team has openings to fill every year. Some years more than others and I expect to lose a couple of my starters before next season. They’re moving on to higher callings, so to speak.”

The old lady brought a tray of oatmeal cookies and set it on the coffee table. “Please, gentlemen, sit down and make yourselves comfortable. There’s iced tea, water and lemonade if you’d like.”

Coach Nalley settled in an armchair, grabbed a cookie and said, “Water would be fine, thank you.” He turned to Coach Hooks, still standing, and said, “Why don’t you visit with Ernie one on one while I talk to Mr. and Mrs. Waters? I’d like to show them our information packets and brochures. Go over the necessary documents and answer any questions they might have about campus life.”

“Ernie, show Coach Hooks around while we discuss Coach Nalley’s offer,” said the old lady.

Man, I hate it when she calls me Ernie. It’s disrespectful.

She said, “Take him to the backyard. Don’t show him your room.” She nudged Coach Hooks and said, “It’s filthy. I wish he worked as hard at keeping it clean as he does dreaming about football.”

God, there she goes again. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

“I’m sure I’ve seen worse, Mrs. Waters,” said Coach Hooks. “Don’t worry about Ernie. Once we get him on campus, we have a housekeeping staff that goes through the dorms three times a week.”

“Who pays for that?” asked the old man, cutting to the chase. Always thinking about the bottom line and his retirement account. He held a legal pad with a dozen pre-written questions and poised a mechanical pencil over question #4.

“Let’s discuss financial aid and subsidies while Ernie and Coach Hooks take their stroll in the backyard,” said Coach Nalley. He winked and nodded to his assistant.

“Take some lemonade and cookies with you,” said the old lady, pushing the tray toward Coach Hooks. “The back door is through the kitchen. You can pick up the lemonade on the way out.”

I led Coach Hooks onto the patio and sat at a redwood picnic table me and the old man built together as a father-son project. I had seen the kit and plans last summer when I worked at the Home Depot. The backyard was a treeless, flowerless, verdant mat of freshly mown St. Augustine, watered nightly and tended by me. I spent many an hour back here, just to get away from the pair of fuddy-duddies in the house. A privet hedge grew around the perimeter, obscuring most of the picket fences that separated our yard from our neighbors and the alley that ran along the back. The only break in the hedge was in one corner where a gate opened into the alley.

“Nice place you have here,” said Coach Hooks.

“It’s okay. I’d like to have a place of my own, though. Get away. I can’t do anything around here without getting griped at or being told what to do and how to do it.”

“That’s the beauty of coming to play for us,” said the man. “We get out of your way and let you live your life. There are a lot of different classes available and you can pick and choose which ones to attend. We have rules, sure, but they’re not difficult. There’s a governing body that tells us what we can and can’t do. For instance, today’s little visit is perfectly within the guidelines. I can’t do you any favors today, but if you decide to join us, I can arrange something when you get on campus.”

“Like what?”

“Do you like women?”

“You damn straight,” I said. I tried not to blush.

Coach Hooks grinned and nudged me in the ribs. “We’ve got cheerleaders that go nuts over big, strong guys like you. We also have a group of very special ladies that like to support our team by serving on a hospitality crew. They’re the kind of women that will make your stay, shall we say, ‘memorable?’” He winked.

I laughed and wiped my palms on my jeans. “Sounds good. Where do I sign?”

“I’m glad you feel that way. We want you committed to our program, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Your family has to agree also. Coach Nalley is presenting them with an offer and a contract. We’ll go back inside in a while and if they’ve signed, then you get to sign.”

“Do they get to visit? Come to the games?” I asked.

“Sure. We encourage visits. Everyone gets four tickets to each home game to give out as they wish. Two to them and two for anybody else. You got any brothers or sisters?”

“A sister. She’s married and lives in Idaho. They won’t be coming down to visit. Too far. We don’t get along all that great, anyway.”

“I understand you play a little shuffleboard,” said Coach Hooks.

“Yeah, me and some of the guys play down at the Y Thursday evenings. It’s a great way to take our minds off stuff and just relax.”

“You pretty good?”

“The best in town,” I said. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve got a good feel for the stick and I’m a dead eye with the puck.

We sat and munched cookies and drank lemonade for a while in silence. Neither the coach or I seemed to have much else to say. A squirrel ran along the top of the picket fence and scurried up a pecan tree.

“I used to have a dog named Tiger,” I said, pointing at the squirrel. I chewed my cookie and watched the squirrel play among the limbs.  “He was a brindle hound. Black and orange stripes. He liked to chase squirrels. He was real, real strong. Tiger pulled up a young peach tree my dad had planted and dug up my mom’s roses. He made everybody mad. Except me. He died. I don’t know, a few years ago, I guess. Seems like yesterday.”

“Sorry to hear it. Pets aren’t allowed on campus.” Coach Hooks looked at his watch and said, “That’s not entirely correct. Service animals are allowed, but a fella like you don’t need one. Besides, if you need help, there’ll be staff available to show you around until you get oriented.”

“Naw. I’m good. What about class?”

“There are tons of educational opportunities. Lots of things to do and learn, but it’s all very low pressure. If you want to skip class from time to time, that’s okay.”

“I guess I’ll decide what to study once I get there.”

“Sure.” He glanced at his watch again. “You about ready to go inside and see Coach Nalley? You can ask him if he recommends anything in particular.”

“Yeah. I want to watch the rest of the game after you leave.”

Inside, the fuddy-duddies held yellow and blue ink pens and hovered over the contract. When I entered the room, they stood and held the pens at their sides.

“You fellas have a good chat? Everybody on board?” asked Coach Nalley.

“Yup. I think we’re set,” said Coach Hooks.

Coach Nalley explained to them, “We will make an appointment with our physician to give Ernie a complete physical and health assessment. We do have concerns about the knee surgery he underwent.”

“Could you have them check his sinuses?” asked the bitch. “He snores to wake the dead.”

I rolled my eyes at Coach Hooks. “What’d I tell you?” I whispered. I turned to face the three adults gathered around the coffee table and explained, “I broke my nose two years ago. It’s a little crooked, but I can breathe just fine.”

“Ernie, we’re convinced signing with Coach Nalley is in your best interest,” said the old man.

Right. You don’t have to twist my arm. I know whose interest you’re really looking out for.

“What about that guy that was here last week? Mr. Armstrong?” I asked.

“Frank Armstrong?” said Coach Nalley. “Was Frank Armstrong here?”

“Yes,” said the bitch. “Do you know him?” Panic flashed across her face. “Just because he visited doesn’t mean our deal is off, does it?”

“No, not at all. Frank and I go way back. We were in college together and we’ve been at rival institutions for twenty years. We have a friendly rivalry when it comes to recruiting. Sometimes he gets the signature and sometimes I get the signature. It’s just business.” He reached across the coffee table and patted her hand and she relaxed.

“I didn’t like him,” I said. “He smelled funny.” That was just an excuse. I had been holding out for Texas MABI all along.

Coach Nalley chuckled. “I don’t blame you. He’s always smelled a little funny.” He handed me a yellow and blue ink pen. “How about it Ernie? You want to join our team?”

I accepted the pen and asked, “What about pictures? Don’t I get to have a picture made of me signing and wearing a team jersey or baseball cap?”

The two coaches locked eyes in desperation. Coach Hooks broke eye contact and turned to the front door. “I have something in the van you can wear, and we’ll have to use my cell phone to take a picture. I completely forgot to bring our publicist. Terribly sorry.” He ran out the door and returned a minute later with a blue and yellow baseball cap and yellow polo shirt with black stitching across the left breast.

“You can wear this,” said Coach Hooks, handing me the shirt. “Put that on. It’s an extra-large. It should fit.” He led me to the middle of the couch and sat me in front of the documents. “Mr. and Mrs. Waters, you sit on either side of Ernie while he signs, and I’ll do the best I can with this phone.”

“Will this be in the paper and on TV?” I asked, pulling the shirt over my head.

“I don’t know about TV, but we will certainly publish it in our campus newsletter,” said Coach Nalley.

“I’ll post it to Facebook and Twitter,” said Coach Hooks, aligning the photograph in the camera’s viewfinder while I scrawled my signature on the dotted line.

The picture posed and digitized, Coach Nalley folded the signed documents and snapped them onto his clipboard. The old lady, relieved at the conclusion, gave Coach Hooks a quart baggie of oatmeal cookies.

The old man took Coach Nalley by the arm and walked him into the kitchen. “We sure appreciate you men coming out on a Saturday afternoon and working through this ordeal with us,” he whispered.

I heard that. It’s my nose was broken, not my ears. Ordeal my ass. For you maybe. For me, this is a dream.

“You’re welcome,” said Coach Nalley. “We’re glad to accommodate family requests such as yours. We get the ‘glory days’ scenario all the time. It was no problem. Besides, Ernie is a legend. All-American, six-time Pro Bowl. Sorry about the jersey and camera oversight.”

“What are you going to do when he wants to suit up and play?”

“We have a men’s shuffleboard team, with jerseys and cheerleaders and everything. We kick Armstrong’s ass every month. If he weren’t such a jerk, Ernie would have signed with him and we would have been in trouble.”

“I’m sure he will enjoy that. Just don’t let him tackle anybody. He’s still rock solid and could hurt somebody.”

“We’ll take good care of him and see that he doesn’t hurt himself or the other residents.” He shook hands with the old man and gave him an assuring smile.

What the fuck is going on? All-American? Pro Bowl? That sounds familiar. When was that? 1964? Images came to me. Games. So many football games. Collisions. Head to head. Flimsy helmets and pads. Concussions. Fame. Glory.

We stood on the front porch and waved as the two men climbed into the blue van with a golden logo and blue script across the side. Through tears of pride and joy, I couldn’t distinguish the words or picture. The blurred image in my head was of an eagle in flight and the words said Texas Metaphysical and Bloviatory Institute. Why was there five words on the van? Shouldn’t there be four? I stepped off the porch and down the sidewalk before the van drove away, so I could read the script. Golden Agers Community Retirement Center.

When the van from Golden Agers Community disappeared down the street, the old man put his arm around my shoulders.

“You want to go back in and watch the rest of the football game?” he asked.

“Sure, son,” I said.


© Copyright 2019 Rob Witherspoon. All rights reserved.

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