Monday, January 08, 2007
No Phoenix From The Flame
In this picture, I'm standing about a mile from the old gym where I used to practice gymnastics three hours a night for many years. The gym had the basics -- a springboard mat, balance beam, uneven bars, and a vault. No frills would be putting it mildly -- the place barely had a working water fountain. If practice was to end early or late and we had to use a phone, we'd have to jog over half a mile to Pecan Valley, the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Crisis Center and beg to be allowed a local call. Our coach, a bitter young woman who hated her husband and her life, yelled at us all the time and wasn't a stranger to a few friendly "taps" when we screwed up routines which was not as infrequent as one might have hoped. Terrible as it all seems, I found the whole thing oddly comforting. There's something about playing a sport that you cannot do well (my body type did not really fit, I was terrified of breaking my neck half the time, I had little to no balance) with a great passion that creates a realist. It did not, as the bullshit propaganda about sports and kids would suggest, bolster self-esteem. You get self-esteem by doing something well, not by someone telling you that you are good. The thin reed I hung my tiny little hat on was that I did not give up, even when the odds were bad and the air-conditioner wasn't working.
Last night, I went to see We Are Marshall. What's to say except that Matthew McCoughnahey can look good, even wearing an authentic seventies coaching outfit. It was a predictable, tragic true story tearjerker about a town who loses nearly its entire football team to a plane crash and has to rebuild everything with the help of an crazy, slightly simple outsider, the classic phoenix from the ashes story. Corndog as it is, what I wouldn't give for an ounce of that feeling! Most days I feel like the main character in a truly great football movie, North Dallas Forty, where the coaches keep shooting Nick Nolte up with painkiller and forcing him to play more and more injured each time, more and more numb. I'm pretty efficient in my own life -- I get to be the coach and the player. Why pay for more actors when you can do it all yourself? Many coaches talk about "heart," that elusive quality that makes athletes do things they cannot do, win matches they shouldn't win, come out the other side, bloody and battered, but victorious. If you have to be shot up with drugs, taped and bandaged to high heaven, and running on empty, well, I suppose that's heart as well, and even if there's no phoenix from the flame moment, there will be ashes to mark what you have done.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"All my dreams are made of chrome/ I have no way to get back home." Tom Waits, "A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun."
Drinking story suggestion: "The Lady and the Pet Dog" Anton Chekhov
Benedictions and Maledictions