Suited Up

Pee Wee football. It's cute. But even cuter that they stopped to do the nae nae. Dance or tackle?

“Wait! That’s Rodney!?”

When I was a little Doc, my dad and I watched college ball together. The Lions weren’t much to look at so, likely out of his self-preservation, we watched Big Ten football.

I didn’t pay any attention to the NFL until after college. I only started watching because I casually knew someone who kicked for the Giants. So I became a Giants fan. It was a very fruitful relationship–the era of The Big Tuna and some rings.

The Big Guy didn’t play football until high school. The program was huge–80 or 90 boys would suit up for varsity on Saturdays. Pretty much every one of those boys thought they had a chance to play in the NFL. Especially as their school was nationally ranked, again. (I never got what that meant. Like ranked by who? What criteria? Who sees them? Damn system is worse than NCAA coaches poll. /rant)

There were probably 150 boys in the football program every year across freshman, JV and varsity. A bunch, well more than a handful, were recruited for Division I schools. Some started, many did not.

Most of the boys on that big high school team didn’t were never played a down in a game. It’s like they fielded a big team just to intimidate smaller schools. Many starters played both offense and defense. The Big Guy played on the scout team. Those are the boys who imitate the other guys during practice. Except you weren’t really allowed to hit the starters. And, you kept waiting for a coach to notice you. They didn’t.

The Big Guy would talk about how the first string would hit. How some were hesitant. How some were soft. The top ranked high school player in the country played with him. He said he never rang his bell. The kid who ended up playing for Harvard? That guy could hit. Or so I was told.

Sunday we saw Rodney on TV. The Big Guy ran the 4X4 relay with him. They played ball at the same time. Nobody thought that the little guy would be in the NFL. Eyes were set on other stars. And, yet, there he is. And the hundreds of other boys who played with him in Pop Warner, high school and college? Doing something else.

Rodney was playing for the other team, but I still kind of was rooting for him. You know you have passed into another stage in life when you see a big-contract NFL safety on TV and you just want to pinch his cheek. So I pinched the Big Guy’s sweet bearded cheek.

Zero to Infinity

Plymouth Satellite Sebring parked on an idyllic suburban street.

My Older Sib cracked up Dad’s car within ten days of getting her driver’s license. Twice. She lost her driving privileges after the second crash. She also lost my driving privileges–eighteen months before I could get my own license. Collateral damage.

Our suburb, like all Detroit suburbs, wasn’t walkable. It was a bedroom community for people who worked for the Big Three. There wasn’t any public transportation to speak of, I think GM blew up the bus system. This meant that for pretty much all of high school, I had to bum rides with friends to go to the mall, games, post-game grub and parties.

When I got my first job, Dad was my taxi–even though there was almost always a car available in the garage. He could have made this easier on himself if he didn’t hold me responsible for the Sins of the Older Sibling. The drop off and pick up ritual became less painful for Dad when my boyfriend began to cover many of the evening shifts. Dad always seemed to like that guy, maybe I just figured out why.

It’s not like I never, ever drove. It just had the same frequency as a blue moon. This made me an inexperienced driver. My friend Jenny drove everyone around. She was a good driver because she drove a lot. She also didn’t drink which was good for the rest of us piled in and draped all over each other in the front and in the back of her mom’s Pontiac LeMans as we went from the liquor store to find an old guy to buy us beer and then to the football game where we drank the beer in the parking lot and then to get some pizza to sober up and cover up the beer stink.

Dad had a true blue 1972 Plymouth Satellite with a big V-8 that spent the winter months stalling and not running well at all and the summer months barely holding back a vicious growl. It was a dud in the winter. It was ready to go in the summer.

On the day of a blue moon, I was gifted the great privilege of driving myself to work. I’m not going to lie. It was awesome. I felt like the most grown up and amazing person. I had the windows down and pushed the tinny speakers past their safety, blasting WRIF–the Home of Rock and Roll–so everyone would know that I loved Bob Seger, too. I pushed in the bulb of the cigarette lighter and waited the amazingly few seconds for it to pop. I almost stared at the red hot coils concealed in the lighter casing. I lifted it to the cigarette in my mouth, barely missing being clumsy enough to burn my cheek.

I used my mirrors and my blinkers. I stopped at the stop sign and waited for the light to turn green before making my right turn. I had Dad’s car parked in the lot behind the restaurant before I finished my smoke. I considered driving around the block, but these suburban blocks were not square. They were filled with squiggly roads that doubled back on themselves or deposited you in a cul de sac without a exit to the main road. I knew how the streets worked in my subdivision, but was ignorant of the worming in this one. I didn’t drive. I didn’t know.

I was closing this night. It must have been a Friday or a Saturday since we didn’t close until midnight. There was a little less than an hour’s worth of closing tasks. There was the teenage manager and the grill guy, me and another girl. I was over the moon to be able to offer a ride to my shift-mate.

It was a congenial crewe, full of the banter and bullshit of a group of teens who just closed the store. We were feeling our oats. There wasn’t anything to do. The only thing open was the 7-11, and we already had all the coke we could drink. It was time to go home.

The grill guy walked up to his dad’s car in the lot. It was a long, long, long red Cadillac with a white vinyl half-top. The street lamp shone off the chrome surrounding the squared off headlamps. The grill guy was feeling pretty powerful, too. He started talking smack about how fast the car was.

“Oh, really? Not faster than this big blue monster in the summer.” I then quickly copped to the fact that it was a winter lemon. The grill guy jerked his head up.

The grill guy was very tall. He was a tall guy with translucent white skin topped with a head full of more red than brown loose curls. He wore his hair unusually short for those days. He was jonesing for a promotion, perhaps even a hamburger slinging career. He tried to hide his height by scrunching his head into his shoulders and scrunching his shoulders as close to his hips as he could. But when I put out the challenge he almost straightened.

“Yeah? Right. That’s not going to beat this Caddy.”

“Let’s go.” I ran to the passenger side of the Satellite to unlock the door for my girlfriend. He ran to the red car, chased by the teenage manager that he was giving a ride home. We were going to head out on 13 Mile.

It wasn’t a real race. We didn’t have a start and we didn’t have a finish. We were just going to see who was faster.

I fumbled with my keys and with the ignition and with the locks. Nobody used seatbelts then. I turned up the radio and rolled down the window. But the Caddy was already leaving the parking lot, heading toward the intersection at a good clip. There was a red light in front of us, and nobody on the road. It was after 1 a.m. I turned left into the corner gas station to skip past the light and take the lead. Oh the cleverness of me!

The light had turned just as I peeled out of the gas station. The red Cadillac was hot on my tail and looking to pass me. I hit the gas. He was gaining on me. My co-pilot was beginning to hyperventilate. Oh hell, there wasn’t time to begin to do anything. She started to scream. “SLOW DOWN! THIS IS TOO FAST”

I looked down at the speedometer needle that was moving past 65, past 75. The grill man still in hot pursuit. I was at 85, 95 and I knew he was, too. The needle continued to 100 and then 110 and up to 118. The Cadillac was lagging. I don’t know if he got over 100 mph, but when I checked my mirror, he was done.

I took my foot off the accelerator and the car slowed. Or at least it stopped going faster. I gently tapped my brakes. I didn’t want to fishtail. I don’t know how I knew that. Maybe I observed this as a passenger. Anyway, it seemed like it took a long time for the car to drop down to a normal speed. That’s when I realized that we were going fast. On a two lane road with a gravel shoulder. I was focusing on the race, not the speed. And the speed was exhilarating. To me.

My companion was no longer speaking to me. She had blown past her red zone. I don’t know when she stopped yelling, but her silence was worse. She was so angry. I had terrified her. I apologized. She never got in a car with me again. I never drove that fast again.

Me and the grill guy were just going to see who was faster. But that’s not what we did. What we saw was who was willing to push the risk. I am not saying we were testing our bravery, because the activity was stupid. It’s not brave to be stupid. We simply pushed each other in ways that people do when they are showing off. We had our hubris on full display. We were having fun and sped off like adolescents do. The grill guy listened to an inner moderator. Me? Not so much.

I didn’t drive Dad’s car into an accident, and it wasn’t the last time that I raced. But it was the last time I pushed a dare too far. But nobody crashed. Nobody was hurt and yet, it was too far. The truth is, you don’t have to drive off a cliff to go too far. Lesson learned.

First Affirmative, Second Negative


I debated in high school. I was better than decent but not excellent. Debate was the activity that best prepared me for a competitive school.

When I got to campus, I discovered that my classmates–from fancy eastern boarding schools and superlative public schools in Shaker Heights–already had college credits. I was all like, “Whuh? You can do that?”

Who knew you could take some tests and walk in a semester ahead? Not me. There were plenty of things I didn’t know. Nobody in my family had been to sleep away college.

But I did place out of freshman comp, unlike 93% of my classmates. Because I debated. The frosh comp graders looked for clear structure and organization. I knew how to quickly form an argument, create an outline of support and evidence and deliver a conclusion that summed up.

Traditional high school debate is all about ideas. It works like this.

  1. Somebody #1 makes a case of ideas using a bunch of evidence that they cite, chapter and verse.
  2. Somebody #2, in the opposition, directly responds to the ideas of the first somebody. #2 answers #1’s ideas directly. All of them. Each of them. If they don’t directly respond to an idea, they lose that point. Evidence is key here, as well.
  3. Somebody #3 presents a case that fixes the issues that Somebody #1 identified at the start. Backed up with evidence. This evidence thing keeps coming up.
  4. Somebody #4 tears the case down. More evidence.
  5. They rebut the case and the case for the case in the same order. And they have to at least mention all the prior arguments. If not, Somebody #4 comes up and says to the judge, “The First Affirmative did not address the ideas of my partner so they all carry for us.” That’s always cool. You can totally win on that. We did. More than once.

So there is a structure and points and usually a definite winner and loser. Reputable evidence is key. Sometimes you’d win a point over a “fact and citation battle.” (I know, exciting, right? We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.) One year I had an evidence card that cited the NE Journal of Medicine. It was during a year with a law enforcement topic. Nobody else went to a medical journal. I won maybe five matches on that one highly destructive fact from a legit source. Boom!

This is not how presidential debates work. There are questions, but the answers don’t address the questions. There are right-turn pivots to a point the candidate would prefer to talk about. Dropped arguments litter the stage, nobody picks them up. Well, maybe the sad moderator tries to put them back in play. It’s futile.

And evidence? Definitely not required. And definitely not required to be sourced. Say what you want. Say it again. Interrupt. Make your same point. Be aggressive in the face of a contradiction. Introduce non-sequitur, ad hominem attacks on your opponent. Light the dumpster on fire.

I wish they would chose another name. It confuses me. This is not a discussion about ideas. This is not a debate. But there are winners and losers.


Bam Ba Lam

Old lady singing into a large microphone

“Oh, God!” said my high-school boyfriend.

Me: What?
HSBF: You know that song, ‘bam ba lam’?
Me: Yeah?
HSBF: It came on the radio today and MY MOM WAS SINGING IT!!!

Oh. The, Horror.

It was a little funny, except that I never met his mom. So I didn’t have much perspective. Come to think about it, I never met his dad. Or his brothers. In 30ish months of “going together,” with our ancestral homes separated by about a mile, I never met his people.

My mom introduced me to the Beatles. She would play Meet the Beatles and Introducing The Beatles. She had a bunch of old records we’d listen to, like Limbo Rock. I grew up with people listening to music. People had records and also listened to music on the radio. And sang along.

My folks gave me my first AM radio when I was about seven. I used to listen to CKLW [the motor ciiitttttyyy] like church. Detroit radio introduced me to the Stones, Supremes, Little Stevie, Smokey, Aretha, Clapton/Cream/Stevie W/Traffic, Zeppelin, The Who, Kiss, Prince, George Clinton and GrandMaster Flash.

When I was ten, I got my first turntable. It also had a radio that included FM! I bought my first LP–Elton John’s Greatest Hits. In high school I had a job in a record store. I always had music on–in the house, in the car, via my portable FM radio and eventually on my boombox.

On school mornings, I’d get up, pad into the kitchen and turn on the radio to eat breakfast. We’d listen to the AOR station (I’ll be the roundabout). I guess my Mom listened. She didn’t turn it off or tell us to turn it down. She’d be in the room, so I guess she listened or at least heard.

So, like who cares that your mom knows your song?

Maybe that’s why I didn’t know his mom and family. He cared that his mom knew his song. As if only we teens owned the public airwaves. As if it was unacceptable that his mom was part of that public. What if he was embarassed of his family? I didn’t know them so maybe they were embarrassing. That said, they couldn’t be much worse than mine, and he was over our house all the time. What if WE were the embarrassing ones–lacking even the most basic self-awareness that we were embarrassing?

I know that I resemble an embarrassment to my spawn. Rolling into the Boys and Girls Club after summer camp with Get Low blasting from the minivan is certainly cringe-worthy. Or when a millennial colleague caught me on my headphones and asked me what I was listening to. Don’t judge an old book by it’s cover, I say.

So I’m thinking about HSBF’s mom, enjoying music. And hope that she looked like this:

And for the record, these Black Betty induced memories were triggered as the Big Guy blared it from his phone, followed by some Creedence. He ain’t no fortunate son. He came by it honest.