It was the sound of cleats on pavement. That and the artificial mass of shoulder pads claiming more grandiose things for the pleasuring of woman than the scrawny teenager within could compass. For heaven’s sake, we looked like a herd of bison, big helmeted heads lolling before the massive humps, with our equally artificial flanks tightly shoving us across the parking lot to the showers. If only any desirable girl, (and the standards were pretty low as to what made one of those), happened to be standing for unknown reasons somewhere proximous after school for a couple of hours, if that desirable one lifted her head, shook her auburn hair and smelt the testosterone on the breeze, she would look, with a meaning that her nubile frame could not decipher, our way. The herd would announce their seriousness regarding football on the echo chamber that was the faculty parking lot of our notable, Michigan high school. The grass of the practice field had barely acknowledged that these were the glory days of metal cleats. There, in wind sprint after wind sprint, grass and spike only met to give us a foothold, but the asphalt, it gave us standing. It said to all that the herd was advancing from the prairie to its pen and would be available for the lusty stare, which my get up and make up assumed, of one desirable woman. She would scan the lumbering mass of a 160 spent frames and would single out a certain jersey, mine, with huge purple digits naming me for her.
I have no idea what my number was. This is not because I have a bad memory, (which I do) but because I am not entirely sure I new what it was then. The number was unimportant. It was unlikely that that number would be called upon to do anything on the field of play. The number was a shape, a graphic whose effects, on which I counted along with the lusts the cleats evoked and the shoulder pads broad seduction, would be incomplete without that number. She would know me in the herd because I was the one spinning her fortunes out on loom of Spalding Athletic gear. I can only assume that all the rest of the team enjoyed the game. Perhaps these teammates, more the bison than they realized, hoped to be made heroes on the gridiron and thereby elevated to a good college or just to the bed of one of the cheerleaders. They obviously couldn’t write a story to save their lives. I stepped along side of them as a creature of myth, using their sincerity as a prop for a greater tale. She, the desirable babe, would see me alone among them because my soul, an artist, a man with sight, had donned the uniform and served humbly in the trenches along side fellows who wouldn’t know beauty if it slapped them on the fanny. How could she want anyone else?
The lot was crossed without even successfully spotting the she creature that had picked me for breeding. Suddenly the secret bliss of being deservedly desired fell away and the locker room erupted with smell of sock, jockstrap, and exertion. The only memory of the field behind us was the salty sweet taste of homemade Gatorade and a grass stain where Maurice Reese had applied 245 black pounds of first string Newtonian physics to my 145 pounds of white-assed, third string, “red squad” body at only temporary rest. I was lucky to get away with a stain. She certainly would not have watched the practice itself and could not have witnessed my downfall. She was there late in the afternoon for entirely different reasons and was probably somewhat antagonistic to the sporting life. Hence her eye should fall on me, a dichotomy she knew from some art class, who was not like the other jock brains but one who merely had strapped on the pads to cause a tingling in her resistant temper. Just enough male for her female and more than enough insight for her soul. Surely she had not watched practice for any length of time, at least not the time where my body found itself wrapped about the foreparts of Mr. Reese as he expressed his antagonism for whitey.
A shower later and with the realization that my second string brother was waiting in the parking lot because he had the car keys and the driving duty, brought me to my exit, last out of the school and into the late summer light. She would have seen all the supporting cast come out. She would look up with faux casualness from a book by Herman Hesse at those who were devoted to the sport, the game, the competition but, sadly, not the narrative. She was probably sitting on the hood of her car, no, someone else’s car, for it was written that she would need a ride which I would compel my brother to give. Yes, and the ride to her home, surely in our part of town, would be replete with tired footballed wisdom laced with an exciting undertone of future conversations which would be on subjects which she could only imagine me expressing myself on. My brother would say nothing and would operate as an object who operated the other necessary object of our parent’s station wagon.
My showered, fresh and ready self was being called on stage. I strode down the hall , and in the empty school quiet I planned to be looking right to the horizon so my brother would call out to me by name. A duffle bag swung in nonchalance and my hand hit the door handle with a memory of the sound of cleats still singing.