Soccer Poet



First of all, congrats to Jamie Pollock who has been picked up by the Atlanta Beat of WPS!  Nobody has ever worked harder for it.  Anything Jamie gets, Jamie's earned, and we're all real proud of her.

Okay, if you’re a follower of Georgia Bulldog soccer, you may have already read the article about how we poached Chika Ibiam from the UGA women’s club team last spring and convinced her to walk on to the varsity team for the fall. By all means we knew Chika was a long-shot. She didn’t even play club soccer once she got to high school, so no one saw her. So no one recruited her. And sure, she has some fundamental weaknesses. But anyone in our team will tell you that Chika can do some crazy things with a soccer ball. She is definitely not your typical American soccer player. Well the other day during an intra-squad scrimmage Chika got onto the end of a cross, catapulted herself into midair and smacked a ridiculous bicycle kick just under the crossbar for the best goal I’ve ever seen in women’s soccer. The entire session screeched to a halt as players, coaches and trainers tried to digest what they had just seen. It was drastically more entertaining/dramatic/skillful than any goal I ever scored and had it occurred during an actual fall match, it would have been firmly planted as the Top Play on ESPN. It was LUH-jit!

Moving right along…

The latest edition of my high school’s alumni magazine, Hun Today, recently found its way into my mailbox. I spent sixth through twelfth grades at the Hun School of Princeton, a prep school that can at times be as pretentious as its name and I don’t know that anyone will ever be in a hurry to change it. Khakis, Polo shirts and a summer house in the Hamptons are just part of the Hun brand. Naturally I fit right in.

The school only had grades 7-12 until I arrived. I was part of the inaugural class of sixth-graders. There were 18 of us, six of whom stuck it out long enough to graduate Hun seven years later. I mention this only because our half-dozen was recognized at the 1986 graduation as being Hun’s first group of seven-year students, and I was as shocked as anyone to be recognized for anything whatsoever at an academic procession. And although we were merely beneficiaries of circumstance (birth year and a shift in school policy), I took a little bit of pride in being honored for endurance in a fish-out-of-water sort of way.

If you’ve ever seen Dead Poets Society, well then you have a decent idea of what Hun looked like, particularly with the oh-so ironic inclusion of Ethan Hawke (class of ’88), but thankfully we were co-ed and sans uniform. Still the guys wore coats and ties and the girls had a dress code with more pages than my mortgage agreement. The girls’ dress code was an ever-evolving document thanks in large part to my friend Shari Gallin whose keen eye for both loopholes and fashion regularly set off alarm bells with the old school’s old schoolers. It seemed every week Shari would wear some head-turning ensemble and by the following Monday a new paragraph would be added to the dress code. It was a game Shari played against the administration for four years and for four years she managed to stay one step ahead of the law.

I guess all you really need to know about Hun is that one of the sports offered there is crew. When a school has a crew team, you get a pretty good feel for its target demographic – and it’s one that screams, “Quick! Pass the Izod!” But that’s all part of the branding for a school boasting the best and the brightest. And, well… me.

Hun hangs its hat on a superior academic reputation and an impeccable record of placing its alums in top colleges. It is a landing point for the children of serious people: doctors, scientists, engineers, politicians, attorneys and investment bankers who want their offspring to have the best possible everything including a future in the Ivy League. The international student population boasted a contingent of heirs to this throne and that throne in nations scattered throughout the Arabian peninsula. There’s a lot of wealth at Hun, a fact that becomes unmistakably evident if you happen by the student parking lot. But most of all, Hun has a lot of academic pride and that is what draws the brilliant minds that comprise its student-body. Of course Hun also admitted a few kids like me so the athletic teams could be half decent. Or maybe it was some type of state-mandated charity. I really don’t know, but sure enough, there I was.

One of the guys in that inaugural sixth grade class was a testosterone volcano we called Bubba. Bubba and I were friends and I liked him a lot, but we weren’t what you’d call tight. We didn’t socialize outside of school. I never went to Bubba’s house and never met Bubba’s parents, but I always imagined his dad as being that guy constantly driving his son to be the world’s preeminent alpha male. Now I don’t know if it came from his dad or didn’t come from his dad; all I know is that by the time Bubba and I first met, he was about as close as a sixth grader could get to being a Navy SEAL. Bubba wasn’t like any kid I had ever met. For starters, he already had muscles – big ones! And he had that masochistic edge you find in uber-achievers, so he was always testing himself physically and mentally just to see how much pain he could endure. At that age I’d be lucky to do three push-ups and I would dread the entirety of each one of them. Bubba would do push-ups in the hallway for fun. He’d do them one-handed if you’d ask. Then he’d back up against a wall and do them out of a hand-stand position. One night he saw a news segment on how Herschel Walker trained. The next day Bubba was running across the field dragging a tire that was tied to a rope that was tied around his waist. While me and the other yahoos were consumed by how we could sneak a frog into Linda Steiner’s purse, Bubba wanted to be the biggest, baddest and toughest man in the world. He was a real nice guy and got along with everyone, but he wasn’t a part of the cool crowd… or any other crowd for that matter. Bubba just did his own thing, chasing his own standard of physical and mental excellence and knocking heads each day on the football field.

The last time I had any contact with Bubba was the day we graduated high school. I knew he went to college not too far from me and I had heard he joined the marines. That wouldn’t really surprise anyone who knew him. Bubba going to the marines is the definition of type-casting. But over the past couple of decades, every once in a while I’d wonder what ever happened to that guy. A few months ago I googled him and only found one brief mention. It listed him as a marine corps colonel. That was it. No picture. No resume. Just his name and rank. I don’t think colonels are all that anonymous. I don’t think you rise to that rank without getting a few newspaper mentions here and there. The fact that there was just a single forgettable listing made me wonder if someone somewhere forgot to shred a document. I figured Bubba had become a ghost – one of those truly elite soldiers doing missions so secret and so important that he couldn’t really exist, if you know what I mean. And again, there wasn’t anything surprising about that.

So anyway, whenever the alumni magazine comes out I immediately flip through the Class Notes to see what everyone is up to. And I really don’t know why because after a few minutes I’m always left feeling like an abject failure by comparison. In my eyes Hun Today may as well be called Inferiority Complex for Dummies. Been that way for 20 years. I read it, have a succession of moments of awe and envy, and then wonder what the heck happened to me. As I did to our class grade-point average in the eighties, I spent the next two and a half decades killing our median income (wish they had a curve for that one).

I often wanted to submit a class note, just to let people know how to reach me should the mood strike. But when my classmates were founding investment firms and sailing for the America’s Cup, I wasn’t too enthused to announce, “I am living in squalor in Wheeling, WV, enjoying a plate of fish sticks.”

As you might expect, apples don’t fall far from their trees. Overachievers are prone to beget overachievers and Hun was, is and will forever be rampant with them. The Class Notes section is rife with terms like CEO, CFO, Founding Partner and intergalactic overlord. While I’m coaching soccer, my former classmates are curing diseases, producing Broadway plays, touring with Def Leppard, discovering new species of monkeys and inventing technologies that will forever change humankind. And it’s not just the braniacs who excel. Even the athletes are dwarfing me. Take for example, Stevenson Garrison, who last summer made his Major League debut with the New York Yankees. Not to be outdone by a major-leaguer, Jason Read carried the U.S. flag at the opening ceremony of the Pan Am games. It was Jason’s 13thconsecutive year competing for Team USA in… you guessed it… crew. It seems like everyone who went to Hun has conquered some corner of the universe or been anointed a founding father of some amazing new technology. The master plan of their parents and their Alma Mater has been realized. Everyone can breathe a little easier.

When you achieve a certain degree of success, it’s natural to want to share it, and Hun Today provides the perfect platform for successful people to trumpet their stranglehold on the American dream. It can make you feel very ordinary by comparison. It can make you lose sight of how good you really do have it. And then you read a note from a guy named Bubba who hasn’t said “boo” in 25 years. It was just this morning when I read my alumni magazine, but Bubba’s class note is the only one I can remember:

“Gone to fight the Taliban. I’ll be back when the war is over.”

Stay low my friend. God speed.

updated: 6 years ago

No Bananas On The Boat!

No Bananas On The Boat

I met my new accountant today. He stopped by the office this afternoon and on my honor I’m almost positive he was looking for a hidden camera. After ten minutes with me he had to be wondering how he managed to find yet another yahoo who never took an accounting class (and barely passed math). I think he’s categorizing me as his good deed for the holiday season. God speed, my friend.

So in other news, I’m pretty sure I’ve discovered the origins of the Monkey of Day. How very Darwin of me, yes?

You want the short answer?

It’s an inside joke.

No, no. I don’t mean it like that. I mean it’s literally an inside joke. It’s someone else’s inside joke and I happened to stumble into the loop by the grace of heightened monkey senses and the pure happenstance of a career spent rolling down highways on charter busses. Shall I go on?

It was probably four months ago when I noticed a monkey reference in each of the three movies I had rented that week. I found the coincidence staggering. This monkey thing was even bigger than I had imagined. I mean what are the odds that I rent three movies and every one of them contains a monkey? All I could do was shake my head in amazement and then say, “See! I told you I was right.”

A short time later our soccer season begins and I’m spending a lot of time on busses with DVD players, watching movies with the team. And sure enough, one after another, monkey, monkey, monkey. Every trip a monkey. Every movie a monkey. And despite it staring me right in the face, I still looked straight past the answer and chose to focus on this monkey-rich, monkey-wonderful world. As we all should.

But eventually as the season wore on and the monkey movies came and went, I could no longer ignore the coincidences. To be honest, I really can’t remember the last movie I watched that was monkey vacant. It was on our way back from Durham when that exact thought crossed my mind. I really can’t remember…

And that’s when I had my A-Ha! moment. And like a movie detective I began flashing back through the assembly line of movie moments and the pieces started coming together. Then I thought, how in the world is it possible to watch three movies on the same bus ride and catch a thoroughly superfluous monkey in each one? Well unless you’re watching a Planet of the Apes trilogy, it’s not. The coincidences had become far too coincidental, you see? And thus, like those movie detectives pacing the floor in an anxious room of potential suspects, I will now reveal the origin of the Monkey of the Day.

I submit to you that the MOD is an inside joke, or perhaps a prop bet, amongst a circle of Hollywood directors and/or screenwriters. Their objective: to insert a monkey reference into each of their projects. It’s not as absurd as you might think. It wouldn’t be the first or only time a director has played a game with his audience, although it may be the first time a group of them did it as one concerted effort.

Did you know that Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in 39 of his films? These weren’t speaking parts, just quick in-and-out moments. It was a little game of hide and seek that the director played with his audience. The maneuver became Hitchcock’s signature.

There is a Superman reference in every episode of Seinfeld… frequently a refrigerator magnet in Jerry’s apartment. And animators have long been known for blending jokes or messages into their cinematic creations. It’s how they test their boundaries.

There’s also a storied little game played by broadcasters and other types of public speakers: the colleague of the speaker puts together a list of random words or phrases or otherwise extraneous ideas and then challenges the speaker to work those items into his speech or broadcast. It is a game I used to play with an old friend when we spoke at our end-of-year soccer banquets. And it just may explain why Kevin Copp, during a gymnastics broadcast from Denver, would allude to New Jersey being the only state where you don’t pump your own gas. (Ahhhh. So that one hit a little closer to home, did it? See? See???)

My point is, when addressing large audiences, people delivering the message are prone to playing some cat and mouse games, so if it seems that something just doesn’t belong, you may have uncovered the gag.

Okay, so I haven’t worked the whole thing out just yet. We still have a bit of a chicken or egg conundrum… did this group of Hollywood insiders hatch the MOD, or have they just chosen to perpetuate it? This we don’t yet know and if they have their way, we may never know. Yes, there is still a missing link. (Ironic, right?) But to be clear, these Hollywood hotshots are involved in some type of far-reaching monkey conspiracy. Of that I am certain… right down to my opposable thumbs. I don’t know how wide their web extends and who all is involved, but for now I am charging the following directors as co-conspirators:

Quentin Tarantino

Paul Feig

David O. Russell

Kevin Smith

Nicholas Stoller

Ben Affleck

Joel and Ethan Cohen

I also submit that entangled in this web are writers/directors of the following sitcoms: Everybody Loves Raymond; Friends; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; and Family Guy.

To be clear, I have never googled “Monkey of the Day.” Just in case there was an explanation of its inception (which I doubted there was), I didn’t want the internet spoiling my monkey magic. If an explanation existed, I wanted to discover it… even if someone else had already, you know, discovered it first. So whether I am first to the finish line or not, I am confident that I have unearthed a critical part of this mystery and now feel that my work here is done.

And this is me patting myself on the back.

And since we’re onto completely irreverent (or irrelevant) topics, I may as well tell you about a fishing trip I took last May.

Let me begin by saying that I LOVE going back to New Jersey. I don’t ever want to live there again, but I love, love, LOVE to visit. I have roots there and friends there and all of that is fantastic. But to me a visit to New Jersey is a type of social safari that you just can’t get in the south. How can I explain this???

Okay… let’s try it this way: People in New Jersey have an edge. They don’t know you and don’t want to know you. They sure as heck don’t trust you and they don’t feel any responsibility to pretend like they do. They drive with one hand on the horn just in case you think about braking when the light turns yellow. Up there you meet people when a common friend introduces the two of you. I am thankful that it’s not like that in the south. The south is a kinder, gentler, much more neighborly existence. People are warm and open and hospitable. They’re a lot less likely to tilt their heads and say, “Whatareyoulookinat?” It’s a lot less stressful in the south… a lot less combative. I guess that being in the south is like being a coach. It’s a great gig and you don’t spend your nights wrapped in ice packs and you don’t wake up with sore legs. But every once in a while you just want to get back in the game as a player. You want the physical risks. You want to run and sweat and bleed and crash into people and challenge your levels of courage and pain tolerance. So you visit New Jersey.

Last May I went up to New Jersey and did a little fishing with one of my best friends, Dave Henn. How can I explain Dave? Well, are you familiar with The Sopranos? I’m pretty certain that the character of Tony Soprano is based on Dave – as a high schooler. Okay, the mafia thing doesn’t apply, but that bullish, run-you-over personality is 100% Dave. Been that way his whole life and it makes being around him both fun and adventurous.

At 4 A.M. – yes, that’s really a thing – we left Dave’s house and began the rounds of picking up our three fellow fisherman, stuffing them into the back of Dave’s Nissan Titan and making the hour-plus drive down to Pt. Pleasant on the jersey shore. Dave is a contractor and all of his buddies were sub-contractors (In other words, the rest of the Sopranos). In the south that might not mean a whole lot. Up north being a contractor means a chain-smoking habit, a heavy Jersey accent and a sailor’s vernacular. And naturally it comes with greasy confidence and a steadfast belief that everyone else is an idiot. This was a salty, salty crew.

So there we were, the five of us crammed in this truck, smoke billowing out the windows like we were burning leaves in the cab, and these guys start reminiscing with funny stories about old friends from the neighborhood. And it was like every story had the same beginning and the same ending and more or less the same middle. Each story started with, “Hey remember the time Joey (or Vinnie or Mikey or Paulie)…” In the middle there were belly laughs that quickly succumbed to a violent smoker’s cough. The storyteller would always add, “Can you believe that! Oh that guy was somethin’ else.”

And each story ended like this:

“Whatever happened to him?”

“He died. Like three years ago. Cancer. Whataya gonna do?”

Then someone would light another Marlboro and the next story began.

Story after story ended with someone dead from cancer and I was wondering if anyone in New Jersey was still alive.

Between the smoke and the cancer stories I was half seasick before I got out of the truck. Part of me wanted to fish. Another part was thinking we might be better off popping into an Urgent Care clinic for a quick once-over.

We stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts down the shore for some coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Let me say that I am a huge fan of DD. I am crazy about their coffee and unlike Starbucks, you don’t have to dabble in Italian to order a large and you don’t have to stand in a line that rivals the DMV. Usually they turn you around pretty quickly. So after a chance meeting with the cast of Jerseylicious, I walked out with a coffee, a bacon and egg croissant, and of all things, a banana. I had no idea how this one little banana would affect the rest of my day.

Dave and one of the other guys were already back in the truck and as I climbed inside, and outta nowhere they start berating me about the banana. I mean they just jumped all over me…

“What are you nuts! You better not bring that banana on the boat! What are you an idiot! Dave, who is this guy?”

You’d a thought I was smuggling elephant tusks! It was completely crazy! It wasn't like I was taking this excursion with the Vienna Boys Choir. This was coming from a couple of guys who are unconvinced that assault and battery is actually illegal, but suddenly my banana was a moral certainty.

I was stunned by the ambush. I couldn’t even collect a thought. I just sat there, mouth agape, listening to these guys tear into me.

Then, when the two other guys got back to the truck, it started all over again.

“You better eat that banana before you get on the boat! What are you, stupid?!”

This was a fisherman’s superstition I had never heard of. But these guys had conviction and they were adamant that my banana would not get anywhere near that boat. So when we pulled up to the dock, I stayed at the truck to finish my banana, chucked the peel in a trash can and made my way aboard the boat.

I had never gone striper fishing before. I had caught a couple small ones in a past life, but I had never specifically gone out for stripers. Stripers are big and aggressive and notoriously strong fighters. Our captain had a great rep for finding fish, so this had the potential to be a glorious day.

Once we cast off into the bay, the uneasiness in my stomach soon faded away and I was at peace. The sun was coming up on the horizon and the seas were flat and my chain-smoking friends could choke me no more. I could kick back, enjoy the view, and best of all, breathe. Life was good.

The first order of business was to snag some bunker for bait. We quickly found a massive school of them which set us up for the day. All that was left was to find our fish. Soon, we did that, too.

So I’m the new guy and I’m Dave’s friend and I’ve never been striper fishin’, so everyone wants to help me out. Plus, these guys are from New Jersey so they can’t help themselves. They gotta tell me how to do it the right way. I don’t hook the first fish, but moments later I hook the second on the opposite side of the boat. Now everybody not hooked up to a fish wants to tell me what to do and why I’m doing it wrong. But as far as I can tell I got a darn big fish on my line and he keeps getting closer to the boat, so I gotta be doing something right. Fifteen minutes after he hit my bait, that fish is in the well.

And that’s how it went for the rest of the day. Everyone who can’t manage to catch a fish telling me what I’m doing wrong as I boat one after another after another. I thought that landing that first fish would buy me some slack, but notsomuch. At one point I figured that maybe they’d heard the story wrong: I’ve never gone striper fishing before. But yes fellas, I have gone fishing!

To be fair, the other guys caught fish, too. Just not as many as me (tee-hee). Yes, like the first-timer who hits the lottery, I went back to port as high hook. Which only goes to show you…

Never bring bananas on the boat!

So anyway, when we get back to Dave’s neighborhood we stop off at a little pizza joint. One of Dave’s friends who’s sitting a few seats away comes over and we start chatting. He’s a good guy and works for the A/V department at Princeton University. I have no idea how we got onto the topic, but I start telling him about the Monkey of the Day theory and he’s looking at me like I got a carrot growing outta my head. As he returns to his table, he’s made it clear that’s he’s a skeptic. He simply ain’t buyin’ this monkey stuff.

soccerpoet 560

On my honor all of this is true.

It wasn’t three minutes later that Daydream Believer comes on the radio. So, as if I can’t quite remember, I call down to him, “Hey Boss, who the heck sings this song?”

He looks at me like I’m an idiot and he’s the smartest guy in the room and I just asked him a question so easy that it was a waste of his brainpower.

“This song? It’s the monk…

No freaking way.”

updated: 6 years ago