Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 21

A Chance Meeting

Chapter 21

A  Chance Meeting

     The second game was on the road against a good team. Things started badly for the Sailors, and they were behind, 21-0, at the half. It was Tim’s first experience of a really hostile crowd that roared so as to keep the visitors from hearing the count. It didn’t matter a great deal to him as a punter as long as he wasn’t surprised when the ball came back. When it was still in mid-air, the sound of collisions along the line suggested serious trouble. For Tim, who always found it hard to catch a football, the important thing was not to let the ball bounce forward off his hands. In that case, he would have to dive forward for it, right in the path of the serious trouble. Recalling Edmund Burke’s observation, “Nothing concentrates a man’s mind so wonderfully as the knowledge that he is to be hanged at dawn,” he did concentrate enough to catch the ball and get the punts away.

     As expected, Tim punted often. In the fourth period, when they were behind 31-3, he was bumped accidentally after a punt. Thinking nothing of it, he trotted off the field. When he got to the sideline, he was surprised to find Coach Higgins in a high state of rage, just short of physical violence. It turned out that a punter is supposed to fall down and fake injury in those situations in the hope of drawing a roughing-the-kicker penalty. Higgins screamed,

“You’re so good at faking injury, why the fuck can’t you do it when it might help?”

It was, in its way, a good question. Apart from the fact that fakery hadn’t occurred to him, Tim was aware that Sharon would be watching the game on TV. If she saw him go down, there was no telling what she might do.

     In the remainder of the game, Enoch managed to break away for a touchdown to make the final score a slightly less embarrassing 31-10. One wasn’t supposed to celebrate touchdowns when the game was hopelessly lost, but Enoch managed to look happy enough to further inflame Coach Higgins.

     The Sailors lost the third game, at home against a mediocre team, by 48-21. The trend was clearly downward. The coach got more bombastic, and the newspaper writers went more negative. Enoch came over to the boat on the evening of that game in a good mood. He had piled up a good deal of yardage, much of it in the ‘garbage’ fourth period, and he remarked to Tim, “Since the statisticians, compulsive though they are, don’t distinguish yardage gained when a game is close from yardage gained when it’s hopelessly lost, I came out quite nicely. Incidentally, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re leading the league in punting.”

“That’s helped by the fact that I usually punt from deep in our own territory. I’ve only had a couple of punts cut short by touchbacks.”

“Again, they don’t keep statistics on that.”

“Sharon said there was a reporter on the radio who wished out loud that you’d save your heroics for close games.”

Enoch laughed,  “A lot of these people make what you’d call philosophical mistakes, Tim. You can save a loaf of bread for an emergency, but an athletic performance is not something whose date can be altered.”

“Yes. A category mistake, like saying that Saturday is in bed, or Chomsky’s famous, ‘colorless green ideas sleep furiously’.”

“Anyhow, I’ve found my reporter, hopefully one who won’t make such mistakes.”

Tim replied, “I saw you talking with Melissa. Is she the one?”

“The very same.”

Women sportswriters had been in the locker rooms amid naked men for a number of years, and Melissa Ives was far from the first. It was an odd arrangement, but everyone had adjusted. Tim asked,

“Isn’t she a change for you?”

“Yes. I’ve usually chosen some ornery old asshole who’s been writing sensationalist shit for decades. That’s because people read his column even though they know he’s bigoted, ignorant, and stupid.”

“But I‘ve talked with this young lady. She isn’t bigoted, ignorant, or stupid.”

“Quite the opposite. This time, I need someone intelligent who’ll understand what I say and quote me accurately.”

“Because what you say will get lots of publicity, no matter who writes the column?”


     Now that the group was smaller, and perhaps less forbidding, they were more often joined by the kayak instructors. One evening when Enoch was present, Tim noticed him speaking with Joanie, the young lady who co-owned the kayak company, and one of the others. Sharon was up forward, trying to coax the osprey to come down for a treat, and Tim was talking with Howie. After a bit, Enoch drifted over and said to Tim, “These people are worried about Sharon. She goes out alone in rough seas.”

“Yeah, I’ve talked with her about that. She says that she’s learned the Eskimo roll, and that she could roll her boat back up if it tips over.”

“They say that they’ve taught her the roll in calm water here in the bay, but it’s not what they call a ‘bomb-proof’ roll.”

“So it might not work in an emergency?”

“Right. She also claims that she could always swim a few miles to shore, but swimming in heavy seas isn’t the same.”

Tim, quite concerned himself, replied, “I don’t think I can get her not to.”

“I’ve solved the problem. Since she doesn’t have her own kayak, she has to rent one of theirs. I’ve told Joanie that you’ll pay one of their people to go out with her whenever Sharon goes into the ocean. All you have to do is go over to Joanie and confirm the arrangement.”

Tim said to Joanie, “It’s a great arrangement. I don’t think I would’ve thought of it on my own.”

Joanie replied, “I was on the point of suggesting it. I didn’t think you’d think I was being mercenary. Will it be all right with Sharon?”

Looking forward at Sharon, frustrated by the ospreys, Tim replied, “I’m sure it will be. She’ll be delighted with the company.”

When Sharon rejoined them, and was informed of the arrangement, she laughed and pointed at Enoch, saying, “I bet it was your idea.”

That led to one of their usual exchanges. Tilting back his plastic chair on its hind legs with a beer in his hand, Enoch asked one humorously probing question after another. Sharon turned many of them back on him, and added a few of her own. He finally remarked, “This group of yours, including the absent members, is better educated than any I’ve ever come upon.”

Sharon replied, “I’m not educated. I’m just out of high school!”

“You’ve picked up a great deal from the others. I knew nothing when I left high school, and very little more when I left college.”

“But you obviously know a lot now.”

“Whatever it is, it’s self taught. I did encounter discrimination, not mostly for being black, but as an athlete. The athletes in big-time college programs are carefully segregated from the other students, and from ninety nine per cent of the professors. They’re allowed to take only the most stupid courses, and aren’t even allowed much study time. They often don’t graduate, and there are NFL players who’ve played four years of college football and left without even being able to read.”

This was no surprise to Tim after only a few months in the league, but Sharon was truly amazed. Enoch continued, “Colleges recruit people who’ve never accomplished anything in school, and then don’t even try to make up the deficit. I was such a person myself.”

“Then you’ve done amazingly well.”

“I did think I had some mathematical ability until I met Jimmy.”

There was then a flurry of explanation, the upshot being that it was a mistake to compare oneself to Jimmy. Enoch laughed, apparently already realizing the futility of it. But Sharon said, “I don’t feel stupid because I can’t do what Jimmy does. All of us know that he’s not a superman in all areas.”

Tim added, “The first time he threw a football, it went through a closed window. And he’s not a lot better with it now.”

“No. I never had it in mind to be a mathematician. But a certain facility in that area is a key to a lot of other things. And, being already rich from football, I have a good feeling of being able to go in a lot of different directions.”

“Jimmy is the only one of us who’s really locked in on a career. I’m not going to punt for more than a couple of years, and, in one way or another, we’re still trying to decide what we want to be when we grow up.”

“Perhaps that’s not bad. Do we really have to program ourselves for life before we reach thirty?”

“Most of the people I knew in college assumed that opportunities would slip away if they weren’t grabbed fast.”

“Did they want to be lawyers or doctors?”


“Those people have been pressured into committing themselves. People in a traditional society may be allowed to evolve.”

Sharon broke in with a glad cry, “I’m going to evolve as slowly as I damn please.”

     As Tim walked his friend to the marina gate, Enoch said, “I’ve been thinking of finding a woman, as opposed to accepting some pretty thing that happens by.”

“I bet you’ve laid out criteria.”

“Yes. She must have come from something like my ghetto background. She must not go crazy when she gets her hands on some money. She must be engaged in improving and educating herself, with or without the help of colleges and professors. Lastly, I’d like her to be a little ahead of me, and, perhaps, a little smarter.”

“Does she really have to come from the ghetto?”

“I think so. By the same token, you and Sharon, if you ever do marry, will need someone who understands your upbringing and the weird relationship of your parents.”

“Again, a big order.”

“Yes. But we can’t shake off our beginnings. They affect everything we do and think.”

Enoch was about to get into his van when Diana appeared, carrying a plastic bag full of groceries.

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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