Monday, May 12, 2014

When Kickball was King

You could say this blog is many things, but a sports diary it is not.

A cultural diary maybe, a going out diary, even a restaurant diary since I so often share where I've gone to eat.

Although I now do so much eating out as a hired mouth that much of my restaurant-going never makes it onto the blog.

But tonight with plans to go hear storytellers at Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story and a limited time before that started, I made a dash for food.

As in, that's a corny way of saying I went to Dash Kitchen & Carry again. It's hard to beat a place that proclaims both its speed and fresh ingredients.

Like the last time I was there, it's fair to say there were more employees than customers, perhaps a function of it being the end of VCU's school year.

But also like last time, the staff was extremely attentive, friendly and accommodating, right down to when I was handed a number to take to my table so my order could be delivered.

When I saw it was 24, I commented that my favorite number is 23. "Ooh, so close!" my server enthused, as if it mattered.

This time I went for the Costa Rican chicken salad made with roasted chicken, cashews for crunch, lizano sauce for a slightly sweet note with a touch of spicy kick and a blanket of micro-greens on a split roll.

I chose apple slaw for my side because it had been unavailable on my last visit and was rewarded with a surprisingly large bowl of red and green apple matchsticks dressed lightly.

Part of me wanted a milkshake for dessert, but I was quickly running out of time, so I headed over to Balliceaux for tonight's theme: sports diaries.

The saxophone player was there for the first time and we chatted about upcoming music, noisy school children and some of the stories I'd heard at past events.

Let's just say he was impressed with some of the tall tales I'd heard. He was curious if I'd ever shared a story ("I know you have some good ones") but I don't do that.

It was another big crowd, diverse in every respect, which I have to think is just the new standard for storytelling nights.

Joey, who was in the business, was first with "Inside Looking Out" and he came onstage saying in a booming voice, "I'm Joey and I'm a sports announcer. I'm going to talk like this the whole time. No, I'm not."

He told a funny story of trying to do hard news - three victims of a shooting but no deaths -for six days before returning to the more genial world of sports production.

Apparently having press credentials ruins you for sitting anywhere else at a game.

As Les came up to tell his story, "The Mitt," I found myself admiring the chimneys I could see against the pale blue sky through the window behind the stage. These longer days are a thing of beauty.

Starting with, "There was a time in America when baseball was king," he proceeded to talk about sports-minded kids during WW II and what they did for equipment.

"We burned the fuzz off tennis balls," he said. "How many people today know how to do this?" One obviously older man raised his hand.

But Les' story was about stealing another guy's catcher's mitt, a sin for which he clearly still carried some guilt.

Phil was introduced as having an MFA in creative writing but also as needing employment, so he began with, "You can't find a job spending all day at Texas Beach."

I could relate to his day spent at the river since for my morning walk today, I'd made my way down to the river, too, only to find masses of sporty-looking people preparing for this weekend's Dominion River Rock, erecting signs and walls.

On the plus side, a long line of Port-a-Potties had already taken up residence on Brown's Island.

But I digress.

Phil's story, "Sports Psychologist," was about how badly his over-zealous father wanted him to succeed at baseball, a sport about which he was indifferent.

One of the highlights of his story was when he demonstrated the long-winded ritual he used to perform when he got up to bat - tapping his bat on the plate, his shoes, wiggling his hips and whatever else he could do to delay having to attempt hitting the ball.

Daniel told us his soccer obsession story, which, sadly enough, concerned injuring his knee 25 times by age 17.

He thought his life was over when he had to have surgery on it, only to get a lesson in humility when he found himself in a pre-op ward with people going through chemo, on dialysis and one who'd had both legs busted in a car accident and was facing 17 months of rehab.

It was a reality check that brought him up short.

Finally we got a female storyteller when Jennifer told us of growing up unpopular because of her two deadly sins: being fat and being poor.

Even worse, it was the '70s and her mother made her clothes. "I looked like the fat Laura Ingalls Wilder," she cracked.

Attempting to vault to the popular clique, she tried out for the cheer squad in a homemade romper, but wasn't chosen.

The best part was when she did the "Be aggressive!" cheer she'd done at that long-ago tryout. Apologizing afterwards, she said, "I only had to do it once in my life, but it's burned in my brain."

I give her major points for trying. I was unpopular and I would never have had the nerve to try out for anything, much less anything as popular as cheer squad.

Richard's story "Rugby Tales, Not Scars" concerned the travel he did with the rugby teams he played on.

At a post-game party in Bermuda, he met an Australian rugby player named Paul "who looked like a young Tom Selleck," he claimed.

I wondered how many people in the crowd even knew who Tom Selleck was.

During a match, Richard managed to knock Paul's nose halfway across his face and black both his eyes. Unintentionally, of course.

At another match in Wales, he got knocked by a Welsh player with no teeth and lots of scars on his forehead but refrained from retaliating because the coach had warned them to back off.

Instead, he named one of his sons after the Welsh player, Colin. Since Colin was there (he's one of the organizers of Secretly Y'All) it was clear he had not only all his teeth, but an unscarred forehead. For now anyway.

During intermission, some of the audience left, a shame as I told the sax player since usually the best stories are the wild card ones that we hear after the break.

The stories beforehand are vetted but not the ones pulled from the hat.

Tavares' name was pulled first and he told a story of growing up black in Varina and being expected to play sports.

He was funny recalling his first sports memory of his Mom cussing out his P.E. teacher because her son was getting hit too much in dodge ball.

"From there, it goes downhill," he laughed.

When his Dad tried to teach him basketball, it didn't go well and he ended up in the sandlot while his Dad played with other kids.

He was on the wrestling team for two years before being put in a match with a "white, corn-fed kid my weight but all muscle."

At the end of that year, he joined the drama club and that was the end of sports for him.

Wendy, a mother, told a story that would have made her son cringe about him playing baseball because his father wanted him too (a recurring theme tonight).

After the poor kid took a ball to his privates, his Dad went out and bought him what she called a jock cup, except it was an adult size and the poor kid could barely run in it.

If he ever finds out she told that story in public, he will probably disown her.

Kylen's story was of growing up with parents who were both P.E. teachers while she had not a sporty bone in her body.

I know her pain.

She played soccer for the Capri Sun and orange slices. In middle school, she swam and skated for the outfits. She took up track in high school for the runner's high.

Since she was adopted, she was convinced that her birth mother had been a sensitive, artistic type like she was.

But when she got access to information about her, she discovered she'd been a business major with a part time job in sales, a fact that destroyed the birth mother illusion she'd concocted.

At least until she learned that her birth mother's mother had been an art teacher and felt closure that her Mom had been as out of sorts with her parents and she'd been with hers.

It was one of those touching moments at Secretly Y'All.

Kate closed out the night with a story of running track and doing some competitive eating mid-match.

After 13 brownies, she was forced to fill in on the 400 because another runner had gotten ill.

"When I got to the 300 mark, I started to throw up in my mouth, but didn't," she recalled.

"I didn't win the race, but I didn't throw up in my mouth, so the way I saw it, I won," she said with pride.

She's absolutely right. We non-sporty types know you take your wins where you can.

When I was a kid, I was dying to play kickball in the street with other neighborhood kids. My father refused so I sat out while I was teased about being a baby who couldn't even play in the street.

Finally, one summer Sunday night, he said I could play with them.

When it was my turn to kick the ball, I lost my footing and face-planted on the street, scraping off the skin from one side of my face.

After the humiliation of returning to the house to get my bloody face treated, of course I had to listen to my father tell me he'd told me so.

That was okay. I not only had street play under my belt now, but the scabs to prove it.

I only did it once, but it's still burned in my brain. And you know what?

It was a win in my book.

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