I woke up and I could hear the rain tapping on the window by my bed. Not hard like a storm, but just a little bit like what mom called “showers”. I always liked waking up on Saturday morning, because I didn’t have to go to school today or even tomorrow, especially today because it would be cold and wet and windy. Though it was kind of fun to be all inside my raincoat and my hood looking out at wet everything. It was like the weather, “Mother Nature” mom said, was in charge today instead of the grownups.
Dad had got me new batteries for my little radio and I could put them in myself. I turned it on and it was on that “8” station, CKLW. I could hear in my thinking those grownup voices singing, “C K L W!” There was a grownup sounding man talking about news stuff. He said there was going to be a “funeral service” for that famous woman, “Eleanor Roosevelt”. I remember that “funeral” thing we did for our Civil War soldier, Lieutenant Cord, who we buried in the backyard. I thought of him there, under the dirt. I wondered if you were really dead and they buried you, if you’d still know where you were.
But then the news stopped and this other guy said that it was time for music. He played that song again I had heard all year by that Mary Wells, who sounded more like an older kid than a grownup to me. I had heard it so many times I pretty much knew all the words, so I could really think about what she was talking about. Like in other Motown songs there were what sounded like other older kids singing some of the same words after the main singer sang them. This time it sounded like older boys instead of older girls…
That day, I first saw you passing by
I wanted to know your name but I was much too shy
But I was looking (looking) at you so hard
Until you must have had a hunch (had a hunch)
So you came up to me and asked me my name
I always figured she was a kid because she said she was “too shy”, and grownups I figured weren’t shy like that. Then there was the chorus part…
You beat me to the punch that time, (you beat me to the punch)
You beat me to the punch, (you beat me to the punch)
You beat me to the punch, (you beat me to the punch)
I had heard mom say that to dad, “You beat me to the punch, Eric…” But it wasn’t about punching somebody or even drinking that alcohol stuff grownups drank at parties to make them silly and have more fun. It meant that the person you were talking to said something YOU were going to say before you could say it.
Oh, oh, oh, after I had known you
For it seems like a long, long time
I wanted, wanted to ask you, would you please, please be mine
Whenever you came around, my heart would pound
So you must have had a hunch
So you came up to me and asked me to be yours
I thought about that, asking someone to “be mine”. I figured that was what grownups did before they got married. I’d seen grownup men on TV get down on their knee and ask the woman they “loved” to “be mine forever”. On TV the woman always said yes, so I wondered if she could even SAY no, or if she HAD to say yes. Then they’d get kissyface and the woman would get pregnant and have a baby. Something like that, but I wasn’t sure how it all worked, and I didn’t want to ask mom or dad OR my friends, because I don’t think you were supposed to talk about that stuff, because then people would think you were bad. Some older kids got kissyface too, I’d seen them in the lilac bushes. But because they were kids I guess they didn’t have to get married or have a baby.
I wondered if Molly would ever like to do stuff like that with me. It might be fun, but I wouldn’t want to have to do it all the time. But then I thought about the Mary girl in my class. She didn’t seem to want to be regular friends like the other girls I knew like Molly or Amanda. But Molly was a “Tomboy”, and Amanda wasn’t really a regular girl either, because she thought most girls were silly.
You beat me to the punch one more time, (you beat me to the punch)
You beat me to the punch, (you beat me to the punch)
You beat me to the punch, yeah, (you beat me to the punch)
But then this last “verse” of the song was REALLY interesting…
Since I love you, I thought you would be true
And love me tender
So I let my heart surrender
To you, yes, I did
But I found out beyond a doubt one day, boy, you were a playboy
Who would go away and leave me blue
I guess some guys would tell girls they “loved” them, but they weren’t “true”, which I guess meant they really didn’t. I mean grownups said stuff that wasn’t “true” all the time. Maybe when girls were in love they wanted to, or even had to, “surrender”, and then the guy was in charge of them.
But this guy in the song was a “playboy”, which I guess was bad. I had heard that word before. It was a magazine that some older boys in the park talked about that only grownup men were supposed to look at because it had pictures of naked women in it. If kids looked at it, that was bad, and they were bad kids, at least grownups thought so. Kids weren’t supposed to be naked around each other or see anyone else naked, even their mom or dad. Sometimes their mom or dad might see THEM naked, like if you were in the bathtub or getting dressed, but even then not very much.
But it seemed like some of those older boys really wanted to look in those “Playboy” magazines and see those naked women, because it was really neat, even though you weren’t supposed to. I sure thought it was neat when Molly let me look at HER naked. And I even liked it when she got to look at ME naked at the same time. I would do it again if she wanted to, because it was fun, but I guess it was also really bad, or at least grownups would think so.
And maybe that girl singing the song thought it was bad too, because she didn’t want to be in love with him anymore because he liked to see girls naked…
So I ain’t gonna wait around for you to put me down
This time I’m gonna play my hunch
And walk away this very day
And beat you to the punch this time, (I’ll beat you to the punch)
I’ll beat you to the punch, yes, I will, (I’ll beat you to the punch)
Dad was at the door to my room. “Today’s the last Michigan game of the year at the stadium. I put our car out on the street, which is now all parked up with cars and there are others driving around looking for places to park. I know it’s kind of rainy, but are you gonna get out there and make a few bucks?” he asked.
I nodded and jumped down from my bed to the floor. Grownups would give me money to let them park their car in our driveway or front yard. Dad had showed me how and I had done it last Saturday and the one before. I was excited, because it wasn’t just like getting a quarter for my allowance. I would get fifty cents for EACH CAR and could park two in the front yard and two in the driveway, so that was four, and four times fifty cents was TWO DOLLARS. With that much money I could go to the store and buy a real TOY, not just candy bars or gum like with my allowance.
I started to take off my pajamas and dad said, “I’ll give you your privacy to get dressed”, and he walked out into the living room.
“Hey Liz”, I heard him say, “Where’s Coop’s ‘Park Here’ sign?”
“Eric”, I heard mom say fiercely, though her voice sounded kind of strange, “I haven’t the slightest goddamn idea! I’ve got my head in the oven and I’m trying to clean it with this oven cleaner you bought and it’s a holy mess!”
“It was on sale”, he said, “It’s supposed to be just as good as the regular stuff.”
“Well it’s not”, she said, still fierce, “And I’ve about had it!” And then I heard her start to cry.
“Oh my god Liz” he said, “Don’t cry! It’s not worth crying about. I’ll finish it later!”
“It’s not just this”, she said, “It’s everything!” And she cried some more. “All I do all day is cook and clean and wash clothes and shop, and try to figure out which of the GOD DAMN BILLS I can wait to pay til next month!”
“This isn’t what I signed up for Eric!” she said, “We agreed that you’d get your PhD and then I could go back to school and get my masters.”
“I know Liz, I know”, he said, “I just have to get all this English department politics sorted out so I can get tenure.”
Now with my clothes on I came to the kitchen doorway and looked in. David was at the top of the basement steps looking into the kitchen too.
Both mom and dad looked at the two of us now looking at them. I think they both figured that we had heard mom cry and what she said. Dad seemed really sad and looked down at the ground. Mom saying all that kind of stuff always made him sad, and it made me mad at her too. Why did she keep having to tell him this stuff? She had already told him many times!
Mom looked at David and me and said, “Your mother’s just going through a tough time right now.” She wiped tears from her eyes and said, “Your dad finally got his PhD. So both he and I are hoping things will get better soon! You know we love both of you more than anything else in the world!” Dad nodded.
I knew it was okay for girls and grownup women to cry, but not for boys or men. But whenever I saw dad be mad and not say anything, or mom cry, it did make me worried.
“Well Coop”, dad said, “You don’t really need the sign. Just get out there by the street and yell ‘park here fifty cents’ and you’ll do just fine!” I wasn’t sure. It was easier with the sign. I wasn’t used to talking to other grownups that I didn’t know. Now dad was saying I should yell at them.
“When I get a minute I’ll make you another sign”, dad said, “But for now you better get out there, looks like the street is full of people looking for a place to park.” I nodded.
I looked at David who was looking at me. I could tell he was worried about mom crying too and would get more worried if I still looked worried after what mom said to us. I was, but I tried to pretend that I wasn’t and just pushed my lips together like dad did and nodded just a little bit, just enough so he could see me saying it was okay. I got my jacket out of the closet, put it on and put my hood up and went out the front door.
It was kind of cold and windy, with bits of water in the wind. The sky was all covered in light gray clouds. Our street and Potter, the street next to the park, were both already filled up with parked cars. I saw that Kenny’s front yard across the street was also filled up with cars. There were a couple cars coming up the street slowly. I stood on the sidewalk not sure if I was ready to start yelling like dad said. The first car stopped on the street near me and the grownup guy driving rolled down his window and looked at me.
“Son, do you know anywhere we can park?” he asked. I nodded.
“Okay great”, he said, “Where is that?”
“In our front yard”, I said, pointing at our driveway.
“How much?” he asked.
“How much what?” I asked.
“How much are you charging to park? Unless you’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart!” He chuckled and looked at me like I should be chuckling too. Lots of grownups chuckled, and some kids too, mostly older ones, but I hadn’t figured out how to do that. I could do a regular laugh, and even a laugh through my nose, but not a chuckle.
The car behind him honked and it startled me. The guy driving yelled out the window, “Keep it moving up there!” I had to say something.
“Uh fifty cents”, I said. Dad had told me to say “only fifty cents”, but I forgot the “only” part.
“Where should I park?” he asked. I remembered what dad said about where to park four different cars so all four could get out, and how I should stand by where the middle of the front part of the car should end up. I ran over to the corner of the front yard by the front living room window.
“Right here”, I said, and I circled my hands like I’d seen dad do, until the car got close to where I was standing and then I held them up in front of me to show him to stop. The guy driving got out of the car and pulled his “wallet” thing out of his pocket and took a dollar out.
“Got change?” he asked. I had forgotten about the change part. I shook my head then remembered I had coin money in a cigar box in my dresser that dad gave me.
“Just a second”, I said, “I got money in the house!”
“That’s okay son, keep the change”, he said as I was running to the front door, “You seem like a nice young man.” He handed me the dollar. The other adult guy and two women in the car were getting stuff out of the trunk – coats, bags and hats and blue and yellow Michigan banners. When I took his dollar I remembered what mom and dad told me to say.
“Thank you”, I said, “Enjoy the game!” And because they had those Michigan banners I knew to say, “Go Blue!”
“Go Blue”, all four of them said, and they headed up to the corner and then down Potter street towards the stadium.
Kenny came running across the street waving his hand.
“I already got four cars parked in MY front yard”, he said, like that was really good and he wanted me to think so too.
I nodded. “I just started”, I said.
“You should have a sign”, he said, “It works better with a sign!”
At first I was going to tell him that I couldn’t find my sign, but I decided to say something that made it sound like I didn’t need that stupid sign, I could get cars to park without it.
“Nah”, I said, making the sound through my nose like dad did sometimes, “I just tell ‘em to ‘park here’.” Then I shook my head and wrinkled my nose like a sign wasn’t important and said, “I don’t need a sign!”
Another car was coming slowly up the street. Knowing Kenny was watching me now, and what I said to him, I walked out into the street waving my hand at the guy driving the car and yelled, “PARK HERE! ONLY FIFTY CENTS!” I liked that “ONLY” part, like my place was cheaper than the other places. The guy driving stopped his car and rolled down his window and smiled.
“Only fifty cents young man?” he asked, then said, “Such a deal!” The other guy sitting in the front seat with him chuckled. I showed them where to park next to the other car in the front yard. They got out of the car. They both were wearing orange sweatshirts with the word “ILLINOIS” on the front in really dark blue letters, and a big “I” below it. They both looked pretty old and they had gray hair like my grandfather did.
“I got this Fred”, the other said, and reached into his front pocket and I heard the clinking of what I figured were money coins as he pulled a whole bunch of them out of his pocket in his hand, then picked out two quarters and gave them to me. “There you go son”, he said.
It was interesting that I had only heard grownup men called kids they didn’t know “son”, but I’d never heard a grownup woman say that. Women would say “young man” or “honey” or something else like that. Men would say “young man” sometimes too, like that Fred guy did, but never said “honey” or “sweetie” or other words like that. I wondered why that was. I wondered if it was that men didn’t want to be sissies, or have others think they were sissies. I guess men and boys weren’t supposed to do a lot of the stuff that it was okay for women and girls to do, because they had to fight in wars and you couldn’t be nice to guys you were fighting against or they might beat you.
Like mom and dad had told me to say, I said, “Thank you. Enjoy the game!” Kenny said “enjoy the game” too.
I usually didn’t like talking to grownups I didn’t know, specially men. Some men wanted boys to be a certain way. Like when you were playing baseball with other boys, they might say stuff like, “Hey slugger, going to hit one out of the park?” Then they wanted you to say something like, “Yep!”, and seem all sure that you could do that. They wanted you to be, what’s that word that grownups used, “confident”, and pretend that you were sure. They figured they knew you better than you did. But I didn’t like being “confident”, pretending like that. I just wanted to try and have fun and do the best I could and not worry about always doing it right or really good.
Other grownups thought they could be in charge of you, just because they were grownups, and tell you what to do or what you couldn’t do. So when they asked me questions or told me stuff I worried they might be doing that. Then you’d either have to do what they said, or at least pretend to do what they said, or they would think you were bad. I didn’t like ANY grownups thinking I was bad, because I was always worried that maybe I WAS bad, since I liked doing everything myself, and some of the stuff that I liked to do might BE bad.
But with these two old guys I kind of wanted to talk more, because they seemed nice, and said funny stuff, kind of like my grandma and grandpa had. I also didn’t always want grownups to be in charge of talking with kids, that wasn’t fair. They were wearing sweatshirts for that other Illinois team that our Michigan team was playing against. I figured I’d try asking THEM a question, I kind of wanted to call them “guys”, but I worried that might make them think I was bad.
“Are you from Illinois?” I asked. Kenny looked at me like I shouldn’t be asking them a question. He worried even more than I did about talking to grownups, and his mom and dad were always telling him what he should and shouldn’t do.
“How’d you guess?” said the Fred guy, laughing through his nose, “Is it our accent?” I had heard that “accent” word before, but I had no idea what it meant. I looked at Kenny and I could tell he had no idea either. I shook my head.
“You’re both wearing sweatshirts that say ‘Illinois’”, I said. Then I asked, “What’s an accent?”
“Well”, he said, laughing through his nose some more, “I was trying to make a joke, but I seem to have failed miserably because you don’t know what an ‘accent’ is.” I got worried for a minute, because I always got worried when grownups said that I didn’t know something.
“An accent is how you say your words”, he said. “Now you and I and my buddy Wilbur here, we all have Midwestern accents, okay. But have you seen that new show on TV, The Beverly Hillbillies?” I nodded, but Kenny shook his head.
“My mom won’t let me watch it”, Kenny said.
That Fred guy looked at Kenny and made a pretend sad face. “Too bad”, he said, “It’s a very funny show. You’re missing out!” That made Kenny look worried and start thinking.
“So Jed Clampett on that show talks with a Southern accent”, he said, “And the rest of his family – Granny, Elly May and Jethro – do too.”
That other Wilbur guy said, “Y’all come back now. Hear?” in that way that that Jed Clampettt guy on TV said it.
Wow, I thought, that was really interesting! Mom’s friend Lennice kind of talked like that too. I wondered if I should talk to strange grownups more often.
Fred looked at Wilbur and nodded, but then looked back at me. “Anyway”, he said, “To answer your question. Yes, we are both from Illinois. We live in Urbana. Ever been?” Kenny shook his head. I shook my head too but I wanted to keep talking to them.
“You drove all the way from Illinois?” I asked. We were learning about all the states in school and had to remember the capitals. Illinois’ capital was Springfield.
“I know”, he said, “We’re crazy. Our Illini are only one and five. But then your Wolverines are only one and five too, so maybe it will at least be a close game.”
“Ever go to a game?” he asked. Both Kenny and I nodded.
“Yeah”, I said, “My dad and I sometimes go at halftime and sneak in.” Kenny looked at me like I was really bad and then I got worried that these grownups might think I was bad too. But the two of them just laughed.
“WHY NOT!” said Fred, “Your stadium is HUGE, and I don’t think there are enough people in this whole town to ever fill it. I wish I’D been as adventurous as you when I was a kid!”
Wilbur looked at the watch on his wrist and tapped it and said, “Fred. We don’t want to miss the kickoff. Or the Michigan band. Even though they’re playing the wrong song they always sound great.”
Fred turned his hand and pointed his thumb at Wilbur. “My buddy’s right”, he said, “We have to hustle, but it was great meeting two nice young men!” Then they quickly walked across the street and then down Potter towards the stadium.
Mom opened the front door but didn’t come outside. “I saw you two talking to those two men for a while”, she said, “Is everything alright? You usually don’t talk to grownups you don’t know. Oh and hi Kenny, how’s your mother?”
“Okay, Mrs. Zale”, Kenny said.
“Call me Jane, honey”, Mom said, “And tell her hello for me!”
“Uh… okay…”, Kenny said, like he wasn’t sure. Mom went back inside and closed the door. Kenny looked at me and rolled his eyes around.
“My mom would kill me if I called a grownup by their first name”, he said. “Why doesn’t your mom want to be called Mrs Zale?” I lifted my shoulders up and back down and shook my head to show that I didn’t know.
“My mom says it’s bad manners for a kid to call a grownup by their first name”, he said.
“What does your dad say?” I asked. Kenny was ALWAYS talking about what his mom said, like she was in charge of everything.
“Obey your mother!”, he said, trying to talk like how his dad talked.
More cars came up the street and I got two of them to park next to each other in our driveway. The one guy gave me a dollar and I gave him fifty cents change, but the other had two quarters. That was all we could fit so no car got stuck behind another one parked behind it. Even though it was just four cars, I got $2.50, because that one guy didn’t have “change” and gave me the whole dollar. I stuffed it all in my pocket, because I didn’t have one of those “wallet” things.
“You doing anything?” I asked Kenny. He wrinkled his nose and shook his head.
“You want to listen to the game on my radio out here so we can hear it from the stadium too?” I asked. He nodded. I ran inside to my room and got my little transistor radio that Margie got me for my birthday when I was five. I turned it on and put it between the “10” and “11” in the little circle until we could hear that crazy “Meeshigan” guy talking about how it was the last game of the year at the stadium and that there looked like a bunch of people wearing orange from Illinois. I thought of those two old guys who had parked their car in our front yard.
VOICE OF “MEESHIGAN” GUY ON THE RADIO: Now a hush settles over the stadium and we all anxiously wait for that simple forward command to emanate out of the PA system. I can hear it now, “Band, take the field!” And out of that eastern tunnel pour two hundred well-drilled well-disciplined Michigan bandsmen. They pour over the eastern sideline and form the big block M, and they play the greatest college fight song ever written, the Michigan “Victors”!
And as we heard the band playing on the radio, we could also hear it for real from the stadium, over there down that Potter street, over all of those houses. It was really, really neat. We heard that guy’s little voice coming out of the radio which was lying in the grass…
That’s when the chills go up and down your spine. You get goose pimples all over and your blood turns maize and blue.
Kenny and I started marching around the front yard around and between the two cars, making sounds like we were two instruments in the band, “Bahn bah, bahn bahn bahn bahn bah, bahn-ba bha, bahn bahn bah…” When I was marching past our kitchen window I saw mom looking out at us, smiling and shaking her head slowly. It felt like our whole town was listening to the game together.
And then we could hear another voice, not coming from the radio, but from the stadium…
And now the maize and blue faithful join in a rousing chorus of the “Victors”!
I could hear just so many people singing that song from the faraway stadium, that song I’d heard SO many times, that dad had sung to David and me at bedtime since I was a little kid, and now that I was a bigger kid, I sang with him. Kenny and I kept marching and we sang along…
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conquering heroes
Hail! Hail! to michigan
The leaders and best!
I saw dad peeking out at us from the front door, his lips were pushed together and it looked like there were tears running down from his eyes. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d seen dad cry.
Hail! To the victors valiant
Hail! to the conquering heroes
Hail! Hail! to michigan
The champions of the west!
Kids and grownups, I thought, we were all together on the same team, at least right now, before we went back to our regular different teams.
And the game finally started. That “Meeshigan” guy kept talking on the radio about which team had “the ball”, and who was running or passing or tackling. But that other guy, who we could hear talking from the stadium, would say who “carried” the ball and how many “yards” he got and who tackled him. First the “Meeshigan” guy would say it on the radio, and then that other guy would say it from the stadium. It was really neat!
VOICE OF “MEESHIGAN” GUY ON THE RADIO: Timberlake at halfback now. Chapman takes the snap… rolling right… short pass to Timberlake in the right flat and the big sophomore puts his shoulder down and pounds for eight hard-fought yards. FIRST DOWN, MICHIGAN!
VOICE FROM THE STADIUM: Chapman’s pass completed to Timberlake for a gain of eight yards, tackled by Deller. Ball on the Illinois 43 yard line, first and ten.
So Kenny and I listened to the first half of the game. We both liked it when the “Meeshigan” guy said that Michigan did something good and then we could hear the kind of whooshing noise of all the people cheering faraway. But Michigan was doing really bad so we didn’t hear that very much, and the Illinois team scored a touchdown and kicked a field goal and were ahead ten to zero. Kenny and I would throw my football during the commercials. He would stand on the other side of the parked cars and each of us had to figure out how to try to throw it just over the cars so it came down where the other could catch it. We heard that Roy O’Brien song I had heard so many times…
Stay on the right track
To Nine Mile and Mack
To get the best deal in town
Cuz Roy O’Brien, has the best deal around
They kept playing that Roy O’Brien one over and over. I always wondered what a “deal” was. I thought maybe it was a nickname for a car.
Then it was that “halftime” middle part where they stopped playing for a while and the band played and marched on the field. During other games, dad and I had walked over to the stadium at halftime and just walked right in without a ticket, since they opened all the gates to let people leave and it was really easy to walk in because no one was checking. Dad said it wasn’t exactly “according to Hoyle”, whatever or whoever Hoyle was, but the “price was right”, which meant that you didn’t have to pay any money. And there were plenty of empty seats up in “the nosebleed section”, which he said was the very top of the stadium, even though it didn’t really make your nose bleed. I liked it up there because you could look down and watch the game way below. The players looked like ants. The Michigan ones were blue ants with yellow parts and the other team were white ants. But I also liked looking out from the stadium, because you could see really far, with so many houses and buildings with trees all around them far away.
Dad had told me earlier that he had “papers to grade” so he couldn’t do that today, but I figured I could do that by myself and I could have Kenny come with me.
“You ever been to a game?” I asked him.
He shook his head and looked kind of sad. “Mom always tells me to ask my dad”, Kenny said, “But he says that he doesn’t like ‘American’ football, he likes the REAL football they play in Europe!”
“REAL football”, I asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s the kind where you just kick the ball all over the place with your feet”, he said, “But you’re not supposed to touch the ball with your hands. They call it ‘Soccer’ here.” I hadn’t heard that name before but I remembered some older kids playing a game like that in the park.
“You want to see the rest of the game?” I asked. Kenny looked at me really worried. He looked worried a lot, that’s the way Kenny was.
“You can’t go to the stadium without a grownup!” he said.
I lifted my shoulders up and down and made a silly face. “Molly and I used to go to the stadium all the time on our bicycles when she still lived across the street! They weren’t playing a game then, but we still went there”, I said. Then I said what dad would always say to mom. “It’s no big deal”, and it hit me, so that’s what a “deal” was.
“But we don’t have tickets!” he said.
“If you go at halftime you don’t need tickets”, I said. You can just walk right in. They don’t care. Lots of people do it, go in and out.”
“But there are so many people”, he said. Sometimes it WAS scary when there were so many grownup people all around you and you couldn’t tell where you were going because they were all so tall, but I liked pretending I was the big kid when I was with Kenny. He was seven like I was, but he was only in second grade and I was in third.
“They’re just people”, and again I said, “No big deal.” Kenny looked at me like he couldn’t figure out what I was saying, or like I had changed into this strange different person.
“Well I’m gonna go”, I said, “Whether you come along or not.” Kenny looked worried, like he was thinking.
“I’d really like to go”, he said, “But I really should ask my mom!” I figured if he asked his mom she would only let him go if mom or dad came along.
“So if you ask her”, I asked, “What’s she going to say?” He looked sad and looked at the ground.
“No”, he said, then thinking some more, “I’m never going to see a game!”
“Suit yourself”, I said. That was something Amanda at school liked to say when she didn’t want to do what you wanted to do. Kenny looked really worried and like he was doing a lot more thinking.
“How about I walk with you towards the stadium”, he said, “I can do that.” I nodded.
“Let’s go”, I said. And we walked up to Potter, with Almendinger Park across the street, and started walking down Potter towards the stadium. We could hear the sound of the band playing coming from the direction of the stadium. As we walked we talked about what we could buy with the money we got from parking cars. Kenny really liked games. He had Checkers, Parcheesi, Life, Stratego and Yahtzee, but wanted to get Monopoly, Conflict and Careers. When we played together now he would always want to play one. Sometimes he’d even bring one with him when he came over to my house. He said he liked it when his cousins from New Jersey came to visit, because they all got to stay up late and play games. His mom even liked playing games with him sometimes.
I liked playing games too, but not as much as Kenny did. You couldn’t really make your own stories with them like you could with soldiers, ships, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, wooden trains and my girder and panel set. I did like that Pirate and Traveller game because you could move around the whole world. When I told Kenny about that one, he said he wanted to get that one too.
I told Kenny I might buy more track pieces and switches for my Motorific track, along with more little batteries. I liked trying to set up a track where my two Motorific cars could go around by themselves for a long time without crashing into each other. The switches were really neat because when one car went over the switch it went one way, but the next time a car went over that switch it went the other way. So when you had two cars going around the tracks with a lot of switches going different directions, it got really complicated and fun to try to keep the cars from crashing into each other.
While we heard the sound of the band getting a little louder as we got closer to the stadium, we walked and had fun talking about all this stuff we wanted to buy and why we wanted to buy it. We walked up to Main Street, and then up to the corner where we could cross over at the light to the Stadium. Kenny looked across the street at the Stadium and looked worried. There were lots of people, mostly grownups but some kids, going through the open gates out of the stadium, and some other people going back in.
“Are you really going to go in there all by yourself?” he asked. I nodded.
“Sure”, I said. I liked Kenny thinking I could do all this stuff by myself, since I WAS in THIRD GRADE now. But it seemed like he wanted to go with me even if he wasn’t supposed to.
“I won’t be by myself if you come with me”, I said, knowing that would make it harder for him to decide what to do.
“I don’t know”, he said, “I really don’t think I’m supposed to, not without a grownup.” He looked at me. “Won’t your mom and dad get mad”, he asked.
“I can go wherever I want as long as I come home when the streetlights come on”, I said, “Do you tell your mom and dad that you’re going to the park?”
“No”, he said, sounding kind of mad, “But that’s different, the park’s right across the street!” I nodded, thinking.
“But the stadium is just a little bit farther”, I said and then asked, “You walk to Bach School, right?” He nodded.
“Well this isn’t as far as Bach”, I said. He kind of nodded a little bit but was still thinking.
“You’re right”, he said, “But there’s way more grownups here.”
“Well”, I said, “Sometimes there are lots of grownups in the park too, like when they are playing those softball games when they have the uniforms.”
“I guess so”, he said, kind of quiet and looking at the ground, “But okay, I’ll go, just so you don’t have to go alone!” He seemed to like that idea that he was helping me, and got happier.
So we crossed Main Street together when the light said it was okay. We walked down to where the stadium gates were open, and people were walking in and out, and we just walked in. It DID feel kind of strange to do it without dad with me, but it also felt really good, like nobody was in charge of me. Kenny was looking all around like someone was going to tell us we weren’t supposed to be there and we’d get in bad trouble. There were other kids there, so the grownups that saw us just looked at us like two more kids. A lot of grownups didn’t even look at kids at all, unless they were being noisy or causing trouble.
I remembered some friend of dad’s saying that in the “old days”, which I figured was way before I was born, maybe even during the Civil War, “children”, that strange word for kids that some grownups like teachers used, “weren’t supposed to speak to grownups unless spoken to”. So even now, it kind of worked that way only backwards. If you were a kid and you didn’t say anything a lot of grownups didn’t even notice you, specially grownup men. Some grownup women, who I guess were more like moms, might notice you and maybe ask if you were all right or needed help. THAT, was usually okay, but only if when you said you WERE okay, they didn’t bother you anymore.
Kenny looked around like he didn’t know what to do, so I showed him where we should go, through that long big tunnel part that went around the inside of the stadium and back out into the even more inside of the stadium where the football field was and all those long metal things you sat on were around it. We were close to where the field was, right over the wall in front of us, and it was filled with mostly grownups. It was mostly grownup men, but there were a few grownup women, and some of them would look at us like they were wondering if we were okay. But just like in the park, if I didn’t look worried, looked like I knew where I was and was having fun, then most grownup women wouldn’t worry about me anymore.
Kenny still looked worried, so I figured we better find another place where there were less people, and places where we could sit, so we looked like we were like everyone else, watching the game. When dad and I had gone into the stadium at halftime before, we had climbed up the stairs to the top part. So I looked around and found where the stairway was, headed over there and started to go up the stairs, with Kenny behind me. Though I had always liked to run up stairs, this was like a giant stairway that went up really far, and each step was really high and felt harder to climb, so I just walked. As we got farther up towards the top there were less and less people sitting on the metal bars. We walked all the way up to the top where there wasn’t anyone, except for a couple other kids, but they were over a ways and were not watching the game but looking out over the edge of the stadium.
I had done that before with dad and it was really neat. I was just tall enough to look over the edge. Though Kenny was a little shorter than me, he could look over too. We could see over to the left the giant grass part where the high school was, that Margie had gone to. And over to the right were lots of houses that we could look down on, with maple trees all around them now without any leaves. And back behind them there was kind of an open space that I figured must be Allmendinger Park. It all looked so different from up here. Kenny thought it was neat too, though we couldn’t figure out where our houses were.
So we turned around and sat down next to each other on one of the long metal things and looked down at the field. The band had finished, but part of the band was sitting in this one part right by the field. They kept playing this same quick song that only had words at the end, “LET’S GO BLUE”, that all the people sitting around the band got to yell out. There were these other guys wearing yellow, with blue “M”s on the front parts of their bodies, standing in front of those band guys and trying to get all the regular people around the band to yell out.
There were two of those giant “scoreboard” things. One was really close to us on our right but hard to see the front so we could see what the score was. The other was way far away at the other end of the stadium but it was easier for us to see. The “Visitors”, that’s what they called the other team instead of their regular name, had ten points and Michigan had zero. Dad and most other grownups or kids would say “nothing”, but I always said “zero”, because I really liked zero after mom told me about how it worked when you were doing problems.
The teams were back on the field. The Michigan guys, with their helmets on, looked like big blue and yellow ants from where we were sitting. The Illinois guys looked like white and red ants. Most of the players were on the side parts of the field, the blue ones together on the left side and the white on the right side.
“Dad said that when Michigan plays a game ‘at home’, which means at this stadium, they wear their darker blue and yellow uniforms”, I said to Kenny, “The other team has to wear their white uniforms, so that if you watch the game on a black and white TV you can tell the difference between the teams.” I liked that dad had told me all that stuff and I could tell it to Kenny so he thought I knew a lot of stuff, and more stuff than he did.
“Hunh”, he said, slowly nodding and thinking.
But some of the blue Michigan guys and white Illinois guys were on the field getting ready to play the second part of the game, getting in “position” on either end of the field for the “kickoff” part.
Dad had told me about how football worked, when we snuck into the second part of other games earlier this fall. About how it started with a “kickoff” and maybe a “runback”. Then the team “with the ball” would do “plays” with running or passing, and try to get “ten yards” in four plays to get a new “first down”, or it would be the other team’s turn “with the ball” to do their own “plays”. But usually, if you didn’t get ten yards in your first three plays, you’d punt on your fourth play, which was kind of like a kickoff, and it would be the other team’s turn.
Teams would try to get their guy with the ball into the other team’s “endzone” to get a “touchdown”, or maybe just close to the other team’s “endzone” to kick a “field goal”, which wasn’t as many points as a “touchdown”. The other team would try to “tackle” the guy with the ball so he couldn’t get very far.
I’d seen kids play football in the park, and even played a few times myself, and we played with different kinds of rules, and we had to figure out those rules before we started playing. It wasn’t like REAL football, though we all liked pretending that it was. Instead of tackling the kid with the ball, we only had to touch him, maybe with just one hand, or maybe with two, depending on the rules we decided on. And we didn’t do the “10 yards” part to get a new first down. Maybe if you passed the ball and your guy caught it, which we called a “complete”, and you got two of those, or two “in a row”, then you would get a new first down.
Kenny had played and watched pretend kid football in the park too, so he knew all that stuff. But the REAL football stuff he didn’t really know, and I tried to tell him everything dad had told me about it but it was hard for him to figure out all at once.
So after they did the kickoff and the teams started doing their plays, Kenny really liked watching it. When the Michigan team did something good, everybody would cheer, which sounded like regular cheering around where we were, but more like a whooshing sound from the people way over on the other side of the stadium. Kenny would get excited and ask me what happened, since he didn’t know football as much as I did, since dad had told me stuff about it. I’d try to figure it out and tell him.
And when the Michigan team got close to the touchdown line, and they got in a line to do their play, everyone stood up and started yelling stuff like “come on” or “you can do it” or just “go blue”. Then that main Michigan quarterback guy started a play and started running sideways with the football. While he was still running he threw it to this other Michigan guy who caught it, crashed into this Illinois guy, but then fell down over the touchdown line.
Now everybody, already standing, just yelled without any words, which usually sounded like “yaaaaaay”, but more like that whooshing sound again from the people farther away. Other kids were standing on their metal bench things and yelling, so Kenny and I climbed up on our metal bench thing and yelled too and held our arms up over our heads.
ANNOUNCER: Chandler completed the pass to Timberlake for four yards and a Michigan touchdown!
Everybody yelled and cheered again, but it was funny, that when I listened to games on the radio with that “Meeshigan” guy telling us what was happening, he would get really really excited when the Michigan team scored a touchdown. But the announcer guy only got a little excited when HE told everybody. Dad said that that was what the announcer was supposed to do, not get excited, and just keep talking regular all the time, because he wasn’t supposed to want either team to win.
Then I couldn’t figure it out, but Michigan got a chance to do another touchdown really close to the touchdown line, but their quarterback guy got tackled before he could throw the ball to someone else.
So then Michigan had to do the kickoff thing again and Illinois started doing their plays. But then on one play, the Illinois quarterback guy threw the ball but a Michigan guy caught it instead of the Illinois guy. Everybody was standing up again and yelling. The Michigan guy almost got to the touchdown line but he got knocked down. The announcer guy said the “pass was intercepted” and that it was “Michigan’s ball, first and goal on the one yard line.” Now it was Michigan’s turn again, and their quarterback got the ball and just went into a big pile of other guys on both teams pushing each other and they all kind of fell down together and that referee guy in the striped shirt ran over and put his arms straight up, which I guess was another touchdown, because everyone was yelling and cheering again.
And then Michigan did that thing again to do another extra touchdown, and this time they did it, but they only got two points instead of six. But they were ahead fourteen to ten. And they kept playing but nobody scored any more touchdowns or other points and it got to the very end of the game when the numbers were going down on the giant scoreboards, fifteen… fourteen… thirteen. Everybody started yelling out the numbers. I remembered hearing this one other time a while ago when dad and I didn’t sneak into the game but we could hear people counting backwards from our house.
“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one…” That number counting thing on the scoreboard just showed zeros, but nobody except me said “zero”, they just all yelled and cheered. And then pretty soon all the Michigan band guys were out on the field and playing the Michigan song. Some people were leaving, but others weren’t and sang along. Dad had sung the song to me and David so many times that I know all the words. I think Kenny kind of pretended that he knew the words too.
Hail to the victors valiant
Hail to the conquering heroes
Hail, hail, to Michigan
The champions of the West
I always wondered about that “west” part, because we didn’t live in that place on TV with mountains and hardly any trees where guys wore cowboy hats and shot guns at each other all the time.
We walked home with lots of other people, mostly grownups. It was fun being part of a happy bunch of people, except for the Illinois people, wearing their orange stuff. But some of the Michigan people would see them and yell nice stuff like “good game”. I remember mom saying, as an “athlete”, she thought it was important to learn to be “both a good winner and a good loser, because you’re probably going to do a lot of both”.
When we got back to my house, the two cars parked in our driveway and one of the two in our front yard was gone. But the car that those two guys from Illinois had was still there. Kenny and I sat on the little wall around the side of our front yard and I turned my transistor radio back on. That “Meeshigan” guy was still talking about the game with the coach guy of the Michigan team.
“There you two are!” It was dad’s voice. He was standing on the other side of those guys’ car, still parked in our front yard. He heard my radio and asked, “So did you listen to the whole game? Michigan actually won one! Their defense really played very well in the second half.”
Then he made a sad face and said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t take you guys over to the game at halftime.” Kenny looked worried and looked at me.
“That’s okay dad”, I said, “I know you were really busy. You know, I made two dollars and fifty cents parking cars, and Kenny made money too!”
“How much did you make, Kenny?” dad asked him.
“Just two dollars, Mr. Zale”, he said. I wondered if dad would tell Kenny to call him “Eric”, but he didn’t.
“That’s really great”, dad said, “Two budding young businessmen.” He nodded and looked happy.
“Anyway”, he said, “Your mom’s taking a nap, and I’m grading papers in the basement, so I’ll bid you both ‘adieu’.” He said funny stuff like that sometimes, especially when mom, or any other grownups weren’t around. He went back in the house.
Those two guys from Illinois finally came back to get their car.
“Well your team one, unfortunately for us”, the one guy said, “But I guess you’d have to say it was a good game. Too bad you boys couldn’t see the game!”
I usually didn’t talk to grownups, specially ones I didn’t know. But I had talked to these guys earlier and it was fun, ao I thought I’d just talk to them like they were kids like me.
“Well”, I said using that word more like a grownup, “We went to the second part of the game.” Kenny looked worried when I said that, but I kept talking. “At halftime you can just walk right in!”
“Did one of your dad’s take you?” he asked.
“Nah”, I said, feeling really neat like I was an older kid now, “Kenny and I just went by ourselves.”
“Wow”, he said, “Do your parents know?”
“Well”, I said it again, and it felt good again, “They just tell us to come home when the streetlights come on.”
“Well”, he said, “Call me impressed, and thanks for the use of your front yard.” He stuck out his hand to shake hands with me. Mom and dad told me that I shouldn’t just hold out my hand, but grab the other person’s and squeeze it when I shook. “Grownup men respect a strong handshake”, mom and dad said. So I grabbed his hand before he could grab mine and squeezed.
“Good man”, he said, ao I guess it worked. Kenny held out his hand but he didn’t know the special rules so the guy had to grab his hand and shake it for him. Then his friend shook both our hands too. They got in their car, made it slowly go backwards back onto the street, and then drove down towards the big high school and that Stadium street.
“I should go home”, Kenny said, looking worried again. “What if my mom and dad ask me where I was?” he asked, “They always figure out when I’m lying.” I was now worried that if they found out they’d tell mom and dad what we did.
Still feeling like a big kid, a THIRD GRADER while Kenny was only in second, I said, “I’ll tell them, so you don’t have to lie.” I figured lying to your own parents was harder than lying to somebody else’s.
We walked in Kenny’s front door and his mom was in the kitchen. She looked out of the kitchen and saw us.
“There you are young man”, his mom said, “And welcome Cooper, we don’t usually have the pleasure of you coming into our home. Can I get you two a glass of orange juice?” I shook my head.
“I gotta go home”, I said, “But Kenny made two dollars and I made two fifty parking cars, and then we listened to the game on the radio. Michigan won!”
“That’s nice”, she said, “Cooper, you’re a good friend to Kenny!”
Yep, I thought, better than she even knew!