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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 29-C "There Was Magic in the Shoes"

Back in Chapter 9-A, I shared the following personal confession about this time in my life:

"It was that awkward age....I was what some adults euphemistically called a late bloomer with a "growth spurt" lost somewhere in my genes. Before graduating, I’d grow another seven inches, but for now, I was the third smallest guy in my grade level (which had about 400 students). I had never shaved and would not need to shave daily until my junior year--in college! [By the time I could grow sideburns, they had come and gone out of style.] There were sparse, struggling hairs under one arm but nothing under the other. I loved P.E. class but hated the required showers afterwards. Need I explain? Awkward age indeed! I was surviving sheepishly among a growing population of Neanderthals."

Make no mistake. Those feelings were real in the locker room of 9th grade P.E. class at Burton Junior High... and they were even more real at wrestling practice with Dave at the high school. So you can imagine how this "late bloomer" felt as he walked into the guest locker room of East Detroit High School and saw the team getting into their wrestling uniforms.

I had practiced with the team over Christmas Break. I'd seen them all in uniform at many wrestling meets, but until that moment it had not occurred to me that I have never put on a wrestling uniform in my life.

Guest lockers are not assigned, of course, but there are many unspoken rituals and patterns that groups fall into without thinking. And for some reason, the team tended to pick lockers in the same order they sat along side the mat. So Dave found an empty locker for me in the first row where all the lighter weights were and then he moved on to the next row of lockers where the mid-weights were, leaving me to fend for myself. I opened the locker and just stared. I had no uniform yet, and there was no way I was getting out of my clothes until I did. No way was I going to nonchalantly walk around in a jock strap or less as most of the team did before "weighing in." I was wrestling in the 98-lbs class but could weigh in fully dressed with a pound to spare. No problem there.

Perhaps more than other sports, wrestling generates "nick names" that can stick with a guy for many years. Stan Zelinsky was one of those guys. "Stan the Man" he called himself, but we all called him Stosh.

Stosh came by slapped me on the back.

"Hey, K'Spanky, you ready for the big match?" he laughed.

"I'm kind of nervous." I smiled

"Don't be. The other guy is the one who should be scared. You're gunna put the moves on him. Am I right?" ["Put the moves on him" was a general statement of wrestling domination at that time.] "K'Spanky's getting his first high school win tonight and he's only in junior high!" he announced, but no one was really listening.

It would be tempting to say that Stosh "high fived" me after such hype, but the high five as a form of athletic encouragement was not yet in common use. Strange as it may sound in retrospect, none of us had seen it done. The high five became popular a few years later and has become so common that it now seems impossible to remember a time when athletes did not naturally exchange them. No, Stosh did not high five me, he just laughed and moved on to the next man to begin a similar pep talk. That was Stosh's way of getting psyched up for meets. He was an average wrestler with more defeats than wins, but he was the kind of funny, encouraging guy every team needs one of.

DomZom came up to me with a tangled handful of purple and white spandex. His real name was Dominic Zombo. [In writing this part of the story, I learned that he is still in wrestling. Dom is the coach in Macomb County, and continues to inspire young wrestlers. I did not know it until now, but it is not surprising to me.]

Dom was a tall skinny senior just below Dave's weight class. Good wrestler. He had known my sister Kathy and still knew both Paul and Dave, and so... by virtue of blood... DomZom was always nice to me. Being the caboose of the family is sometimes hard, but following well-liked siblings through school is one of the highest honors of life.

"Coach says to try these on." he smiled.

I untangled the three pieces of the uniform, looked around to make sure no one was paying attention, quickly shucked my clothes to the floor, and pulled on the white shorts.

"Tights and then whites," DomZom said from the far end of the bench.

"What?" I said, not knowing he was looking out for me.

"Tights then whites," he repeated. "You gotta put on the purple tights first and then the white shorts over them." [Wrestlers no longer wear "tights."]

"Oh... That makes sense." I laughed.

Laughing mid-mistakes was a gift I'd picked up from my mother. We pretty much have three choices when we do something harmlessly dumb: get mad; get embarrassed; or laugh as you correct it and go on. Mom had lots of practice at the latter, and I'd picked up the mid-mistake laugh from her. It has served me well through the years.

I peeled off the white shorts, pulled on the tights, and then thought to ask...

"Is there a front and back to these things?"

"There is but it doesn't matter. Tag goes in the back, But they're kind of big on you so it won't matter once you put on the shorts," Dom said.

When he turned to his own locker, I pulled out the waistline and saw the tag in front, but there were no feet in the tights--just foot straps--so I pulled on the white shorts, and then began studying the third piece of the uniform.

It was more or less a tank top but it was also a "one-piece" that required stepping into like the swimsuits men wore in the Roaring Twenties. Great! I thought. Obviously, the white shorts had to go on after the top, too.

"Oops!," Dom said from the end of the bench. "I forgot. Tights, Tank, and then Whites. Just remember the shorts go last and you'll be all set."

For a kid who didn't want to get undressed, I was sure making things miserable for myself. I laughed slightly less as I pulled off the shorts for the third time. While I was at it, I switched the tights so the tag was in the back. By the time I was properly dressed and lacing up my patch-work shoes, the locker room was nearly empty. My brother Dave stepped up behind me.

"Come on, Tom. You didn't weigh in. They're waiting."

"You didn't tell me when to weigh in," I said like a little brother, "and it took me a while to figure this uniform out. Dom helped."

Dave's eyes widened. Until that moment, he'd forgotten that this part of his wrestling experience was all new to me.

"Sorry about that," Dave said. (It was a line made popular by Don Adams as Maxw
ell Smart. Get Smart was one of our family’s favorite shows at the time.)

"That's alright," I said, tightening the laces on my raggedy shoes. I stood on the wooden bench, temporarily above my brother.

A wrestling uniform is designed to look as if it can barely contain the muscular physique inside. Mine was only slightly more filled out than if it were hanging on a clothesline, but I was proud to have it on.

"Those shoes..." Dave sighed, shaking his head.

"Are cool," I finished for him. And still on the bench I did a little tap dance step. "Other than that, how do I look?"

"Fine. You look fine. But do me a favor: don't do that little tap-dance thing in front of anybody else. Put on your wrestling face and practice stancing like I showed you."

The term "stancing" refers to the various idiosyncratic moves and postures a wrestler assumes while stretching on the mat before the meet begins. He jumps in place, shakes off nerves, and then strikes a stance. It's usually the same posture he assumes while approaching his opponent after the ref says "Ready...wrestle." Stancing is a wrestler's trademark, a customized set of moves intended to reflect focus and the pent-up fury about to be unleashed. The little Sammy Davis Jr. tap dance I did for Dave in those patch-work shoes did not qualify as stancing. It was just the last twitch of the mid-mistake routine I'd learned from my mom. There was no way I would do such a thing in front of others and he knew it. I think he knew it....

Dave took in a deep breath, put his hand on my back, and we walked to the scales in the weigh-in room.
.

To be continued: I hope to post the 4th and final installment of "There Was Magic in the Shoes" in a few days, but we're going to the beach today and I have some chores to do in the meantime.
3945

3 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

....and then I hope you all did your chores and had a good time at the beach...now about locker rooms and etiquette...I hated it as well, mainly because there was none.

14/7/09 6:21 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,
In looking back at the humiliation of the "gang shower" experience at Burton Junior High, you are right there was no etiquette to say the least. There was a command "lather up" that came from the militant P.E. teachers and we were required to get lathered up for "soap" check and we stood in line "lathered up" and one by one stepped to the front of the line where the teacher looked us over and approved of the amount of lather all over our body or sent us back to lather up some more. I never failed a soap check, but in looking back on it, I'll bet that is something they no longer do to boys in the locker room. I suppose it was the only way of making sure we didn't go through the rest of the day stinking.

After we passed soap check we'd run back to the shower and slide across the wet tile floor on our bellies and then rinse off. How unsanitary is that!

14/7/09 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4/1/10 6:17 PM  

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