dancing with shadows

by chinball wizard

The irony was that Rock Johnson, all-city linebacker and considered in some circles as the hardest hitter this side of the generational divide between Lawrence Taylor and ray lewis, a real ‘grave-digger,’ didn’t like drugs.  He knew about steroids, had been (maybe) offered steroids in various kafkian workouts where cryptic phrases about ‘taking it to the next level’ and ‘playing juiced’ were thrown around as much as the 45 lb. weights that were stacked on various bars awaiting various stimuli.  But Jason, nicknamed ‘Rock’ after his sophomore season when he seemed to explode out of his seemingly average pubescent skin, almost like a high-school Hulk (tattered clothing rags left to innocent cheerleaders, male and female alike, to imagine, although who, lou ferrigno notwithstanding, would probably be weirdly proud and bursting), to inhabit a proverbial man-child physique, knew there were questions about the possible (see: not completely genetic, and more impressively amongst those that would always be considered ‘haters,’ a total farce of the hormonal balance of a ‘real’ human being, hence their [meaning the ‘haters’] provincial status within the general community, and more specifically, outcast status within the very active and supportive athletic community, which absolutely treasured and basically pedestaled any football athlete that could transcend any game, especially one [Rock] that set the state record for sacks his junior year in the 6th game) use of performance-enhancing drugs.  
         What would end up being a considerable court of opinion, and one that could also be described as America’s fascination with implied guilt rather than actual transgression, ‘Rock’s’ considerable talent was scrutinized and tested by some of the most renowned sports’ doctors in the country (a surprisingly anonymous group, considering this country’s sports’ obsession and the resultant need to be informed of all athletic minutiae, despite what could be going on in the emotional lives of these ‘acknowledged’ fans; who can’t be concerned with Jill’s whereabouts when Kismet might be starting a juiced (i.e. illegal and potentially season-erasing)) linebacker that had literally broken three quarterbacks collarbones on hits that most people were not quite sure if it was reality they just witnessed, or a weird confabulation of experience, expectation, and Hollywood-videogame hyperreality that produced the results their eyes were quick to not-quite-believe.  But Rock Johnson never juiced.
         What would be most surprising to these snoopy doggs who were more concerned with the does he/doesn’t he angle, and a hell of a lot more interesting, is the fact that Jason was rather introspective.  The simple life summation that accompanied every interview – he came from a fractured family – actually accounted for more of the man/boy image than any of his amazing accomplishments on the field did.  The field was actually his recess from trying to contemplate what was the true makeup of his inner core; he was kissing cousins with the heartfelt prostitute.  And the controlled violence he displayed on the field (he never wanted to hurt anybody, he was just young and overstimulated, which we all know can lead to unintended actions and consequences) was just about the physical equivalent of the turbulence in his head.  Just so you know and all.
         The setting is genero, senior-year, football-team-just-better-win-state, especially with ‘Rock’ and 9 starters back on offense, type deal.  But it’s more like Friday night lights than varsity blues, because the coach is an attentive and generally caring guy who understands how much football means to the community but he also feels he has a responsibility to help these young men in life (even if he is not completely sure how he is doing that by coaching football, but he loves the game and the community, so this is how he tries to contribute), winning be damned.  But it’s more complicated than that, and Coach Huxley has been noticing more and more that J. J. (aka Rock) might also be a bit more than just a football phenom.  Although only an average student in the grade department, Huxley has personally witnessed J. J.’s possession of “The autobiography of Malcolm x,” which was haphazardly stashed in his gym bag as if he was embarrassed.  This seeming embarrassment thus caused coach to be a little embarrassed, as if he was seeing something private and coach wanted to respect his players boundaries and individualities (which are often kept secret), so he pretended he didn’t see the book and asked Rock if he was ready for this Friday’s game.  That was towards the end of last season, and Huxley has been trying to digest the nature of this voyeuristic clue for about 8 months.  Training camp starts in a few days, school soon follows, and coach Huxley knows this year will be singularly unique for himself, but how does he make it special unique?  Special unique for Jason Johnson, for the other guys on the football team, for his family, for the community?  There is a certain responsibility he feels in the marrow of his soul, but for the life of him, he can’t seem to completely articulate it to himself…he can merely shepherd greatness or he can help transcend it, but how to do both?

6:00 am
         J. J. awakes to another alarm, signaling another emergency, another day.  He groans but it feels perfunctory, so he decides to just get the fuck up.  Aunt Lachesis is already up, sipping coffee, and preparing Jason’s breakfast.  They exchange half-awakened pleasantries, but it doesn’t feel perfunctory.  Today is Aug. 1 and the first day of football workouts for the upcoming season.  J. J. mindlessly proceeds to ingest his supplements and breakfast in monotonous fashion, his actions belying his thoughts.  Rock is slowly collecting himself, focusing on the day ahead, on the carnage and pure destruction he will rain down on anything that is set before him.  Blocking sled?  It’s going to be an impressionist sculpture of twisted metal and torn pads when he gets done with it.  And that’s just the first day.  Rock is already thinking of new drills with out-of-the-box objects (think world’s strongest man shit where they pull semis like it’s an everyday thing) that can both stimulate his uncharted abilities and challenge the way he approaches a problem.  J. J.’s big into that kind of stuff; you know, stimulating stuff, because he gets his biggest juice from the realization that his talents are not limited, but rather, may actually be limitless.  But, he’s also not sure if his ability to improve is limited to the football field.  He likes the confines of the game (360’ x 160’) when he is in the game, but he sometimes feel as if he is confined by the game, somehow, as a person.  But, then again, everybody praises him for his football skills, not his academic acumen, so maybe he should just not try and think about it.  Besides, he has to be at practice in half an hour, and this is his senior year, and he is going to literally just kill everything in his path.  That was just how he was made.

6:47 am
         Coach Huxley arrives at his office and pulls out his folder labeled “Preparation.”  This folder is worn, even a bit haggard, suggesting years of use.  Coach drops it on his desk and sighs.  He’s not normally so contemplative on the eve of a season; he’s got his whole system of operation set-up, just like the last 5 years.  And it only took, like, 20 years before that to finally perfect and refine it.  And with one state championship 4 years ago, and a runnerup finish the last 2 years, Coach knows he probably shouldn’t tinker with the engine.  But his mind keeps coming back to the fact that this is uncharted waters: a sea-rise of expectations + Rock = whole new ballgame (although it’s, really, the exact same ballgame, (right?)).  How, just exactly, does he fucking tackle this goddamn (phantom) problem?

6:00 am
         Alarm.  Up.  Breakfast.  Shower.  And as the water slowly cleanses J. J. he soon realizes that today is not like any other day.  Shit, he realizes, today is the first day of my last year of school.  Slowly, he starts changing his mindset.  There are friends to see in the not-so-seemingly-friendly confines of Kismet High School, lunches to endure, ladies to look at and lust over, and like the shy guy, academics are crouching in the corner.  J. J. actually likes school, but he knows that as a stud athlete he doesn’t really have to try hard, and he doesn’t want to betray his badass persona, so he doesn’t.  and that’s killing him in a way that he can’t quite comprehend, but he does know that, for some reason, it feels worse than when a chance running back eludes Rock’s grasp and maybe scampers for a first down (something, btw, which monumentally pisses Rock off: for example, against Panopticon High last year, their running back, nicknamed “shock and awe” because it idiotically rhymes with his name “jacques derrida,” managed to juke Rock on the second play of the game and gain 12 years, upon which, he declared that he just “Deconstructed the rock, Bitches,” a mistake he most certainly regrets to this day, since Rock responded by blowing up the entire offensive line on the next play and spearing Mr. Derrida so hard that he ruptured his (derrida’s) spleen, pretty much symbolizing the type of deconstruction he (j. j.) was capable of, if you really wanted to piss him off).  He just wishes he could reconcile these seemingly incongruable impulses he feels; but he also wishes he knew what the fuck reconcile meant, since no one has thought that he might be interested in such things.  Oh yeah, Friday is the first game of the year and its at home.  “Fuck yeah,” Rock thinks as he gets out of the shower with the mirror clouded by muggy condescension.

6:47 am
         Coach looks at the digital clock sitting on his desk and realizes, for the first time, that he doesn’t need to be here this early.  It’s the first day of school, so no morning practice, idiot.  Well, what to do now?  He doesn’t have a class until second period, and never feels quite comfortable intermingling with the rest of the faculty.  He thinks about this for a second and, with realizations building up like a highway car-crash during thanksgiving, decides that that sucks.  Huxley likes most of the faculty, hell, he respects what they do for the children.  But they seem intimidated by him and he doesn’t know what to do, so he stays out of the way, his mystique and character getting more intertwined by the day.  Maybe he should take a walk around the school and appreciate it: the simplicity of an institution, the history that makes each unique, and even the anonymous cogs in the machine that make the toilets flush properly.  But this is a fleeting thought, a receiver open across the middle while the pocket collapses and the quarterback, flushed, needs to simply escape, opportunities be damned.  Coach takes out the “Preparation” folder and glances through it, hardening its time-worn lessons, and then takes out a new folder.  It is simple, crisp, almost untouched: he writes across the front “2010 Season.”

7:53 am
         J. J. arrives at school in his ’03 red hummer, blaring Lil’ william james.  He pragmatically parks his car and steadifies himself.
         Rock strolls through the parking lot as half-harloted girls make screaming declarations of friendship and fidelity, dudes bash arms and report ‘whatup,’ and the whole thing seems like a crazy scene out a michael bay high school movie; except everybody’s not universally ‘pretty.’  J. J. chuckles as he realizes how much this choreographed dance is so similar to the one on the football field: everybody has been assigned a role and they are acting it out to the best of their ability, or maybe it’s the best that can be achieved with this script…
         WTF?  Rock keeps striding towards the welcome doors but is slightly perturbed by a thought he just had.  He opens the doors to his supposed sanctuary and wonders what the fuck perturbed means.

8:45 am
         Coach glances at the digital clock for, like, the 24th time in the last 60 minutes.  His class starts in 15 minutes and he should start heading to the room.  Does he have his lessonplan?  He digs through a file-cabinet and brings out another haggard, labeled dossier.  It only took him 5 years to effectively figure out how to convey the basic principles of his class, and its been going strong now for about 23 years or so.  This folder comforts coach for some reason, so he smiles slightly and lets go of the doubts that have been silently and fervently plaguing him for the last two hours or so.  He knows how to do this; “I know how to teach freshman kids about Health,” he silently thinks, tapping the folder with his index finger, and really thinking about practice after school.  He’s driving on a roundabout but doesn’t realize that yet.

11:11 am
         J. J. is literally going fucking insane.  It’s the first goddamn day and he already has so many ants in his pants that he is on fire.  To begin with, he somehow had forgotten during the “summer break” that these pre-fab desks do not fit a man/boy of his proportions.  He felt like a goddamn locksmith trying to fit himself into these things, which pretty much sucks and is annoying.  But more annoying, was the fact that he felt so self-conscious whenever he entered a class and encountered the unrelenting safe that was to be his ‘desk.’  All he really wants to do is be anonymous, sit down, and fucking learn something that may help him in life.  But no, he comes in all clowned-size and intimidating, tries to wrestle the desk into submission, and sits for the rest of the class looking uncomfortable and visibly annoyed.  So, J. J. sits in history class and does not pay one iota of attention to the teacher because he is really uncomfortable, thus annoyed, and just can’t be bothered to try and concentrate on the circumstances that created the dark ages.  It is just not fucking possible for this guy to focus on learning when he is clearly unique, physically uncomfortable, and conscious of the way his discomfort is being portrayed to the rest of the class.  And the worst part for J. J.?  he knows his discomfort is distracting, thus lowering the collective attentiveness of the class, thus frustrating the teacher, thus leading to his accumulating disinterest in teaching a bunch of lazy, inattentive kids shit about the time humanity almost wrecked itself.  It’s almost like coach’s car wreck of realizations, and J. J. feels powerless to stop it.  In a bizarre manner, however, this impotency J. J. feels in the classroom is redirected and magnified in a football game.  Although he barely registers the cogs beneath the machines, J. J. sometimes gets so worked up by game time that nobody wants to look in his eyes for fear of seeing some unaware, savage beast that needs no prompt to fucking up and kill your ass.  It’s fucking intense and primeval.

12:00 pm
         It’s Coach’s lunch period.  For the last, let’s say, 28 years, Huxley has had his wife prepare him a brown-bag lunch when he works.  When he truly thinks about it, often while he is sitting by himself at his desk eating the contents of that day’s brown-bag lunch, he feels conflicted.  He feels slightly comforted by the routine, the way he has resolutely held up a tradition, but he also sometimes feels a little discombobulated, almost woozy.  Today, as he takes a bite of his tuna sandwhich (on wheat bread because his wife says that it is healthier, but he thinks it tastes weird, and who really cares about what type of bread you eat when you have to play ares fuckin high in the first game of the season) and starts to think he is having a stroke.  I mean, he feels weak-kneed, faint, out-of-breath bad.  He thinks that maybe he is due for a major health issue.  Maybe today is the day that everything catches up with him and he’ll have to have his elaborate health breakdown and everybody will finally realize how worthwhile he is and the team will rally around his illness and win state and everybody will be happy.  This idea makes Coach smile.

12:47 pm
         Rock is center-stage, eating lunch.  J. J. had also neglected to look at his schedule which had his lunch period as the latest in the day.  Rock will have to get this changed because he did not think ahead and bring snacks for the morning and so now is so hungry that if god himself tried to deny him food, rock would make the devil look like a huge pussy.  It doesn’t matter that he could probably get a hand-job in the bathroom from any of the top 50 hottest girls at school; right now, Rock needs sustenance.

2:11 pm
         Coach is coaching his last class of the day.  The period just began and all the students are quietly defiant in their feelings that this is the last class of the first day and we all shouldn’t give a fuck; i mean, it’s almost 3, so let’s just screw around until we all can leave and screw around some more, right?  Coach knows this vibe.  Spend enough time around practices and classrooms and one gets a feeling for the collective mood; this one expresses happiness masking inherent trepidation.  Coach smiles uncomfortably and announces that the rest of class would be a study hall.  “Please don’t be too disruptive and we’ll re-commence, or interweave, this health endeavor in the nest class,” Husley felt like saying, but instead he blurted, “Everybody put a lid on it and try to focus on something academic for the next…um, 49 minutes.”  And this statement seemed like a good compromise between his marrow and his tradition.

2:45 pm
         “Vince-sanity, Baaabeeee,” is what Rock thinks as he sees the second timer laboriously lumber around the clock.  Schools out in just a few minutes, and its time for practice; its time to prepare for ares fuckin high.  J. J. tries to parcel his emotions, knowing that certain ones more are useful in certain situations, like gameday.  For J. J., gameday represents a culmination of growth: if he hasn’t improved by the next Friday, then he is not doing what he needs to do; although, he never shepards that intrinsic desire into comprehension.  So, Rock, side-carred in his seat, stares at the analogue clock on the wall and makes his actual study hall more like a sideshow (dis)attraction.

6:00 am
         Huxley sits at home, unable to sleep the past night.  He looks at the detritus crowding his desk: that letter opener (from his sister Clotho), that letter from the insurance company (from his family Allstate), that hotel pen (from god-knows-where), and that worn folder (from god-knows-when).  Ares High is certainly a tough opponent to open with, but why the fuck is Coach Huxley freaking out by being reflective and shit?  If someone knows, he (Huxley) would sure like the advice, cause he for-fuckin-sure does NOT know why his mind is discombobulated?

6:47 am
         NO alarm.  Nothing but silence, darkness….stillness.  J. J. starts to freak out a bit.  See: jason had a problem with night terrors when he was younger; it was so bad that he went through a slew of foster parents before his aunt took him in.  I mean, imagine a sleeping hulk bursting through reality and shredding everything about reality that you thought, you know, you had some sort of grasp on.  Pretty fucking scary for everybody involved.  So, auntie sees fit to take over at around age 13 and Jason stops having night terrors, at least in a metaphorical way, because (let’s face it), any opposing quarterback that dares look into the eyes of cerberus himself will get fuckin Rocked; now, that’s a fuckin night terror.  So, Jason wakes and slowly realizes where he is…slight stumbling is precipitated by sleep’s psychic arrestable attempts…
         J. J. controls himself enough to reach over to his nightstand and check his phone for the time.  Seeing that he is late, J. J. thinks “fuck it” and gets up.  It’s the first motherfuckin game in 12 or so hours and Rock needs to be ready.  “Business as usual,” Jason half growls to himself as rises, stretches, and looks at the mirror above his curio clothes-drawer.  He looks at himself and repeats the mantra that has driven him to his place: “I will willfully destroy any motherfucker in my path.  I will not let doubt enter my mind.  I will be the most unbendable force this world has ever seen.  Iron Rule will only be established by the hardest Rock enduring the most extreme forces of nature and conquering time itself.  I am geological, I am divine, I am the tensile strength of wind.”  Jason then feels slightly uncomfortable, and self-conscious like in school, and decides he should maybe, just, like, get ready for school, and the game that follows.

2:53 pm
         Coach Huxley is conflicted.  Tonight is the big, first game of the season; the tone-setter, not to be confused with the rosetta stone.  WTF?  Coach is confused by some apparent witticism dancing across his mind like Deion Sanders capping off an unbelievable play.  But all weak, hell, all-time, Coach has been steadfast and true in his methodologies, why aren’t they fucking working right now on the eve of showtime?  What is causing that dissonance; that buzzing in my head that now is the time to truly make a difference; that expectation only felt, appropriately, by me?  Coach looks at his fifth straight ‘study-hall’ and begins to see the faces of everybody in the class; the boredome, the disdain, the disinterest, the fucking disgust.  He feels something resonate with that last realization.

6:53 pm
         Huxley is fervently thinking: “what does it mean to be…” and starts filling in the blanks: “irresolute,” “indestructible,” “indefatigable,” “United by the very fabric of our existence…”  Coach stops, mid-drink (from a cone-cup filled with the most purified water ever witnessed this side of the alps) and finally realizes…

6:53 pm
         Jason is fervently thinking: “I will be…” and starts filling in the blanks: “unstoppable,” “undeniable,” “unthinking,” “So I can prove that this TEAM is the most important and inspirational machination that I have ever night-terrored…”  Rock stops, mid-drink (Gatorade) and finally realizes…

         Coach and Rock see each other.  It is not unlike any other game in which the coach glances at the star player, star player attentively acknowledges the gesture, and a common resolution is somehow hardened…but still…maybe it is different…

The game between kismet high and ares high commenced at around 7:03 pm.  It, truly, was a gloriferous battle of epic proportions; it may actually deserve its own frieze above the modern high school sports Parthenon.  But that is ‘neither here nor there,’ just like the doping suspicions of Jason.  The question that all institutions always raise: is it worth it?  And we all know: it’s about picking the right juice.

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