Monday, July 23, 2007

There is a Light that Never Goes Out: A Blogg for Mark-Andrew Feaster (pt.1)

Still bloggin' out a hymn to the ten individuals who have changed my life. The following was originally composed via blogger 6-2-04 (less than 24 hours after jasna's AVA was scribed three years ago) yet was never published on blogger. That's one of the cool things about being a writer (ain't it esme??) is that, you write something you think is total shit, then via the emotional tumult and addled-alchemy of life, realize that it's not that bad.

Here's the first part for a lad whose love and encouragement and overall joy of being has given me quite a lot over the years.....

...and there is music. The pervasive shaft of stringed intonation that rises above the tempo of the page and hurdles into the dimmed corona of night. There is music; feminine octaves flirtatiously flapping away from their lower-clefted counterpoints before momentarily melting into one harmonious vessel. The conductors arms continue to flutter and sway, heaving the orchestral barge from the necks of groped instruments. He is pulling away. He is crescendoing. He is biting his lip for affect. For perhaps he knows, that after the sound has been culled from the soil of the stage, a bitter silence shall then ensue, painfully outstretching the limbs of time.

On stage there is London in the spring. A lavender sunset drips over the Thames river, smearing the clouds with a sweet plum cobbled aura. Music sprouts in perfectly branched passages, smooth, the way her body is smooth, the way the Thames is smooth, the way youth opens up and unfolds into adolescence; the way adolescence pecks its way into maturity; into reality, into a world that had always been, a world that is incessantly shifting, orbiting, dancing, bobbing a galactic nod, swiveling into the opposite direction of the nearest star.

And there is London in the spring.

Mark-Andrew is the protagonist of my youth. He bears angular-Versace features, nonchalant thick lips, gaunt chin that slightly protrudes from his visage like a ski handle, eyes that hide in them a fleck of emerald. He has blonde hair that was fashionably unkempt when first we met in 93; hair that faded into a singular dish-water ponytail in '97; hair that was trimmed shoulder length when last we said goodbye, January 2, 2000. He is three years older than me, which means that he'll be thirty (!) in October but at the time we met, when I was fifteen and he was eighteen, he seemed to be humbly awaiting coronation by James Dean as the coolest mammal ever to be called a human being.

We first met April, 13th, 1993, in Newark, NJ. We were the recipients of a contest sponsored by a swanky New York magazine called Young Columbus--a program which takes around 120 hormonally addled 12-18 year olds from across the United states, clusters them in New York City for a day, shepherds them with Ivory league counselors, wraps them on a 747 and gives them a full-out two week crash course in European culture before sending them back to their 120 respective US residencies to (hopefully) finish school; encouraging them to make a positive impact on society, labeling them as both Young ambassadors and global citizens.

The contest was a big deal and I had tried to win it the previous two years, working very hard on my speech and presentation, praying very fervidly that perhaps, my own self-centered guilt-ridden variation of a heavenly monarch would allow me to win, just this once, win this special trip. I worked on my oration, I feigned intellect. I learned how to tie a tie (sort of) and used manners. I pretended my nose was a kazoo and allowed sloppy french sentences to slip out of it and when the day of the contest arrived; when I would leave junior high mid-morning clad in a Sunday School suit and arrive at the banquet and shudder and engage in small talk with the judges and latter, give my speech--only to find out at the reception afterwards that I had, once again, struck out ignominiously. Had perhaps swung at an errant pitch when I should've been more patient. Only three kids from different vectors of Illinois were elected. The trip in '91 and '92 was to Paris. The furthest I had been preceding the trip was probably Wisconsin Dells. I couldn't tell you what constituted turbulence if a jet thruster fell in the dilapidated football field behind my highschool.

But in '93 I somehow won. I connected with the judges. I wrote a speech that seethed with alliteration and unalloyed cheesiness. "England, mythical land of pageantry and princes, Castles and Courtly conduct...yadayadayada." I made my speech about England sound more or less like a travel brochure for a B-rated Cruise line. But I won. After all this time of dreaming, I was finally leaving, I was packing up a suitcase larger than my desk at school. I was posing for a passport square down at the post office. I was traversing to that place that had always been promulgated on television (mostly on late night PBS hoity-toity masterpiece theatrical histrionics); that place I had never been to.

And there was Mark-Andrew.

He was seated behind me on the charter van outside of the terminal at Newark. I was fifteen and was almost obsequiously self-conscious of my appearance. Every morning--in an effort to emulate the heart-throb semblance of Jason Presley and Parker Lewis-- I fogged up the vanity frame in my parents bathroom frosting copious amounts of Aqua Net on my lathered skull, drilling an aerial hole in the O-zone layer directly above my head--like a sliced through nimbus. He was behind me in the charter van. Older boys. The kid from Texas with the baseball cap and the stern-mule countenance and leather cowboy boots. Preppy short haired polo-shirted Cinnamon toasted tan lads form the east coast towing luggage by Coach and Louis Vuitton. He sat on the back of the van, comfortably clad in a Suzanne Vegan 99.9 Fahrenheit degrees t-shirt, an expensive camera noosed from his neck, dangling like an infant suicide in the center of his chest. He looked so much like someone I had seen before; someone I had known before. His blonde hair slightly crept and spidered off his head.

Perhaps all true mysticism/spiritual recognition really is is that, when you look at someone for the first time you know everything about them. You feel the juddering magnetism that emanates from the sockets of their eyes, the allure of their persona, actuating the Schopenhauer maxim that you and the other are somehow one.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Requiem for a Coach (pt 2)

Coach Ricca was hollow-cheeked gaunt-eyed with a searing look of a gladiator stowed in the pockets of his eyelids. A buzzed shock of red hair adorned his scalp like a skullcap. He was a vessel of optimal health and a dominating competitor. While in his late-30's he could easily average five minutes per mile over the discourse of a 15k. I had spotted this athletic titan twice, pedaling his arms and legs in inimitable stance, the chug of his elbows in metric tandem with the smooth lapping rhythmic sway of each foot gave him the appearance of a spiky-haired human sail gliding into a dazzled sprint across a cement pond of the earth leading a herd of numerical tank-top frenzied long distant road runners through the shuttle of the finish line. He taught geometry and calculus at the south side high school I was to attend and he coached the sport in which I was expected to excel.

He was Coach.

That summer I continued to push myself into an envelope of sweat and grind. When I formally met Coach (at a cross country picnic in the park that will forever be branded "the woods between the worlds" in the ardor of my poetic psyche) his hand extended in my direction like a military salute. Thin-lipped and sincere. A man of his word and stature, he welcomed me into the cadre of athletes sporting crew cuts and knee-length shorts. There was all-state swimmer and ripped abdomen Joe Lontelli. There was straw-headed lanky strut of Hans Peacock, Gabino Andretti, his Spanish hair matted back a la pompadour sans the resurgence of a scarlet cape or bull as we kicked it before practice in his pimped out ghetto-crafted late seventies Buick, the front of which was rigged so that the hood would nod in thumped syncopation with the massive sub-woofers potted in the trunk. Together we kicked it, blaring the street soliloquies of House of Pain and Cypress Hill, waiting for our fellow teammates to arrive in the copper-haze of dawn when the athletes would form a circle of bodies and perform rote calve and thigh stretches, massaging out the aches and swells of our legs before breaking out into a lithe cantor and then strutting our limbs into a working steady pace, our heads bobbing with sweat and motion like human-sized pistons as we scaled the perimeter of Madison golf course.

There was demure-eyed Jose Martinez, the needled hair Mexican senior captain on the varsity squad whose countenance availed a gentle smile and reassuring nod at the fledgling underclassman pushing themselves through the swelter of a mid-august fifteen K, where Coach Ricca could oft be found running stride per stride with the leaders of our corporeal train of accelerating hoofs and akimbo limbs, glancing down in to the whiteness of his wrist feeding us our mile split, offering insight into the posture of our arms, correcting the rhythmic intonation of our breath, telling us when to conserve our energy and when to kick deep, mining the dregs of tenacity and endurance left inside of your flesh, as both your upper and lower apparatus spume into a windmill accelerating yourself over the wet morning dew of the earth, in search of nothing short of a finish line and a few deep swallowed breaths of stilted air thereafter.

More than any other high school sport, cross-country focuses acutely both on the individual's sole performance as well as the performance of the team overall. Untanned limbs of flesh lined up across the white hyphen of the starting line like a sentence of bodies about ready disarm it’s formation of meaning, splitting into a sprint of individual shaped letters at the sound of the starting gun. The better the performance of the higher ranking of the team, yet of the eight man varsity squad, if one runner has a bad race or is lagging behind, the team as a functioning unit suffers a deduction in points.

Half my lifetime ago, in the late July, early august sweltering heat of 1992, cross country was my whole life. I sat on the oak canvas of what would two years later serve as the desk where I would compose my first poems looking out the white square of my bedroom window absorbed by the aching shades of copper dwindling into light lavender sprinkled with autumn dusk, contemplating my future, contemplating what lay ahead, listening to the Cure's WISH (wishing impossible things), reflecting on the interior wetness a first kiss yields on the anatomy of an adolescence when your body bends behind the tinty shells of your eyelids as you experience the awkward cut opening of your mouth in hers--if only for a filched second of eternity.

The lazy-eye river town where I have exhaled the bulk of my existence is called Peoria; the genital wart of the Midwest--a discourse in paralysis; a hushed lipped boot-legging hymn to working class stagnation and wizened wished-for dreams. The high school where I attended was less of a melting pot and more of a multicultural mold-inflicted burrito--a few french fries short of an academic happy meal. My sophomore year Manual high boasted the lowest I-SAT scores in the state and the highest teen-age pregnancy rate in the nation. By my senior year they had a "Bring yer kid to school day." No shit.

Looking back fifteen years ago, I realize that the disintegration of our team was spawned by social gravity (thinking of the bleach blond uppity twats from Richwoods high, on the opulent north side of town). That a kid, an athlete, a loner, a drifter, a fucking dreamer, functions differently, sprouts differently, develops differently, grows differently depending on the social-soil from which his seed of individuality has been planted.

I remember Gabino's 14 year old girlfriend coming to me freshman year telling me that she and her boy friend had just broken up and she was three months pregnant and didn't know what to do. There was gang activity, fights in the hallway, manipulation of grades for athletes who played more recognizable sports such as football or basketball. there was our corpulent principal's bobble-headed nod that Manual was the best kept secret in the state and that everything was fine.

There was watching Hans Peacock get booted from the team for attending a local protest. The sad sighting of Jose, the former captain, in early February, overweight and with dreadlocks, dropping out of school, informing me that his high school girlfriend was pregnant and that he was working full time shit jobs to support her.

Coach Ricca never lost his equipoise, his expectations, his resilience or his underlying adamant belief in his students that they could make something of themselves. His belief in his athletes to overcome, to achieve, to give what they could of their bodies, both mentally and physically of themselves for the body of the team, for the colors of the Institution they represented.

There was my own inner demons and foibles flooded with typical teen angst riddled attention salivating late-night masochism. The interior of my rattled nervous system was coursing with more anti-depressant pills than the mawkish-eyed audience at a Morrissey convert. There was introspection and solipsism and the salty taste of tears skiing down the contours of your face at night, wondering if perhaps, the experiment of my adolescence and of my life was botched from the outset and that I had somehow failed.

(Too many kids deal with this shit, and where do they go, when they are naked and drunk and can't find someone to hold them?)

In running too, I felt like a failure. Despite achieving respectable times, I slogged through Freshman year on a stress fracture inflicted on my right leg. Sophomore year the bone-fissure appeared on opposite left leg. A year later I bowed out of the thrice a day routine work-outs hoping that lighter workouts would mean less injuries. I completed the season without the season breach in my femur but sadly my times remained stagnant, unchanged. The inability to watch my dreams of being an accomplished long-distance athlete timely actuate themselves during the static discourse of those four post-pubescent emotionally addled years of high school, where so my individual development somehow gestates, creating the present day creature you become.

There was my father not knowing what to do with his beret-wearing clove cigarette dangling son, a copy of ON the Road or LEAVES OF GRASS perennially tucked under the pit of my arm like a fallen army flag cosigning parental defeat.

Gradually the realization that I wouldn't get any faster. Gradually the realization that running would not be in my future and that I had failed. By senior year, despite coach Ricca's one-on-one's and his encouragement, his stops at the house to talk to me and his unflinching belief that if I chose so, this would be my year, despite the fact that it would be my third year in a row of being captain of the Varsity squad, I didn't even go out for the team.

My career and dreams of becoming an athlete had completely calloused my ability that I would ever make anything of myself. Sporadically I started scraping up the white sand of the page at night with little inky-tears, hoping that maybe, through scribbling and shoveling around the dunes of my emotional mitigating self-worth viable human archeology, I would unearth just what was inside of me and somehow (hopefully) understand the perpetual pain and joys of the ever pulsating world around me.

It's been about 13 years and every time I pick up that shovel and start scribbling out what's left inside of me, I'm astounded as fuck by what (and more imperatively who) I find deeply stowed beneath the porcelain flesh of the page.

My late father taught me a lot about sports. In baseball he taught me never to strike out without first swinging the bat as hard as I fucking could. To never "strike out looking." In running ( and in life) he taught me to always cross the finish line with my head down as if in prayer and with my body astride in full sprint. Regardless of any sport I would play, regardless if the season was seeped in the caterwaul of glory or dotted in a string of agony and ill-timed losses my father vehemently insisted that after the last game of every season--after the final strike was called and the last time out transpired, Dad would tell me to simply go up to the coach, extend my paw and thank him for his time and mentorship.

My cross country career was punctuated in cowardice. I never thanked Coach for the hours we spent together, a galloping rehearsal of my pending road race through the sometimes lonely cross-country hills and arduous up-hill mile-splits of life. I never thanked him for the constant reassurances and gruff chin nods and attaboys. The shrill of the bell senior year was accompanied by interior psychiatric drug-hazed musings on how I might reach the next classroom without skirting past coach Ricca in the hallway.

Well Mr. Ricca, it's been well over a decade but here's me stretching out my appreciative palm teeming with nothing short of life changing gratitude and thanks in your direction.

(the future author--far right in towl, gleaning some last second insight
from his Coach. circa autumn 1993)

Thank you. Coach.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Reflection of Joy (July 6th, 1997)

The author & poetic company on his 20th birthday July 6th 1997, from left-to right, David "I've always been there for you, man" Hale; Brooke "I forget yer' last name now that yer' married" Ferraro; Matt; Margot Wllard; Patrick "The Great" Mullowney, the copper-headed author; Misty Gardens; Goth Dan; Precocious Stephanie. Bottom row Alexis (now dr.) Jordan...Summer of 1997 and everything is new and exciting and your whole life is ahead of you boy.... Pure Joy...

Just 120 whisked calendar months ago I spent the sweltering heat of July1997 stationed in front of the jutting metallic tongue of the cash register at B. Dalton Booksellers, inside the rattling central air conditioning of the mall, routinely scanning the bar codes for mass market and paper back bestsellers, fueling up on caffeine and cigarettes, staring at the lazy heliotrope of a summer sun at dusk wildly contemplating how it must feel at the end of the day to write fiction for a living, to crack into the white dry-wall of the page every morning splattering the bulk of each page with continents and splotches of lettered shadows the way dawn breaks into planet, with peach-hued blinks and splashes of nectarine from the pink-eyed east and then vision and then sight.

It was ten years ago to the day. Bill Clinton was seven months into his second term as president, nocturnally drooling over a young intern by the name of Monica. The Bulls had just won their fifth NBA championship in seven years. Logging on to the static sunrise of cyberspace entailed ten minutes of rickety white noise followed by a gulping modem tittering warble followed by more pauses and frustration and password changes and verbal "fuck-it's." It was possible ten years ago to walk fifty meters across any random populated area in the United States and not find yourself being surrounded by a swarm of human beings each with their neck tilted into their collar bones droning mantras of materialism across a dimension of wirelessness.

Ten years ago a pack of cigarettes and a gallon of gas were under two dollars each respectively.

The dual steel tendrils of the World Trade Center stood tall as an intractable testament to consumerism and culture--on early mornings if viewed from cross-town resembled a two fingered sign heralding the promise of peace.

Ten years ago Princess Di was traveling the world, squeezing the hands of victims with HIV, visiting land-mine amputees in third world countries finalizing a romantic weekend in Paris come the end of the following month.

It was the summer I dyed my hair blonde with a little help from my best friend David Hale's sister Becky, who read the directions off the side of the box in her garish high-pitched nasal din as I genuflected both knees in front of the bath tub as if in prayer bowing my neck and head into the linoleum basin as if grieving over something lost. It was the summer we drove around lost without an atlas listening to monorail techno elevator muzak of Moby and the sweet gruff guitar chords of Ani Difranco, driving through country roads, fast, smoking cigarettes not knowing where we were going but succumbing to the overall golden often Kerouac-inflicted feeling inside that we there already--that our destination and overall purpose in life had something to do the fact that we were pulsating, that we were thriving, that we were driving down the gold sprinkled dust of country roads flanked on both sides by thick emerald staffs of corn.

That we are here.

The summer of hemp necklaces and cigarette ashes. the summer I saw CHASING AMY
six times in the theatre (cackling aloud during the lesbian make out scene when two elderly crones walked out, seemingly appalled) . The summer of multifarious late night viewings of Pulp fiction and Linklater's finest and Dead Poets Society The summer of clove cigarettes and french kisses when your eyes wisp open in medias embrace only to espy her forehead and eyes hushed like petals, the bulbs of her eyes backstroking behind the pink cave of their lids, as if part of her body is wadding in a pool of emotion and that somehow your lips keeping her balanced...keeping her afloat.... the elongated interim between 19 and 21 when the bars are elusive and you find yourself loafing in coffee houses bent over a splattered corpse of opened notebooks fraught with inky veins and metaphorical arteries--the battered french fry poems of youth, trying to make sense of your life by laying tracks of words together and then reading them aloud--certain of your genius, certain of your place in life.

The summer of Walt Whitman and Hesse and Jack Kerouac, always reading, always seeking, always staring into the alphabetical pond of the page and hoping to see my reflection peeking up towards me. The summer I lugged the technicolor bound travel-luggage sized INFINITE JEST with me every where I went--as if it were a concordance for postmodern scripture. And James Joyce. And Nabokov. Writers I was sure would teach me. Writers I was sure would help me grow.

Ten years ago today was a Sunday. I arrived at the bookstore and hour and a half earlier to open up, balancing the cash registers with the papery green shingles that somehow sadly dictates our existence and place in life. I wore a tie to work and sweated in the July heat, even though the mall where my bookshop was located was heavily air conditioned. Although my profession was books, it was still basic retail--still bartering over priced commodities, still catering to the financially endowed caprices of the consumer. Still toadying up to strangers to coerce them to purchase something that don't really need so that our store could reach its corporate quota and that I would still be employed.

Memory is like a long elongated red carpet kicked from the side from a celebrity limousine like a tongue. So when I reminiscence ten years into the stream of yesterday I can see myself on that day, coming home from work, stopping off for coffee at Starbucks, arriving home, thumbing loose the constrictive pentagon from beneath my chin into two uneven jet streams of silk.

I see myself now, a decade past expired, arriving home in the Buick that would be stolen two months later, standing behind the shoulders and occiput of the brassy headed lad who ten years ago arrived at the cement lip of the house where he was conceived to celebrate twenty years on this planet with family and friends and with people he loves. The oxygen and residue of memory illuminate those whose bodies have failed them like a spotlight. When I enter the sylvan french doors of my old living room (the house where Swissy-Missy ironically lives in now) and if I squint past the back of my own twenty year old head I visually discern the acrylic wig of my grandmother is sporting, her sweet breath and cigarette paper white skin, oblivious that the cancer will reel her from all of us in a little over a year. I can see my mom, her hair darker and spumed into a gelled perm. I can smell and hear the scent of our family schnauzer Lady (deceased) snapping her grainy goatee when my friends enter the living room.

I can see my father. His beard and bespectacled scent humbly nodding at my bohemian friends bartering witticisms and artistic anarchy and small talk. The beautiful beard of my father--the twenty year old wannabe writer, completely oblivious that the he will spend the bulk of the preceding decade of his life with the bone architecture of his father underground, decaying--his spirit and humility and generosity still resonating. Still singing.

This is life ten years ago. Patrick Mullowney, my playwright friend from NYU is telling anyone who will listen about the play he is composing. David Hale is romping around the living room laughing with heavily accented yawps. Sprite sized Aleixis is playing with my dog. There is Goth Dan who is sitting in the corner, nodding, trying to put on a Sisters of Mercy Cd. There is Misty Gardens who studies philosophy and ebullient lilly-eyed Stephanie who is a sophomore at IMSA.

They have all come to celebrate.

Misty clanks shut the bathroom door to change out of her work clothes. Two weekends ago Misty and I watched the dip of the June sunset lower itself into the manhole of the western sky together. We had driven in the country after work chain smoking and talking about part time jobs and life. We kissed and held each other in our underwear as thick barges of drizzling ionized light slowly dwindled into copper and then into tint and then into crickets and stars. Misty is leaving for Campaign in a month and has made it very clear that dating seriously is out of the question. For our own good.

Hale, being the jovial best friend he is, has made it lucidly clear that since things with myself and Misty are moot for the remainder of the summer he plans on stepping in and showing Misty what a real David tastes like. Laughing afterwards in his thumping guffaw, asking myself if impotency has set in on the genesis of my new year. When I mention to Hale that Misty isn't into having anything serious, she is just looking to have a good time Hale flashes a smile, echoes out his signature whew-hoo and tells me straight up that he thinks he has just met the woman of his dreams.

More friends continue to wend their way into the living room where I took my first steps. There is Matt and Brooke whose face is so white and gorgeous that is looks like a tear fallen from the socket of a china doll. And then there is Margot, the women I have been pursuing since Misty Gardens, entering the door, smiling.

Later that night in celebration we smash tables together at the coffee shop we congregate on a daily basis. There is a freight train full of Bohemians and witt. patrick Mullowney's laughter is ricocheting around the restaurant. Hale is smoking a pipe, leaning perilously close to Misty's shoulder watching her face blush in laughter after every retort.

There are clove cigarette and there are endless carafes of coffee. When my friends inquire about my birthday I blather off puddles of poetic dross. I quote Milton's How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth. I plagiarize Charles Highway, the uppity smart-ass protagonist in Martin Amis' THE RACHEL PAPERS, quoting how 20 may not be the beginning of adulthood but it irreparably constitutes the end of youth.

Looking back now, ten years, I see a sea of joy, the laughing heads of those I love all stationed around smashed together at a table at our favorite coffeehouse that was torn down six years ago. I think about the potential and the love and the yearning and the future each individual seated around me, swathed in a plume of smoke, thought that he or she might inherit.

I think about the people I have lost in the last ten years. I think about holding my fathers hands on his death bed, singing Lutheran hymns to my grandmother in her last hours.

I think about love and the women I have loved. The ones that have hurt me and the ones I live with every day and the ones who fill me and complete some part of me.

Looking back at the congregation of young hedonists and artists, I turn my head now and think about the next ten years. There will be loss and hurt and pain.

There will be death and seperation and arguements that seem so fucking signficant at the time that will later transition into pettiness....

But there will also be laughter. and growth.... and Love....

and plenty of wished for joy in the narrative song.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Requiem for Coach Ricca (pt 1)

There is perhaps no greater monosyllabic word in the English language connoting such solemn respect and veneration among the heterosexual north American ESPN-sports saturated cheap domestic beer beast renown throughout the planet as the male species than that of the word Coach. You can feel the towering respect such a word carries with it as you bite down into the side of your cheeks prior to its pronunciation, your lips forming what looks like triangular offense as your tongue lunges stagnant near the sky dome of your mouth, a raw breeze of sound kicking it's way out from the locker room of your lips, like a homecoming football team locomoting it's way on to the field, the final "ch" sound mirroring the foaming chant of a highschool stadium Friday nights in late autumn under stalks of stadium light and a brisk dip in the temperature.


The sideline silhouette. The clipboard. The stop watch. The whistle. The stoic-chinned countenance demanding both respect and results. The flashed look of seriousness or disappointment expressed from the distance of the court or field. The spewed mantras of seasonal performance expectations and self-goals. The one individual whose status will marshal your talent, fledged your attributes into accolades and sweat the living sin out from your brow. The one individual who will coerce your anatomy into pushing itself past the mental hurdle of what you thought was possible.

The Vince Lombardi's. The Coach K's. The no-non-shit antics of Scott Skiles (I have a photo of Scott Skiles scowling at me from above the metaphysical bleachers of my writing desk; the words NO-SICK DAYS NO NON-SHIT....GET TO WORK BOY!!! etched above.)

The thick lipped Charlies Wies' and implacable Bobby Knights.

The one individual who will create you. The individual who will immortalize you. The individual who will lead you to glory and weld you into the man of character you were destined to somehow become.

The one who will lead you into the sun.


The first half of my life I was an athlete. I ran seventy miles a week, my coltish limbs kicking a blurred cycle of motion beneath my torso as both my arms formed tight right angles gliding into a steady sprint, coursing the curtain call of my puberty and early-adolescence in a weighted series of quickly snapped footsteps and exhaled pants as I jetted across the topography of my youth in a steady gallop of limbs and arms skiing past the grandiose thick eye-lash windexed houses of Moss Avenue, residue from a bootleg era, sprinting around the coiffed perimeter of Madison golf course careful to avoid the lumbering silhouettes of late-middle aged golfers lugging their stalks of clubs like a fresh kill. I ran circles around the affluent timed sprinkler lawns of West Peoria, each street guarded with a sentinel of mini-vans and the chiropractic spines of basketball hoops. I ran through the gangsta-graffiti'd flotsam and jetsam of the south side, unaware that the thirty seconds it took to dip down the hilly gravel slope of either Western or Ligonier served as a sociological fissure, an arbiter of class and status discerning if you would make it in this world or if not. I ran through the leafy foliage of Bradley park, the golden timeless leaves in autumn breezing behind the back heel of my stride in a flurry of wisped crunches, across the Chinese bridge, the cratered amphitheater barren of it's summer stock tent come the genesis of fall, when high-school students don jerseys and flimsy shorts and cleats after class and take to the hard soil of the earth, a herd of athletes all running cross-country, all roving their feet over the scalp of the planet, accumulating the velocity to push harder, to run faster to quash the blinking hyphenated digits of the clock at the finish line: to pour out simply what is inside of you and find out what is left.

And then pour that out too in a draught of sacrifice and sweat.

My father ran for leisure, noncompetively. He ran everyday after standing in front of fourth graders. He boasted a waddle to his run and always ran with a demure smile sketched into his face. When I was real young I would run with my father. I remember my father pretending to have invisible buttons on the top of his curved fist he would press, making jet engine thruster sounds, claiming that they were accelerators and could make him run faster near the end of the finish line. One of the joys of my dad (as my sister Jenn pointed out in his eulogy) was that, near the end of the finish line when we were young and he would run with us, he would always let his young kids take the lead and finish ahead of him.

An emotional memory for me was dad, telling his eight year old son during the half-way point turn around of their four mile route was that, "Every step after this gets you a little bit closer to home, son. Just a little bit closer to home."

Running was deeply seeped in the blood type of our family genes. Our summer weekends were monopolized chartering the family station wagon wending our way through the arteries of Illinois highways hitting up a variety of mid-summer festival road races peppered across the state, accompanied usually with my Aunt and Uncle and their four slim tanned daughters--all boobless and lanky and all runners. My Uncle ran marathons and was a beast in local 5k's. I can remember running my first four mile race when I was in second grade. By the time I was ten I could run a six minute mile. By the time I graduated from eighth grade I was on the verge of breaking the junior high elusive five minute mile and was the second fastest miler in the state for my age.

I played baseball and Tennis during the summer. Laced up cleats and swatted around a soccer ball employing only the symmetry of the lower portion of my body in the spring and fall. Stayed late after school and worked on draining my free throws in the winter. But it was running where I had my gift. It would be the twin stems of my legs that would ferry me into the future as an athlete. The bone and tissue and muscle of my interior leg and thighs served as my promising rod and staff into a heralding future of promise. The crack of my ankles in the early morning--the rote machinery of my torso, the lapsed rhythm of my breath, the feeling of sweat trickling down my brow--the feeling of pushing yourself past a interior-manacled barrier of what you thought was impossible.


I met Coach Ricca the summer of 1992, exactly half my lifetime ago. I had just graduated from eighth grade. My individual mile time averaged out near the low five minute single digit area code. I ran three times a day. A three mile skid in the morning. A vigorous hill workout under the hammer of midday sun at noon. And a pleasant 4-6 mile trod at night. I kept tallies of my daily workout evaluations, performed squats and dips in my bedroom to the music of Guns-n-roses and Nirvana, plastered note cards heralding never give up maxims all over my bedroom wall. I can still remember how the earth felt that summer and spring. Can still remember the grainy taste of caffeine splashed inside my lips, trying to be more adult and not scowl at the then revolting taste. I remember the the cool melody of the sky at 5:30 in the morning when pastel shades of light pink drip into a morning haze of copper in the east when street lamps fizzle into a pre-dawn hush as I kicked my way into the future scaling the latitude and longitude of the city that had reared me for the first decade and a half of my life. It was the summer of the '92 Barcelona Olympics. I pushed myself harder. Poetically plotted how I would seduce fellow precocious Olympian Kim Zmeskal (it was hard to write a poem that rhymes with her last name). I mapped out a trajectory of personal goals set for myself over the next four years; how I would be damned if I wasn't a world class athlete. If I wasn't employing the calcium of my bones to their optimal capacity I simply did not wish to be.

At night I capitulated to the caps of both my knees, the dual bony knobs functioning as joints for the plants of my legs; the vessels that would ferry me in my quest for glory. I prayed with the fervor of saints angels that my own biased waspish variation of a God would assist the fuck out of me.

It was that summer I met Coach Ricca.