Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Williams Jr.)

It was Monday night, the first official tailgate of the season. Friday would be the first official game of the season. The late summer air buzzed with insects as country music blared from the stereo. Down the hill, the marching rehearsed their half time show.

Enjoying the sights and sounds, my younger sister Skipper and I loaded our plates with ribs and other fixins from The John Wayne Diner-a western themed restaurant that always catered the booster events. Decked out in our black and orange-the school colors of the Whiskey Rebellion Blackhawks- we were in our glory as we were among the cheerleaders and football players. Wendell had begged our mom not to dress us up as he was a mere undersized sophomore and didn’t want to be picked on by the upperclassmen. All was forgiven when a busty blonde cheerleader named Tracee Yanowski said to Wendell, “Your sisters are adorable!” It was official, Skipper and I had arrived. We were on the A list with the rest of the heroes of the fall.

The event had one villain, the new coach, John Ezekiel Matthias. An import from West Virginia, he was already butting heads with the boosters and the season had not yet begun. A lot was riding on this tailgate. Everyone seemed to be ignoring the drama and having a good time. That is, until Coach Matthias decided to turn off the country music to make an announcement. We all breathed a sigh of relief because we couldn’t hear a song about a broken heart or a broken pickup one more time. Standing by coach were Douglass and Stephens, two former players of his that served as Matthias’s assistants. Both were gigantic boulders and Matthias stood in front of them, half their size, like a red neck mob boss.

Douglass was my reading teacher down the hill at the middle school. This in itself was ironic as Douglass had misspelled several words on the blackboard-public school education at it’s finest. Stephens was a tall, dark drink of water that all the ladies lusted after. I whispered to Skipper, “I get first dibs, I’m older.”

Skipper, three years younger and often light years smarter said, “With the advancements in cloning we could both have one.” We both high fived at this compromise as the cheerleaders silently swooned and the lonely, long married booster mothers snuck a peak.

Then Coach Matthias began to speak in his thick West Virginia accent, “I just want to say I am proud of these boys for all the work they have done this summer when they could have been going after fillies, sitting on their butts or playing those doggone video games. We are going to win this Friday. Now let’s get fired up!” Everyone clapped. This was nice.

Confused, Skipper said, “What’s a filly?”

I said, “I think it’s a female horse.” The look on Skipper’s face was priceless, but I had a copy of Black Beauty to back me up.

Coach Matthias continued, “I realize things have not been so good with the boosters. And I know I ain’t the most diplomatic of fellas, but I got a fundraising idea everyone can be excited about cause we need new equipment. It’s called Cow Pile Bingo.”

My dad, who was elected booster treasurer because of his taxation background raised his hand, “Coach, what is Cow Pile Bingo?” Everyone nodded, relieved my dad had asked because out of all the parents, he got along the best with Coach.

Coach Matthias said, “Wendelin, glad you asked. Cow Pile Bingo is when you get a cow in the middle of the field and bet on where it is going to poop. It’s a lot of fun and the winner gets a lotta money. Now let’s get fired up!” Coach Matthias raised his hand expecting applause but instead what he got was dead silence.

Rochelle Kelly, the beautiful red headed cheerleading captain and current senior class secretary said, “Eww Coach, that is animal cruelty!” The cheerleaders nodded in agreement.

Douglass said, “Now ladies, I know it sounds gross, but it’s how I learned my numbers growing up. It’s an effective teaching tool.” Last week, Douglass had told our class in addition to reading he was also certified to teach math. The visual as well as that other information made me worry for the future of the youth of America.

Mr. Latham, who’s son Kyle was on the starting line, was head of the math department in the district. A former football player himself, he tried to be diplomatic, “Coach, I admire the enthusiasm of you and your staff, but this is not how the kids learn math in this district.”

My mom raised her hand, “Coach Matthias, I think it’s great you want to raise money for the team and we know you care, but in our district we have a grounds staff that our tax dollars pay for that manicure the fields. We don’t even let dogs go on there because it destroys the green where the boys play. Cow poop produces trichinella.”

Douglass said, “Trica……waaa?!”

My brother Wendell, known as the brain of the team, raised his hand, “Coach Douglass, it’s a bacteria from animal poop…..”

Kyle, who acted as Wendell’s surrogate big brother/guardian angel on the team made the sign for Wendell to stop talking. Wendell shot a look of anger at our mom. It was official, she had ruined his tailgate after all and his nightmares about being on JV forever were about to be a reality.

While my mom and Mr. Latham tried to be supportive with the no sandwich, Mrs. Andrekis who’s son Tom was starting kicker, went in deep, “This is Whiskey Rebellion High School, not the film Deliverance.”

Mr. Andrekis, who was clearly whipped by his overbeating wife said, “Coach, c’mon, where would we get a cow anyway?”

Tom, wanting to keep his starting position said, “Mom! Dad! PLEEAASSSEE!!!”

Mrs. O’Shea, who’s son Ryan was the starting quarterback, rolled her eyes, “Coach, can we discuss this when we aren’t eating?”

Mr. O’Shea, who was an intolerable blowhard said, “Coach, Whiskey Rebellion is a blue ribbon school. Most kids here go to college, they don’t work in the mines like you did growing up.” Ryan, horrified and also wanting to keep his starting position, let out an audible groan.

Coach Stephens, with his million dollar good looks decided to help out, “I understand ya’ll are alarmed because this is out of ya’lls comfort zone. But this is an event that could help the less fortunate. When it’s over, we can kill the cow and donate the meat to the families that need it.”

Mr. Capalano, who was booster president, famous for his vanity plate CAPS and had a son Bobby who was second string center said, “Coach, the boosters and the coach always worked together. You have no interest in that. You have completely gone rogue.”

Bobby, ever the suck up who wanted to get off second string said, “I am all about cow bingo or whatever this is. It sounds great!” Then his cheerleader girlfriend Ashely Grant punched him in the arm and Bobby bowed his head in defeat.

Coach said, “I have no idea what rogue means but Cow Pile Bingo is a hit where I come from.”

Mrs. Andrekis said, “Where you come from is West Virginia where our church’s kids went on their last mission trip.”

Coach was now furious, “Y’all think I might be crazy, but when I came to this district ya’lls boys were about as prepared for action as Bambi’s mother was in the first ten minutes of that movie!”

Suddenly, all hell broke lose. Mrs. O’Shea, blitzed out of her mind, took her plate of ribs and threw it at Coach, “YOU ARE A DISGUSTING BARBARIAN! GET OUT OF OUR TOWN!” As the ribs hit him in the face, Matthias stood shocked. Cow Pile Bingo might have been a hit in Coach’s old district, but it was sure as hell a miss here.

For the next few days, everyone in all of the grade levels talked about what was known as Bambi-Gate. The story morphed so many times that in one version the coaches and parents even got into a food fight. Skipper and I, because we had been witnesses, became minor celebrities for the week because we saw the train wreck up close and in person. Later that week, as I was telling the umpteenth person that there was no coach/parent food fight, Coach Douglass asked to see me. I said, “Am I in trouble?”

Coach Douglass said, “No. I just am curious, where do you live?”

The question was weird, “Why, Coach Douglass?”

Coach Douglass said, “I always see Wendell walking home after practice and figured it had to be somewhere close.”

I said, “Up the hill on Foxtail Road three blocks from school. Ours is the one with the ivy and flowers.”

Coach Douglass changed the subject, “You know Coach Matthias didn’t like it when Bambi’s mother got shot. His daughter always cries at that part.”

I said, “Yeah. But I also get what he was trying to say. The team was pretty unprepared and we got eaten alive last year. Welcome to The Whiskey Rebellion School District where parents are drunk on themselves.” Coach Douglass laughed. Cow Pile Bingo had been a horrid idea, but we both agreed that seeing some of these booster parents who were hard to take lose their proverbial shit was entertaining.

That night, I rushed to complete my homework while helping my mom and Skipper cook the porkchops when the doorbell rang. Skipper, who was setting the table was too far away to get the door, and Wendell, who took double math that fall because he had tested up a year, had not one but two big tests. My mom said, “April, would you like to get that?”

I said, “Do I have a choice?” This was a running gag between my mom and me.

She said, “No.”

I said, “Dad is gonna be home in a few. We can just pretend we aren’t home?”

The doorbell rang again and now it was followed by an urgent knock, “April, if it’s a band kid tell them we will take two hoagies. If it’s a religious nut tell them you are Catholic. And if it’s a serial killer, scream.”

Making my way to the front door, I didn’t see a serial killer but saw the next worst thing, Coach Matthias. Standing there, despite the rain and the typical cold snap of early September, he was still in his gym shorts and t-shirt that said “Coach.” While I pitied the man for being in the inclement weather, I also didn’t want Bambi-Gate under my roof.

Grudgingly I opened the door and said, “Hi Coach….”

Coach stepped into our foyer, “Your daddy home?”

I said, “Not yet.” Then I called to Skipper and my mom, “Coach Matthias is here!”

My mom ran to greet coach with a smile like she wanted to kill him, my dad for volunteering to be booster treasurer and then herself, “Hi Coach, what can I do for you? Sorry the house isn’t a little cleaner.”

Coach said, “Don’t worry Grace, I grew up on a hog farm and live with a two and four year old. But I’m glad I found the place. Coach Douglass told me April said the one with the flowers and the ivy.” I turned bright red. Maybe he couldn’t spell but Coach Douglass had totally just punked me hillbilly James Bond style.

My mom shot me a look of death. I shrugged, running up the stairs and pulling Skipper with me who said, “I wondered how he knew where we lived.”

Wendell, who had circles under his eyes from studying, emerged from his room, “Girls, am I hallucinating or is Coach Matthias downstairs?”

I said, “He’s downstairs. Want to go and say hi?”

Wendell rolled his eyes and shook his head no, “Not really.” After Bambi-Gate, the team had been forced to do an ungodly amount of physical exercises as punishment for the unbecoming conduct of their parents.

Skipper said, “April told him where we lived.”

Wendell said, “You’re stupid. Big surprise. Because of Mom, I had to run extra laps and had a week that made the Hanoi Hilton look like a dream vacation. Now we have Bambi-Gate under our roof because of you!”

Angered, Wendell sneered inches away from my face. I said, “Hey jagoff, Coach Douglass saw you walking home. He asked if we lived close to the school because he always saw you walking. He’s my reading teacher. What was I supposed to do, huh?!”

Wendell sputtered, “Oh yeah… still brought Bambi-Gate under our roof.”

I said, “No, you did. He’s your coach. You’re the one who wanted to play.”

Wendell rolled his eyes, “No, Dad wanted me to play!” It was true, our father was living vicariously through Wendell, another reason he accepted the position as booster treasurer, “This is all his fault and I hate Mom, Dad and YOUUUU!!!!!!” He then walked in his room, threw his math book across the room and began to punch his pillow. So much for studying.

The garage opened. Dad. Skipper said, “Dad’s home. Now you both stop it before we all get in trouble.” Wendell and I sighed. She had a point.

From upstairs we listened. My Dad said to coach, “A beer?”

Coach said, “Nah, the wife would kill me and mine wears the pants when I’m home. Wendelin, I ain’t no Einstein like your boy Wendell, but I know we need to raise money and I know I need to work with y’all. I want to make this right. I moved my family up here for this job.”

My dad said, “I think you meant well, but cow poop and food and Bambi’s dead mother werent a good combo, especially for some of these folks.”

Coach said, “Clearly they ain’t hunters.”

My dad said, “Coach, I know it looks bad but you need to see the forest for the trees. You have a lot of strengths, like Coach Stephens. He’s single. Why not have an auction where women can buy a date night with Coach Stephens?”

Coach said, “I like that. He likes the fillies and the fillies like him.”

My dad said, “Would he be up for it?”

Coach said, “He will be. I’m still his coach.”

It was settled. That Friday night, the auction for a date with Coach Stephens was a success. Not only did it raise five thousand dollars, but it was one of the highest grossing events in booster history. Miss Renreski, a lonely science teacher who had just gone through a terrible divorce, was the winner. The two would have a tumultuous cuffing season romance and would break up the following spring when Mrs. Renreski left him for Mr. Topper, a tech ed teacher who had lost his left thumb in an industrial accident.

The team would win that Friday night as well as the rest of the season. Coach learned to work with the boosters which made him the ultimate hero of the fall. And no one spoke of Bambi-Gate or Cow Pile Bingo ever again.

For more on me go to AprilBrucker.TV,and to buy my books go to Amazon. xoxo

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