Back to School Day 4 – Friday Night Fail

Our back to school week concludes with a special Friday evening post. A testament to those nights behind the school, under the lights, on a hundred-yard stretch of grass carved out of the cornfields. And the pluck and fight of a group of boys who just cannot win. And their coaches, who cannot be the heroes. High school success is easy to deal with. (What comes after might be harder.)

But what about failure? What about knowing that this is as good as it gets – and you and everyone around you is lousy at it? And what if the grownups in charge are as hopeless and doomed as you are?

That’s right. It’s Object #1 – The Padlock:

I looked around. It was raining hard now. Everyone else was gone, headed back to the locker room. It was only me, and Coach Ditka, and a desperate man engaged in the struggle of his life.

“Let’s go, Cold Ones,” Coach Ditka said. “Get it done.”

We’ll get back to some writers laughing and other assorted content now. But first, good luck to all those students out there. Hope you have a fantastic academic year!

Back to School Day 3 – The Real World, The Real World, and The Real World

Here’s where we are in Back to School Week:

Today’s post is a tribute to all those summer jobs. The ones you have to put behind you to get back to the business of school. It’s a story of being pulled in two directions…the “real world,” and the “real world,” and the “real world.”

What does that mean?

Well, the “real world” is the one you work at your summer job. I worked for a farmer picking rocks out of a field, hurling them onto a giant flat-bed trailer, and driving to the edge of the field, where we hurled them all into the grass. I hauled typewriters. Sold Cokes at concerts. Painted houses. Washed clothes. What could be more “real world” than those jobs?

And yet…it wasn’t my real world, exactly. I was a student – if I had a full-time job, or career, or occupation, it was that. I may have worked in the “real world,” and it may have been the actual real world for my colleagues, but that wasn’t really my world. High school, college – that was my “real world.”

And then there was the other “real world” that was looming: the one I would get to after college. I had no idea what that one would be like. But somehow I knew that I would get there. That I was destined for it. Although I may be tempted to cling to the real worlds I was in, the ones I knew, something was going to chew me up and throw me out into the one I didn’t. It was exciting and a little frightening, and I wasn’t sure what it would mean for me or the relationships I had with the people in the first two “real worlds” (summer jobs and schools), who would not be there when I entered the third.

Here’s a story about that choice and how it played out.

#Object #16 – The Laundry:

Those were glorious summers. Every day was different. I would turn up at the laundry as dawn broke. Steam would already be pouring out of the small brown building. Inside, Jerry would be stuffing shirts into one of the giant machines as Inga pulled pants out of the dryer, snapped them straight, and folded them over wire hangers. I would fill the back of the truck with hundreds of work uniforms, hanging on two long bars in five-pack bundles, the hangers tightened together with a twist tie. Then I would head out to the factories and small businesses on the route to deliver a week’s worth of clothes to the lockers or work stations of the men and women who welded machine parts and processed food and manufactured cardboard and assembled airplane governors in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Back in time for lunch, and the cool, quiet afternoons in the laundry before an early evening swim in the pool behind Jerry and Inga’s house, which was out in the country, or the pond they owned a mile away.

And all day long I saw an entrepreneur’s mind at work. It was intoxicating, even though I was headed for other things. When college began I alternated school years of Great Books with summers filled with trucks and nachos and cash. And when graduation came, Jerry made me an offer.

“Ever think about being the ambassador to Mexico?” he asked.

I admitted I had not.

“Okay. Second best job: why don’t you buy the laundry?”

Read the entire story at Object #16 – The Laundry.

And please note: this is NOT the same boss as the one in Object #24 – The Rope. If you’re looking for something funnier and less elegiac, I suggest you try that one. More end-of-summer longing! Bittersweet, of course. But what an outstanding preparation for life!


Back To School Day 2 – Coaching the Only Girl

To catch you up:

And today, we feature Object # 17 – The Shirts and Skins. The story is about what happens when a single girl plays in an all boys’ league – one that routinely divides up and goes shirts-and-skins. I was her coach; what she told me was a total surprise. But there are many layers of shame going on before we even get to that:  Continue reading