Mike has written before about his annual pilgrimage with our buddy Roger to a Garfield High School basketball game. Mike's kids were/are Bulldogs; Roger played for West Seattle High back in the day. As another GHS alum, this year I begged to go along, and they agreed to accomodate me provided I participate in the other aspect of the ritual, dinner at Ezell's across the street. This was further incentive, not a deterrent.
For reasons I can't now explain, I'd never attended a high-school basketball game, my own or any other, in my life. During my Garfield years we had something of a hoops dynasty going; both boys and girls won state titles in 1987. Mysteriously, though, I chose to attend only football games, at the grim, crumbling Memorial Stadium. Garfield did and does suck at football; I vividly recall trudging disconsolately to the car in this or that third quarter and hearing the horn and loudspeaker blare from the distant stadium: "Touchdown, Opponent's Name Here."
So. It had been close to 20 years since I'd been inside the GHS gym, scheduled to be demolished and replaced this summer: might as well get to it. We wolfed our chicken and double orders of mashed potatoes (hi, Holly!) outside, steam curling off our greasy fingers, and headed in. Prior to the excursion, I'd located my 1985 student ID card, but did not quite have the nerve to submit it for a discount. Garfield was once again playing Redmond, illustrating a race and class divide that Mike's noted in his previous entries on the topic. Mike, Roger, and I all happen to be honkies; "Redmond to the left," the ticket seller told us genially. Ouch. We climbed the bleachers on the Garfield side.
"What are you thinking?" Mike asked as we settled in.
"It is SO SMALL," I blurted. "I know everyone says that, but DAMN." I couldn't help myself. When I was 15 that gym was vast, the stands packed with hundreds of kids and the floor spacious enough for balloons and cheerleaders and the entire homecoming court on an elevated platform wrapped in crepe paper. The hell?
I couldn't get over the intimacy: kids milling in the stands, athletes whipping the b-ball around mere feet away. Since high school I've only been to professional sporting events in immense tax-loophole venues; it felt like those high-school players were going to fall into my lap at any moment. (At one point they almost did, lunging out of bounds and nearly flattening a cheerleader who let loose a magnificent scream but, admirably, held her ground.) Across the room I noticed the guidelines painted above the bleachers: ADULTS, VISITORS. I'd forgotten that: that grownups were encouraged to self-segregate into their own incomprehensible, utterly boring world. We sat on the GARFIELD STUDENTS side nonetheless.
I spent the bulk of the evening in a Things-Have-Changed reverie, the fried chicken triggering Proustian memories that conflicted with the scene below:
* The uniforms. Both boys and girls hitched up their huge voluminous shorts between every play. Likewise, no one seemed to be sporting the Jheri Curl made legendary by the star player of my generation, a kid named Kelly who was immortalized on a mural above the attendance office. (Is that still there, I wonder?)
* The (small, teeny) gym. It had a reasonably fresh coat of paint, with a cartoon bulldog logo emblazoned over the more sober G that had been shellacked onto the center court in my day.
* The cheerleaders. Their chants were largely incomprehensible, aside from a souped-up version of "Rock Steady" I was able to pick out. They did not do the "Bulldogs...are FRESH!" hip-thrusting number I most vividly recalled. Also, their pom-poms were the new little puffy kind, not the long, shaggy, swishy ones I secretly envied in the darkest corner of my teenage heart.
* My ass. I have considerably more padding than I did in my student days, but MY GOD I AM CRIPPLED after a couple hours on those hard, hard bleachers. Where is my lumbar cushion? Where is my memory foam? My lower back STILL hurts, man.
* The phones. My god, the phones! Kids in the stands called each other or snapped grainy photos; cheerleaders teleconferenced between quarters. In my day, you folded a note to the size of a pea, passed it down the row and prayed it would not be wrongly intercepted. Uphill! Both ways! In the snow! No shoes!
Anyway. I think what surprised me the most was...the kid-ness of the kids. When I was 15, I was deeply intimidated by most of my classmates, the cheerleaders not excepted. Hell, our cheerleaders were TOUGH; they could grunt out a cheer and beat your ass with a free hand. Scary. But these kids in purple pleated skirts in front of me were just...kids. The girl center whose every pass would take your head off if you weren't paying attention; the boy who took an elbow to the face and rolled on the floor, the team doctor sprinting to his side; everyone around us slouching and gossiping, getting called down out of the stands for excessive horseplay, cheering and rousing themselves for a chorus of "I'm So Glad," all of them...just kids.
That's the most elusive memory, I told Roger, leaving: what it felt like when everything MATTERED. It all mattered, so much! Who you saw, who you sat by, would you win, all of it thrilling and devastating and excruciatingly significant. The ADULTS were over there in their own section of the bleachers like a distant planet, and by god, EVERYTHING MATTERED.
We! Are! Together We Are! Together We Are the Mighty Bulldogs!
Okay, yeah. Dork. Point taken.