Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bees, Watermelon & Public Nudity

Tales from the Recruiting Trail 
July 1st each year indicates the day college track coaches can officially make contact with the soon-to-be senior high school recruits. This usually takes place in the form of home visits. I actually love this part of the job. Sure, you put in crazy hours on the road but you get to see parts of this country you would have never taken the time to see- and most of the families you meet turn out to be terrific. The unique experiences on the recruiting trail almost always deliver to us coaches a tale worth telling. I have quite a few, but here are a couple of unique and very true experiences that come to mind.

Early in my coaching career I had scheduled a long recruiting trip in late July to the Midwest and I was excited about it. Other than connecting with important recruits on this trip, my one big goal was to eat a watermelon. Yes, they had watermelon in Oregon, but nothing like Midwest watermelons. When I was a kid, I couldn’t believe adults, free to spend their own money, weren’t just walking around with watermelons under their arms at all times. We ate huge pieces in the Steele family. We were famous for it. I couldn’t imagine eating SO much watermelon I couldn’t eat another bite. I loved watermelon. And I really, really missed the ones from my childhood. (To illustrate that point, when I sat down to write this particular blog, I couldn’t take my mind off how great one would taste right now. I had to pause so I could drive to the grocery store and buy a watermelon. Yes, really.)

I flew to Chicago, rented a car and began my long meandering journey through three states. It was mid-afternoon and I was on a beautiful two-lane road in rural Indiana when I saw the sign for a farmers market. “Yes!” I said. The watermelons on display were enormous. I looked them over like an uncompromising livestock judge at the state fair. I settled on one so beautiful it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I was deeply happy carrying my melon to the check-out. I was also trying to figure out how I was going to eat it. I figured I could just slam it into something hard to break it open. I grabbed a box of assorted plastic utensils and headed out. 

I got back onto the lazy road, hoping my route would take me past an obvious place to eat my melon. Unfortunately, no such place appeared. I had some extra time but was getting fairly close to my next recruit’s house. I started driving past what looked like a park, only to discover it was a big, beautiful cemetery instead. Hmm… I mean, what’s the difference? 

There were just a couple of cars parked in the big asphalt lot I pulled into. It was just off the two lane road, but the cars on that road were few and far between. I selected a shady spot away from the other cars, popped the trunk and got out. My plan was to smash the watermelon on the ground, eat as much as I could with my plastic fork and go on my way. I was immediately confronted with my wardrobe situation. I almost always wear a suit and tie when I do these visits, and this time was no exception. I was wearing my most expensive suit and was worried about getting watermelon juice on it. I took off the jacket. Not good enough. For this to work I had to spike the melon right at my feet. I imagined exploding chunks all over my pants and shoes. I looked at my beautiful melon sitting in my trunk. Crap… OK, I’m wearing boxer briefs. They could be argued as “shorts” if pressed by the authorities. I took off my shoes and pants. Good enough? A car drove past. I was wearing a light blue dress shirt. Any juice or shrapnel that found its’ way to my shirt would be impossible to hide. Oh boy… Off went the tie and dress shirt. I was now standing in the cemetery parking lot in black socks, black boxer-briefs and a white wife-beater tank. I was ready. 

I grabbed the melon from the trunk and carefully dropped in onto the pavement. It cracked, but not nearly enough. I picked it up again. This time lifting it over my head and slammed it down. Much more effective, but it still only broke halfway. Finally on my third attempt, I had two large, deliciously red, broken pieces. A car pulled into the lot and parked a few spots from me. I’ll go out on a limb and say that 60-something year old woman hadn’t expected to see me smashing a watermelon in my underwear when she left for the cemetery that day. Whatever.

I set one of the broken halves of the watermelon on the rear bumper, held it in place with one hand and scooped out the bites with my plastic fork with the other. The first mouthwatering bite made it all worth it. I was in heaven. I was a bit concerned the old lady might report me, so I practiced my statement while eating more watermelon in one sitting than I’ve ever eaten before. Yep. A personal best. Winning! 


I’ve never had a problem with bees. 
My brother, on the other hand, is famous for his hilarious, animated fear of them. My wife has a genuine phobia over them, turning into the Tasmanian Devil whenever any flying insect comes near. But not me. The bees and I have always been simpatico.   

So it was a sweltering day in mid-July and I was I was on the road visiting a few more Midwestern blue chip recruits. The first visit had gone well, but I had to overcome some minor embarrassment when my remote PowerPoint clicker ran out of juice half-way through my presentation. I had some extra time before my next visit, so I pulled into a Walgreens to replace the dead batteries.  

Shortly after walking into the store- OUCH!!! I felt something sharp and really painful right in the side of my butt. “HEY!” I yelled, turning around to see nothing. I quickly reached back and felt the area of pain. Nothing. What the heck? I thought. I shook my head and took a few more steps. OUCH!!! “HEY!” I yelled again, looking behind me and seeing nothing. Again I reached back and felt my pants. What IS that? I pictured something like a rose thorn stuck under my pants, but I didn’t feel anything. Shaken, I took a couple more steps, still grabbing all over for the source of my pain. Then- OUCH!!! And I knew. Something was in my pants either stinging or biting me. 

My first reaction was just to drop my pants and end this madness. I started smacking my butt all over with both hands, looking around frantically for a bathroom. From the middle of the store I spotted a guy behind a cash register. “Hey!” I yelled, startling him. I was grabbing, smacking and pinching the backside of my pants. “I need a place to take off my pants! I think I got a bee!” He looked back, very confused and visibly concerned. “What?” he asked. My annoyance at his lack of urgency was quickly turning to anger. Now, with the loud and exaggerated enunciation of a frustrated wife, I yelled, “I think I have a bee down my pants. I’m going to take them off right HERE (pointing straight down) unless you can point out a bathroom!” His eyes got big and he understood. “Oh… NO!” He pointed wildly to the rear of the store with his own mild panic and yelled, “Back there, back there!” I turned and walked/jogged to the bathroom, all the while smacking my butt like a lunatic.

My suit jacket was almost off when I violently shoved the door open with one hand. I threw down the coat, loosened my belt and dropped my pants. Immediately, a very agitated Yellow Jacket emerged from my pants, flew past me and up to the ceiling. I felt a kind of rage towards that bee I’ve rarely felt in my life. There might be more, I thought. I stripped off everything but my black socks- on the off chance it wasn’t acting alone…  Nope. I was dealing with a single.  

I looked up and focused my eyes at the Yellow Jacket that had caused me such unprovoked pain and suffering. I clapped my hands together and said, “Let’s dance, (EXPLETIVE)!” I picked up a shoe and accidentally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The ridiculous nature of this scene- me furious, naked except for my socks & wielding a shoe as a weapon- wasn’t lost on me. I didn’t care. I jumped up and swung the shoe at the bee. I hit the ceiling hard, but missed. He flew to the plastic cover protecting the fluorescent light. I jumped, swung and loudly missed again. “Come on!” I yelled in frustration. Finally on my third maniacal swing I nailed him. He landed lifeless on the ground... I swung again. And again. Then I got on all fours and pressed that shoe into what was left of that evil SOB as hard as I could, twisting the shoe back and forth as I pressed. “Tell your friends, (EXPLETIVE)!”

If someone would have walked into the bathroom in that moment, they would have needed a team of therapists to work through their PTSD from the scene.  

I stood up and put my suit back on. The cashier was clearly distraught when he rang up my batteries, but he didn’t ask any questions and I gave no report or explanation. He’d have to draw his own conclusions from the smashed Yellow Jacket on the bathroom floor and the sweat pouring down my face.

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