Accidental Tourism – My Life In Football

001In a way this is a story of extreme local interest to the denizens of Owensboro, Kentucky and almost no one else. My hometown, Owensboro is a sports-mad town with a legacy in the state of Kentucky as something of a traditional athletic power. No team in the state has won more State High School baseball titles. Just last year they won a very competitive, basketball-crazy state’s Championship in basketball. Two of the city/county’s other 3 high schools have also won baseball championships – Owensboro Catholic High and Daviess County High. The 4th, Apollo, has actually come close. When I attended there, we won state Track and Field honors regularly and, as many who know me realize, we won the first of 6 eventual school titles in baseball with me patrolling shortstop as a 10th grader. Bear in mind, this was all in open competition with no “subdivisions” based on school size. In other words, we competed with all the teams from Louisville as well – yet another sports mad city, just 10 times larger.

Basketball and football were king, with baseball and track being increasingly popular due to some fairly outrageous successes. Football in Owensboro has consistently produced individuals who competed at the next – and even higher – professional levels. The Friday Night phenomenon so popular in Texas and down South included Owensboro as a preferred local Friday Night recreational ticket, so often followed by dances and mingling events hosted by the school following games. Yes, as always, football was a pageant….a literal pageant, with our crackerjack band, lovely cheerleaders and 5,000 rowdy fans cheering it all.

It was into this matrix where I evolved into a reluctant participant. In my day, kids with some talent played every sport – it was, frankly, one of the secrets to Owensboro’s long legacy of success. Players like Bobby Woodward, Richard Anderson, the incredible All American duo of Dickie Moore and Frank Chambers who I practiced against daily – one, Dickie leading the nation’s small colleges in rushing 3 years in a row and having an evemtual career in the CFL, and the other – Frankie, attending Alabama, along with our coach……… Kenny and Dwight Higgs, Frankie Riley, Gigi Talbott, Ike Brown, Sam Tandy, NBA Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan – it’s a long list – played every sport they could. It was just what we did. You could see many of the same athletes doing well at each sport in their own rights. The coaches were cooperative for the most part and the new muscles required at each sport created a sort of 2 week No Man’s Land of conditioning for each kid, developing and discovering new muscles and pains relative to their sports.

The feeder system of junior high schools fed dollops of players into the matrix, featuring the raw athleticism and sometimes dominance of certain star-quality individuals into a hard-fought mix of competitions. This is where my individual story as an “accidental tourist” begins………..

001

It was in the 8th Grade at Southern Junior High where I began my march to cooperating with talented mesomorphs and psychotics in the sport of football at both the coaching and playing level. I recall the first days of football camp – begun a week or two early, prior to even school openings. It was a bumpy career ride.

Another of my friends saw the wisdom of an early retirement from football, especially after enduring the humiliation of being youngest on the club and getting an unbelievably embarrassing set of football tools, complete with the hazing of the team’s managers whose laughter at the stuff they were reduced to handing out was bully-like but real, unfortunately deep laughter – it was that bad. The helmets handed out to the 8th graders were literally from an earlier era. What we referred to as “’47 Crash Helmets” – real leather helmets, ha ha, and more experimental, weirdly-shaped types of modern helmets (are you reading, Steve Bare, ha ha ha?) provided a completely embarrassing look for each of us as we dredged up equipment handed down from decades of predecessors. Inasmuch as this was my first football since a tentative experience one year in Little League football while living in Bowling Green…………………….

…………………..I actually quit the sport after a few days.

(An angry Father of mine intervened somewhat dramatically. Football was his sport, having played it at Eastern Illinois University in the 30’s and attracting attention with his speed and ability, thus earning the title of “Flash” which my friends teased him remorselessly about. “Flash” actually came from a headline or two celebrating “Freddy The Flash”, who made football look almost easy. He did not agree with my quitting – and did not agree most forcibly, one of his few interventions as a sports Dad. Needless to say, I reported back out to the field in rapid form. The moment did not increase my respect for the sport. I always viewed playing football as a survival sport not particularly suited to my skill set. Yet, there I went, learning the game, playing for 5 straight years at a program well-known for its superlative players.)

In Junior High, I was a fullback/running back on offense and a cornerback on defense. Later, in high school, I became a wide receiver in a pro-style set, occasionally playing Tight End when personnel issues like injuries loomed. I never shook the unreality on the field, no matter what level. I often wondered just exactly why I was playing – what I had done right to earn the dubious distinction of occupying the same field as the incredible players we had who loved it all. That is how uncomfortable I felt with a sport I had zero natural feelings for.

Here are some of this tourist’s memories of the sport:

As an 8th grader, the season dragged on while I waited for my second favorite sport – basketball – to commence. We played 8th Grade football against other teams, so we had our equals to compete with, and it became interesting for that reason. Make no mistake, I really enjoyed my team mates, all personal friends already. And also make no mistake that this level of competing saw some very satisfying times – great defensive hits on my part, the sensation of “team play” where we sacrificed for the betterment of our record and witnessed, first-hand, what “team play” could coalesce into – a winning formula. I recall – vividly to this day –  few truly embarrassing moments of incompetence as I watched Marvin Robinson streak outside for repeated touchdowns on plays where I – the cornerback – was supposed to “turn the play back inside” from the outside, whereupon I did not, ha ha. Marvin just ran around me, untouched for a couple of long TD’s. Learning from mistakes also took place on a visible level. Just like the embarrassment of incompetence provided an alchemy I adjusted to in my sporting life as time rode on, making me better, if addled..

But Fate had a new plan I would never have guessed at, even in the 8th grade. Southern had 5-6 guys kicked off the team for the abhorrent crime of smoking cigarettes – an unusual penalty in some ways, considering the wild number of farmers who grew tobacco in the lush Western Kentucky fields and the humongous warehouses that hosted tobacco auctions in a clearly tobacco-centered town like ours. But nevertheless, these guys were goners, and they were some of our best players, no less. Well, into the breach go I.

It was our final game of the year when I found myself starting in the backfield for the 9th grade – the “big” – team against traditional heavy rival, Daviess County. Yes, I fully admit my excitement at such a weird opportunity. I was most definitely “playing up” now. I felt a strange sense of destiny, warming up, for real. I had planned to do absolutely everything I could to help us win a pivotal, pennant-clinching game against our rivals and competing first-place qualifiers.

So we kick off and hold them enough to make them punt. I was not a defensive player in the game inasmuch as the defense suffered fewer scratches from their end. So out I went to join the first team offense.

Our very first play from scrimmage was for a screen pass from the excellent and very experienced Terry Tyler to yours truly, a young Walter Mitty. The surprise play took advantage of a very startled Daviess County defense and, catching the ball all I saw was a wide open field ahead of me. I was shocked at the crazy opportunity, the first time I had ever benefited from another team’s defensive mistakes. Naturally, I did what I was supposed to do – I ran like hell.

Well, I scored on that play – 65 yards long – our very first play from scrimmage. At the very end of the run, just as I crossed the goal line for the score, I felt the presence of a defender making an attempt at a tackle. To this day the name Barry Beck haunts my dreams. He launched himself at me in the “good old college try” – well into the end zone, no less – and I attempted to vault him, jumping over his sliding self but catching just enough of him to literally pinwheel me in the air, creating a sort of “flip” which I rotated a full 180, coming down hard from a substantial height of leaping momentum and tackler-propulsion. On my way down, I stuck out my left arm to cushion the fall and I heard my arm snap. Completing my fall, I lay there for a moment with the ball in my right arm, satisfied about the score with a warm feeling. I then took a closer inventory, lying there, of my arm and I suddenly had a sinking feeling that I was looking at 2 elbows. My arm had broken between the elbow and wrist, making a literal “L” out of the forearm. I mean, there was absolutely no doubt I had the first broken bone I had ever seen this close-up. I remember Roy Kennedy’s eyes as he looked at me through the tiny gap in his helmet, and then watched him turn to throw up.

(Interestingly, (if you are a ghoul) my Mother reminds me that she had only just shown up to the game – it was that early in the contest. Walking into the stands to join my Dad, she asked “So how are we doing?” in all her innocent hopes, even before she sat down. My Dad pointed out a cluster of people standing and leaning into a player on the ground in the end zone. “Your son is on the bottom of that pile.”)

Well, I was driven to the local hospital where I remember seeing my rather breathless parents arrive. Walking in the door with a towel over my arm, I remember the sounds of my huge football cleats hitting the slick tile floor, then finding myself in the air again as I slipped and fell, right back onto my back. Finally lying down for a doctor’s perusal, I recall the sense of comfort that mom and Dad had joined me here. The doc told me to count backwards from 100 and I got to about 97.

I remember waking up in the Recovery Room, alone and quiet. I looked down and saw this cast on my left arm – a whole new deal. None of the implications for the future loomed at all. I was also merely the 3rd kid on that team who had broken his arm playing football that year, including Jerry “Jumbo” Elliot’s compound fracture – a “Kevin Ware” type injury with protruding split bone featured –  just for an arm and not a leg – during a completely average play. It was my last visit to a hospital for sickness or injury until 2011, lol, a span of 49 years.

Mom and dad showed up, concerned and loving, God bless them, and even brought a magazine – a Sports Illustrated – a fave of mine back then. As we sat talking, here comes the denouement of the day.

Coach (Yogi) Meadors came into the room, all smiles and concern. After quickly getting the questions in about my state, naturally I asked him the results of the game.

“Steve, we got beat 27-0. Your touchdown didn’t count because we were offsides on the play. It was called back.”

Thus began my love/hate relationship with football.

The next season saw me in a far more prominent role. As starting fullback, I got a number of carries and learned quite a bit about twisting and turning, doing complete 360’s – spins – to keep balance and deal with initial hits. I began becoming a far more efficient cornerback, having learned my lesson about “containing” the play in front of me and learning to throw myself in some organized manner at ball carriers. It was a season of successes, actually, and I even had this 75 yard punt to brag about as the team’s kicker, a ball that hit the frozen ground of that day and literally received a prop boost as it bounded away down the ‘frozen tundra’ of that exceedingly cold day. The only real negative of the season was my bursting through the line on a dive play right up the middle and receiving a helmet in my face after 3 yards, hit by a large middle linebacker who broke my nose – yes, through the face masks. Bleeding on the bench at the halftime break, my coach was livid at how we played and he questioned my courage. It seemed like such an incongruous thing – after my broken nose, I still never missed a play. I recorded the humiliating event as yet another strike against the sport in my world. We won the game, 7-0, on a literally last second, 60 yard pass from Landy Lawrence to Gerald Woods, our athletic freak of nature

The next season was very real. Showing up at high school practice now, as a 10th grader, we endured summer two a day practices run by the local psychotic, Ralph Genito, who had played his own football at the University of Kentucky during their highlight season of all time on the Orange Bowl #3 ranked team and whose coach was the legendary Bear Bryant. Genito was a football-mad semi-tyrant who developed an animus towards me early on. Channeling The Bear, his view of the world was that there was football………………………and that’s about it outside of flirting at the local Country Club in his role as lifeguard, ha ha. But I digress.

The camp he ran that season, before school even began, was one of the most brutal experiences of my life. Later on, when I went through Basic Training in the Army, I found the process suspiciously easy. I wondered if I was somehow missing the difficulties others faced as I pranced through basic with a smile, never bothered in the least by the physical nature of the process. I credit Genito with preparing me for the military very well indeed. That initial set of practices saw our numbers of participants steadily decreasing as people quit, finally resulting in a football team consisting of 31 players only. Yes, it was that bad.

Next post – Steve discovers what a concussion is.

Generally Cool Files – Front Yards

Feeling a bit random, my current urge is to go through some old files and reminisce a bit about discoveries made in the world of plants, flowers, design and installation. My first design enthusiasms so often dealt with front yards. Since so many of the homes I landscaped came fully equipped with dust or mud and nothing else, most people contracted wanted a fresh face to welcome visitors with. Back yards, as fully recreational and private as they could eventually be, pretty much always finished second in the “presentation” category of landscaping concerns.

Neighborhoods bust it out in Spring – to the max! How can we augment such beauty at our own homes?

Se we labored at “Faces”, presenting the best possible ones.

Gentle greenery at my brother’s ex-house presents a lush and relaxed greeting, profuse with perennial promises yet relentlessly green in all the various shades. Theirs is a very Portland-esque sort of greenery and treatment.

Below, something a bit different – a front yard landscape in Reno, Nevada featuring just a swath of grass in an amoebic shape with very defined and maintained borders.

The range of perennials as well as more permanent shrubs including the very obvious Purple Smoke Tree and Variegated Dogwood shrubs offer a selection of sizes, colors and effects, hopefully all very pleasing to the eye and all timed to bloom at various times during a year.

Below, also in Reno, we were able to obtain some sizable and gorgeous Tanyosho Pines to place as welcoming sentinels aside the garden gate. A profusion of other goodies are clustered around them but these are the true anchors of this landscape.

This picture is taken in the first year after installation. Later growth was pretty robust, with ample color and variation setting up a very interesting walk down to the front gate.

 Other front yards of a more standard variety are easy to maintain and offer the succulent greens and colors which invariably please the eye.

Simple, in this sense, is not a bad thing at all. Spicing things up with an interesting shape of lawn or sidewalk can add interest, depth and overall beauty.

Still others enjoy a “special” category of complexity and a focused diversity of form and function.

There is also always the effort made by apartments and more public spaces to present that enhancing face of things to busy people, just to slow them down enough to “smell the roses”.

Imagine what adding something as simple as a strategically-placed watering can could do for your yard!

Landscaping As Radical Art

The term “radical” stems from the original Latin radicalis – “of roots” and from Latin radix “root”. Whereas, this term ironically resembles “Conservative”, owing to Conservatism’s high valuation of something’s earned past (especially when confronted with “radical change”), I really like the application of “radical” to art as something very nearly opposite of the spirit of its definition. “Radically opposite”, in fact. The term is loosely applied here, but in the overall “sense of things”, it fully meets the spirit of my claims regarding the stunning evolution of a trade which has seen periods of high fashion – from Ancient Times and Babylon’s Hanging Gardens to Frederick Olmstead’s White City and his incredible collection of urban designing accomplishments. Currently, we see regular people create masterpieces of riveting detail and variety in their own fabulous yards, inspiring more public artists and landscaping specialists in a wider realm. I have always said that the best work I ever ran across were productions made by homeowners in the experimental privacy of their own homes.

My current usage of the term “Radical Art” indicates a departure from “the regular” cosmetics of a trade so long defined as just an adjunct to buildings and their grounds – the General Field of Landscaping. It is my conviction that landscaping has evolved into its very own species of art and architecture, outgrowing “Dad” –  into it’s own sort of identity as it evolves further into real art.

Of course, architectural renderings oversee the more vast properties of our urban environments. We’re talking huge.

Noguchi:

 

001

What we now see all around us in growing profusion are swaths of land, of urban and suburban wonders, we can simply no longer take for granted and which rivet our minds and souls in ways by which we find ourselves utterly challenged. Some are larger than others:

This work of art in Australia, known as ‘Mundi Man’ or ‘Eldee Man’ was constructed by noted painter Ando (website here) and is located on Mundi Mundi Plains, NSW. It is the world’s largest art work, covering some 4 million square meters, or 5 million square yards. That’s a lot of “cosmetics”!

Antonio Gaudi may have set the Lunatic Fringe of Radical Art in landscaping with not only his remarkable building designs, but in the incredible complexity and bizarre designs so rife at Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. His admixture of “primitive” and ultra-modern are well-illustrated in this photo I gathered from this website, dealing with Cruises.

 

From the same park………….

 

HDR tonemapped

 

Underneath this….

guell2

The stunning work of Isamu Noguchi, as offered in the first photograph above, has also offered a primary glimpse of landscaping radicalism for long years prior. Now fully enacted by a fabulously and numerically-rich coterie of building designers, the arresting visual and sensual 360 degrees of 3 dimensionality of landscaping reaches an exemplary peak in his work. Below is his spare, yet incredibly evocative construction of a park erected on the site of a former garbage landfill.

Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan:

 

001

My view of these installation includes the packages relative to the advancement of technological breakthroughs in the machinery itself of construction. If Da Vinci could conceive of “lift”, “displacement” and the eventual forms which encourage Mankind to fly, then the wildly impractical new wonders of Drip Irrigation, water pumps and advancements in adhesives have opened an entire realm of gravity-defying work of its own.

Vertical Gardening will produce many Babylons, right before our every eyes:

001

Even residences will gain from inexpensive-yet colorful profusions of verticality, a technology now just getting underway.

Machines

The advent of the Mini-Excavator, in my world of installations, has produced amazing wonders, quickly-accomplished, only requiring an imaginative combination of materials, designers and installers to implement the next wave of the booming field of water features. Note here the incredible handsomeness of the stud at the business end of such a handy little monster of torque:

 

The above became this……….

 

001

 

001

Fountains, water, radicalism, sound and senses…………………..

(Noguchi again):

Lighting has caused a Mini Sensation and a completely outrageous burst of creativity in the field as well, from simple, well-placed uplights and filters of a smaller but ineffably gorgeous dimension:

To the radical fringe of massive urban production such as this Mall Fountain in Singapore – the world’s largest fountain:

More Radical yet, we have the entire realm of fountains and the myriad new applications of water, beginning, once again, with Noguchi’s completely impractical 9 Floating Fountains at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair:

My belief is that we are just entering a field which promises a burst of fabulous artwork of increasing meaning and relevance. I honestly believe we are being pushed outdoors, kicking and screaming, as our back yards become “destinations” and extended living rooms, kitchens and dens. Our cities become more vibrant when we supply other “destinations” to please the eyes and senses. The factor of radical art in landscaping may even supply microcosmic pleasure in the tools and those items which we have so long merely taken for granted………..

such as garden furniture, as Helen Nock (website included)  so brilliantly illustrates:

Walls and fences take on some structural interest when in the hands of Micahel   Eckerman of Santa Cruz, his website here. A surfer and gatherer of native materials, his formations show movement and form which closely resemble the behavior of ocean waves:

001

The creations we see today raise our vision and stop our wandering eyes so that we can better focus on their message. The “message”, as in all art, is that of celebration of our shared humanity. These spiritual accomplishments encourage us all to be better people, in every way.

I am glad Landscaping enters the realm of art itself. The scope of the trade has no conceivable limit, from the very tiniest of realms to those of massive scale. It is Man tickling Man and the sooner we understand that, the more we can create and enjoy more of the same.

 

Boulders and Rock Mulches – Animated Talks With Stones

As the systems and machinery involved in landscaping have evolved, we have become better able to do more with elements long-overlooked but readily available for use. Rocks and their large cousins – boulders – are the perfect example of this.

Below is a yard whose overall beauty just about entirely consists of a marvelously expansive view of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance. The foreground is dotted with homes, also in the distance, which provide a unique perspective of various layers of depth and a somewhat mind-clearing vision of distance and natural geology.

The landscaping requirements of a home such as this insist that the view be maintained. Yet, there is still the more immediate and entirely satisfying effect of “local” – back yard – gorgeousness that always provides a landscaper with design possibilities. This couple wanted an unobtrusive but running  water feature and something other than just the standard rear yard with flat lawn and a fence.

Our solution was to provide the small water feature in a corner of the lot which would still be visible and aurally satisfying, with motion and activity and a lawn which was “different” – in this case a rolling series of small hills, studded with boulders.

(click all images to enlarge)

Rocks are some of my best friends. Let’s face it, they offer a minimum of argument over even the thorniest issues and they behave once set into place. There is a lot to be said about this sort of loyal adherence to Natural Law. And, yes, I have abused the odd rock, I admit it freely. I have thrown them, hit them with baseball bats and golf clubs, used them as weapons against my enemies – the “bike-chasing barking dog” for example – and sometimes shamefully using them against bad friends.

Some, however, you can’t do much to. They talk back.

Some of the bigger guys you can tweak with machinery the size of Texas – just make sure they roll in the right direction when you stack ’em.

This applies to all versions of rocks larger than a fist –

No doubt, you will have noticed right away that the boulders and stones shown so far have all been of the “River Rock” variety – meaning rocks who were either tumbled under glaciers for miles and miles under enormous weight and thereby rendered rounded or else they were immersed in rapids of fast-flowing creeks and rivers with the same result.

Meanwhile

Some other rocks cracked liked broken crystals during some epoch in the less-distant past, immune from the rushing waters of creeks and rivers, and maintaining and still-ancient, yet freshly-fractured look which allows yet another approach to working with them. They can make a bizarre, yet somehow artistic mulch, and one I personally embraced, loving the mix and the radical nature of the stones themselves, especially when mixed with similarly-fractured boulders:

Surprisingly enough, they can even work well in the midst of water – the color and fractured nature revealing sharp breaks which contrast with the softness and depth of the water around it.

All in all, they also take up space and are quite handsome, taken individually – no matter their origin.