In Ashland, everyone has the same Friday night plans. The high school plays football under the lights at Putnam stadium and, in Ashland, even the most tired old ladies grab maroon seat cushions. The student section is in the north end zone, right next to the Tomcat pep band. I went to every game there for at least 10 years, and at the very last one, I took a punch in the face.
That year was a good one for me. I'd always had a good group of friends, and my life was too busy with baseball (usually pickup games in the park) and such to worry about the social ladder. But, I assume this is usually true, the senior year is something special. My confidence was swollen to the point that, at that fooball game, I actually used this line on a very pretty girl, "So, you want to come over to my house, and see my stereo? Its pretty big."
I didn't have a follow up, when the girl said, "Sure!"
Mahogany Fakename-Johnson was the first truly pretty girl who seemed as interested in me as I was in her. She had long brown hair, enormous brown eyes, and an innocent smile that disguised her unusually wild, wild side. She was perfect for a retread like me. So we talked, I got her number, and I wandered off to mingle with friends.
The blast came while I was telling a friend about my pretty conversation. I heard someone yell my name, turned, and took 5 knuckles square to the jaw. I recovered just in time to see a snarling, and very angry, Freshman who, apparently, was in love with Amber too. He lunged to hit me again, and I erased him from the Earth. Meaning in just 10 minutes, I fell in love and won a fight. Does high school get any better?
I dated Amber for the rest of that year, and on into the summer. But that fall, I was off to college, and her family moved to New Orleans. It may have been a youthful illusion, but we were determined to remain a couple. So, that August, in 1992, I flew down to visit for a week, before school in Milwaukee.
The first night, we met a friend of hers, whos name is lost to time, and headed directly downtown. Now, I'd been just a little eccentric, by Eastern Kentucy standards, but Bourbon Street was slightly more. This wasn't Madi Gras or Jazzfest or any of the other ESPECIALLY dazzling times of French Quarter stupidity, but the mid-August tourist season was about all I could take.
The best thing, or so I thought, is that I felt so grown up. A few hundred miles from home, dating a pretty girl, walking into one of the world's gretest parties and nobody seemed to care. Back then the drinking age in the Quarter was just 18, perfect for a new high school grad. I remember buying drinks with no ID, like a real grown up.
I came of age in New Orleans. Of course, I'd been on long trips alone before. I'd climbed the Montana Rockies and partied in Chicago, but it was drenched in "Hand Grenades" and "Huricanes" that I began to feel truly independant. It's as if the freedom, to be as hedonistic as the ADULT losers of the world, made my degenerate behavior more chic. I feel like a man. A drunken, irresponsible, half-witted, Eastern Kentucky man.
Just a few years later, 1995 or 6, I made a triumphant return. Once I left my Milwaukee college and came home to BIG BLUE, I feel deeply into a counter-culture groove. By '94, I was already skipping almost every class for long afternoons of grainy Grateful Dead cassettes and Sega hockey. I met my future wife that year, and once our equally degenrate friends collided, there were too many road trips to count.
I'd fallen for jazz music too. Part of it was a strange facination with Jack Kerouac and the whole beat scene, part was because I loved the improvisation. Genius happens in fits and bursts, and sometimes it only exists for as long as you can blurt it out. Charlie Parker was magic. So when a buddy told me about "Jazzfest", with Phish as a headline act, it was like learning the water fountains were pouring beer. We rented a van.
7 worthless hippies croweded in a van, drove 45 miles per hour from Lexington to the Big Easy. There was nothing easy about that. But vans were more comfortable because I was less fat then. I was also more carfefree. We had reservations at a KOA "Kampground", and serious plans for absolutely nothing.
JazzFest, if you've never been, is loke so many other music festivals. A spread of a half dozen stages, covered by giant white canopys. All of it lies on hard flat gound under a scorching summer sky, in humidty felt only in Lake Pontchartrain's depths. The drinks are always overpriced, the food is unhelthy, bland, and expensive. The music is always sublime.
Phish played a fantastic set. The Funky Meters were there, and I think the Allman Brothers too. I took a lot of flack for skipping that last act. The wife and I went to watch Wynton Marsalis instead. He's a New Orleans native and one of the best musicians alive. Of course, we have another scratchy bootleg tape to remember the music, but my wife has another more awful memory.
At that KOA Kampground, were pitched out tent in a mound of dirty sand, and like many hippy degenerates, we were less careful than we could've been about CLOSING the tent door. So we were devoured by some kind of sand flea, they tore our feet apart. My wife was so miserable she thought about nothing else for the next 2 days. In fact, the next night, she slept in the van.
A few years later, we came back to the city, just the two of us. We sprung for an actual hotel room. That was her memory of New Orleans. So, she still has something. I just remember the best music in the world.
I have what, I suspect, is a very typical relationship with my father and brother. For most of my childhood, and still today, my dad and I talk to each other through a sporting code. My mom will call, ask about the family, and then hand the phone to him. He'll then say, "They're (Reds, Bengals, Wildcats) the best team in the world this year." We'll take about that for 30 minutes at a time.
As a kid, my dad used baseball to show his affeciton for his sons. He was a coach on out little leaue teams, and on countless weekends he drive us 3 hours each way, for our regular seats at Riverfront Stadium. When the All Star game came to Cincinnati, he and his partner got 4 tickets to share. My brother and I went while dad satayed home. I always appreciated that. Chris Sabo stole a base that game before disappearing forever.
About 5 years ago we started this new tradition, that gets us back together for sports. We fly down, meet up, and watch every single game of the SEC Basketball tournament. It's in Nashville this year, in Altanta every other year but one. Once, we flew to New Orleans.
That year my brother and I got there a day before dad did. We spent the night admiring the breasts of women in the French Quarter. I mentioned the big parties on Bourbon Street....well the SEC tournament counts too. We even ran in to the Vanderblt team, my brother insulted their best player, at a few minutes after midnight. They lost their game the next morning.
That was before the Harrah's spread poker in NO. I settled for endless sessions of blackjack and coke..err...rum and jack...crap..No not craps. Bah! I had fun at the casino, despite the lack of poker. I actually won money, which is proof that poker was not an option.
We watched the games in the Superdome, which is better than you'd think for basketball. The best games, despite our affiliation, were those in which Kentucky didn't play. As a rule, if there are 25,000 SEC fans, 20,000 have painted their faces blue. At the second Kentucky game, after we'd retreated to our upper level seats, we sat behind a middle aged man who had dyed his entire head blue, and shaved the letters "UK" into his hair. Even his wife was embarrased. During one game he called a friend back home and did an entire half of play-by-play, which must've been helpful. The game was on TV.
Now the Superdome has no power, no running water, and the toilets have overflowed. 20,000 people are inside and screaming but the tears on their cheeks aren't from laughter.
New Orleans has been good to me. I hope its been good to you. If you have anything to give, contact the American Red Cross. Hell, play in the Poker Stars tournament. That's fun. The death toll here will be staggering.