The swimminess, those shimmers that rise over the red cinders, the way the humidity hangs a burlap curtain over your mouth... they are all things I remember from the summer of 1990.
I remember the run lasting longer than it normally did and being almost deathly afraid to stop. I remember, but barely, opening my mouth and letting the cold ice water shoot from my stomach and on to the football practice field below my feet. It had barely had time to mix with the contents in my gut, so it didn't taste too bad.
Over my shoulder, I knew he was standing there, his hand likely grabbing at his crotch, at the cancer that would one day kill him.
His name was Reuben Berry. He'd been a pro football coach in Canada and had fathered a son, Todd, that would one day go on to coach Army's football team. I knew he was watching me, even if he wasn't.
Rube had a way with words. No one knew for sure at the time why he'd moved from Canada down to a small town in southwest Missouri to coach a small-town football team. They only knew his pre-game and post-game speeches were poetry.
I was not a good football player, but I stayed on the team for years. The pride I saw in my father's eyes when I caught my first touchdown pass was too much to quit the game. Still, I was not any good.
Ol' Rube had a way of complimenting his players.
"See Schafer over there? You hear his balls drop? Just like a big bull. Boooom! Boom!"
It was the highest of praise for Rube to hear your balls drop. When a linebacker laid a hit on a running back, you could hear Rube screaming from 80 yards away, "BOOOOOOOOM!"
Early on in my not-so-illustrious career as a wide receiver, I occasionally took on the name Teflon Hands.
Nothing stuck to them, least of all, the ball.
For that reason, and a few others, no one was as surpised as me on the day I found myself running at a dead sprint down the sideline, looking back to see Danny throw the pefect spiral, watching over my shoulder as the ball reached its zenith, appearing to be painfully out of reach. No one was as surpised as me when I threw my body into horizontal flight, extended my arms, and snatched the oblong ball from the air.
I crashed into the sunbaked mud, wishing that the catch had come during a key game rather than a hot, afternoon practice.
But then I heard it, loud from across the field. It was Rube's crazy injun voice, bellowing through the haze.
"You see Otis over there? You hear his balls drop?"
I waited, rolling over on the ground. He was was going to make my day.
"You hear'em? ....tink, tink."
He actually said "tink, tink."
I loved that man, but I'm still not entirely sure why.
I was not a good football player. In fact, I was so bad that I often found myself playing out of position on the practice squad.
One afternoon while playing the role of linebacker, a real sonofabitch (also real talented) named Manary blindsided me with a star-shooting block that left me out of breath and seeing God.
When I finally got up, I found that I was a worse football player than I had been before the hit.
The hit had been so hard, it had scared me. For a week or so, I was ineffective as any sort of player. I had gone from a poor player to a scared player.
Ol' Rube had been right after all.
Tink, tink, indeed.
It's not been too long ago that I mentioned I had cash-placed in a big tourney and was wondering what I should do with the proceeds. Several of you warned me to not get in over my head too quickly. Others of you said make a run at it and ride the lightning.
While I'm a little ashamed to admit it, I rode the lightning like a whore on dollar day. And I rode it well.
In the past several weeks, I've watched my bankroll grow beyond what I thought it could.
Put it this way: In February, when I played in my first WPBT tourney, my online bankroll was $200. By June, I had added a zero to the end. As of this weekend, I had doubled the four digit number doing little more than playing $5/$10 and $200 PL on Empire Poker.
Variance had not paid a visit in some time. I was starting to get a little cocky. Again, I started having those little fantasies in which I was pulling doen an extra grand a week.
Then it happened.
It was a small event really. Just insert your best aces cracked story and that's what happened. It cost me about $200 (the amount of my bankroll six months ago, in case you haven't been keeping score).
I thought I was okay. I promised msyelf I wouldn't let myself tilt. And I don't think I did.
But something was wrong. My stacks kept getting smaller. My win rate on sit-and-gos was getting sad.
Over the course of three days, I bled away about $1000. I couldn't tell you where it went.
About four hours ago, I sat down. Within half an hour, my cowboys got cracked in a pretty large pot.
I almost stood up to take a break. And then it hit me just as hard as that Manary screwball did 14 years ago.
I had been playing scared and on the defensive ever since I got my aces cracked and lost $200. I was so afraid of losing my newfound bankroll, that I was losing my newfound bankroll. Tight-weak, all day long.
I made a resolution. Either start playing my normal tight-aggressive game again, or take a month-long hiatus.
It clicked within 30 minutes.
Over the course of the last three hours, I have rebuilt my bankroll to the same place it was last week. I achieved most of the recovery by quintupling up at the $200 PL game I've been playing (see right). The rest came on a $5/$10 game. Somehow, I had made myself stop playing scared.
I wish that my football story had a better ending. I wish I could tell you I went on to play semi-pro ball like Hdouble did. But I didn't.
Instead, I grew my hair long, joined a garage band, started listening to Uncle Tupleo, and started gambling.
Now, 14 years later, I still play guitar, I still listen to Tupelo, and I play cards every day.
You know, Rube never liked the way I played football, but he always seemed to respect me. I'm not sure I ever knew why, but I always felt that way.
While recovering what I'd lost of my bankroll is no big deal in any metaphysical sense, I sort of feel like it was a victory, because I realized what my problem was and corrected it.
That old sonofabitch taught me a lot in those days.
I can almost hear him whispering "tink, tink" from his place in the great beyond.
I miss ya, Rube.