Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ask the Paperboy, Chapter 50: Paperboys I Have Known

 From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Paperboy celebrates a golden anniversary of sorts today with this No. Half-a-Hundred installment of Ask the Paperboy, a Q&A effort meant to educate, inform and inspire. It has seldom accomplished any of those intended purposes.

But if nothing else during all our years together, Paperboy has served as proof to you that falling on your face is still, in our book, moving forward.

Paperboy likes to think of himself as a cautiously aggressive optimist or, at worst and probably closer to the truth, a pessimist with a decent attitude.

Not sure of the initial question because the hard copy of the inaugural “Ask the Paperboy, Chapter 1” has been eaten by time and moths. I think I have it in the attic, I’m just scared to go look. Regardless, that was circa 1991. It was a different world back then, a Tweetless, Instagramless, Facebookless and Miley Cyrusless world, a world where Paperboy could slip off and go to the bathroom and only he, for whatever triumph or disappointment might have happened there, would know about it.

So although those first Paperboys are at present at-large – and I really do need to find them because a book of Paperboys would serve future generations – I am almost sure that the column was inspired by Shine Broussard, a loyal and inquisitive friend who hasn’t seen the ball since his life kicked off. Still, now and then his observations of this world in which we stumble though set Paperboy aback.

“What is the difference,” he asked one day, “between a sandwich and a sammich? Is there one? Gotta be.”

If I can remember the moment just right, I had to lean up against something. The beauty in the simplicity of that complicated query hung me up. I wanted to know too. And that’s when I started asking Paperboy.

As I figured, Paperboy – because he knows a whole lot of things about a whole lot of stuff, none of it important -- had thought this out a long, long time ago. He answered with about the same difficulty you’d have singing “Happy Birthday to You.”

“A sandwich,” Paperboy said, “is something your momma makes you and serves you on a plate, porcelain or stoneware, and it’s cut just right and no mayonnaise is coming down the side. A sammich is something you grab out of a box on lunch break and eat while leaning against a tree, or it’s something you pull out of a Ziplock in your pocket and eat quick while your rifle’s on safety and you’re IN a tree. Most of us guys have made hundreds of sammiches; few of us have made even one sandwich.”

How can you deny the general reading public information like that? You can’t, not and sleep well at night.

So since then, we’ve tried to answer all questions posed. Maybe we missed on one or two, but I doubt it. Remember, Paperboy has more useless information in his little finger than the entire U.S. tax code has in its entire body, if it had one.

We’ve answered holiday questions: “Why is it called Labor Day when no one much works, unless you count grilling and drinking as labor?”, and “What’s a yule?”

We’ve answered grammar questions, from “What’s an Oxford comma?” to “What’s a colon?”, and physiology questions, from “What’s his endocrine system got that mine ain’t got!?”, to “What’s a colon?”

Music questions: “Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop?” Athletic questions: “Why isn’t Shoeless Joe eligible for the Hall of Fame now since his ban was a lifetime ban and he’s dead now?” Food questions: “Why is pie round and cornbread square?” Questions from the Animal Kingdom: “If you see a turtle outside his shell, is he homeless or nekkid?”

And more personal questions than we care to remember, like “Why does my wife always say it’s my fault?” And of course the answer was that your wife didn’t say it was your fault; she simply said she was blaming you. There’s a difference. Subtle. But key.

And so, as a matter of public service, Paperboy will keep his head on a swivel and soldier on. Send me your questions and I’ll pass them along. He’s the man with answers for everyone who answers to no one – except maybe to Papergirl. Even a Paperboy’s got to know his limitations.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gone, but still they’ll be the last to leave: Of Love and Lights and Life at Garrett Stadium

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

His favorite phrase of encouragement was “Attababy!, Attaboy!”

Like the man, the phrase was quick and uncomplicated. What you heard was what he meant and what you saw was what you got. And what you got was a guy in school colors, tackling the challenges of the day as they came up – just like in a game – one ear listening for any gossip of bass biting, one eye zeroing in on duck season and the other on his grandkids’ schedule.

He preached being at your best when the lights were brightest, hanging out with the right people, doing the next right thing and doing “your!” job now, on this play, this moment, with a jersey on or not.

He preached the forward pass too, but not many disciples could twirl it like he could, back when Woodlawn High in Shreveport was new and so was he, back before a conference title in college, back before they started calling him “Dr. Offense,” back when it was just him and Brenda and the prom and all those games to play, back when he was just a teen, a young Billy Laird.

The month of May caught Ruston unprepared when the stroke put him in the hospital, and June 15 was hard to accept when the church emptied and the funeral was over and it became real, when all that was left was the sound of a recording of Vince Gill singing to the congregation, not encouraging a young Billy to throw it long but honoring a 71-year-old still-too-young Coach Laird on his way to “Go Rest High on That Mountain.”

Ruston High lost its present-day athletic director and its head football coach from 2004-2012. Brad Laird, the Bearcats’ coach today, had lost something else. He’d lost his dad.

Chick Childress had a sermon too, and it was defense and a four-man front and play like leaders, and a 7-0 victory was about the most beautiful thing he could imagine. He won four state titles at Ruston; his son, Dan, was his father’s first state champion quarterback at Ruston, in 1982. Brad Laird was his last, on the final team Chick coached, the 15-0 state and national champs in 1990.

Meanwhile Dan married and moved to Arkansas with his young family, Billy coached in Arkansas and ended up coaching at Ruston High, Brad left to play and coach and then came back to Ruston and took over for his dad, and Chick retired in Ruston. 

But then another surprise. A month to the day after Coach Laird's funeral -- July 15 in Sibley Cemetery -- Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Chick Childress was laid to rest, dead at 83 after a short illness.

So Friday night, Sept. 4, for the first time in a long, long time – for the first time in decades -- Ruston will play at Neville without Billy or Chick either in the stadium, on the sidelines, or trying to get close to a radio.

Dan and Brad, like many other sons this fall, will head into their first football seasons ever without the men who taught them the game. Dads who threw ball with sons in the back yard. Took them to games. Watched them play. Enjoyed the games together as fans. It’s a different kind of season this year for a lot of people, including at Ruston High and especially around Jimmy “Chick” Childress Field House.

No mid-morning Chick visits to visit and talk, and rarely about football. No coaching caps flying in the air. No glance from a young coach’s eyes to an older coach’s eyes, looks anchored in meaning because of history, because of knowing. We might be a bit shy on “attababys,” too, and I hate that.

Ballgames end and seasons end and even teams come to an end. For me and maybe for some others, some of those endings are the most difficult part of being human. But the spirit of things, something that hangs in the air – even if you can only feel it, or him, or them – something seems eternal, even around a field house, or a ballpark, or any other kind of home.

Life’s a circle sometimes. Maybe all the time. Back on July 12, 1997, legendary Ruston football coach “Hoss” Garrett, whose name is on the Bearcats’ stadium today, was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, posthumously. His son Pat, who navigated his way around James Field pretty well in the mid-1950s, accepted on behalf of his father. This is part of what he’d written, and then read that night in Natchitoches:

“…When late dew sweetens James Field bermuda
And pads are hung and all have left
I see you there, always the last to leave,
Walking out to flip the switch and let starlight in.
And as I wait in darkness, I hear your step
Timeless and indefatigable
And I know that love is life, and that it never ends.”