Tuesday, February 08, 2005

So the doorbell rang surprisingly late this evening, probably around 7:45. I was watching American Idol, an episode in which contestants were being weeded out of the 200 who had been selected out of the hundreds of thousands who had auditioned.

"It's amazing," one of us had remarked. "These guys audition and they all really think they're going to be the finalist."

And later, when the lady who had sold her wedding ring to make it to the first set of auditions was told she was not going to go on... and she broke down and said something along the lines of "I guess I'm going to have to find something else to do..." and you couldn't help but feel bad, but at the same time... American Idol dominates television. It reigns supreme as the purest of signs of the image conscious, semi-talented bland vanilla of popular culture. Mostly, the show spotlights those aspiring to be popular entertainers for 9-14 year-olds, but mostly wanting to be as ubiquitous as Colgate. I don't think there are many people over the age of 25 buying the albums by the likes of Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson, but I might be wrong. These are people who have fashioned themselves into approximations of entertainers, without the staff available day and night to ensure they are constantly in the right pants and jacket. Something for nothing.

But this is the dream, and it's what American Idol holds out for the contestants before pushing them back, teary eyed and invariably embarrassed, back into the world of Wal-Marts and Papa Johns.

I got up and got the door.

This skinny little kid with a large guy was standing on the other side of the security door, and immediately, the kid launched into his prepared lines.

"Hello, sir. I am working with the (blank blank) youth sponsorship group. I am selling newspapers in order to raise funds for savings bonds for college, and to win points towards a trip to Magic Mountain."

Immediately the larger guy cut in.

"We're working with the (blank blank) organization, and we're selling the weekend edition of the East Valley Tribune. A lot of kids don't have a lot of guidance in their life..."

I nodded, caught the basic gist of what they were selling and why, asked how much, and went and got my check book. 1) I don't get the paper currently, and 2) I'm a sucker for kids pretending to save for college. Plus, the kid might go to Magic Mountain. I want to go to Magic Mountain, but if I can't go, someone should.

"Twenty bucks?" I said to the kid.
"Yeah," said the guy. "You play football?"
"No. A little basketball in high school. A little lacrosse."
"Yeah, you look like you played football."
"Ha. No."
"I played five seasons with the Cardinals."
I sort of blinked. Totally embarrassed and not wanting to ask him his name at all, because, honestly, I've never even watched my hometown team on TV. I've listened to them on the radio, but... No. I wasn't going to know who this guy was.
"Yeah, I'm not playing now, so I got involved with helping kids, doing stuff like this."
"Hey, that's great."
"Yeah, last year was really rough. I was going through a divorce, and I was riding my motorcycle and it spun out and I hurt my shoulder and so I'm not playing."
And, I didn't say, Dennis Green cleared house the day he got here. Not even bad players. He just started firing people.


I was reminded of the time I was buying plane tickets from this lady from Southwest Airlines, sometime just before Christmas. She told me as I was thanking her that I was her last customer. "Before the Holiday?" "No. After this call I go home and they close the office. They're closing this office permanently tonight." "Before Christmas?" "Yeah."


"But I'm going to get back into it," he said. "I had a shoulder surgery and I'm going to get back out there and play again."
He could. He was maybe pushing 30. He was big, but lean. He looked like a player.
"For Arizona?"
"No. Up north."
"I'm thinking Green Bay."
"Interesting year for them next year."
"I know Brett Favre," he was used to pulling this one out. It impressed the hell out of people. I love Brett Favre. He's my favorite quarterback. Whether I liked it or not, I was impressed as hell. Unsolicited, the guy went through his history with Brett and I nodded a lot.
And then he finished, and I said something vaguely supportive and impressed.
"I've had three knee surgeries, two shoulder surgeries and probably'll have back surgery before I can go back out there. But I'm training every day."
"You can get back out there for a few more years," I said, and I knew it sounded pretty lame.
"In the meantime I'm working with these kids, and I'm trying to help give them direction I never had."

And this guy, he wasn't like these kids on this show, jumping up and getting 15 minutes on AI, squawking out a few bars and trying to look good. He'd already been where he was going to go, and now he's standing on some guy's front porch spilling his guts, because maybe if he tells enough people and he believes it enough, maybe he's going to be back out there on the field again next season. The divorce and motorcycle accident will be behind him, and he can proudly talk about how he took time off helping kids, getting his head together. And when he's done, he can say he played with the great Brett Favre in his final season, and that all of this, being down with the rest of us fans, maybe that'll have been just a bump in the road.

So, you know, next fall I'll be looking for the guy in the pictures of the line-up of Green Bay.

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