In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Recently a man took up residence on my town’s football field, sleeping in a small tent in the northwestern corner, near the copse of cedars. He had been a terrific football player some years ago for our high school, and then had played in college, and then a couple of years in the nether reaches of the professional ranks, where a man might get paid a hundred bucks a game plus bonuses for touchdowns and sacks. Then he had entered into several business ventures, but these had not gone so well, and he had married and had children, but that had not gone so well either, and finally he’d taken up residence on the football field, because, he said, that was where things had gone well, and he sort of needed to get balanced again, and there was something about the field that was working for him, as far as he could tell. So, with all due respect to people who thought he was a nut case, he decided he would stay there until someone made him leave. He had already spoken with the cops, and it was a mark of the general decency of our town that he was told he could stay as long as he didn’t interfere with use of the field, which of course he would never think of doing, and it was summer, anyway, so the field wasn’t in use much.
He had been nicknamed the Hawk when he was a player, for his habit of lurking around almost lazily on defense and then making a stunning strike, and he still speaks the way he played, quietly but then amazingly. When we sat on the visiting team’s bench the other day, he said some quietly amazing things, which I think you should hear:
The reporter from the paper came by, he said. She wanted to write a story about the failure of the American dream and the collapse of the social contract, and she was just melting to use football as a metaphor for something or other, and I know she was just trying to do her job, but I kept telling her things that didn’t fit what she wanted, like that people come by and leave me cookies and sandwiches, and the kids who play lacrosse at night set up a screen so my tent won’t get peppered by stray shots, and the cops drift by at night to make sure no one’s giving me grief. Everyone gets nailed at some point, so we understand someone getting nailed and trying to get back up on his feet again. I am not a drunk, and there’s no politicians to blame. I just lost my balance. People are good to me. You try to get lined up again. I keep the field clean. Mostly it’s discarded water bottles. Lost cellphones I hang in a plastic bag by the gate. I walk the perimeter a lot. I saw some coyote pups the other day. I don’t have anything smart to say. I don’t know what things mean. Things just are what they are. I never sat on the visitors’ bench before, did you? Someone leaves coffee for me every morning by the gate. The other day a lady came by with twin infants, and she let me hold one while we talked about football. That baby weighed about half of nothing. You couldn’t believe a human being could be so tiny — and there were two of him. That reporter, she kept asking me what I had learned, what I would say to her readers if there was only one thing I could say, and I told her, What could possibly be better than standing on a football field, holding a brand-new human being the size of a coffee cup? You know what I mean? Everything else is sort of a footnote.
Brian Doyle’s short prose piece “The Hawk” [February 2011] is a tiny literary jewel that I will share with as many friends and acquaintances as possible. The story he tells gives me great comfort and validates my belief in the potential for good in the world.