S.M. Park

Risen Apes: All Day Long

S.M. Park’s continuing column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “All Day Long,” Park thinks about sports and the influences our parents make on us, including the truths and non-truths they choose to tell us.

 

I had plenty of things to do this morning but watched Tiger Woods’ opening round at the Memorial Tournament instead.  All I know about the guy (all I need to know about anyone) is that he’s a notoriously cheap s.o.b.  Here he is, the first pro golfer to make a billion bucks, and when he goes out he either stiffs the help or leaves them a grudging ten percent.  That proves two things: (1) he’s never had a real job and (2) when it comes to compassion, he has a heart the size of a walnut.

So why root for him?  Why are his triumphs so important to me?  How is it that—even though I’ve never swung a golf club in my life—I’ve watched virtually all of his seventy-nine victories from beginning to end?  (One of the perks of being a pot grower, and thus home all day.)

It’s because I’m the guy at the bar or party that everyone hates, that most loathed of sports fans … the Overdog, the Front Runner, the jerk who only cheers for champions.  Which means I’ve been a lifelong Yankees fan, of course, and intermittently pull for whoever’s winning at the time, be it Duke, Alabama, the Patriots, the Warriors or Tiger.

If you’re favored I’m with you, in a country that’s sickly obsessed with underdogs.  I’ll never understand it.  There’s no pressure on the challenger; they’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.  It’s the champion who has to prove his or her worth, and rooting for the eager, bug-eyed aspirant always seemed preposterous to me.

Well, except for the Forty-Niners: they’ve been terrible for years now and I still love them.  Which should have increased my empathy for underdogs but raises a bigger question yet, i.e. it’s just sports … so why give a shit to begin with?  Particularly when, in my own (utterly forgettable) athletic career, I played like a guy shaving points.

In the nature vs. nurture debate I’m a strong proponent of the former, but my sports affliction?  That’s strictly conditioning.  I was raised in a jock family and have never, under any circumstances, thought of it as anything else.  It was twenty-four-hour-a-day athletics from the moment I was born until I left eighteen years later.  It’s what the Highs did, it’s what we watched and listened to, it’s what we talked about at every meal.  We also had season tickets to the Forty-Niners and San Francisco Giants and even the Thursday cleaning woman could talk Willie McCovey’s batting average with you.  What made it possible, in retrospect, was my mother’s dislike of other women: in her mind there was no such thing as a “too male” household.

I didn’t know this as a kid, of course: I thought everybody was being raised the way we were.  But now I understand we were more team than family and frankly, I’m okay with that, I believe it had a socializing effect on me.  I was an introverted weirdo who, given the choice, would have spent all his time alone, drawing, reading, constructing models and daydreaming.  (I didn’t care about the plastic cars and airplanes I made, but the glue fumes were great.)  My mother, however, wasn’t having it.  She appreciated my art the way my brothers did—like it was a cool magic trick—but the important thing was how well you could shoot or kick a ball, and she wasn’t about to raise a “lazy lounge lizard.”

 

 

So she’d not only shove me outside, but lock the door behind me.  I’ve thought about this often over the years, ruminating on whether she did me a favor or not, and on balance I have to (grudgingly) admit she did.  Because it forced me to not only make friends but climb the first big mountain of my life, i.e. learning to defy gravity.  Whatever the game being played my younger brothers were the most athletic kids around and I was, unquestionably, the least.  They went down the slope their first time on skis, for instance, and I spent most of my childhood just learning to stand up on them.  I was always growing, so it was frustrating to watch the way my brothers moved and not be able to duplicate it: I knew their fluidity was in me somewhere.

I was sixteen before it arrived.  In the meanwhile my family provided me with cover because, whether I could play or not, I knew everything about the sports world simply by proximity.  And this is valuable in America; it’s the All Access Pass to the male world.  You go to meet your girlfriend’s father, for instance, or you’re stuck with some guy you can’t stand or a total stranger … what do you do?  You talk sports.  A seasoned practitioner can do it for hours, even days or weeks at a time.  The only kid I knew whose knowledge of sports history matched my own was my late brother Joe.  And he became a bartender/bar owner just to use it.  I take for granted that, even all these years later, you can ask me anything about football, basketball or baseball and I’ll likely know the answer.

This jock mentality is the reason, I think, that I have very few artistic friends.  And what contributed, in some respects, to my quitting cartooning for twenty years.  This notion that I grew up in an artistic void didn’t make me appreciate my own sensibilities more, because they’d always been there and I took them for granted.  I remember when I was four or five years old watching Winky Dink and You on an early television set.  It was a local daytime show and you wrote in for these green sheets that you’d spread across the screen to draw on.  One day the cartoonist had an audience of kids in the studio and he walked up to one of them, gave him a black crayon and told him to make a mark of any kind on the giant sketch pad behind him.

“And no matter what kind of mark you make,” he said, “I’ll turn it into a face.”

And I thought, I can do that; I’d been doing it since I first picked up a crayon.  So with all the emphasis on the physical around me I treated my cartooning as a parlor trick, too, something everyone would do if they weren’t better occupied.  The truth is just the opposite, of course, it being a phenomenally rare and special gift, but what kept me blasé about it, and allowed me to quit drawing for decades while never once considering art as a career, is that I didn’t identify as an artist.  The conditioning was way too strong for that.  I was a striver: an honor roll student, a class president, the center on the basketball team, but never “the guy who draws funny pictures.”  It was simply an amusing hobby to me.

Later in life, when I was schilling myself as “The World’s Fastest Typist” to law firms, I’d often work for senior partners who’d take me under their wings and treat me like a son.  (I got a lot of mileage from the notion that, There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.)  They’d invite me to their office for intellectual musings, bring me articles from journals they subscribed to, take me to plays and upscale restaurants.  When I left my last word processing job they gave me a ten-grand bonus so I could write and illustrate children’s books for a year.  Those experiences made me wonder who I’d have been if, instead of growing up in a gym, I’d been raised in a studious, academic household.

A friendless hermit, I suspect, one who wouldn’t know Johnny Bench from Joe Montana.  It’s possible my mother’s determination to make me like other kids is the best thing she ever did for me.  I must have been in sixth grade when I noticed that, unlike my brothers, I had a propensity for school work.  It prompted me to take my mother aside one day.

“Mom,” I said, “school’s pretty easy for me.”

“That’s because you study hard and do your homework, Wilson,” she said.

“Are you sure?  Because I was wondering what my I.Q. is.”

Bear in mind that it was the Fifties, and parents (unbeknownst to me) weren’t told the results of their kid’s I.Q. tests.  My mother bent down so she could look me straight in the eye.

“Well, Wilson,” she sighed, “I didn’t want to tell you this, but …  you and your brothers?  Your scores are below average.”

“Really!?  Are you sure?”

“Oh, absolutely.  You, in particular, are a near idiot: you’ll have to work way harder than other people all your life.”

 

“Oh, absolutely.  You, in particular, are a near idiot: you’ll have to work way harder than other people all your life.”

 

And like an idiot I believed her!  I mean it’s your mother, right, and you’re a young, impressionable kid … she’s not going to bullshit you about something like that.  So all through the years and the schools and the terrible jobs I concentrated fiercely on every (sober) task I performed.  Then I’m thirty-two, a recovering drunk and druggie, half-dead from dissipation and hepatitis, living in a Scientology halfway house in the worst part of Los Angeles—it was the life every non-Overdog had wished for me—and when Christmas Eve rolled around I walked to a phone booth to call my parents in the Bay Area.

My mother answered.

“Merry Christmas, Mom,” I said.

“Oh, the same to you, Wilson,” she replied.  “And what a coincidence!  I just heard from Mary Fowler.”  Mary was my long-ago kindergarten teacher.

“What’d she want?” I asked.

“The same thing she always does, to know how you’re doing.  All four of you boys were in her class, but it’s always you she asks about!  It’s very irritating to me, so this time I called her on it.  ‘Damn it! Mary!’ I said, ‘Why all this interest in Wilson?’”

I heard running water behind me.  Turned to see a wino pissing on the side of the booth.

“And you know what she said, Son?” my mother continued.

“No, Mom, what?”

“That when you were a boy you had the highest I.Q. score ever recorded in the County.”

What!?

“Yeah.  168!  Can you believe it?”

But … you told me I was a near idiot!

“How could I have done that, Wilson?  I had no idea what your I.Q. was.”

AGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

The wino started at the sound, as if he hadn’t noticed me before.  Grinned, grabbed his dick and gave it a good shake.

“And it doesn’t matter, anyway,” my mother continued.  “I mean … how could you be a genius, you’re in Scientology.”

 

S.M. Park is the author and illustrator of his memoirs High & Dry and The Grass Is Greener, both published by University of Hell Press.

 

S.M. Park

S.M. Park lives two blocks from the Salish Sea in Port Townsend, Washington. His passions include walking, wondering and weed. Park, in his guise as Wilson High, has written and illustrated two memoirs, High & Dry and The Grass Is Greener, both published by University of Hell Press.

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