Thursday, October 13, 2011

Visual Recognition

Traffic intruded upon my commute home Monday evening. So, instead of simply trundling due south on 287 from Parsippany to Exit 14, which deposits me on Route 22 East about three miles or so from home, I exited 287 about twelve miles or so farther north than usual. Doing so took me - at least for part of my jaunt - through Martinsville, which is a very nice little town. It is also now - and has been since at least 1984 or so - the home to The Pingry School, which campus I passed in my travels.

A lifetime ago when I attended W-H, Pingry was one of our principal rivals. I know (at least kinda, sorta), courtesy of Dad having worked at Wardlaw prior to its merger with Hartridge in the late 1970's that the rivalry between Wardlaw and Pingry pre-merger was considerably more fierce in the single-sex era than it was after Wardlaw took on its distaff side. I do not think the schools compete against one another in sports at all any more although I could not at gunpoint tell you when it was that they ceased being rivals and morphed into strangers.

Driving past Pingry made me think however briefly about Saturday's Homecoming/Fall Fair/Alumni Reception/Reunion at W-H. I flipped a coin when Margaret was out of the room and - surprise surprise - she lost the toss. So, she will come with me to the "All 80's Reunion" that my former high school classmate Emilie Rinaldo Marvosa (whose ability to stop the aging process completely is a source of great amazement and even greater jealousy for me) has organized, which is being held on the hallowed (to them anyway) grounds of the Plainfield Country Club on Saturday night. Margaret will have a good time - I hope. I am confident it will be interesting for her to spend a bit of time with people who can vouch to the fact that I was an assh*le a lifetime ago. For the two decades that we have been together, she has been exposed only to those who can attest to my present-tense assholiness. Saturday night will permit her to fill in some spaces that have heretofore been blank.

Among the people being honored at W-H on Saturday is Evan Peterson. While he was at school he wore a number of hats, serving initially in the Athletic Department (first as a coach and later as Athletic Director) and thereafter as the Associate Head of School/Dean of Discipline/"Brubaker". On Saturday evening, he shall don two hats once again. He is being inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame and he is presenting for induction the 1977 undefeated State Champion football team. Chuck Nelson, who was the Head Coach of that team, died earlier this year.

Evan Peterson and my father were friends. Dad was one of the people who urged him to pursue and attain the graduate degrees needed to make the move from the "athletic" side of the shop to running the whole damn joint. Had he commenced making that move a year or two earlier than he did, he might have been the sucessor to Prent Horne when Mr. Horne retired at the end of the 1980-81 school year. He did not. Thus, he was not.

He is a man for whom I have always had a great deal of admiration and affection. Dad died on May 31, 1981, which was a Sunday. We lived in the middle of nowhere. How he did it I know not but Evan Peterson (who lived with his family considerably closer to somewhere than did we) was at our home offering support to Mom, Kara, Jill and me by the middle of that morning. I know not who called him but, presuming that on a late Spring/early Summer Sunday morning he had something better to do, he dropped what he was doing and helped me out.

Evan Peterson helped me out again the following summer - perhaps even more than he had on that rather dark day. At the end of the 1981-82 school year the man who was not Evan Peterson who the school hired to replace the now-retired Prent Horne decided that among the students who would not be offered a place in school for the 1982-83 school year was Yours truly. I know not for certain the reason but - if I had to - I would wager that it was the second or third 'chat' we had in his office during which he said, "Now, I never got to work with your father" right before he would launch into some rant about something I had either done or failed to do and to which I said in response (paraphrasing), "Go F*** yourself" that sealed my fate. Apparently I had an "attitude"....albeit just not one that this particular asshat found to be "Wardlavian".

Somewhere among her many, many moves since the Summer of '82 I am quite confident that Mom discarded the letter that the aforementioned "hat" wrote her explaining why it was - with profound regret to be sure - that W-H was kicking her youngest child to the curb. She/I used to laugh about it. While Dad's ticket stub from Don Larsen's Perfect Game in the '56 Series and Matt Albano's Wardlaw soccer player (with the two left feet) have survived, the "Purge by Burge" epistle has not. No matter. For while he gave it to her, neither he nor W-H ever acted upon it.

No action was taken against me because Evan Peterson did not permit it to be. He went to bat for me. Simply put, he saved my ass. Three summers after my execution was stayed, I sat in the All-Purpose Room on a warm June evening and listened to the man who occupied the office that Mr. Peterson should have call out my name as the winner of the Senior Student Council Award, which was given to "the Best All-Around Senior". The last set of eyes on the stage with whom my own made contact belonged to Evan Peterson. A mere second or two after we made contact, I watched him mouth the words, "Shake his damn hand", a statement I took as both (a) one final order I was required to follow; and (b) one more example of him demonstrating an uncanny ability to read my thoughts. For as I climbed the steps to the stage that night to retrieve that particular piece of silliness from a man who had memorialized in writing all of the reasons why he considered me to be a vile piece of shit, the thought of leaving him hanging on the congratulatory handshake was in the forefront of my mind. I did not.

In sports, announcers too often are seduced by the allure of the "pre-determined outcome" ("If the runner had not been thrown out trying to steal 2nd base, then he would have scored on the double that was hit on the very next pitch")as if changing one event in any timeline does not impact necessarily and inevitably on all of the events that follow it. As a rule, I try not to ever get seduced by it. I know not what course the stream of my life would have followed had Evan Peterson not taken it upon himself to set foot into that stream and redirect its flow. I am happy that I never had to find out.

It is funny - the things you remember. The things that sometimes lie dormant in your mind and you think you have forgotten them. Until something happens that brings them back to the forefront of your mind. Perhaps it is a big thing - a life-changing event....

....or perhaps it is an everyday, no big deal thing such as rush hour traffic on a Monday night. A thing that reminds you of something and someone about whom you may not have thought much recently but who you have never forgotten.

-AK

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