He Smiled

Imagine being able to say that OJ Simpson once smiled at me!  Guess what? It really happened. This is the story of my “brush” with the famous.

When I transferred to the University of Southern California in the fall of 1968, I knew little about college football.  At the time, I was soon to discover, USC was an athletic powerhouse, thanks to a phenomenal bunch of handpicked athletes in a variety of sports. The Trojans dominated in football, men’s and women’s basketball and swimming.  Not only that, but their track and field teams were equally strong due to multisport athletes.

Football begins the season. Banners covered surfaces all across the campus. Rallies were held every day and when the teams weren’t at home, all ears were tuned to the radio. You either followed the sports or you were an outcast. It was that simple.

The athletes, no matter what sport or how great they were, dominated the social life of the campus. Partying to celebrate their successes was a nightly affair since some team played almost every day, whether at home or away. If they weren’t off playing or pratcicing, they strutted their stuff around campus, practically oozing greatness.

I quickly learned the “culture,” of partying. There was a booze-filled affair the night before a game, partying during the game, and another party after the game, all in celebration of a victory won or a record broken. And if you didn’t find what you were looking for at one party, all you had to do was stroll down fraternity row to find another. This was especially important if you didn’t like the booze being served or the music thundering out onto the street.

None of the better-known athletes lived in the Greek houses and few had their own apartments. Instead they had their own dorm which was shielded from the peasants by locked doors and glazed windows.  It was rumored that their meal options weren’t the standard bland food that the rest of us got: instead legend had it that they feasted on huge, juicy steaks, fresh vegetables and a cornucopia of cheeses and desserts.

When they had nothing better to do they swaggered about campus in their lettermen jackets emblazoned with every type of recognition (except for a noticeable lack of academic awards). That’s not to say they weren’t capable, but at that time, achievements on the field or court were what kept them at college, not the grades received or classes taken.

With their rippling muscles, impossibly broad shoulders, and over-confident leers dished out to fawning fans, they stood far above the crowd. And they knew it.

Periodically small groups of “stars” strolled through my dining hall, snickering at the dismal fare splattered on institutional grade plates and trays.  I imagined that they had just dined on mounds of steak cooked to perfection, served with steaming mashed potatoes and crisp fresh greens.

Equality among students did not exist and there was no pretense of leveling the playing field, because the athletes were, literally, the bread and butter of university funding.  The stronger the athletes, the more likely the university would rack up victories, which then correlated to increased donations from alumni.

If I hadn’t been awed by their very presence, I should have despised the athletes for they were the epitome of all that I was not.  My family was low income which qualified me for a rather generous “pity” scholarship from the state of California. Without that gift I would not have been at such a prestigious college as USC.  But, like the vast majority of students, I didn’t hate the arrogant athletes, but rather worshipped the ground they walked on.

One evening, in a rather unusual move for me, I got as dressed up as I could and went downstairs where a dance was being held in the cafeteria.  I am not sure what possessed me to go as I was a horrific dancer.  I was also painfully shy and so operated solo the vast majority of the time, in classes as well as while on campus.

I did have friends, academics like me, but more extreme for their heads dwelt more in the clouds than in reality.  None of them were what I considered marriageable as they were more interested in finding a spouse to complete a given responsibility than having a relationship of equals. But, like any teenager, I yearned to have a boyfriend.  The dance “called” my name, speaking to me of an opportunity to meet, greet and date and so I went.

The dining hall had been transformed, as much as possible, into a disco dance hall.  With lights down low, revolving points of light danced across the walls, creating an eerie spectacle of glowing, gyrating bodies.  It wasn’t Halloween, but the bizarre lighting gave off the same feel.

The music was ear-shattering making it impossible to do more than look at all the beautiful people.  I meandered about the perimeter of the room with a plastic smile glued to my face, hoping that just one person would nod kindly in my direction. Once my circuit was completed with no takers found, I wanted nothing more but to leave this place of loneliness among confusion.

I headed toward the door, but just as I got within sight of the doorjamb, the crowd parted as miraculously as the Red Sea.  In walked none other than OJ Simpson, flanked by two humongous football players.

OJ was an incredibly handsome man with an earthy skin tone that spoke of roots, faithfulness, integrity, and family.  His eyes sparkled and a shy smile gave a sensuous lift to his lips.  I saw no semblance of arrogance, but warmth.

Like the rest of the crowd, I stood transfixed, enjoying simply being in the presence of greatness.  This was OJ’s year, the year he earned the Heisman Trophy, broke a number of records, and was first pick in the professional football draft.  Everyone knew that he was bound for the record halls and that his name would be spoken around the world.

As the trio neared me I was shoved back into the crowd.  I didn’t mind, for I intrinsically knew that these men were well beyond my social reach.  What I didn’t expect or count on was being seen.

As O’s greatness neared me, his eyes glanced in my direction and he smiled.  Not an I-want-to-talk-to-you smile, but one that recognized me as a fellow human being.  Since the contact was short-lived, I realized that there was the possibility that the greeting wasn’t even meant for me.  I acknowledged that OJ was simply flashing his famous smile at everyone, sort of like the priest sprinkling Holy Water over the congregation in a quick pass down the aisle.

Even though I knew that the encounter meant nothing to OJ, I stood a little taller and felt a tad more important than I had before.  It was a moment that I will never forget.

Georgia Peach

Georgia, a peachy little girl

One fine day wandered far from her home.

With mammoth twist and a single twirl,

Lost the dirt path on which she did roam.

 

No worries, though, for this saucy child

Did spot a cottage deep in the wood.

The sun shone down on roses gone wild,

Made Georgia forget to be good.

 

She knocked upon the ancient door,

Then flounced her golden, curly hair:

Listened for footsteps soft on the floor,

Thought of whom might live in tiny lair.

 

When no one came to see her inside,

She turned the small knob with trembling hand,

Opened the door wearing a smile wide.

Alas, no one there to take a stand.

 

Georgia stepped into kitchen small,

Noticed three platters brimming full,

And glasses barely two fingers tall,

In which was liquid brown and dull.

 

She took a taste from the biggest one.

Georgia gagged: fought to keep it down.

“This stuff stinks,” she burbled. “I am done.”

Her face now covered with ugly frown.

 

Next she spied the family’s stuffed chairs

Crimson and gold, with tassels of blue.

Nestled under the circular stairs.

Georgia sat, fell.  “This was not new!”

 

With achy bones, she climbed the first step,

Heard nary a sound from man nor beast.

Up she went; where the family slept.

Miniature beds spaced most to least.

 

Exhausted from her explorations,

Georgia moved them all together.

Soon she forgot all aspirations

And dreamt of sunny, pleasant weather.

 

While adrift on misty isle of cloud,

Georgia snored and tossed all about.

She didn’t hear voices clear and loud.

“Someone’s here,” said Dad, “there is no doubt.”

 

The family of three, with startled eyes,

Noticed empty glass and broken chair.

“Who’s in the house?” said the mother wise.

“I’ll find out,” Father said.  “I’ll take great care.”

 

Father first, Mother and then the Son

Crept up the stairs and looked all around.

“There she is,” said Father. “That’s the one!”

“She must have thought she wouldn’t be found.”

 

“Let the child sleep,” said Mother dear.

“She seems to be sweet and innocent.”

“But Mom,” said young son, “I do but fear

my bed’s broke.  For this she must repent.”

 

Father smiled, “She’s but a girl, no harm done.”

“Now come, let’s go and let her dream on.”

After they ate, outside they did run

And played the silly game, Name That Pun.

 

Georgia awoke, stretched, and then stood,

Fluffed her gold hair and straightened her dress.

Down she walked, and into the big wood.

Thought, I’ll remember this fine address.

 

Found the dirt path on which she did roam.

With a single twist and mammoth twirl,

She luckily found her way home.

Georgia, a peachy little girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Friend?

A true friend is a gift from God.

No more, no less.

 

Ears, eyes, heart

finely tuned

to every thought

action

need

 

A friend seeks balance,

craving only that which

is offered

and not one drop more

 

Giving, sharing

even the smallest things.

A warm hug,

kiss, smile

 

A friend knows when

to step up

and when to step down.

Never pushing or demanding

 

Reaching fingers

with open palm.

Electric energy pulsing

across the gap,

joining two strangers

into one compact unit.

 

A friend asks for nothing,

but is grateful

when something

drips into the heart,

warming the soul’s

ties.

 

Prayers offered

and heard.

Thanks given

for the smallest

of gestures

 

A friend is all

and more.

Born to Shine

Imagine how different the world would be if every child, no matter how rich or poor, heard those words on a regular basis. Think about how special they would feel after their guardian tucked them in at night and spoke those words.

There might be no bullies because, if you feel worthy, you have no need to belittle others. No one would be afraid of trying new things, of being rejected, of being pushed aside.

What a beautiful place the world would be!

As a child I never felt special in any positive way. What if my mom had told me that I was born to shine? Would I have been a different child? Would my attitude toward school have been different? My grades better? When meeting people, would I have been more outgoing because that confidence sat on my shoulders?

I know that I never said those words to my children. I wish I had. I did, however, sign them up for classes and swim lessons and sports hoping that they would discover something that they could enjoy for the rest of their lives. I helped with schoolwork and met with some of their teachers. I volunteered at their schools, as a team mom in little league, as a scorekeeper in baseball and as a soccer coach and referee. I did these things because I wanted to share those experiences with them, but also because I enjoyed it.

Born to Shine. Powerful words. My children grew up to be wonderful adults. They all contribute to society in different ways, yes, but they are helping future generations shine.

If I could go back in time, instead of reading books aloud as I cradled my kids, I would tell them that they were born to shine. As I watched them struggle in sports or academics, I’d say those words and then watch the effect they had.

Even though I don’t recall a single word of praise or encouragement, I told myself that I was born to shine. Perhaps not in those exact words, but the message was the same. Often I thought I was lying to myself, but I persevered nonetheless. When I was feeling inferior to my siblings, I’d think of the things that I could do better than them.

For example, I was the better athlete at a time when girls played few sports. I picked up languages quite quickly and enjoyed learning about different places and cultures. I was an excellent math student, so good that I got a full-ride scholarship.

But I also struggled with self-esteem and self-confidence. What if my dad had told me I was born to shine? Those words would have meant more to me than a bucket of gold. I would have known that he saw something valuable in me. My self-esteem would have risen. I wold have liked myself better.

Born to shine. I wish that every parent would say those words to their kids, no matter how old. Over and over, look them in the eye and say born to shine. Pat them on the back, give them a hug, turn it into a song. Say the words weekly, daily, hour by hour.

Slowly, ever so slowly the world would change.

Born to shine. Power.

I am More than a Body

Look beneath the sunny smile

And stay awhile.

What do you see?

The real me.

 

Dig under my nails and skin

To find the soul within.

What do you see?

Lonely me.

 

Reach for the hidden being

Well beyond seeing.

What do you see?

Tearful me.

 

Wipe away the measured words

That belie fluttering birds.

What do you see?

Worried me.

 

Remove the tightly wound bars

To give my wondrous stars

So I can be

Truly free.

 

Spring the trap that binds.

Unloose the tie that winds.

What do you see?

Ecstatic me.

The Car

Driving home, the freeway jammed

Even the diamond land crammed.

Cruise ships seeking safe repose,

Passengers fighting off woes.

 

Fingers white around the wheel.

Hearts forgetting how to feel.

Tunnels permanently blocked.

Wooden doors steadfastly locked.

 

Hopeless, dreamless,zombie-like

Pounding in the golden spike

Absolute sincerity

Wallows in simplicity.

 

Disaster looms up ahead.

Patterns melt the tangled thread.

Revolutionaries sway

Blinkers indicate the way.

 

Arterial trends emerge.

Widens an expansive urge.

Switching lanes has come too fast.

Now forgetting all the past.

 

Exit sign soon arises

Throwing off all disguises.

Speeding in direction shown

Indicates a welcome home.

 

My Plea for Help

In the humdrum sameness

of my everyday life,

as teacher, mother,

sister, and wife

words have fled

causing undo strife,

piercing my heart like

an unsharpened knife

Oh, please, someone

come and rescue me.

Open my eyes that

I soon may see.

Fill my soul with

words: set me free

that I may write

what’s meant to be.

Why have the words

all flown away?

What did I do

to them betray

my inmost thoughts,

my flight from fray.

Come back to me,

without delay

Like a wee small child

I scream and shout.

throw all my pens

and toss about

long empty pages

lines, words without

hoping that soon

I’ll merit clout.

Tell me, please,

how to live again

with words and rhymes

flowing free like rain.

Send down a storm

to complete my brain.

I need you now.

That much is plain.

Thinking Back

Memory fails me, as I try to recall

those things that we did, both momentous and small

 

The many times that we laughed. Those that we cried.

The children born healthy, and old folks who died.

 

But as I grow older, my mind has begun

to forget the details, including the fun

 

things that we did, before our children were born.

When we were that young, was I ever forlorn?

 

Perhaps. As I part the mist that clouds my view,

I see a lonely place, before I met you.

 

My heart was heavy with worries, that’s true.

Sorrows befell my soul, until there was you.

 

With you the sun arose, brightening my way,

and so it continues, to this very day.

 

As I stroll through life, beauty I can now see:

blue sky, birds, butterflies, and the apple tree

 

under which we sat, and talked about our love.

And though it sounds corny, even the white dove

 

that flew high overhead as we pledged our vow

to love forever.  I remember it now!

 

Such a wonderful time!  A beautiful place!

The way we danced and the smile on your face.

 

A white picket fence.  The cookie-cutter house.

The cuddly kitten.  Yes, even a brown mouse.

 

Such an exciting time, those long-ago days.

Our children grew up, then went separate ways.

 

Those things that we did, both momentous and small

As memory tricks me, I sometimes recall.

Bus Stop Woes

Who’d ever think that her heart would shatter

Standing in the glittery sun of the bus stop

 

Her angel, lover, seeker-friend

Arm-in-arm with a fiery siren

Strolled by, then made an effort

To move his “love” to his opposite arm

Like a warrior-shield protecting its prize

 

She choked-back ceaseless cries

Which she buried by her hollow smile

 

Just as a broken-down building

Stands as empty sentinel

To the glory days of steel,

Death reaches its fingers,

Plucks the tendons,

Unscrews the bolts,

Crumbles the façade,

Leaves only remnants of grandeurs past

Exposed to elemental forces.

 

There is no place to hide

Even the semblance of warmth

 

She does not run

Instead she plants roots in the cement

Straightens her shoulders

Stands as a monument to power

 

Healed

Looking Back

I never touched her.

Not really.

I held her hand

and stroked her blue-veined fingers.

I patted her shoulder

and pulled the gown up around her neck.

But I never touched her.

Not really.

I massaged her arms

and tucked the blankets under her legs.

When she cried in pain

and called for someone, anyone to help,

I never touched her.

Not really.

When tears poured down her cheeks

and tremors shook her skeletal frame,

When she struggled to breathe

and begged for water to moisten her lips,

I never touched her.

Not really.

I never looked into her eyes

or kissed her wrinkled cheek.

I should have held her tightly

and chased away her hallucinations.

I never touched her.

Not really.

When she truly needed a friend

and called for someone, anyone to be near,

When she breathed her last breath

and crossed over to God’s side,

I never touched her.

Not really.