A boy from a small town finds happiness
|This was a time when our fathers smoked long fat cigars and wore cowboy hats and named their sons Theodore then called them Teddy, or they named them William and it was Billy, maybe Willy, and sometimes Bud or Butch for absolutely no fucking reason whatsoever. It was 1958.
These sons were taught to shake their father’s hand firmly and look them squarely in the eye when doing so. They called their father, Sir, as in, “Yes, Sir.”
Fathers in this time named their daughters Elenore and Margaret, maybe Dorothy, but never called them that. To these fathers they were Kitten or Princess or Sweetie-Pie. Fathers smelled of tobacco and wet wool and bay rum and daughters loved the way their fathers’ smelled in ways only daughters can love an aroma. They called their fathers Daddy, even long after the old boy was dead.
It was a time when nothing made much sense. Not really. The answer to the question why back then was because, and Felix Martingale, who didn’t have a nickname for the simple reason people named Felix didn’t need one, was maybe more confused than most. Felix was a dork and everybody in his small town knew it, including Felix. He knew from the get-go how to make A’s at school, but didn’t have the foggiest of how to make friends. Every boy in Robert E. Lee High called him Feeeelix, as in, “Hey Feeeelix, can I copy your homework?” Or, “Hey Feeelix, what d'ya bring us for lunch four-eyes?”
Now, it might surprise you to learn that this Felix Martingale kid was a big strong sombitch, and tall too. He looked like any farm-boy, the kind that threw haybales on and off tractors every day of his life and never complained. But Felix never once touched a haybale in his life. No, the lad was just big and strong and tall, which, as you might know, was unusual for a dork. On the other hand, the big lug tripped over his own big feet every other step he took and wore thick glasses that were usually smudged. Also, he carried four or five Bic pens in his shirt pocket always. This part was par for the course for any dork deserving of the title.
Felix, through his very patient father, knew how to hold a baseball bat and the basics of swinging a baseball bat, but to actually connect bat on ball was something he didn’t accomplish much. To Felix, every pitch thrown his way was a fastball aimed at his head, even when his father tossed underhand to him in the backyard.
“Keep your eye on the ball, son. No, no, no, remember what I taught you. Here we go…keep your eye on the ball…”
And so it went. All through grade school and high school, Hey Feeeelix this, and Hey Feeelix that, on and on and on until he got the letter from Caltech, a school of a thousand dorks, and off he went at the end of August on a free ride across the country by train to Pasadena, Cali-for-ny-ae, a place of green grass and automatic sprinklers and no coal mines, and no snow, and where nobody called him Feeeelix.
Here he was simply Felix and everybody there tripped over their own feet and wore thick, smudgy glasses, and carried five or six Bic pens in their shirt pockets. Felix was introduced to pocket protectors his first day and took an instant liking to them.
Felix was accustomed to being taller than everybody else, but here he towered over the entire student body. They all looked at him as though afraid of him, and they watched him when he walked across campus and made sure to not be in his way.
Maybe Felix was lonely there his first few days. Everything was so different. The students didn’t pick on him but they also didn’t talk to him. Then one day he was called into the office of the Director of Student Affairs and he was introduced by a man named Professor Gleason to a man named Coach Winters. Coach Winters shook hands with Felix and delighted in the boy’s firm handshake and the way he looked him in the eye.
“Ever played any football son?”
“Football, no, not really, ah, Sir, I don’t, you know, I don’t think I—”
“I think you might like it.”
“Yes, well, I don’t know, you know, it’s just, I—"
“I think you might be damn good at it, boy. I want you to come out for the team!”
“But, you see, you know, I have to explain, I—”
“Spit it out son, what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know how to play football, sir.”
Coach Winters looked over at Professor Gleason and both men burst out laughing.
“You don’t have to worry about that, Felix,” Professor Gleason said.
“That ain’t gonna be a problem. This is a Caltech football program, son. We haven’t won a game in fourteen years! Nobody on the whole damn team knows how to play football!”
With that the two men began laughing again and Felix Martingale went out for the football team. He found out what the inside of a locker room looked like, and he wore a uniform and a helmet with a big C on it, and shoulder pads and shoes with cleats. And everybody was terrible at the game, including him, but Coach Winters taught him how to “HIT PEOPLE!” which is to say how to run over them. Felix found the experience exhilarating.
Everything changed then. People came out and watched practices right from the start of September. And right from the start they began calling him Feeelix again, as in Feeee-lix! Feee-lix! Feee-lix! Yes, his world changed and became filled with people slapping him on the back and glad to see him. Yep. "That September was different, right from the start."