12.  Endless Summer

It was sort of like a magic act: "Ladies and gentlemen, for your evening entertainment, Matt Price and Andy Phillips present the Vanishing Interception!"

My connection with Matt on the football field continued to be a thing of beauty: passes that shouldhave been picks frequently ended up in my hands and resulted in yardage. As time put some distance between me and that troubling night we played the Hurricanes, our on-the-field connection became less a source of turmoil for me and more an out-and-out entertainment.  It made us laugh; it frustrated our opponents.  And quietly, inexorably, it bound us more firmly to each other, as we continued and deepened this intimate conversation between our bodies.

It was a conversation for silent partners only. After that lame and frustrating dialogue on the bus, where Matt made a half-hearted attempt to understand and I made a sincere effort to avoid, we didn't talk about it, didn't think any more about it. We didn't really have the words. But something in me felt that it was a good thing that we didn't. So, on the surface anyway, it was business as usual between the two of us. To my relief, the wonder and dread of that Friday night gradually faded.

During September the school always fired up the machinery to create that year's Student Council.  Elections were held the first Friday of October, the week after our game against the Hurricanes. Prior to the voting that day, each of the four classes got to listen to short campaign speeches from the various candidates for Student Council. Freshman assembly was scheduled for 1 p.m, followed by voting in the classrooms at 2.  Matt was running for freshman class president, and was opposed by a girl named Angie Hartman. Angie was a freshman cheerleader. She was beautiful and personable and popular with guys and girls alike; on top of that, she was sharp as a tack.

I was running for freshman representative. Each class sent its president and an additional representative to Student Council. I had no interest in running against Matt for the President position, but I did want to be on the Council. Matt, for his part, was convinced I was fated to be on STUCO with him. Opposing me were Jared Jacobsen, the rich, arrogant kid Matt and I were determined to neutralize, and Tricia Bailey, who'd been Student Council president of her junior high.

Campaigning had started the first week in September. We'd gotten our friends and teammates to help us campaign. Matt even went around to a lot of the other cliques, clubs, and groups, introducing himself personally, talking a little about why he wanted to be class president, and asking for support; then he'd tell them he needed their help.

On a Saturday in mid-September he held a campaign workday at his house, and invited a whole collection of different types to help out: brains, nerds, athletes, cheerleaders, druggies, theater freaks, band and choir kids, auto-shop thug types,and wood-shop rats.

I thought it was a brilliant plan. Coming from anybody else it would have been cynical and manipulative. But Matt was almost militant about refusing to shun or stereotype anyone; so the request for help and support, as far as I was concerned, was genuine.

They painted signs, made flyers, planned campaign talks to their friends and groups and organizations, and amazingly enough, began to get to know each other without the labels, as human beings. Some unthinkable friendships were made that day which lasted throughout high school, simply because it never occurred to Matt that you couldn't mix druggies with math geeks.

And though I didn't know it at the time, all this was playing right into Matt's grand design.

I was worried about Matt's speech, though. Matt was great at one-on-one, or even at firing up a team, but I wondered if he had the verbal skills to match those of his opponent. I had some uneasiness that Matt was going to come off as a dumb jock and that Angie was going to slice him up with the sharpness of her presentation. I tried to suggest nonchalantly once or twice that he let me help him with his speech, but he declined each time. I wasn't happy about that, but I knew better than to press it.

The day of the campaign assembly came. All the candidates were seated on the stage at the front of the auditorium.

I had to go first. Along with almost every other candidate that day, I came up with the usual blather about "representing you," "working for you," "changing things for the better," "making your high school experience the best it can be," nonsense like that.

The other two candidates gave their speeches and sat down; then it was time to hear from the two candidates for class president.

For once Matt's luck hadn't held and he'd been picked to speak first. When his turn came, he stepped up to the podium confidently and, I noticed with horror, without a written-out script.  Oh, god, I thought, and, slumping down in my chair, I waited for the coming disaster.

Matt cleared his throat. "Okay, a lot of you probably know me," and at that point a little applause rippled through the audience.

He continued: "I'm Matt Price. I guess you've seen I can play some football." A few more chimed in with the applause this time. "Angie's gonna talk in a minute and I'll tell you this, she's smarter than I am and she'd do a great job. Seriously,I may even vote for her." The audience laughed.

Then Matt looked out at themand said, "Actually, though, I won't. Here's why I want to do this.

"Some of you have gone to school with me since kindergarten and you know the kids I've hung out with. I'm gonna say something we all know and nobody says out loud when teachers are listening. Sometimes we're freakin' brutal to each other and the popular kids can be the worst."

I looked around a little nervously and noticed several of my classmates doing the same.

"Every school in the world has popular kids," he said, "and I guess I've been in that group for a long time.  I like it.  Man, who wouldn't? But it's like--I mean, it's just a game. I don't know why it happened to me.  I'm just a regular guy.  I'll never do brain surgery.  And my life hasn't exactly been normal.  I can play a little ball, I guess.  But I got nothin' really special about me.  It's just luck, really.  I didn't do anything to get to be standing up here.  It's all just luck.

"I think about things sometimes, like other people and their luck.  It's like the dice rolls and you end up where you end up.  Not everybody at this school got a rich or smart mom or dad. Not everybody even has a mom and a dad.

"Not everybody in this school lives in Willow Heights. Some of you live over at the Village Estates.

"Some of you aren't gonna ever be football heroes because you're skinny and clumsy and can't bench press five pounds.

"And some of you aren't good-looking, which really sucks because you have to be good-looking to be popular. We have some really talented ugly kids who are great people. But when kids talk about them, do they talk about what great people they are? No way, they talk about how ugly they are.

"And some of you don't talk much when you're around other kids because you're scared they'll laugh at you, so you end up with no friends.

"And some of you don't do well in class so the teachers treat you like dirt, and you feel too ashamed to talk to them about it and get help, and you don't have a buddy like Andy to help you out the way he helps me out when I feel too stupid to ask a teacher for help."

I blanched at this point and stared at the floor.

"And some of you--well, man, the bad luck fairy sat on your face and you got it all. You're ugly,and you can't play sports, and you're poor, and your daddy ran off, and you make bad grades, and the teachers think you're worthless and you don't have any friends 'cause you're scared to talk to people. And you wonder just which day of which year you're gonna reach for the bottle and take all the pills because it sucks too much to go on."

There was a deadly quiet in the auditorium. Several of the teachers looked visibly uncomfortable.

"The reason I want to be on student council is simple," he said.  "I want every freshman in this high school to feel like he belongs. I want the popular kids and the student leaders to treat everybody right. I think with the right leaders we can make it the popular thing to do. And if you give me a chance to make that happen, I'll do all the stuff that student council members are supposed to do. I'll help plan the fundraisers and the socials and I'll come to the meetings and I'll participate in the service projects. But the main thing I'm gonna do is do my best to see that we treat each other right.

"I've had some tough things in my life. I know what it's like when it sucks. I know what it's like when it hurts and you can't let anybody know. You make me freshman president and I don't care who you are; if you come to me I'll be your friend. I'll never put you down and I'll never talk trash about you.

"I'm not saying I'll hang outwith you. But I'll listen. And I'll do anything I can to help you figure out how to deal. If a teacher's not being fair to you, we'll figure out what to do. If another kid's giving you shi-- ...uh, givingyou a hard time, I'll pound his face in; I mean, I'll help you work it out with him. If you're a druggie and you're scared about what's happening to you, we'll figure out something. If you live in a trailer park and you're ashamed of your clothes, you don't have to be afraid to talk to me. You'll never get nothin' but acceptance from me. I want to be your friend, and I want to do what I can to make this high school a place where good stuff happens to you, not a place to make your life suck.

"And I'll tell you something else"--and here he paused for effect as if he been doing this kind of thing for years--"I don't want to be your stinkin' football hero if it makes you think I'm better than you. I want you to feel good and not just be jealous of what somebody else is. If you make me class president I'll do everything I can to make that happen.

"That's all I have to say. Oh,and another thing--my buddy Andy's on the same page with me on all this, so if you vote for me, vote for him too.

"Okay, that's it; I'm done."And with that, he smiled nervously and sat down.

The auditorium was dead silent.

I was stunned at how polished, how sincere--how powerful--his presentation was.

But why drag me into it? That part irritated me. I didn't need Matt's charity. Jacobsen was glaring at me, and Tricia stared at her hands as they rested in her lap.  Mrs.Sullivan, the Student Council sponsor, leaned over to me and scowled, saying, quietly, "He can't say that!"

"I had no idea he was gonna say it," I protested. "I don't like it either."

She started to say something else, but by then the room had begun to react. I couldn't hear her over all the applause, whistles, and foot-stomping coming from the audience.

Total chaos ruled for two minutes.

Mrs. Sullivan got her composure back, and stood up and quieted the crowd. After everything had died down she invited Angie to speak.

I'll give Angie this: she hung in there like a trooper and gave a great speech. The election was already over, really. The whole freshman class had just been delivered into Matt's hands. But she spoke as if she didn't know any of that. Her speech had charm, and congeniality, and wit. I felt my heart go out to her a little. I wanted Matt to win, but I felt bad for Angie. So when she finished her speech I started in with the applause, maybe a little too early and a little too enthusiastically. The rest of the stage and the rest of the auditorium followed suit, though, and applauded politely, though with reserve and little passion.

The assembly came to an end and everybody shook hands. Matt came up to me afterwards, slapped me on the back and said, "I know I shoulda got you to help me, but do youthink it wasn't too bad?" The playful glint in his eye made me a little angry as I remembered the embarrassment of having him try to pull me in on his coattails.

"I didn't need your fuckin' help, Matt."

"No, maybe you didn't," he said unapologetically. "But I need yours, and I'll do what I can to make sure I get it."

I snarled at him--but who could stay pissed at Matt for any length of time?

"Okay, bud, we'll see," I said. "But don't count your chickens.  Angie gave a great speech too."

"I know," he said, smiling.  "Wasn't she awesome?  She's got the brains, no doubt about that.  And, damn, she's beautiful too. Just your type, right?"

I punched him in the shoulder. "Just worry about your own love life, Matt."

"Why should I worry?" he deadpanned.

Matt won, of course, probably by the most lopsided margin in the school's history. I got elected,too, by a margin that was not as large as his, but wide enough to stroke my ego.

And from Day One in his role as freshman class president--and on through his years as sophomore,junior, and senior class president--Matt somehow managed to do exactly what he'd promised in that first campaign speech. His commitment to accepting people became contagious, just like he said it would. People who wanted to claim Matt as a friend learned quickly that they couldn't disrespect others just for the fun of it. During the years that Matt and I and our group of friends were in official and unofficial leadership positions, no kid in our class ever had to fear that the popular kids would humiliate or insult him in public.

Our football season that first year ended impressively, with a 9-1 season record. We finished first in the district, which was more than could be said for the Varsity team, which went 4-6. "They need me up there, Phillips," Matt said to me more times than I cared to hear. But I understood his enthusiasm. I shared it. We ate, slept, and breathed sports. It was a channel for our aggressions, a metaphor expressing our vitality and love of life, a source of self-identity.

We were set. By October Matt and I had carved out a niche for ourselves in school, both on and off the playing field, a niche which was to function as our base of operations all throughout high school. It was the solstice of the Endless Summer in our lives, a time that, while I now understand it as cruelly brief and ephemeral, seemed during those days as if it stretched out ahead of us forever.


In April, baseball season was in full swing, and I was playing on the freshman team. One Saturday afternoon I was at the batting cages working on my swing.  Just as the pitching machine fired one past me, I heard a familiar voice.

"Eye on the ball, freshman!"

Cole's sensuous, resonant baritone startled me and caused me to miss the next pitch too.  I moved out of the line of fire and turned around to face him.

"'Sup, Cole?"

"Up to no good, like always. You gonna tear it up in baseball bad as y'all tore it up in football?"

I put down my bat and came out of the cage. "Shit, man, I don't know, but I'm givin' it my best swing."

"Your mom said I'd find you here," he continued.

"Why were you looking for me?"

"A bunch of us are going down to the beach next weekend," he answered, "and we wanted you and Price and Ruben to come with us. Y'all were awesome last fall and we thought that was worth an invite into our little group."

My eyes widened. "What group is that?"

"Well, it's kind of a tradition," he said.  "The top offensive players on the team, we have this little crew we call the Jock Posse. It's no big deal but it's kinda fun. You know the guys I hang out with? Well, that's the Jock Posse. The team captain chooses who gets into the Posse at the end of the season. That's Jeff Blizzard this year, of course. See, it's supposed to make the offense play harder during the season. Because if somebody's lookin' better than you in the next year, they'll get in and you're out.

"Anyway, you get to be really close with the other guys in the group. And Coach really relies on us for leadership, especially with the new players. It's kind of a little leadership core. It makes the whole team better, really."

"Didn't work this year, did it?" I grinned.

"Look, smartass," he snarled, "Varsity football's a big step up from the freshman team; you'll see.  We had too many underclassmen havin' to play this year. Next year we'll be better--and you'll be ridin' the bench."

"Hey, I was just messin' withya," I said.

"Well, you better show some respect," he said.  "No freshmen have ever been invited into theJock Posse before; y'all are the first."

"No shit!"

He clapped me on the shoulder and smiled.  "Nope, no shit. Anyway, here's the drill. We provide leadership for the team, on and off the field. And we have a lot offun. And when the weather gets warm, we do trips to the beach. You know, party a little, play some beach football, bring some stuff to get a little happy, and cruise the ladies."

I started packing up my gear. "What beach?"

He shrugged. "Padre Island, or Mustang Island, or Galveston once in a while, or South Padre...well, actually, we only went to South Padre once, 'cause it's too damn far."

I sat down on the stands that faced the cages. "The others aren't that close either.  How many guys go?"

Cole grabbed a spot next to me and sat. "I don't know, we usually take between 6 and 12 of us whenever we go. There's four Posse members out of each class. Well, except for freshman, of course. You guys don't get in. Until this year."

My mind began to wander a little. He was sitting close, and his words began to take a back seat to the impact of his physical presence in my space. Cole's wardrobe was almost as well known as he was, and today he was sporting a perfectly coordinated Tommy ensemble. The day was warm, and the clean but compelling scent of his skin, combined with his trademark cologne, was distracting me.

Gradually the import of what he'd said registered with me. "Awesome. And so now you're gonna start letting freshmen in?"

"This is a one-shot deal, bro. Just you three. No promises about next year."

"Dude. I love the beach," I said.  "And you know I like hanging with you and your friends, Cole."

He raised an eyebrow and, throwing me a wicked grin, said, "Yeah, it has some advantages, doesn't it?"  I knew he was talking about his birthday present to me.

"So tell me some more," I said. "Like, how much does it cost and what about food and gasoline and shit?  And how long do you stay?"

He climbed off the stands, picked up my bat, and started swinging, sending imaginary home-run balls into imaginary stands.  "Usually everybody gets packed up by Thursday night," he said.  "That way we can leave Friday right after school. We take a couple of cars, whoever has the biggest ones. We split the gasoline bill.  We make up a food list and everybody has to bring something. We eat out once or twice, do fast food sometimes, and cook out on the beach.  Most of the time we stay all Saturday and leave for home around noon or one on Sunday."  He handed me my bat and sat back down on the opposite end of the stands from me.

I took the bat and set it next to me.  "How often do you go?"

"Most years we start on Spring Break," he said.  "We're just getting a late start this year. Then we go, like, once a month till school's out, and once a month all summer, or maybe sometimes twice a month."

"Where do you stay?"

"Usually right on the beach," he said, scooting closer to me again.  "There's public camping down there in spots, and we always have a couple of vans or minivans, or big cars. We set up tents. Some people sleep in the tents, some people sleep in the cars."

"Awesome," I said.  "Do y'all ever bring girls?"

He laughed. "Shit, Phillips, you are the horniest freshman I ever met."  I felt myself blush a little as he went on.  "Sometimes girls come down.  But that gets hard to pull off for a whole weekend.  Parents check around. So lotta times it's just the guys."

"This damn city's too small," I said, shaking my head at the thought of parents checking with each other and interfering with our sex lives.

"You got that right," Cole said, wistfully. "But it's okay because there's always girls on the beach. There's places to meet 'em and spend time. Sometimes we sneak into the pools at some of the condos. There's always girls there. And kids from Port Aransas just hang out on the beach. Those girls are wild too," he grinned.

"Anyway," he continued, "we're going next weekend for the first time this year, and we voted to ask you three guys along in honor of your kick-ass freshman season. So are y'all in?"

"Man, I don't know," I said. "It sounds awesome. But how does everybody get permission to go?  I mean, with no adults and everything?"

"Somebody always has an older brother or cousin in college or something," he replied.  "They come along to chaperone. A lot of the parents know about this tradition. It's gone on for years and nobody's gotten hurt or gotten into any kind of trouble. We don't let anybody go crazy or get arrested or shit like that, otherwise that would be the end of the whole thing anyway. But seems like there's always one or two whose parents won't let 'em. If they made the cut then sometimes just so they can go we'll get their parents to chaperone once in awhile."

I considered that for a minute and asked, "What adult-type is going along this time?"

Cole smiled. "My brother."

"Oh, brother," I said, rolling my eyes.

Cole cracked up. "Always the funny man, Phillips. But Brad's got all the grownups fooled with 'what a fine young man' he is," Cole said, imitating some clueless parent. "Really, dude, my bro's Da Man. He wouldn't let anybody do anything really stupid or dangerous, but he was in the Posse once. He knows that guys gotta have some fun. Having somebody like him around is good for both sides of this thing...Anyway, don't worry about him curtailing the action; with that bod and that killer smile you'll get some female attention down there; just don't let 'em know you're closer to 12 than you are to 21."

"Fuck you, dickhead." I hated being called a little kid, but I was proud that Cole thought I looked good enough to catch the attention of the girls.

He laughed, reached over, and ruffled my hair with his hand. "Hey, I only speak the truth." Then, after a pause, he asked, "So what do ya say? Will you boys be the first freshmen in history to join the Jock Posse?"

"Shit, yeah, I'm in," I said with enthusiasm, "I mean, I am if I can convince my parents. What about Matt and Ruben?"

"That's Blizzard's job," he told me.  "He's calling both of them, 'cause Ruben's Varsity Bro isn't in the Jock Posse. Anyway, call me tomorrow and let me know for sure."

I nodded. "Okay. I know I can work it out at home. Thanks, Cole."

"No hay de que, Little Bro," he said, smiling. "Y'all earned it."

We shook and high-fived. Cole left and I picked up my stuff and started walking home. I didn't much feel the sidewalk, though, because I was on Cloud Nine.

It didn't take much talking to convince my parents.  My dad had already heard of the Jock Posse. It had a good reputation with the parents who knew anything about it. I'm sure some of them must have known that with a group of a dozen jocks, there was a darker side to the camaraderie too. But apparently the guys who'd come before us had kept their noses reasonably clean.

I called Cole the next night and told him I was a go.

"Excellent, Little Bro," he said. "Your bud can't go, though."

I frowned. "Matt declined?"

"Just the weekend, not the membership. He already promised his mom he'd help her do some spring cleaning and landscaping all weekend."

I was disappointed. Still,this wasn't the last time we'd be doing this.

"Oh, and something else," headded. "Ruben's going."

"Yeah?"  I didn't understand his point.

"Well," he said, "did you know his folks have a condo on Mustang?"

"Shit, no!"

"Shit, yeah," he shot back." And he talked to them and they said if we give 'em a little notice, we can stay at the condo if his older brother Manny comes. Does that not kick ass?"

I was impressed. "That rocks! Do you think we can snag it the next time we go?"

"We're gonna try, bro," hetold me.  "Man. Think of it...the Jock Posse goes upscale!"

We finished our conversation; I hung up with a little sigh.  Being on the Gulf coastline was a mind-altering experience for me;  I couldn't really put it into words, but I was thrilled at the thought of getting to go there a lot with my buds.  My memory took me back to that night on the beach with Staci, and I winced a little. That area was still a little raw and tender.  I thought about the moon shining on the waves at night, the sun and the surf and the clear blue sky during the day. I thought about the feel, the smell, the way it transformed my entire consciousness.

And, to my dismay, I thought about the way Cole would look bare-chested, wearing a pair of board shorts.


Copyright 2004 by Adam Phillips.  Thanks for reading; you can email me at aaptx28@yahoo.com and I'll do my best to write you back.