Al Batt: Playing game of football against the Steel Beams

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2021

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

There are two kinds of people — those who were born in March and those who wish they had been.

My birthday is on St. Urho’s Day every year. Making another trip around the sun gives me cause to reflect upon what I’ve learned during this wonderful life. Goals are adjusted.

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Life is a series of things you didn’t expect. Back in the used to be when I was as smart as I’d ever be, school was winding down for the year. There was a popular advertising slogan for a cigarette saying LSMFT meant “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” At the terminus of a school year, it meant “Lord Save Me From Teachers.” It was chills, spills and thrills as we finished lunch in the school’s cafeteria and rushed outside. Kids were antsy to get to summer.

We played football at noon recess, if I dare call it recess for high school. It was a game without rules, which eliminated the need to circumvent the rules as is done in the NFL. It was a brief game — recess pieces.

Perry Haugen was a couple of years older than me. He was in senior high, I was in junior high. We tried to stay in harm’s way, so the game was played on the school lawn, sidewalks, streets and student parking lot. The teachers parked their cars in a lot at a secret location. The game was touch football, but there were no officials, which meant we were on the honor system, which meant, as I’d mentioned earlier, there were no rules. We hadn’t run it by the legal department, but we figured we weren’t doing anything wrong unless someone yelled at us.

I had no helmet, no glasses and no brains. The play called by the quarterback (Perry) was for everyone to go long. I ran as far as I could and Perry threw the ball as far as he could fling it. It was a perfect spiral. A thing of beauty. I gave 110%. That’s not true. I gave 54.7%, but I grabbed the football with grace and elegance in the middle of the street and would have done one of those idiotic celebratory dances in the end zone, but I didn’t get the chance. I hit a steel beam being hauled by a tractor-trailer rig and I dropped the ball. That beam and its long protrusion from the end of the trailer had appeared out of nowhere. I hit the overhanging portion of the beam with my head. Witnesses swore the clang sounded like a blacksmith’s hammer hitting an anvil. That steel beam became the center of my universe.

Teachers and coaches had told me I needed to set the bar high. I never knew what they meant until that moment. I’d set the bar about head high.

The trucker didn’t touch his brake lights, likely unaware he’d prevented a touchdown. When he delivered the beams, the recipient examined the load and I imagined him saying, “There’s part of an eyebrow on one beam. Did you hit a cow?” That led to a long discussion on whether cows had eyebrows. It was a lengthy discourse because there was no Google back then.

Friends offered adjectives, but Perry took me to see Doc Olds. We walked there while I held a hankie to my wound. Doc put stitches in my eyebrow. He told me to stay away from steel beams and sent me back to class.

The legend is that my ancestors were buried with their heads above ground because they outlasted marble. I’d head-butted a steel beam and lived.

Perry walked with me back to school. He wasn’t heartbroken about missing a class. I appreciated him. I entered the building with a shaved eyebrow, wound and stitches hidden under a bandage. It was difficult to keep it a secret. Perry left me with the nurse and I told her my story. I was as uncomfortable as Roy Rogers in an English saddle as I mumbled my version of the events, leaving out as much detail as possible.

When I got home, my father gave me some advice. It was something like, “Don’t be stupid just because you know how.”

To spare me from myself, I became a free agent in the noon-hour football games.

It’s important to have goals. My goal had been to become the west coast distributor for hijinks and snark, but after this incident, my goal was to avoid head-butting steel beams.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Tribune.