…Son: Counterculture Feminist Poet Raises Football Player
By Sharon Doubiago
October 1, 1976
Officials at Emery High School in Emeryville,
California, were surprised when a popular female
gym teacher showed up with a beard. Doris Richards,
in a yearbook photo eating a banana, described by a
former superintendent of schools as “the sweetest girl
I’ve ever known,” spent a six-month sick leave under-
going a sex change operation. The teacher, who now
wants to be known as Steve Dain, informed the school
he wants to stay on the job.
The San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, October 2, Soldier Memorial Field, Emery vs Mendocino
You’re getting your uniform together, I’m sewing the torn sleeve to the jersey. To your shoulder pads propped in the chair you say “God. They were made just to hit someone.”
“I walked down onto the field all alone last night after practice and thought about what it all means. The world seems crazy. I thought about those cypress trees. Must be forty years old.”
“They’re older than that, Danny. The western border was planted by the class of 1898 and the northern border by the class of 1920.”
Fort Bragg’s Safeway won’t cash my welfare check. “Out of money,” she sneers. I buy a can of beer with the change I have, am asked for my I.D. “My I.D.’s out in the car but look at my face. I’m on my way to my sixteen-year-old’s football game.” She says “Emery.” She might as well have said “nigger.” Then she looks me in the face and without a word sells me the beer.
Purity cashes my check. “So long as you shop here.” I drive back in the rain with no wipers, the beer between my legs. You said we need an oil change! Where am I going to get the moola for that?
Into the Girls which is normally the Boys except during games. Graffiti in the cubicle at eye level:
I WANT TO GIVE DOOBIE A BLOW JOB
Beneath this, in your hand:
YOU WOULD, KEVIN
How hard it is growing up. The boy to become a man. We hurt our sons, we don’t see them. Even the nature lovers blame it on Nature. It’s hormones, not the way we raise them. Not the patriarchy.
“It was in the papers, we’re the underdogs.”
Pre-game exercise. Mendocino doing them in silence, Emery yelling, grunting, cursing. Their cheerleaders accompany them, black thighs strutting, flashing red, white and blue pom-poms. Our cheerleaders in a silent dream. Ocean silent in a dream behind both teams. You take off your helmet. Your gold curls fall. A girl’s voice screams in the stands, “There’s Danny!”
Sun out after the rain, mammoth silver clouds rise in the north. Beyond the fence, before the Pacific, a man emerges from the swaying cypress with a little black girl, about three, then vanishes back into the woods. Junior high kids make their way across the stands, across our laps. There’s Sandy Abernathy in a maternity smock!
I brace myself for not standing for the flag. Down on the field Dave Meischke turns to see if it’s true. Have you told him it’s because of Vietnam? Because these Emery guys are descended from our slaves? So I’m staring out to the field while the crowd pledges allegiance.
Emery comes running, breaking the red paper ribbon. Everyone giggling between the lines, there’s no flag! They’re pledging allegiance to a flag pole. My face butt-level their towering bodies. Listening to Windy Jones’ attractive, blond, bee-hived mother, Russ’s sister—“kind of young,” you said, “real tan, with wrinkles”—talking to another woman. They talk the entire game about clothes, where to buy the latest in Fort Bragg.
Football is about hope. Emery looks so skinny, fat, small, undernourished, sad. Without hope.
Kick-off, bodies and ball flying. Now a black woman and the three-year-old emerge from the grove, look across the field, vanish back to where they came.
Mendocino down, Emery running around us to the goal line. We hold! Get the ball back, suddenly Scott Honeycutt runs all the way to the fifty-yard line. Dean makes the fifty-yard touchdown! Chip Defer’s kick good. 7-0. Stephanie’s voice falling down the grandstands, “ALL RIGHT!”
Kick-off. Emery carries the ball, Mendo following, they both slip in the mud, slide into each other. Coach screaming from sidelines, “Move up, Doubiago!” “Move up, Doubiago!” “Danny, turn your legs!” Cheerleaders, “deFense! deFense!”
You don’t cough anymore, lots of sneezing though. Still wonder if it’s your room. Your foam mattress is getting wet and moldy underneath, begins to stink. I have you sleep with the door open. I’ll take the door off if that’s it, though you’ll lose your privacy. The mattress in the living room is too soft, gives you a backache.
Mark Moulder: sixty-yard touchdown.
Oops. Penalty. Doesn’t count. Carol McDonnell cussing, “IS THAT ALL, REF?”
We push Emery back to their twenty-yard line. You seem nervous, hesitant, as if you’re not sure. About beating a black team? Maybe it’s Freddy’s death that’s getting to you. Everyone was so frightened of that frightened kid. Acetylene-gassed himself. Coco found him in a tent behind their house.
“Spanish is hard,” you sighed this morning. “Teacher won’t speak English. Everyone else understands, it seems.” “That’s your dyslexia again, Danny. Don’t get discouraged, even if you get all Fs. Just try and take it in, like you’re a baby absorbing English; you’ll know something later about Spanish that way.”
Ronnie McDonnell, now a college freshman at Chico, nods “Hello.”
As usual I feel weird and nervous. I hate this in me.
Boogie boogie, white bellies exposed, our flinging cheerleading hips. That beautiful girl I can’t take my eyes off looks grown. I’ll be 56 when she’s my age. (When she’s my age her daughter will be raped and murdered, buried in sand east of Reno.)
Emery’s cheerleaders come over to cheer for us. We run over to their side.
You told me that you’ve grown to like Stephanie. You and Dave were walking by the girls’ restroom and a woman dressed-up with nylons and sprayed hair was starting to go in when Stephanie emerged, pigeon-toed her way past the woman stopped dead in her tracks, turning back to Steph, “Is this the Boy’s or the Girl’s?” Stephanie shrugging her shoulders, not stopping, “Girls!” The woman was still hesitant. “It’s coed,” Dave told her. You told me of the trouble Jan and Mrs. Peterson had last year with Heidi, trying to get her to wear a bra, fix herself up, act like a girl. She wanted no part of it, loved her horse. This year she’s dyed her hair red, sits here in the bleachers combing it all through the game, her breasts pushed up to her throat, glamorous tinted glasses on her thin nose. “I never see Jan anymore,” you told me of your ex-girlfriend. “I don’t know why. I can talk to her mom and sister great, but I don’t know what to say to Jan. We just get nervous when we see each other.”
Annie’s been staying with us since Tuesday, brought food stamps which we’ve already used up. She’s to stay another week or so until her mother returns. She and Shawn got up at 5:30 this morning. Annie looks sexual, thinner, she won’t eat breakfast. Shawn will tell me that she lost her virginity during this time. To Peter B. It was horrible. He was.
Shawn wrote her father, asked for and got money back to buy a down jacket. (You got nothing from him for your birthday.) She finally got the much-desired thing, $35.00. Dark blue. They have an extra-large one, same color, she says you’d like it. But with practice there’s never time for you to go shopping.
You just brought down the runner with the ball. Last game the band played a real dumb-dumb downer every time we messed up. You complained it makes you depressed out there. Steph overheard you, “I’ll tell Mr. Ayers, I’ll tell.” Sure enough, they’re playing up tunes every time Mendocino messes up! Dean just ran sixty yards to the five-yard line. But we’re supposed to be the underdogs! Any white team playing a black team must be the underdogs. “It was in the papers: we’re the underdogs. But we stuck some butt!”
Mendocino touchdown! The kick is good: 14-0!
But the kicker collapses, even before he knows he made it. It’s hard to believe my eyes. Number 32, Chip Defer keeps doubling over, retching, then collapsing to the ground after every play—out in the middle of the field, on the sidelines. But the coaches keep sending him back in.
You’re shoved from behind, the guy knocks over our ball carrier too. Is that legal? No penalty called.
Now, plays later, everyone yelling “Yeah, Doubiago!” Whatever you did I missed it.
“Push them back to the city!” Carol McDonnell bursts. Then “Good defense! Good thinking!”
Mendo: touchdown! Patting butts. Nope, doesn’t count. All the way back to the forty. Scott runs twenty yards. And then he does it again, all the way down the middle. 20-0.
Like magic, all of you are playing great! Sick Chip’s kick is good. 21-0. Now a black kid attacks a Mendocino player. A large black woman, probably his mother, runs out on the field, tries to stop him! He doesn’t stop.
Bang! The gun goes off. We win. 21-0.
You’re muddy, sun shining off your gold head, helmet under your arm, shaking hands with Emery #38, talking to him.
“God, he just kills me,” Nancy Marx exclaims.
Driving home, through Little River, I pick up a hitchhiker, Nadine, a black woman. I tell her of the game. “You mean because they’re all black, Mendocino was afraid?” Born and raised in Oakland, Nadine laughs all the way to the Heritage House.
“My mother died during that time, and yes
my sister is up on Zenith Hill too”
Chip Defer, Mendocino, 1992
Sharon Doubiago is a San Francisco poet and memoirist of many books.
Poetry: Hard Country (epic poem, West End Press), South America Mi Hija (booklength poem, U of Pittsburgh Press), Psyche Drives the Coast (Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Empty Bowl Press), Body and Soul (Cedar Hill Press), Love On the Streets (U of Pitts), The Visit (50 page poem, Wild Ocean Press), and most recently Naked To The Earth (poetry, Wild Ocean Press)
Memoir/Memoir stories: The Book of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (Greywolf), El Nino (Lost Roads), My Father’s Love, vol 1 +2 (Wild Ocean) and My Beard, Spuyten Duvyil
Web site: SharonDoubiago.com