Through the neon haze he sits alone at the end of the bar snacking on pretzels and nursing a light beer. Everyone knows his name, though no one sits with him. He watches the game, the bartender, the guys playing pool, the college girls who ignore him, and then he orders another beer.
The girls remind him of his dance with Darla Pinkerton, his date at the prom. His eyes twinkle when he reminisces to the bartender: “Darla Pinkerton was a looker in those days, you know, before she had those kids and got married to that idiot. Look at what she coulda had.” He chuckles and takes another sip.
He still wears a t-shirt from the local high school and looks for someone else to hear his tales. The barkeep has already heard these stories, stories about how he caught the winning pass or made the last second shot to beat the rival high school. “That play won us the championship. Don’t get better than that. Best time of my life.” He smiles with sadness, finishes his beer, and orders “just one more” that again turns into three.
This modern day Miniver Cheevy is all too common in my town. Just about every tavern, saloon, or bar hosts this pathetic figure. I feel sympathy for the poor guy every time. He peaked at 18 and nothing will top his high school sports memories, not his job, his marriage, or his kids. It’s all too common here.
Each year I see a few kids in my classes who seem to be heading down this same path, and I often just don’t know what to do to stop it. Many of our sports “stars” in our valley get a shot at a small college to continue playing sports, but the stories come back that the Jones kid “wouldn’t quit the pot” or “couldn’t put down the beer” and so on. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s our sports tradition.