is an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in late
October. The phone rings. An unfamiliar voice
asks, "Is this Charles
" He hesitates
a moment on my last name, as if hes reading
it off a card. A telemarketer, I think. "Yes,"
I say, as my mind races to come up with some excuse
why I cant talk. "Well, this is Charles
have not heard this name in ten years, maybe more,
but I recognize it almost immediately. Charles
Glover is one of the lost boys, and the image
I have of him at that moment is of him running.
Darting in and out of human traffic. Like quicksilver,
he ran, his feet hardly touching the ground, a
football in one outstretched hand, as if he were
going to hand it off to anyone who got close.
But he never did and we hardly ever did. Instead,
once he got up a head of steam, no one could catch
him, and the outstretched ball was just a tease,
a cruel taunt, if you will. "You think you
can catch me, sucker? You think you can take this
ball away from me? Well, go ahead and try
years or so ago, Charlie Glover ran so far, so
fast, that none of us has seen him since. There
were all sorts of rumors. He was strung out on
drugs. He was living in Texas, training to become
a nurse. But now hes back and I think I
great to hear from you," I say, and I mean
it, as we exchange pleasantries excitedly, as
if we were long, lost best friends. But the truth
is, I hardly knew him. Where he grew up. What
his real name was. Where he went to school. If
he was married. What he did for a living. But
then thats the way it was for most of us.
The less we knew, it seemed, the closer we became.
What I did know was that for some twenty odd years,
rain or shine, no matter what the temperature,
every Sunday morning, from late August to early
June, he and I and two to three dozen strangers
would gather in Central Park to play touch football.
We were not friends. We were barely acquaintances.
No phone calls were exchanged during the week
to confirm the game. No socializing before or
after. In fact, it took years before we even knew
each others names. Instead, we were known
by nicknames, like "Acid," or "Crazy
David," or "Tex," or by a number
we might have on our shirt.
tomorrow, Sunday, we are scheduled to hold our
tenth annual reunion game in Central Park. That,
I think, is why I am speaking with Charlie Glover.
He is calling to chat about the upcoming game.
But I am wrong.
game, for me, began almost thirty years ago on
a very similar October Sunday morning. I had just
finished a stint at graduate school, had moved
back to New York and, slinging my cleats over
my shoulder, I headed into Central Park, looking
for a touch football game. In a large expanse
known as Sheep Meadow, I found more than I was
looking for. It was an amazing spectacle. A full-scale,
11 on 11 touch football game with maybe 10 to
15 people on the sidelines waiting to get in.
Having never played in anything bigger than an
intramural game of eight on a side, I was at first
astounded, then hypnotized. I wanted in. But there
was no room. The next week I returned, and with
my cleats dangling from my shoulder so they knew
I meant business, I stood on the sidelines, watching.
Finally, when one of the players was injured,
I found myself motioned to. "Hey, you. Wanna
so it began. Every Sunday for twenty years, I
playedI was afraid to miss a day, lest I
be forgotten and someone else be called in from
the sidelines and usurp my position. The game
was democratic that way: if you were among the
first twenty-two there, you were chosen in, more
than enough incentive to get to bed a little earlier
Saturday night so that you could make the cut.
a while, the players, the camaraderie, meant more
to me than the game. I never socialized with these
men, yet I did get to know them, sometimes better
than I knew my own friends. I heard them talk
about their lives, their families, their jobs,
their hopes and dreams, and it wasnt all
pleasant. Some spoke about how they cheated on
their wives, others made lewd remarks as women
passed within sight of the game, others told tall
tales of what they had accomplished in life. They
grew and I grew along with them. I saw some become
successful in their chosen fields, like a lawyer
whose nose I accidentally broke during a game
became a judge and has handled some high-profile
cases; while others disappeared into poverty or
even worse, into drugs.
game really was about life and death. Players
had children, bringing them out to the field,
first strapped to their backs, then in strollers.
One player, an older fellow named Jerome Snyder,
actually died on the field, walking away from
the game, the victim of a heart attack. Another
player, a cab driver, was murdered in his cab,
and several of us, who never knew him as anyone
but Dom, attended his funeral. And another older
player, who had been playing in the game much
longer than I, suffered a heart attack. The next
week his son appeared with a football for us to
sign and word that his father was in the hospital
to have a bypass operation. Miraculously, the
next year he was back, playing again.
connection between us was palpable and there was
little doubt that if I needed help off the field
I could count on any one of these men. I had proof.
"Acid," whose real name was Sean (well,
not really his given name, but one hed chosen
for himself,) had trouble holding a job. And no
wonder. He was fired from one job for tacking
up the Communist manifesto on the office bulletin
board. He took a job at a newsstand in Times Square.
One night, he got into an argument with a customer,
which soon escalated into violence. He was thrown
into jail. One of his cellmates happened to be
another fellow who played in the game. They put
their heads together and called a third player,
a lawyer, who came down in the middle of the night
and got them out.
years back, I was asked by a friend to write an
article about the game and, reluctantly, I did.
Several months later I received a letter forwarded
to me by the magazine. It was postmarked Jakarta,
Indonesia, and it began this way: "If youre
the person I think you are, this is what you look
And if you are, youve given me
the best Christmas present I could have asked
for." He went on to say that hed always
bragged about playing in this strange touch football
game in Central Park, but none of his friends
believed him. But the other day, a friend of his
who was in Cairo called him up and started reading
him an article about a touch football game and
a player described only as "Ralph, an artist,
who played barefoot." "Thats me,"
he wrote. Another lost boy. We re-established
contact and a few years later, when he heard we
were planning a reunion game, called me up and
asked if he could spend the night on my couch.
And so he did, he flew in from Indonesia arriving
Saturday afternoon, slept on my couch that night,
played in the game the next morning, and then
flew back to Indonesia that evening.
you be at the game tomorrow?" I asked Charlie.
"What game?" he replied. It turned out
that his call to me was purely coincidentalhe
was simply touching base with someone from his
past, someone who represented better times for
him. He knew nothing about the game or any of
the other reunion games wed had for that
matter. I explained it to him. "I dont
have my cleats," he said, after explaining
that hed been in Florida for the last few
years and now he was back to take care of his
ailing father. I told him it didnt matter.
I told him to just show up, and if he did decide
to play, even without cleats, hed still
give us plenty of trouble.
hung up the phone fairly certain that Charlie
would make it to the game. That night I had trouble
sleeping in anticipation, not only of seeing Charlie
again, but at the thought of reliving, at least
for a couple of hours, the glory of youth, not
so much on the field but in the bond that I had
established with these men over the years. I knew
that seeing these men, playing along side them,
our steps slowed at pretty much the same rate,
would keep me going for at least another year.
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