Friday, May 20, 2011

The Circle Game

Judy Collins was nearly 70 when TigerBlog saw her in concert, yet it was obvious from the first, oh, 10 seconds or so that she still had her fastball.

There aren’t too many human beings who have ever been given a voice like Judy Collins, and that voice – majestic, commanding, heavenly – bounced all over the theater as she went on for about 25 songs worth.

Judy Collins was one of TB’s first musical loves, dating way back to the Camp Toledo days in the late ’60s and early ’70s. And his favorite song by the woman who inspired the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” has always been “The Circle Game.”

Don’t know the song? It’s the one that starts out “yesterday, a child came out to wander” and includes the chorus “and the seasons, they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down,” ultimately ending with “we can’t return, we can only look, behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game.”

TigerBlog thought about that song – and the irony of his own camp memories – as he sat in TigerBlog Jr.’s high school freshman parent orientation Wednesday night. As it went on, TB kept hearing Judy Collins’ voice, singing again about the “carousel of time,” realizing that the lyrics that speak to how quickly children grow up are so spot on.

There was TBJ, listening intently to the rules and policies and opportunities and expectations of him and the rest of the Class of 2015.

And there was TB, sitting next to TBJ, half listening and half remembering back to when TBJ first “came out to wander.”

When TB thinks back at his childhood, he thinks back to times like when he went to Camp Toledo, which used to be his home for eight weeks each summer in High Falls, N.Y.

Whether it’s Camp Toledo or any number of other events, though, TB doesn’t consider his high school days as part of his childhood. No, they were their own separate entity, high school, removed from the peaceful innocence of being a kid.

And that’s when it dawned on TigerBlog. When TBJ remembers back to his own childhood, he’s going to remember a period of his life that is already over.

And, as TB became more introspective, he realized something else. When TigerBlog Jr. gets to be 30 or 40 or 50 or hopefully way older than that and when his mind takes him back to his own days of being a kid, he’s going to remember one aspect of that time as prominently as anything else he experienced as he grew from a baby to a teenager:

Princeton University, and specifically, Princeton Athletics.

TigerBlog Jr. was born in the shadow of the University, and he has spent so much of his life on campus that it’s almost a second home to him. He knows his way around the University as well as many of the students who will be graduating soon, and there aren’t too many who’ve seen more athletic events here in the last decade.

TB remembers the time that, the day after a Princeton-Harvard football game, TBJ as a toddler spent an idyllic Sunday afternoon running around on the field at Princeton Stadium, back when it was still natural grass, until he literally had to be dragged kicking and screaming away.

His preschool was University League Nursery School, across FitzRandolph from the Jadwin parking lot. TB, on the dreaded “helping parent” days, would bring the kids in TBJ’s class to Princeton Stadium and let them talk on the public address system, or he’d bring the radio equipment to the school and marvel at the looks the kids would give when they realized they could hear their voices through the headsets.

When he was five, he sat courtside at Jadwin with a headset of his own on and listened to Tom McCarthy do his old ESPN radio show before Princeton basketball on Friday nights.

TBJ learned to swim in the pool in Dillon Gymnasium. The first time he was allowed to go get pizza by himself was at Frist. The first time he stayed overnight by himself away from home was in the Princeton dorms at lacrosse camp. The first time he performed publicly was when he played the national anthem before a men's basketball game.

His first jobs?

He spent six or seven winters as a ballboy at basketball games, helping out at what, 60 or 70 games? He’s thrown t-shirts in the stands during timeouts at basketball. He’s helped out with stats at lacrosse and sprint football. He’s worked in the press box at football, answering phones, running stats and doing other tasks, including being a spotter for the PA announcer.

His first paychecks?

He’s worn a headset to communicate stats between the official computer and the TV truck, and he’s been a TV timeout coordinator.

Back when Princeton played at Lafayette when he was three, TBJ went with his dad to the game. TB was nervous, because he had to be on the radio with McCarthy, and he wasn’t sure what he’d do if TBJ became antsy or started running all over the place. Instead, TBJ sat and watched the game for three hours, and it was on that day that TB realized that TBJ might just be a big sports fan.

By his own count, TB figures that TBJ has been to Princeton home events for 20 of the school’s 38 varsity teams.

His earliest heroes were all Princeton athletes or coaches, people like Bill Tierney and John Thompson and Jason Doneger and Ryan Boyle and Chris Young and Ahmed El-Nokali and John Mack - and B.J. Prager, Trevor Tierney, Jeff Terrell, Matt Striebel and an army of others.

TigerBlog was never really naive enough to think that this would go on forever. Eventually, TB knew, his son would get a little older and prefer to sit in the stands with his friends - or even go to the movies or parties or other non-Princeton events.

And of course that's what ended up happening, a little at a time. And, even now that he's on the verge of high school, TBJ still loves to come to Princeton games, though it's been awhile since he's sat in the press box, as now the norm is in fact to bring his friends with him. For that matter, about the only time TB sees TBJ during a game these days is when he comes and asks for money to get food.

And, for that matter, his own games and practices began to more and more intrude on the Princeton schedule.

Over the next four years, TBJ will drift further away from being the little kid who would wait anxiously outside the locker room after a lacrosse game and tell the Princeton players whom the media wanted to talk to or the kid Chris Young held up to the basket so he could dunk.

Shortly, he'll come to his dad looking for the car keys the way he now comes looking for a few dollars for the concession stand.

TigerBlog looks around Jadwin Gym and sees a bunch of people who have little kids, have newborn babies or are expecting babies. TB smiles at them, and thinks back to a time not that long ago when that was his life. As TB was writing, women's basketball assistant coach Melanie Moore walked in and said that her two-month old was up at 3 and 5 in the morning.

When you have little kids - TB and Little Miss TigerBlog, who is playing her own circle game - it seems like it's going to be forever before they can walk and talk, before they go to school, before they begin to be able to take care of themselves.

In reality, it isn't.

The orientation was an exciting time, actually, filled with the uncertainty and promise of a young man whose future is whatever he will make of it. His time in high school will see him take another step down the path from child to man, and four years from now, it'll be off to another orientation, another chapter.

As TB sat in a high school gym the other night, though, he knew that his son's childhood was over.

And to that thought, TB couldn't help but have a little twinge of sadness, coupled with the satisfaction of knowing that when TigerBlog Jr. looks back on those years, he will be anything but sad.

No, he'll remember times of pure, unspoiled, optimistic happiness, times spent with his dad on the campus of a college that the father never attended and the odds say the son won't, though his father is hopeful that he will.

TigerBlog's wish for his son as he sits on the verge of his high school career is that the best days of his life are all in front of him, helped along by the foundation of a childhood that he will look back on with great fondness.

He can be sure when his father thinks back to those days, he certainly will.


CAZ said...

I'm sure if TBJ is anything like his father there will be plenty of HS memories to add to his childhood.

Nice story!

Brian McD said...

One of TB's best ever!