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Lost Yinzer: A Quitter’s Story                      John Grochalski






I was a fat and docile Fourth Grader. But my girth translated into big and tough in my gym coach’s eyes. When they were signing kids up for junior varsity football for the following summer/fall, it was roundly assumed by him and my classmates that I would be amongst those kids putting on the pads and hitting the gridiron with much gusto. I had different plans. I had plans for potato chips and rerun cartoons, and evening sitcoms when the homework was done.




        “Grochalski,” coach said, looking at his sign-up list. The man had the worst bowl haircut and a penchant for being forever clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt decked in our school’s green and gold color scheme. Because I was student of The Three Stooges, any man bold enough to wear a bowl haircut found instant intrigue in my eyes. “I don’t see your name on here.”






        “I didn’t sign it,” I said.


        “Get over here.” I imagined the coach giving me and another kid across the board face slaps, like the kind Larry, Curly, and subsequently Shemp and Joe Besser received. Instead he had me sign the sheet, and another football legend was born.


        The problem was I didn’t really like football all that much. I’m still not a massive fan of the sport. I’ve gotten better with it since leaving Pittsburgh and not being inundated with NFL news from July until February, and I will admit to killing a decent amount of Sundays watching some games, even though my preferred Sunday activity is laying naked and post-coital in the bed with a bottle of wine on the nightstand. But back then I didn’t give two shits for football, despite the history that the Steelers had created in the previous decade. It wasn’t my cup of tea. If I liked a sport it was baseball. But I was horrible at it. I couldn’t hit to save my life. I thought I’d give this football thing a go.


        They started us with late afternoon practices in late August, under a blazing sun. We were in full pads, so there I was on a football field with pads on my shoulders, ribs, knees, thighs, and a jock covering my cock and balls, and a heavy ass helmet on my head. It was still eighty-something degrees outside and Coach Bowl Cut and the other coaches expected us to do calisthenics. Only the week before I was mainlining Twinkies and watching Dance Party USA on cable, dreaming about yanking it to Alyssa Milano or Justine Bateman, or some other sitcom dream of mine once my juices really started to flow. Now I was doing jumping jacks or running in place and then hitting the dirt for push-ups, getting yelled at by overweight coaches as we ran laps around the track that surrounded the football field. What shit was this? I thought. But I held on for the contact part of the game. The hitting. Yeah, well, I got hit. They used newbie guys like me as a punching bag for the starting players. A basic practice was me getting my ass kicked going one on one with a lineman, and then getting my ass kicked during a full offensive scrimmage at the end of the evening. I was ready to quit the first night.


      They made me a Guard. I was a crummy, dull offensive lineman; and a back-up at that. With my weight what in the hell else could I be? Starting Quarterback? I didn’t know any of the plays. I didn’t want to know them, so I let the playbook gather dust under my issues of Batman and Bop magazine. I couldn’t block without using my hands. Often I was the illegal man downfield on passing plays. Guards were supposed to pull on certain plays and when I didn’t do it in practice or during my rare appearances in an actual game (usually when we were blowing out a team) Coach Bowl Cut or one of his tobacco-chewing minions were all over me, screaming questions to me from the sidelines.


      “What in the hell is wrong with you?”


      “Who in the hell do you think you are?”


      A lot. And I had no clue. All I really wanted to do was go home. But because I was scared to quit at the time I just wanted to be left alone to stand on the sidelines and drink all of the water and the Gatorade with the other one or two losers who hadn’t learned the playbook, and had no business being on the football field. I wanted to wait for the season to end so that I could go back to sitting in my bedroom and staring at walls, or planting my ass in front of the television with cream and powdered lady locks on a cold, white plate.


      I had determined not to play the following football season even though I would’ve been in 6th grade, and most probably grandfathered into the starting left guard spot. As luck would have it I ended up running through a glass window at an indoor pool, while trying to brain some insolent fucker of a kid, and messing up my left leg pretty badly. I had glass poking through the shin, cuts on my knees and ankles, and I practically destroyed a tendon. I would need months of physical therapy. Luckily my handsome face wasn’t touched by the shatter and shards. This accident happened the week before football practice was starting. It was almost like a gift. With my cast and my crutches I could spend the rest of the summer sitting inside and doing nothing, and then spend the fall at home after school and in the evenings eating food and watching television. It would be a charmed life for sure.


      But then 6th grade ended and there came Coach Bowl Cut with the sign-ups for varsity football.


      “Grochalski, why isn’t your name on this?” he asked me.


      “Injured,” I said.


      “You were cleared for gym months ago. Sign it.”


      So I did. And it was back to football practices in the heat, and jumping jacks and that other bullshit. We ran track but my ass was dragging because of my bum leg and because I’d gotten fatter all of those months sitting on my ass. Hell, I barely made weight. Coach Bowl Cut tried to intimidate me into losing weight. He’d have me run extra laps during practice, and to make sure I booked it he’d have some of the 8th graders chase me. They ran up on my ass and tried to trip me, and called me names like pussy or wimp. Those guys really took their bullying seriously. They’d even do it in school. They’d brush by me in the hallway, give me one of those elbows to the chest, or bump me with their shoulders. It was real tough guy shit. But I wasn’t too worried about them because I’d watched them cry on the practice field almost nightly. I’m sure most of them got into politics, or are bullying their kids into playing sports in the heat.


      Well, then the season started and I was back on the sidelines, drinking Gatorade, and fantasizing about being home to jerk-off to Robin Givens on Head of the Class, or Lisa Bonet on The Cosby Show. They’d put me at guard again and I still had no clue about the blocking or the pulling, and whenever I got into the games I was penalized. Then Coach Bowl Cut would start the yelling at me even though we’d be up 35-7, or something obscene like that. His laments went in one ear and out the other. I started faking hurt on the field just to get out of the game. The last time I did it the coaches let me lay there until I got up. Hell, even my folks were unfazed.


A few weeks into the season I’d had enough. I decided to quit. I took my jersey and helmet and pads to school and went to the gym when no one was there to drop them off. But Bowl Cut caught me.


      “What are you doing, Grochalski?” he said, as he came out of his office in his sweatpants and his green and gold shirt.




      “What?” It was like he’d never heard the word before. “You’re what?”


      “Quitting.” I went to hand him my shit but he wouldn’t take it. Ol’ Bowl Cut just stood there with his coffee in one hand and an incredulous look on his face.


        “We don’t quit around here,” he said.


        I shrugged, put the equipment on the gym floor.


        “You know, what, Grochalski?” Coach said. “You’re a coward. You know that? A little girl. We should have someone put you on the cheerleading squad.”


        I had a crush on nearly half the cheerleading squad and they were the only reason I went to the Saturday games that I’d gone to. Being on the cheerleading squad didn’t sound so bad to me, especially since those tedious practices had helped me to lose a bit of weight.


        Coach Bowl Cut picked up my equipment and tossed it toward the supply closet. “There,” he said. He looked like he wanted to spit. “Now, you’re a quitter.”


        Of course the other players bullied me for a few weeks. They’d walk around the halls on Fridays in their jerseys and call me names. But eventually that stopped, and they went their way and I went mine. Quitting worked for me. I got a certain sense of satisfaction in giving up on something that I didn’t enjoy in the first place. Those people who tell you to stick things out, don’t listen to them. They’re fools. If it doesn’t suit you, quit. Grochalski did. And football wasn’t my last. I’ve since quit baseball teams and friendships. I’ve quit jobs and I’ve quit on cities. I’ve quit board games and video games that I was winning because it seemed like the right thing to do. I’ve quit writing more novels and poems than people have started. I still never quit on a meal, unless it has onions in it. I’ll never quit drinking even if the good doctor strongly advises it. But everything else is negotiable. Some of you may even be thinking that I quit on this article a few paragraphs ago. You may be right.






John Grochalski is the author of The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out and Glass City. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.