Sunday, July 04, 2004

Tribute to a Greek God (Part II)

Here’s looking at me, uh…I mean…you, kid
I was in Chicago in the Spring of 1976 to compete in the National Junior College (NJCAA) Gymnastics Championships. The team and individual competitions were on a Saturday and on Sunday there was a coaches conference. So our coach gave us Sunday off to do what we wanted, just as long as we met back at the airport for our Monday mid-morning return flight to SoCal.

Our Long Beach City College team came into the Saturday matinee team competition up against multiple defending National Champions, Odessa College (Odessa, Texas). Nevertheless our team was the narrow favorite to capture the top spot in the nation, having barely lost to Odessa the previous year in 1975. Unfortunately for those guys, everyone on our team hit their best routines and we came away with the victory that day. And as tremendous an outcome as it was for us as a team, later that evening, things would get even rosier for me, as I took first place in the Individual Rings Championship later that evening.

Naturally, I was excited and wanted to celebrate, and I also just happened to be as close, geographically, to my brothers in Indiana as I had been in the previous eight years since moving to California in 1969. So, knowing that Sunday would be a free day for me, on Saturday night I called my eldest brother Jack, to see if he and David could come up to Chicago to see me. Jack said that he had a better idea. He said he’d call me back, and did so about twenty minutes later. Turns out he purchased me an airline ticket for the 7:00 AM Sunday morning commuter flight from Chicago to Indianapolis so that I could come home, even if it was just for a day. I was totally stoked at the thought of spending the day with my brothers. David had recently begun going through his divorce with Sharon and was rooming in with Jack, who was as yet unmarried.

Sunday morning I took the shuttle from the hotel to O’Hare International and caught my flight. David was supposed to pick me up at the Indy airport. He was late (another family characteristic we had in common). As I stood there, seemingly the only person in the entire terminal at 8:00 on a Sunday morning, I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to show up.

Then I heard the sound of squealing tires coming from the parking lot. Through the full-length terminal window I saw a man running toward me who looked like he could have been David, but I wasn’t sure at first. Don’t forget I hadn’t seen him in four years. Besides, the guy I was saw out there jogging toward the terminal had long hair and a mustache; I remembered David being clean shaven with short hair. But this was 1976 and styles had changed. My evaluation of the running man was actually only a few seconds long. It was indeed my big brother, sporting the fashion of the day — which, it slowly registered, just happened to be identical to my own. from the long, dark brown hair, parted in the middle, right down to the reddish-brown mustache. It was truly a freaky thing to realize.

And to illustrate just how far ahead of his time he really was, David pulled the most classic, but unintentional “Kramer” entrance I’ve ever seen. As he burst through the door, he glanced over his left shoulder, spotted me and, then put on the breaks, skidding on the soles of his shoes for about three feet.

“AJ?” he squinted.

“David?” I walked up to get a closer look.

"Yeah, it's me," he smiled.

We threw our arms around each other in a big "Bro" hug.

“I can’t believe how much you’ve changed, man!” he gushed.

“I could say the same thing about you, pal,” I smiled.

In the car on the way back to Anderson, as we talked, several times I felt him just staring at the side of my face. “What?” I finally inquired.

He shook his head, slowly. “This is unbelievable. It’s like I’m sitting here looking at myself.”

I could be so lucky.

Next: The family time bomb
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