What’s That Word?!
One day I found myself cheering and jumping from the sidelines of a college football game one moment and then having one of those awkward, clumsy confrontational moments the next, where my rhetoric failed me badly and I could have used a little brawn against the short bearded man with a monopod (a single-legged support used to steady a hand-held camera).
I had a good friend named Luke who worked for the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville and every home game he had a ticket waiting for me—a sideline pass. There’s nothing that compares to walking the sidelines of a major college football game and making eye contact with people who are really supposed to be there. Some, I could tell, would see me and then privately wonder where they had seen me before. Whose son or father was I? Was I someone important? Someone they should be nice to? No one ever realized (as far as I could tell) that I was just the heat and air conditioning guy on campus who went to high school with the assistant equipment manager. Once I even parked underneath the Tennessee Vols stadium in my Chevette—took a spot reserved for one of the Vanderbilt coaches and heard later that he’d been extremely vile about not having a parking space. That was the year Tennessee won the conference and tore down the goal post and I was nearly trampled in the end zone. Fortunately I did a fake step to the right and juked back to the left at the same time the 53 people carrying the goal post veered right, all team-like, and all was okay. Other times I brushed shoulders with Emmet Smith (who was on crutches at the time), Vinny Testeverde, Boomer Esiason and Hershel Walker. And when basketball season came around I got pretty close up to Shaquille O’Neil and Charles “Bread Truck” Barkley. Giants, each and every one.
This particular game Vanderbilt was playing Florida. We (Vandy) hadn’t beaten Florida in like a hundred years. But their star running back, Emmet Smith, was on crutches that day, so, like the mentality of most perennial-losing teams, because the best player from the other side was injured, we felt we had a shot that day. And we did.
On one particular play our running back (not a star, not a draft pick and is probably selling mutual funds today) broke loose and gained at least 30 yards down the sidelines—the one I stood on and paced with the frenzy of a head coach. There were usually quite a few non-players on the sidelines. (If an assistant equipment manager can get four of his buddies on the sidelines, imagine how many others could be there.) So when our running back broke for a big gain the guy in front of the guy in front of me stepped up to watch the play, which meant the guy directly in front of me stepped up, which meant I had to step up even farther to see around him. It was something like a domino effect, only people didn’t fall down. They just took one extra step forward until the last of the “lookers” was about 10 yards onto the field, but far enough away from where the “action” of the play was taking place. After the play we’d always scoot back behind the line to keep everything legal.
But this was a big break-away run! We were Vanderbilt beating Florida! Emmet Smith was on crutches! We had a chance! So our guy broke loose and he was deep into Florida territory. And we on the sidelines did what we always did: Stepped out and looked around the guy in front of us. If you had to go ten yards out onto the field, then you went. You could scoot back later to keep the refs happy.
So I did. I wasn’t anywhere near ten yards out, maybe only three, cheering, yelping, feeling alive and—and there came a tap, tap, tapping on my lower leg. What was that? The roar of more than 40,000 still hung in the air when I looked back to see a short man with a big camera attached to a monopod. He wore a short scrubby beard and a scowl on his face. He wasn’t looking at me in the eyes, but rather he was focused on my lower legs, at the point where he was rapping me with that monopod of his. He was working it like he would a big stick to keep chickens from crossing over into a patch of grass you were trying to protect from their pecking. Rap. Rap. Rap.
I didn’t move. The rapping didn’t hurt, only irritated me—but that was fastly mutating Hulk-like into something that made me fearful. Rap. Rap. Rap. I was waiting for his eyes to rise up and meet mine. Because with the roar of more than 40,000 still hanging in the air, I would need the benefit of lip reading for him to understand how I felt about his rap-rap-rapping at my lower leg.
Finally, he raised his eyes and rather than shocked or embarrassed, as I believed he should have been, he simply adjusted himself by pulling back the monopod, shrugged his shoulders and then reset the monopod back into the sod so he could settle back behind the lens. Before he disappeared behind the camera, however, he told me, without a shred of politeness (all I needed was a smile or a shrug that I could interpret as “Hey, just trying to do my job, friend), he said, “Step back!” [exclamation mark his]. He might as well have come after me with a pocketknife.
“Hey!” I called right back above the din of more than 40,000, believing he wouldn’t have any trouble reading my lips on that one. He stood rigid, his monopod out of the soil now and hovering just above the grass, making small circles, a coiling, snake-like motion, awaiting to hear what I would say, see what I would do. I pointed at his monopod and exclaimed—feeling angry, violated and empowered all at once—“Don’t hit me with that…” I took in what it was that he had rapped me with. The word I’d first chosen—tripod—no longer applied, but the crowd, the feeling of being violated, the short man with a scowl, the fact that we could possibly beat Florida. I don’t know which it was or what combination, if any, was at play, but I could not find the proper word. And that in itself added to my overall panic. I tried again: “…that…that…” the bearded man hung on patiently, and for the life of me I could not think of what that thing was! The bearded, scowling man canted his head in anticipation. A tripod had three legs. But what was that “thing” when there was only one? I mentally scanned my foreign languages, which consisted mostly of 1 through 10 in Spanish and 1 through 4 in French (I’d lost five through 10 long ago), and hello in French, Spanish, Japanese and Hawaiian. I knew I’d never heard of uno-pod before, nor un-pod. The crowd still roared, the short man still scowled, and the monopod still hovered. We might have even scored a touchdown, I didn’t know. I pointed at the monopod and told the short, scowling man with a beard, “Don’t hit me with that…thing!” Then I turned and stepped out onto the field, ten yards at least, to see if we’d scored. The man with the camera on the monopod backed away.
Soon the referees were herding us all back behind the line. The man with the monopod was close by, but far enough away he couldn’t reach me. His choice, I believed.
Later, Luke asked me what it was that guy had said to me. “Which guy?” I asked.
“The one with the monopod,” he said.
I wanted to hug Luke, but that wouldn’t be appropriate. Unless we beat Florida, of course, then we could hug anyone for however long we wanted. “Just being a jerk,” I said, while silently repeating the word monopod over and over again, in case I would need it later.
“Well, let me know if he bothers you again. I’ll have him thrown out. Just say the word.”
Monopod, monopod, monopod. “Thanks,” I said. “Don’t worry, I will.”
It’s good to be buddies with the assistant equipment manager, one who has a way with words.