Next day...I got a little farther. Got a ride this time. Dad watched. Thrashed around. That was a long season, but I had an open lane to myself-the wall.
Let's fast forward to my High School days at Quigley South on the south side of Chicago. Career choice and high academics had nothing to do with the decision process. Nothing. The only thing I was interested in, to everyone's surprise, was that they had a swim team. I was a bit better by then, but not much. The 'IN' was that you had to 'discern' the priesthood. "Sure...as soon as I figure out what that word 'discernment' even means." Papers were signed. Now I'm in the seminary, discerning priesthood...but on the swim team.
Swim Coach states, "Nobody ever made it through a season yet without missing practice." It was the way he said it with an arrogant, proud smirk that did the communicating. Nobody? "Not so sure about this swim team deal much less the discernment thing." Well, I'd like to take my shot at that platform, although there are no medals for that sort of thing and no real platform either. I cared nothing of times, qualifying for state, team points, nothing. I wanted to be that guy, that White Rhino, the first guy to stand on that metaphorical platform. My little secrete goal.
Fast forward 4 years. Made it through, even got on the honor roll a couple of times by pure luck. High School experiences, like we all know them, intact. Boxes checked. As for the swim team, every HS record was broken, where I played a significant role by the time I was a Senior. Elected Co-Captain Sophomore and Senior year by my teammates, earned a team trophy for the school and even received a medal or two.
But nothing could match the honor I felt when the coach acknowledged me individually, in front of my teammates, as the only swimmer in four consecutive seasons to have never missed a practice. I became that guy. That metaphorical platform suddenly existed-I felt it.
Everything else in my life was based on that potent moment...
Got voted in by faculty to continue the discernment process. A great honor. So I headed up north, in Chicago, Niles College of Loyola University, the next step. What a great time...most of the swim team went too. My thoughts; "Somehow, I have to figure out a way to get through this and avoid taking to many math classes." Sad, I know, but the truth. The discovery of philosophy (major) and psychology (minor) was born.
I ended up at the student center as a result of a little solo road trip down to Lake Shore Campus of Loyola University. Posted, on a random board, a flier. 'Volunteers wanted for a student retreat.' This attracted my attention. Seminary is filled with little mini get away's. Let's see what this is all about...It was a 'Shackleton' adventure to find this guy's office. From the looks of it, I figured I was walking into an office to give a disposition. Huge, fancy, intimidating, oak-lined law office look.
I remember this day, pivotal. Some guy on a landline phone stretching the coils to the max. His door was open. His enthusiasm was thick, I saw his neck veins distended as I was peeking into nothing that was my business. I just got sucked into the conversation. He was describing a senior student, painting a real bright picture with hand gestures, tone, and some serious volume. An actual Tony Robbins motivational speech-raw. I'm just listening and watching. I found myself jealous and envious of this mysterious character.
The conversation that I was listening to, the one that was none of my business, went something like: "If I asked this kid to place a paperclip on the southwest corner of my desk on March 7th at 7:36 am I will guarantee, you would have your paperclip". I thought, "WTF"?... But he continued..." This kid is what integrity, spirit, and soul are all about. I love this kid. He has earned my respect". I wanted to meet this kid too. Apparently, it would be like meeting Elvis or The Stones or something. This is my first week of University, I'm taking Phil/Psych to get through it, but now I know what I want to get out of it. Absolutely confused as to how to go about attaining such qualities, what classes I'd take. Integrity, Soul, and Spirit....where do I even start? Regardless...
"The Paperclip Guy"...somehow I want to earn that.
Thoughts of swimming for Loyola plagued me in these years. Wasn't going to happen. Talent and logistics haunted my dreams. "Let's get creative"... The Leaning Tower YMCA was looking for lifeguards. I thought it was a good deal; put in a minimum amount of time working and get a free membership. Not one but two pools. Perfect.
However, to my surprise, Powerlifting hit the radar...
LT-YMCA had a reputation for one of the best gyms in the country at the time. I had no idea what I was walking into, not a clue. Maintaining a high level of clueless, I walked into what I thought was a scene from Pumping Iron. What I could have never imagined was routine. An underground factory churning out some mammoth-sized meat products. The initial images of strength burned a hole right through my psyche. I was 18 years old.
So in my mind, I'm now a powerlifter. I guess it starts somewhere. Powerlifting took center stage with swimming a close second. If there were anything left in the tank, I'd deal with philosophy and psychology. Discernment; limped into the last place...still in the mix but a straggler.
I snuck into Nile's gym to start my powerlifting career. Nobody around, which was both good and bad. Good because it spared me total embarrassment and bad because I could have used an ambulance. Picked up the powerlifting bar and thought, "Jesus Christ, how heavy is this thing"? (not a nice thing to say when you're in the seminary). I placed it on the rack and got myself into position, maintaining my clueless state. Tried one rep of squats. "Down goes Frazier," echoed clearly between my ears. The pain, imitate. Standing upright became an impossibility. The enthusiasm was where it needed to be but could have used a lesser degree of dumb.
Fast forward 4 years. Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We took him out for the first time since a very delicate surgery...Right to the YMCA for my first powerlifting meet. Did all right too. No ambulances needed. Competed at 181 and weighed in at 177. Squat 450 lbs, Deadlift 485 lbs, Bench 285. Took home a trophy...one of my most prized possessions. My Dad held it.
Dad's illness required countless visits with the Doc and a lot of driving. I got the job. It required holding emotions and feelings entirely underwater. The hypocrisy in my mind was killing me with guilt. When I wasn't with him, I wanted to be, when I was with him, I wanted out...repeat.
Hamilton's, Loyola University's popular neighborhood establishment, became popular with me too. Plato and Socrates were starving for attention. Academically, things were coming to ahead. Graduation requirements were coming down the pipeline, followed closely by finals.
This is a bad situation.
Multiple-choice exams are a dice roll. Essay exams a bit harder but doable with some cramming. What you do not want is a 'face to face' with any professor. The last final, to my fucking nightmare, turned reality, is face to face. Not with any professor but a guy I've nicknamed 'Skelator.' Mean, ugly bastard. This is bad!
Sitting in the waiting area with nothing but squared away students awaiting an opportunity to prove themselves made my stomach churn. I'm expecting the gallows. Thinking of every angle to make this work. My name was called. I immediately started out with a lengthy song and dance, and somewhere in the middle of this 'story,' I realized I just might have a chance. I'm giving him every angle, even attempted to tug on his heartstrings with the use of my Dad's illness. I'm thinking he is listening...softening. I was on a roll. Then there was quiet. I'm dying, just pull the trigger already, no need for the bloodletting. He adjusted himself in his chair and leaned over his desk as if to whisper. I had this image of Clint Eastwood in a Dirty Harry flick about to pull the trigger...and he did. Intentionally looks right into my eyes and says, "I don't give a dam."
"Cold mother-fucker," I initially thought. The song and dance was of Shakespearean quality. I thought about that traumatic scene many times. Eventually, shame presented it's ugly face to finish the job. Karma, no doubt biting me in the ass for all the 'Skelator' digs. When the smoke cleared, I came to understand the 'shame' and why it was so painful. I came to realize I failed in reaching my original goal. I suddenly faced how difficult that goal was to attain if at all. I was forced to reassess the application of that goal in my life. I realized with absolute certainty that I had no idea what it means to be... "The Paperclip Guy."
Took some hits in that office, mind shots mostly. Merited.
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