The "Glory Days" is my humble attempt to let you Sidespinners share your tales of personal athletic achievements, no matter how great or small. And no, that time you had sex with my mom for six hours does not count.
Should I go first?
You want me to go first, don't you?
OK screw it, I'll go.
Eeyore's Birthday Party began in 1963 as a spring party and picnic for Department of English students at the University of Texas at Austin by Lloyd W. Birdwell, Jr. and other UT students. It was named for Eeyore, a chronically depressed donkey in A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories who, in one story, believes his friends have forgotten his birthday only to discover they have planned a surprise party for him. Despite its name, the event does not fall on the official birthday of the fictional character. The original event featured a trashcan full of lemonade, beer, honey sandwiches, a live, flower-draped donkey, and a may pole (in keeping with the event's proximity to May Day). For many years the party was a UT tradition, but subsequently the annual Birthday Party became a tradition in Austin's hippiesubculture.
Something is always happening at Eeyore's Birthday Party, and that's why we come back year after year. Although the event may seem predictable from afar, while immersed you find yourself having a day of unique and precious memories. Now, memories formed late in this day are often lost to the copious myriad intoxicants being imbibed by the revelers, but certain ones are indelible, and their results everlasting. I'm quite sure my experiences are not unique, but I'll remember one afternoon's events for a long time.
This particular last Saturday of April included the opportunity to chaperone a couple of first-timers - my childhood best friend and his wife - which is always a bonus, as I vicariously get to relive the experience anew. I have yet to sojourn in Pease Park to celebrate the birth of Milne's lovable melancholic donkey and not see something I have never seen before: The shock and amazement of witnessing a man riding a bicycle while wearing nothing but metallic silver paint and a thong is akin to a child at a circus, and we grown ups too often lose touch with that magic. Eeyore's birthday is a day of wonderment for all, regardless of the length of your life's experience. On this day, being long in years does not exclude one from childhood.
The day's events are a hodgepodge of picnic/festival favorites, from chalk art on the basketball court and a maypole for the wee ones, to the sack and three-legged races for the slightly more coordinated among us. An all day event, Eeyore's birthday is over at dusk, and there's one event that closes the show each and every year - and is the only organized activity that I join in annually - the all-inclusive egg toss. This is easily the most participated in event of the day, and the participants can include anyone with a throwing motion and a friend. I can't tell you how many friendships I've seen made in the panic of the odd person trying to find a last second partner. This issue would not be mine this year however, as I "had me a ringer." You see, I've competed with and against my old chum Troy in just about any way, game, or sport imaginable, and that man is in possession of the competitive desire of a big cat on the savanna, the calm under fire of a grizzled old sergeant, and - perhaps most germane - a prize set of surgeon-soft hands. His physical gifts allow him to take to physical activities immediately without much practice, a trait that would serve us well this day.
Egg toss rules are simple to the point of intuition. If you don't know them, you can almost assuredly figure them. Everyone lines up facing their partner just beyond arm's reach in two shoulder-to-shoulder parallel lines, with all the partners on one side holding their team's egg. After raising their unbroken egg in unison, the partners with the eggs toss them to the others. If your egg survives its travel, each partner takes a big step back, and the entire process is repeated until there is but one surviving egg. Now, there are a lot of folks at Eeyore's, and it seems if they're not participating in this event, they're watching. It is most definitely a crowd. At most backyard parties, a dozen out of the fridge would likely cover even an impromptu egg toss, but at Eeyore's dozens upon dozens are required for five heats, each involving well over a hundred people. The first heat evolved almost exactly as I envisioned it, with Troy and I surviving each successive toss without much anxiety. Before I even felt like we were approaching a distance that would cause us such, all others were eliminated, and we had won our heat. I ran over to my teammate and exchanged an expert leaping high-five where I'm sure I got up about halfway as high off the ground as I felt. We had climbed our first (and I thought most arduous) hurdle with ease. This is something I had never done in all my attempts with all my partners over the years, despite my annual proclamations that "This is the year." Prying myself from Troy, the very next face I saw was a beautiful one, and familiar to me. It belonged to a girl I had dated the previous year, one for whom I still carried a great deal of affection. We had lost touch as adult acquaintances too often do, and she so happened to be in the crowd watching our successful run. I was on too hot of a streak not to say something cool.
"How hot was that?!" I asked in my most self-assured Han.
"Very," was her simple Leah retort, accompanied by the look that said she meant it.
"Sticking around for the finals?" As if I had to ask.
"Of course. You're going to win."
After defeating the few score teams we faced in the first heat, and collecting our prize of two $40 gift certificates to Umi Sushi Restaurant (yum!), we waited an agonizingly long time to see who would win the next four heats and join us for all the marbles in the "Super Toss Off" as the final round is affectionately known. Now, I trust Troy completely in these situations - pressure rolls off of him like so much water on a duck's back - but I just had to make sure he was in the right frame of mind. Hell, I wanted to make sure I was in the right frame of mind. Much of this period is admittedly a blur. The ebb of adrenaline, the surrealism of the circumstances, and the reunion with the lady ("Oh who is that guy she's with?") combined with a full day's worth of the aforementioned intoxicants to cloud the intermission. I do remember standing forehead to forehead with Troy at one point, like Dundee begging Sugar Ray for three more minutes. I kept repeating the thoughts I wanted in his head when this all went down. You see, whereas I've been in bandbox gyms across this state with thousands of fans screaming full volume from what feels like behind my shoulder and been expected to perform, Troy's conquests are confined to driveways, pool halls, bowling alleys, golf courses and the like, where most pressure comes from within.
"Hey man," (I was giving him a damn pep talk is what I was doing,) "it's just you and me at the park playing catch. There's no crowd, there's no prize, there is only the egg."
"Oh shit, if we won 80 bucks worth of sushi for our heat, what's the grand prize going to be?"
Good ol' Troy, ever the accountant, with the question that had yet to even enter my head. This was bigger than any free fish. Before I even had time to start kicking myself for doing exactly the opposite of what I had intended - putting extraneous thoughts in his head - the last heat ended and the emcee announced, "And now, can I get my five finalist teams to the field for the Super Toss Off? This year Amtrak has been kind enough to donate the Grand Prize, a trip for two along the Historic Silver Eagle line to Los Angeles, CA!" So there it was. No longer were we vying for nothing more that saying we were the best at this game today. No longer was it simply pride at stake. Here was an actual value connected with success. It handed this whole silly experience tangibility. I am almost certain after this announcement, Troy and I exchanged nothing more that a look. It was officially on, and he needed no more cajoling from me. All you've got to do is attach a dollar sign to it, and Trouble Tee-Roy is game.
In the Super Toss Off, teams start much further back. There are no kiddies at this level, so it began with us about 10 yards apart. After the first couple of throws, all five teams were still alive, but you could see the effort the other teams were exerting keeping their egg and psyches intact, while Troy and I made throws that required little movement or adjustment on the catcher's part, and couldn't have been more nonchalant had we been waiting on a bus. On the third toss, two team's eggs were compromised, and then there were three. Next was my toss.
Choking is something I've done before, and I knew it had happened instantly. More often than not, I'd like to think I come through in the clutch, but nobody is perfect, and pressure is a bitch. Too much thought, too much aim, and my toss came up woefully short of where Troy was standing. Even as dismay was setting in however, Troy was running up, picking the egg off his shoetops and showing it to the appreciative crowd, all in one motion. It seems I had momentarily forgotten who it was on the receiving end. One of the other two teams was eliminated in this round, so now it was down to us and one other. The teams had been taking turns throwing in the finals, for both the practical purpose of giving each other more room to catch, and the theatrical suspense it induced in the proceedings. At this point, that suspense was palpable, the pressure crushing, and the crowd delirious. We had backed to a distance of about 30 yards at this point, and, as crowds are wont to do, it had inched forward to the point there was no discernible boundary between spectator and participant. I begged the people behind me to back up, to give me room lest they get egg on themselves (hoping to at least appeal to their sense of self-preservation) but the excitement was too much. It was a fruitless request, and now it was Troy's turn to choke. Perhaps over-correcting for my short toss, perhaps due to the adrenaline surge it must have created in him, he launched it. I've spent many a summer shagging flies in the outfield, and I knew this was a gapper over my head before the crack of the bat could reach me. Unfortunately, I had nowhere to go. Reaching over my shoulder, among the crowd with my back to Troy and field, I caught it. My momentum moving away from Troy helped soften the egg's landing, and when I gathered my balance I was on one knee cradling our egg like the newborn it would never become.
And then I milked it. I've done some pretty amazing things in front of crowds, and I'm just enough of a ham to know how to play it when I do. Holding the egg hidden in my fist, I slowly rose from kneeling, shoulders slumped. As I turned to face my disappointed life-long friend, I held the precious jewel between thumb and forefinger like a lapidary inspecting for clarity, and felt the crowd erupt as Troy looked me in the eye from afar and subtly pumped his fist in my direction. "We got this," it said. If Troy and I were having this much trouble at the current distance, then it was a foregone conclusion what was to happen on our opponents' next toss. Much like Troy, the opposing thrower launched an overthrow and the opposing receiver was forced to attempt much the same catch I had just made (albeit without the now slightly retreated crowd to defend against it.) I moved in as close as I dared without distracting him, as I wanted to know the instant victory was ours. What I saw in his hands was not the stale yellow of an egg yolk, but a golden sliver from El Dorado. I turned and sprinted across the game field in zero seconds flat, with no idea of how I planned to celebrate once I got to my partner and friend, who was waiting with a grin almost as wide as his expectant arms. Being the idiot I am, I tried to jump onto his shoulder, where I envisioned sitting whilst paraded for the spectators - a move we could execute without trouble had he but known it was coming. I ended up folded over his shoulder in a modified fireman's carry, face inches from his ample hind parts. With no other immediate means of celebration, I took to giving my boy what I'm sure was the spanking of his life. Only then did I realize in all this exhalation, my left hand still contained the egg. The precious, fragile egg. I screamed at Troy to put me down, and I walked to the emcee amongst the still cheering throngs and presented him with the proof of our victory.
Returning to where Troy was I saw her again among the group of celebrants, sans her previous accompaniment. Having not seen her in so long, and not knowing how long we'd be "alone" I asked if I could call her, if perchance she'd like to do something together soon. I was on a roll.
"Absolutely I would."