Love Will Give Us the Bends

My first wife, the wife aquatic, was a second wave feminist.  More in the junior ranks, as a daughter or a niece or a kid sister or all of the above, but a second waver nonetheless.

I was a surfer - at Jax Beach starting in the mid-sixties - and a feminist fellow traveler by college.  Before that I was a nice, fairly decent Catholic boy with three younger sisters.  A former altar boy who did some of his best work in Latin, at old school mass, pre-Vatican II; but coming out as apostate by the time I started college.


In high school she was a community pool lifeguard in the summers.  She was, is, a Libra, I’m Aquarius - air signs, but our summer air in J-ville was so humid we might as well have been water signs.

We both had French surnames, both occupational names in the original French.  Mine means one who embroiders. Hers designates an usher or a doorkeeper, one who ushers you across the threshold.  Pronounced in the original French it sounds more like an irresistible courtesan. 

We actually met at a swim meet, a suburban neighborhood league event in J-ville in the summer of 1964.  She swam butterfly for Colonial Park,  I swam breaststroke for Arlingwood.  In our little red tank suits and speedos.  She was almost thirteen and I was a year and a half older. 

I had to practice hard just to hold my own in breaststroke, while she  was a natural in the ‘fly. And by a natural I mean the girl was built like a she-dolphin. Brunette, she competed with her hair pulled back into a braided ponytail. Impressive shoulders and not just on a girl. She was sleek and petite and buxom all at once, with powerful legs. Her tan was more of a tawny glow and she was freckled in interesting places.  Pretty in a handsome kind of way, she was not shy; she had a disarming way of looking you right in the eye, and her little laugh was infectious. It was the only time I saw her that summer, but she made an indelible impression, in her little red tank suit.

She graduated eighth grade a year behind me and from a different parochial school.  I was a year ahead of her at BK, J-ville’s only Catholic high school. I had a girlfriend by then, lucky for me - and sense enough not to attempt a swim through high school in the wake of my future wife aquatic.  But that undertow was always there between us.

She was  the girl the nuns had kneeling on raw rice kernels in the hallway a couple of times because her wool plaid uniform skirt was too short.   She and I moved in different social circles, neighboring orbits that rarely intersected, especially after she pulled off her mercenary gig on the cheerleading squad of our football rivals, the Bulldogs.  We were the Crusaders.  It was a shrewd move on her part, exploiting a loophole - the ‘dogs played for an all male school - to be a cheerleadeer for one high school while attending another.  But really, girl, the fucking Bulldogs? They were the “pagan school” version of us, a private college prep school. 
 

She took some backstabbing in the halls of BK for this mercenary cheerleading gig,  and shrugged it right off.  By then she was also “dating up” with a guy in my grade whose name our peers pronounced as Why Gull.  A self-styled make-out artist type.  Definitely not an upgrade for the girl's reputation.  But her little laugh was more killer than ever. It gave me the The Bends all the way back then...

-  Bi-Coastal  Memoir by Steve Brodeur



But First, Boomer, Please!

A personal pledge to keep my own generational bs detector in good working order.  To avoid all temptations to revert to type, or cliche, by embracing the most stinging dismissal I can imagine from my critics of what they may read here.  Tip of the hat to Bill Maher (for Blogga please!) but all props to my fellow tennis fanatics, the black players of Poinsettia Park in WeHo in the 80's, who schooled this white boy, however inadvertently, in the power and nuance and glory of the mother putdown that puts the dis in dismissal.  Of which Boomer please! is but a faint echo but one that will have to do.

My Eulogy for Dad (2013)

Delivered from the pulpit at his funeral mass at Christ the King in J-ville...
 
Robert A. Brodeur

First I’d like to thank everyone here with us today, in the flesh and in spirit.  I know I speak for our extended family when I say how much we appreciate your comforting presence on this mournful occasion.  And we will always be grateful to all the caretakers who not only looked after dad so well in his final days, but also brought him joy and enriched his life in countless little ways.

So, yes, this is a mournful occasion, but the good news is:  we are also here to celebrate a life well lived. The life of Robert Alexander Brodeur.  And since I’m his first born, and he passed away on my birthday, it is my privilege to speak on behalf of Julie, Carmel Anne, Mark, Jeanne and myself.

There is certainly no shortage of great family anecdotes about dad, but I am going to exercise some restraint and limit myself to just two stories. 

The first one I can date precisely.  It takes place at a birthday party for Bob's grandson, my son Alex, who is turning four. This summer Alex will turn nineteen. 

The 4th birthday party theme is Come Fly With Me, because Alex at four is very into Frank Sinatra; and the venue is a terrific little aviation museum actually located on the premises of a general aviation airport in Santa Monica California.  It's called The Museum of Flying.

Both my family and my wife Judie's family are pretty well represented.  Dad and mom are there.  We have family group photos with everyone wearing propeller beanies.

In addition to our family and friends, there is also a sizeable contingent of other four-year-olds and their parents from Alex's preschool.  In short order, the museum's multiple exhibition spaces with vintage aircraft on display are turned into one big echo chamber reverberating with little-kid noise.

At one point dad and I are off to the side by ourselves.  We're looking out the window at other vintage aircraft, the ones that still fly, parked on the tarmac right outside the museum.  He points to a biplane of the type that first saw combat in World War One.  "That's just like the trainer I learned to fly in," he says.

Though dad never saw combat in World War Two, he trained as a naval aviator and completed his first solo flight not long before the war ended.  It was perhaps the second luckiest break of his life.  The first, of course, was having our mom by his side for that life to come. 

So we're looking at the biplane through the window and he proceeds to tell me a story I cannot recall ever hearing before.  It details how he and his fellow pilots in training practiced take offs and landings, a maneuver called the touch and go, where the landing lasts only long enough to get the wheels on the ground before the pilot immediately throttles back and launches into take-off mode. He describes how they would do this in groups of three, three of these biplanes flying abreast, not exactly wing to wing but pretty close, doing these touch and goes on what was basically an oversized football field. His account is detailed enough to paint a vivid picture in my mind of him in the cockpit, a memory I still cherish.  It's my little Come Fly With Me moment with dad.

It's a lasting reminder to me how dad personified those Greatest Generation values.  He was a stand-up guy, a hard-working and loyal family man, with a deep faith in God.  I always felt like he taught and lead us by example, and always in a strong and loving partnership with mom. Above all he was a genuinely good person, a practical humanitarian at heart who built his career and his life on caring about and helping other people.

My second anecdote might be described as the flipside of the first.  I cherish this one because it showcases my father the happy go lucky free spirit.  It might also be my earliest childhood memory of dad.  I could not have been much more than two. (I know, I'm skeptical myself - but even if this is false memory syndrome on my part, I'm keeping it.)

Picture a small steamy limbo.  Dad has probably just stepped out of the shower, now with a towel around his waist, and he is whistling a happy tune.  I'm the little rugrat there in the bathroom with him, just the two of us.  Hard to believe, but I was technically an only child at the time. He is whistling a happy tune, and not just any tune, because in my memory he is a world-class whistler.  The tune is:  When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along.  My fellow Baby Boomers may remember it from a classic 50's tv show, Your Hit Parade.  I won't ask for a show of hands.

But If you do remember it, you know that Red Red Robin is no tune for amateur whistlers.  The tempo is tricky, and there are a lot of notes to hit.  And dad is just killing it.  Killing it a good way.  Not only is he killing it, he's doing it while shaving.  It's a virtuoso performance just for me.  He's got a facefull of lather and he's going at it with a big scary-looking "safety" razor and whistling Red Red Robin, note for note perfect.

And perhaps for the first time, the realization begins to sink in:  this guy is going to be setting the bar pretty high around here.

I won't try to sing Red Red Robin for you because I'll start crying and you'll start crying - killing it but not in a good way.  But the lyrics go like this:

When the Red Red Robin comes bob bob bobbin' along
There'll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin' his old sweet song
Wake up, wake up you sleepy head
Get up, get up, get out of bed
Live, love, laugh and be happy…

Live, love, laugh and be happy.  Bob bob bobbin' along.  Yes he was.

In the lives of parents and children there inevitably occurs a familiar variation on the famous "aha moment".  We blurt out a particular expression, or opinion, or some semi-coherent rant directed at our own offspring and suddenly it hits us:  OMG, when did I turn into my mother!? OMG, I sound just like the Old Man!


In my case the tell tale utterance is none of the above.  But not too long ago I began to notice that when something makes me laugh, I do emit a certain chuckling sound that to my ear is pretty darn close to one hundred percent pure Bob.  It's dad's little chuckle coming out of my mouth.  Which is yet another great little item in his legacy to me because from now on, every time I hear it it will be like dad and I are sharing a laugh together.

We love you dad.  You will always be in all our hearts. 

Mod Squad Mania! This Magical Sason was Straight Outta J-ville!

NCAA TOURNAMENT DEVASTATED BY DOLPHNADO!

Descent into my March Madness...

You have to take Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to get to my March Madness.  Set the dial for 1970. That’s the year the NCAA mens’ basketball tournament was devastated by a dolphnado.

The Jacksonville University Dolphins - from my sweet little alma mater JU, where I was a sophomore - schooled up for a run through the Mideast Regionals and all the way to the finals, against John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. Right out of the gate, the sporting press dubbed us The Mod Squad.

Ours was the smallest school (in enrollment) ever to play an NCAA Final, a record that still stands.  Also, no team called the Dolphins had ever kicked serious ass in either college or pro sports; the Miami Dolphins domination of the NFL was still a couple of years out.
 
Nevertheless, our J Dolphs had just become the first college team ever to average over 100 points per game for an entire season.  This while playing in an era with no shot-clock, no three-point line, and no dunking allowed. 

(Those first two no’s would prove mere annoyances to JU, but the no dunking rule would play a huge role in the title game against Wooden’s UCLA.)

The Dolphins had not managed to evade anyone’s sonar.  JU came into the NCAA tournament more like Godzilla than Cinderella, with a single loss and a number 2 national ranking.  But the haters among the college basketball elite in 1970, and the haters in the national sporting press, just could not believe their own eyes until it was too late.

All season they had derided JU as a “pick-up” team, with a “playground brand” of ball, and a “rent-a-goon” frontline with not one but a pair of black seven-footers, both having transferred in that season from obscure and therefore suspect junior college programs.  Haters gonna hate. But they will always be basketball's first Twin Towers.  

Both 7-footers were, in fact, down home brothers from the Florida towns of West Palm Beach, and tiny Chipley, unmarked on most state maps. One of them blotted out the gym lights at 7’2” topped with another half a foot of ‘fro.  His name was Artis Gilmore and he would go on to become the ABA icon known as “the A Train” - and after that a six time all-star in the NBA.  At JU Artis was still just the “Big A”.  The other 7-footer was Pembrook Burrows III.  Known at JU as Pembrook.  After a brief career as a journeyman pro, Pembrook would go on to live out Shaq’s fantasy as the tallest state trooper in the Florida Highway Patrol.   

The rest of the J Dolphs were unheralded white boys from the basketball heartland, some Hoosiers included, and some hometown players from J-ville.  All of them with chips on their shoulders and two or three with serious skills.  Like shooting guard Rex Morgan, a playmaker and penetrator who would make 215 free throws that season, second only to Pete Maravich.  All American,  drafted by the Boston Celtics. 

Btw, the backup point guard was a classmate of mine and a two-sport star at J-ville’s only Catholic High School; where  I once caught a pass over him on a fly route in a flag football game in phys ed class - highlight reel stuff for the likes of me, a non-player of organized sports.    

The 6-10 forward was a frat brother of mine, also drafted by the Celtics.  When JU went big, he was on the floor with Artis and Pembrook - on what instantly became the tallest frontline in college basketball, averaging 7 feet. 

The one other brother on the squad, from the playgrounds of New York City, was the first black player at JU.  His name was Charles "Chip" Dublin; he was the star sixth man off the bench, the flashiest player on the team and a huge fan favorite.  We want the Chipper!  Send in the Chipper!

JU Coach Joe Williams, and his ninja recruiter Tom Wasdin, had pulled off the recruiting coup of all time.  They had conjured the Dolphnado and unleashed it on unsuspecting division one competition.

But I actually coined the term, in a column I wrote for the student paper, The Navigator.  A sophomoric exercise, admittedly, but then I was a sophomore at the time. 

I described how it first came in a dream:  End of the world thunderstorm in progress.  Out of nowhere a badass waterspout appears on the St. Johns, then up the riverbank at JU, and out onto our home court in our tiny sweatbox Swisher Gym. 

The opposing team shrinks back in awe, as the Dolphnado spins out Artis “the Big A” Gilmore and his Mod Squad.
  
“We ran a controlled break,” Coach Williams would say with a straight face.
 
Now the J Dolphs were suddenly battering the NCAA temple walls. JU had swept into the Sweet Sixteens, where we beat the Big Ten champ Iowa on a put-back at the buzzer.  Then in the Elite Eight we torpedoed the Southeastern Conference champ Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the legendary “Man in the Brown Suit” Adolph Rupp, 106-100. Rated Number One in the country at the time.

The unthinkable had become the possible. This basketball rabble was one game away the national title!  The haters were having a stroke! 

Fittingly, it would fall to the John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, to send this freak show packing back to J-ville and restore order to the college basketball universe. 

Wooden was a lover not a hater but he was so old school he started his players on the fundamentals of getting their socks on right and their sneakers properly tied.

Coach Williams, the Swami of Swisher - yes! - Swisher Gym, was as hang-loose as Wooden was controlling.  He did not believe in player curfews, and he was known to draw up plays on the backs of envelopes. 

Artis Gilmore also said Williams was “the first white man I ever trusted.” This one year after the ’68 Summer Olympics, with the double Black Power salute from U.S. track stars on the winners’ podium. When Artis threw in with Coach Williams in the summer of ’69, JU was a tiny private liberal arts university in a racially divided city. 

Williams was the closer with Artis, after Williams’ ninja recruiter Tom Wasdin had delivered the Big A to JU on a bank shot that just happened to go in.  Coach Williams was always the closer; he had signed up Wasdin as his assistant coach and recruiter, at a higher salary than that of the head coach himself.

How did this unlikely good old boy duo, long-time rival high school coaches in J-ville, and before that as opposing junior high coaches - how did these two join forces?  How did they get one game away from pulling off the heist of the century in college basketball? 

How did their J Dolphs, branded as renegades, unite a racially divided city?  How did they inspire a wave of Mod Squad Mania, with  growing crowds of jubilant fans meeting the team's returning plane right there on the tarmac.  Virtually no airport security in 1970, so the more the merrier. My frat brother forward recalled one autograph seeker who yanked the booty off her newborn and implored him to sign the bottom of her baby’s foot.  

With even more fans pulling their cars over along the interstate into town from the airport, cheering the passing team bus and waving signs of support.  With thirty-thousand plus fans on their feet at a rally in the Gator Bowl.    

How did Williams and Wasdin pilot their dolphnado all the way to the NCAA finals, against a UCLA team on a mission to win a fourth consecutive national title for their coach John Wooden? 

One game, winner takes home the national title. No shot clock, no three-pointers, no dunk rule in affect. 

How did it really play out?  What is the untold story of this most freakishly magical episode in the annals of sport?  

Two years after this post first appeared, here's a link to our documentary in progress. Shooting to have a finished film for March Madness 2017.

Update:  Our feature documentary is finished and will soon be in release.  Inspired by my Original Concept. Check it out here...

They Called Us The Mod Squad

Fresh from The Docubator. 

 Documentary + Incubator = Docubator.