When I ask the man with the streetside cooker for the secret
of his fried fish, he says, I use the same flour and oil
and salt as everyone else, but they can’t do with it
what I do, and as I drive past a group of kids playing ball
in a dusty lot, I ease the box open and nibble a fillet
and remember how my friends and I played football
in a neighbor’s yard in junior high, and sometimes
this man came out of the house next door to scrimmage
with us, a big man who moved well, though he handed off
every play to one of us, and if he passed on a tip
from time to time, it was always in a let’s-try-this way.
Even when he had the ball, somehow we always caught him.
Every half hour or so, a mother would step onto her porch,
arms folded across her chest, watch us for a while,
go back inside. Our moms kept other men away:
the youth minister who invited boys to his apartment
but never girls, the lifeguard instructor who made me
rescue him again and again as he laughed and flailed.
Napoleon said, An army without a general is just a group
of frightened men. We weren’t frightened, just clueless.
We wanted to run. We wanted to win. We didn’t know
what we wanted. Once a journeyman guitar player said,
There’s a lot of people who can play better than me,
but they can’t play with the Stones better than me.
Later I found out the big man was future Hall of Famer
Jim Taylor, who played fullback for the Green Bay Packers
and whose parents lived in the neighborhood.
Jim Taylor was getting us ready for a world that didn’t
care about us. He wanted us to learn, not football,
but who we were. Your tailbone should be lower than
your shoulders, he said. Don’t watch the other guy’s head.
Watch his feet. This fish is delicious. The hushpuppies, too.
Jim Taylor taught us everything we needed to know.
Get the ball, he said. Give it to someone else.