Sample text for Gym candy / by Carl Deuker.


Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog


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Counter
My earliest memory is of an afternoon in June. I
was four years old, and I was in the backyard with
my dad. He'd just bought me a purple and gold
mini football, my first football. He'd marked off an
area of our backyard with a white chalk line.
"Here's how it works, Mick. You try to run there,"
he said, pointing behind the line, "and I try to stop
you." He shoved the mini football into the crook of
my arm, led me to the far end of the yard, went
back to the middle, got down on his knees, and
yelled: "Go!"

I took off running toward the end zone. Our
backyard is narrow, his arms are long, and even
on his knees he could move fast enough to catch
a four-year-old. Time after time I ran, trying to get
by him. But he never let me have anything for
nothing, not even then. Over and over he'd stretch
out one of his arms and tackle me. Sometimes
the tears would well up. "There's no crying in
football," he'd say, which I guess is a joke from
some Tom Hanks movie, and he'd send me back
to try again.

And then I did it. I zigged when he was expecting
a zag, and I was by him. I crossed the chalk line
at the end of the yard, my heart pounding. I
remember squealing for joy as I turned around. He
was lying on the ground, arms reaching toward
me, a huge smile on his face. "Touchdown Mick
Johnson!" he yelled. "Your first touchdown!"

All those years, I believed that every kid in the
neighborhood was jealous of me. And why not? I'd
spent time at the houses of the boys on my block
--Philip and Cory and Marcus. I'd seen their dads
sprawled out on the sofa. Mostly they'd ignore
me, but if they asked me something, it was
always about school. I'd answer, and then they'd
go back to their newspaper. These fathers drove
delivery trucks or taught high school or worked in
office buildings in downtown Seattle. They wore
glasses, had close-cropped hair, and either had
bellies or were starting to get them. Everything
about them seemed puny.

My dad was bigger and stronger than any of
them. His voice was deeper, his smile wider, his
laugh louder. Like me, he has red hair, only his
was long and reached his shoulders. He wore
muscle T-shirts that showed his tattoos--on one
shoulder a dragon, on the other a snake. He kept
a keg of beer in the den, and whenever he filled
his beer stein, he'd let me sip the foam off the
top. The way he looked, the way he acted--those
things alone put him a million miles above every
other kid's father. But there was one last thing
that absolutely sealed the deal--my dad was a
star.

Our den proved it. It was down in the basement,
across from my mom's laundry room, and it was
filled with scrapbooks and plaques and medals.
Two walls were covered with framed newspaper
articles. It was the headlines of those articles that
told his story. I used to go downstairs into the
den, pick up one of the game balls that he kept in
a metal bin in the corner, and walk around and
read them, feeling the laces and the leather of the
football as I read. Mike Johnson Sets High School
Yardage Record . . . Mike Johnson Leads Huskies
over USC . . . Mike Johnson Named to All-Pac
Ten First Team . . . Mike Johnson Selected in
Third Round.

Sometimes my dad would come in while I was
staring at the walls. He'd tell me about a
touchdown run he'd made in a rainstorm against
Cal or the swing pass in the Sun Bowl that he'd
broken for sixty-five yards. When he finished with
one of his stories, he'd point to the two bare walls.
"Those are yours, Mick," he'd say. "You're going to
fill them up with your own headlines."

My mom had been a top gymnast at the
University of Washington the same years my dad
was on the football team. She runs around Green
Lake every morning, and she used to do the
Seattle-to-Portland bicycle race, so she knows all
about competition. But every time she heard my
dad talk about me making the headlines, she'd
put her hands on my shoulders and look at me
with her dark eyes. "You don't have to fill any
walls with anything," she'd say. "You just be you."
Then she'd point her finger at my dad. "And you
stop with all that 'bare walls' stuff."

My dad would laugh. "A little pressure is good for
a boy. Keeps him on his toes."


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Football -- Fiction.
Fathers and sons -- Fiction.
High schools -- Fiction.
Schools -- Fiction.
Steroids -- Fiction.
Family life -- Washington (State) -- Fiction.