Friday, July 29, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 7

Part 6 here.

My phone beeps with a new e-mail.

REMOVE FILM FROM CEILING CAMERA, REPLACE AND EDIT CONTENT, OLD NAVY, BY END OF BUSINESS DAY

One of our workers was industrious enough to bore a hole in the ceiling of a dressing room at a fashionable clothing boutique. It was done inconspicuously enough that no one would ever detect it. Setups like this one record a series of visual images for hours, until all the memory is used up. I’m supposed to remove the memory card and replace it with a fresh one. The real effort is not in locating the camera, but in finding out how this guy installed it in the first place. Once I figure it out, it’s fifteen seconds of effort to make the swap.

Here, workers don’t have to constantly fear being detected, because what proceeds can be very tedious. Women file in and out. The camera is stationary, meaning that some visitors to the dressing room are more visible than others, depending on where they stand, bend over, or crouch. We try to use everything we can, within reason, but probably only get three or four usable video clips from hours of footage. I find I fast forward for whole minutes at a time, which is the key limitation of this sort of approach.

Three hours later, back at the apartment, I’ve managed to isolate a few clips, and send them along. This makes everyone happy. Rarely do I ever receive effusive praise, but scanning through the comment section is strangely uplifting this evening. I never really know what’s going to go over well. If I were a writer of books, I know I’d probably find that my favorite work differed considerably from the tastes of the buying public.

I wonder sometimes whether it’s worth my while doing dressing rooms, retrieving video footage, and editing. As I alluded to earlier, there are always other assignments. Some look up skirts, but to me that’s boring work, and even riskier. I have no desire to chase women around stores. That’s all Mickey Mouse stuff to me.

It takes more patience than I’ll ever have and those workers are usually the first to get caught. Strict photography, another option, is lots of effort for a minimum return. Capturing the faintest peek of underwear is the work of many, but those assignments are usually all-day and much one captures is not terribly compelling.

I’m a mercenary and I always will be. I’m a hired gun. One must admit that, for most of us men who go for women, there is something excessively arousing in the stark and barely clothed female form. Often, the most appealing thoughts and foremost fantasies involve desires and visuals which we would ordinarily never see. An older former friend of mine, a man I haven’t spoken to in years, always complained about the prevalence of nudity in film these days. Nudity used to mean something, he griped.

I see what he means. A tease can be more stimulating than full nakedness. Reality is sexier than any choreographed floor routine. Not only that, public displays like these in any context hold shock value, which can also be stimulating. This is what makes our wares appealing to the customer base. It’s one of the last, if not the last truly shocking genre left. It eviscerates any distinction between private and public.

I’m never privy to the discussions farther up the food chain. I wonder what would happen if we were ever found out. An expose in the local news, relying upon the firsthand account of a victim, might become a total shitstorm if it took off nationally. Everyone we record is a complete unknown. Only idiots take on larger targets like celebrities. Most women are too ashamed to report us. Instead, the most seemingly banal and yet highly personal experience is our statement of purpose.

I’ve been told the effect is enough to freeze most of our so-called “non-professional” models dead in their tracks. Drying oneself with a towel after showering isn’t all that substantial on its face. Yet, to some men, nothing could be more charged. It’s an ordinary routine, but at the same time an amazingly powerful form of sensuousness.


Women who knew the frequency of our movements might never undress in public settings ever again. I’ve rationalized my role in these proceedings. As long as I don’t have to return to my depressing roll call of dead-end jobs, I am eager to provide the services requested of me.

depressing roll call of dead-end jobs, I am eager to provide the services requested of me.
Most of our records can be destroyed within minutes. The official party line is that, should we be detected, two men are to take the fall if it comes to that. Those names are selected at random every six months. Fortunately, I dodged a bullet this time, but the next draw may not hold such luck for me. This is not the end. We are remarkably proficient in knowing how to regenerate once the smoke clears.

Hyperbole aside, none of us wants to think about the end. The website would go dead immediately, servers would be purposely destroyed, and everyone’s computer equipment would immediately be headed onto the scrap heap or resting at the bottom of rivers. I don’t own this laptop, the software, or this camera. Like I said, I paid for it out of my first paycheck, but it’s all licensed and paid for by the front company, and these things would be the first to go.

Should we need to go slash and burn, we can be fairly certain that only a handful of pictures or videos, no doubt downloaded as evidence to make a case, even exist. It wouldn’t be good press to reveal our subscriber list. As noted above, we’d seek to pay off an offended party to prevent a lawsuit or to stop them from going to the media.

I, however, would have no soft place to land but would probably escape with my relative anonymity intact. I’ve been socking away a few dollars here and there to subsist on, should the end be nigh.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 6

Part 5 here.

There’s always work available. Like the taxi driver Travis Bickell, I have nothing resembling a life or a family, and I’m on the clock almost every day, though I am busier in the middle of the day. Customers leave frequent comments about which sets they enjoy the most and what they hope to see from us in the future. These are taken seriously, because we pride ourselves on good customer service. For security purposes, we only conduct a one-way exchange with those who’ve signed up. They make requests, but we can’t respond or provide feedback and apologize for it.

If someone were to ever ask me about the tricks of the trade, I’d remark that there really aren’t any. Intuition and practice are far more valuable. What is high-risk can be high-reward very quickly. The most daring among us show faces and identifying features with their camera work, which only courts disaster. But that’s my opinion. I often cover my ass by shooting my videos from the neck down. Customers complain, but they get 95% of what they want. I’m not going to risk a lawsuit or time in court. I have much more to lose than they.

At times I fancy myself something of an unconventional auteur. The only difference is that my actresses aren’t aware they’re on stage and haven’t read their lines beforehand. After a hard day’s work, lines of a different sort begin to blur, the ones between reality and fantasy. Sometimes I even think someone’s filming me. The one liability to this job is that it shatters specific distinctions and perceptions that are normally in place to preserve our sanity. I can relate, on one level, to the celebrities who get hassled by paparazzi, always in front of a camera, with tabloid hunters even rooting around in their garbage.

If this is punishment for my crimes, I’ll take it. I’m not amoral or uncaring. Most of my subjects will never know that their images are on film. Why would they think otherwise? They’re usually too engrossed in over-analyzing their perceived physical flaws and perhaps even more secretly delighting in their assets. This is what makes my job easier than it could be. I’ve never seriously thought about squealing to the cops or threatening to quit.

I’ve been at this long enough that I take certain precautions I never did before. If I enter a restaurant to take my meals, I insist up being seated facing the outside plate glass towards the street. It’s largely an irrational worry, but I know now how easy it is to be observed without knowing it. In five years, I’ve defied the odds. Though I’ve had some close calls, especially early on, I haven’t gotten caught yet.

I feel like a sniper, completely concealed from view, in control of my own destiny. I have my orders, but I know that orders alone are insufficient. Orders are tersely-worded directives, but the real work begins when I locate the target. I wouldn’t want my tasks to be too highly structured. That would be too much like conventional employment. I’ve made a name for myself through my efficiency and a willingness to take chances. Subscribers know me by a handle I’ve established for myself and they express their appreciation in the comment section on a consistent basis.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 5

Part 4 here.

There’s always work available. Like the taxi driver Travis Bickell, I have nothing resembling a life or a family, and I’m on the clock almost every day, though I am busier in the middle of the day. Customers leave frequent comments about which sets they enjoy the most and what they hope to see from us in the future. These are taken seriously, because we pride ourselves on good customer service. For security purposes, we only conduct a one-way exchange with those who’ve signed up. They make requests, but we can’t respond or provide feedback and apologize for it.

If someone were to ever ask me about the tricks of the trade, I’d remark that there really aren’t any. Intuition and practice are far more valuable. What is high-risk can be high-reward very quickly. The most daring among us show faces and identifying features with their camera work, which only courts disaster. But that’s my opinion. I often cover my ass by shooting my videos from the neck down. Customers complain, but they get 95% of what they want. I’m not going to risk a lawsuit or time in court. I have much more to lose than they.

At times I fancy myself something of an unconventional auteur. The only difference is that my actresses aren’t aware they’re on stage and haven’t read their lines beforehand. After a hard day’s work, lines of a different sort begin to blur, the ones between reality and fantasy. Sometimes I even think someone’s filming me. The one liability to this job is that it shatters specific distinctions and perceptions that are normally in place to preserve our sanity. I can relate, on one level, to the celebrities who get hassled by paparazzi, always in front of a camera, with tabloid hunters even rooting around in their garbage.

If this is punishment for my crimes, I’ll take it. I’m not amoral or uncaring. Most of my subjects will never know that their images are on film. Why would they think otherwise? They’re usually too engrossed in over-analyzing their perceived physical flaws and perhaps even more secretly delighting in their assets. This is what makes my job easier than it could be. I’ve never seriously thought about squealing to the cops or threatening to quit.

I’ve been at this long enough that I take certain precautions I never did before. If I enter a restaurant to take my meals, I insist up being seated facing the outside plate glass towards the street. It’s largely an irrational worry, but I know now how easy it is to be observed without knowing it. In five years, I’ve defied the odds. Though I’ve had some close calls, especially early on, I haven’t gotten caught yet.

I feel like a sniper, completely concealed from view, in control of my own destiny. I have my orders, but I know that orders alone are insufficient. Orders are tersely-worded directives, but the real work begins when I locate the target. I wouldn’t want my tasks to be too highly structured. That would be too much like conventional employment. I’ve made a name for myself through my efficiency and a willingness to take chances. Subscribers know me by a handle I’ve established for myself and they express their appreciation in the comment section on a consistent basis.

My phone beeps with a new e-mail.

REMOVE FILM FROM CEILING CAMERA, REPLACE AND EDIT CONTENT, OLD NAVY, BY END OF BUSINESS DAY

One of our workers was industrious enough to bore a hole in the ceiling of a dressing room at a fashionable clothing boutique. It was done inconspicuously enough that no one would ever detect it. Setups like this one record a series of visual images for hours, until all the memory is used up. I’m supposed to remove the memory card and replace it with a fresh one. The real effort is not in locating the camera, but in finding out how this guy installed it in the first place. Once I figure it out, it’s fifteen seconds of effort to make the swap.

Here, workers don’t have to constantly fear being detected, because what proceeds can be very tedious. Women file in and out. The camera is stationary, meaning that some visitors to the dressing room are more visible than others, depending on where they stand, bend over, or crouch. We try to use everything we can, within reason, but probably only get three or four usable video clips from hours of footage. I find I fast forward for whole minutes at a time, which is the key limitation of this sort of approach.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 4

Part 3 here.

If this wasn’t a job, I might find the finished product as attractive as our customers seem to feel. As it stands, I don’t really have the luxury. I never was the Peeping Tom sort, but I can at least intellectually understand why people are willing to pay the price for such veracity. If one finds oneself pleased by the sight of a woman clutching a handful of toilet paper, far be it for me to pass judgment. The spectacle never did much for me, but it does a great deal for many.

I guess I’m a bit more pragmatic. I’m attracted to the girl-next-door, the sort that might be interested in a guy like me. Beautiful women intimidate me. I see them on the street or through my viewfinder and question whether they’d ever be attracted to me. Our audience wants the girls who look like runway models, and that’s quite a tall order. I have no control over who enters the next dressing room. I wish I could tell them that beauty comes in many forms.

For the first time in my life, I’ve become skillful in something besides good intentions. As an adolescent, I was always attracted to films about hit men, the glamor of living a lone-wolf existence, the craft involved, and the insistent need for secrecy. I might not have approved of the tactics or the brutality of it, but I sensed it gave a man like me a purpose. I always shyly kept to myself, letting few people into the particulars of my life. I know it limited me socially, but I struggled to find a job where I’d have only sporadic contact with others.

Now, I fit someone’s profile. I never had to brave the indignity of demeaning vocational tests and overly polite job counselors. No one cared about my references or my flimsy resume. The two most important questions asked were whether I was willing to do it and would I keep the nature of my vocation a complete secret. I assented eagerly to both. If asked, I was to say that I edited raw film for a pornography website. No one ever asked any further questions.  

To this day, I don’t even know who my immediate boss is. The interview prior to my hire was conducted completely online through chat. I saw no faces and they did not see mine. Specifically they asked about my computer skills with a particular editing software program and stressed that, should I be hired,  I was to follow closely the demands and requests of our customer base. A week later I was scanning my inbox and found a job offer waiting for me. I accepted by way of calling an unlisted cell phone number with an out-of-town area code. The digits were included in the text of the e-mail.  I was told I would start in a week and to delete the message immediately.

We do have the law on our side, or at least in our back pocket. We have the impotence of the current statues on the books. What we do and how we do it is tough to prosecute. Most states have laws on the books defending women and girls who have been videotaped or photographed without their consent, but they are mostly used to protect children. If the parties involved are legal adults, it’s a different matter. We’ve insisted upon strict secrecy to make sure that those on film or in a photograph never come across their own image for any reason. If there’s ever any doubt, we pixilate faces or distinguishing marks.

Thus far, we’ve been lucky, though established protocols are in place should a woman make an accusation. We’ve made enough money by now to offer generous cash settlements that, in other endeavors, have ensured upon silence in a flash. Bad publicity is anathema of what we want. We bill ourselves, in long-established parlance, as a gentleman’s club. Once one person steps forward, the press starts digging into our content and three more women follow suit. We can pay off three people, but not thirty or three hundred.

Trying to skirt the issue is needlessly suspicious. My papers are legit and my employment is too. We even go to the trouble to hire a handful of women willing to strip and pose in conventional fashion, but that’s for deception’s sake. Anyone who signs up knows what he or she is really getting. We even have a handful of female members. Subterfuge is remarkably easy in the internet age.

If you listen to the politicians speak and take their rhetoric seriously, you might concur that I worked for one of those All-American startup small businesses boosting the economy with ingenuity and effort. It was certainly established with both in mind, but I doubt anyone would want to equate economic stimulus with a small online fetish pornography company. I know we’ve provided the basic needs of many, enough to keep us afloat from quarter to quarter.

I don’t rationalize what I do, but neither do I feel guilty. It’s interesting work and beats anything else I did beforehand. I take pleasure in my handiwork, especially in the editing room that doubles as one corner of the living room in my small apartment. In post-production, I do my best to make every word spoken come out as clear as a bell, removing extraneous noise. Customers have e-mailed us to say that the best videos make them feel like they’re actually in the room themselves, observing every moment and every sound. The fly in the wall effect is our goal every time out.

In accordance with our policy, the raw files successfully uploaded to the server and central control are then promptly destroyed. No need to leave a paper trail or an electronic one. Like a criminal wiping clean the fingerprints, I wipe over the hard drive three times before starting a new assignment. I never said this wasn’t a little sketchy or chancy, but perhaps this sort of business appeals to my rebellious side.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Keeping the Faith When Dialogue Is Difficult



Some years back, the committee of which I was clerk decided to Elder a Friend for sharing vocal ministry too frequently. As long-term readers may recall, I aimed to deal as fairly with him as I could, but he took immediate offense and never returned to Meeting again. I wanted to open a free-flowing dialogue based on mutual respect, but he was content to take his ball and go home. Before parting ways, he accused me of acting as the Meeting police (which I was not) and gave me at best three minutes of his time.

Punishment in any form was not my intention, but he saw the steps we took as malevolent and offensive. Those of us who must enforce the rules may need to be reminded again that one can't plan for everything. We often expect that rational discourse alone is sufficient. Surely we can communicate on a higher plane, we think. If that were truly the case, if you will pardon a brief political aside, Barack Obama would be the most effective American president ever. I wish that reason and logic, not feelings and emotional impressions were more powerful.

Hand-wringing attitudes are adopted by too many Quaker Meetings and Churches, and often they only create inertia. Rarely do they ever produce positive outcomes, reinforce proper conduct, and encourage right thinking. But rather than dwell on what doesn't work, I'd rather embrace a more optimistic attitude with an eye towards the future. I've since moved on to a different Meeting. It's a warm, caring, stable place and I'm happy to spend First Day in its company. I appreciate that people don't fight over the smallest stakes possible only to be needlessly contentious and in control of something, no matter how minuscule.

It would be too easy to make a big deal about what is to follow, to wax indignant, if you will. I'll provide only as much background as is necessary, then quickly move on. The Friend I noted above showed up at Meeting for Worship yesterday, still nursing a grudge, very much still licking his wounds. I was in the middle of speaking to someone else when he arrived on the scene during post-Worship refreshments and fellowship. He took great pains to pull said Friend away from me, to monopolize her time and attention by way of power play. It was a little like having someone forcibly remove a dancing partner by rudely cutting in, mid-song.

I didn't take offense to it because I had a hard time taking his approach seriously. It was rendered weakly, for one. He wanted to make me upset, but the immaturity of the approach made me smile instead. A few seconds before, I'd tried once again to initiate conversation with him, this time to explain the approach we'd taken. He avoided eye contact completely, acting in a manner I can best describe as nasty nice. I wanted the opportunity to talk and reach a resolution, but he was not of a similar mindset.

In the future, if I see him, I'll make another attempt at confrontation. I'm not mad at him. Truthfully, I never was. As I told him then, he would have been in full compliance with our wishes if he agreed to space out his vocal ministry from week to week. Surely that wasn't asking too much.

I was trying to spare him of the grief I experienced when I committed the same faux paus. It's an easy mistake to make, particularly when members and attenders hold unwritten rules that are never spelled out, especially for newcomers. I became convinced in a small Meeting where I was given the wonderful opportunity to give frequent vocal ministry. I never dreamed that such conduct could be verboten elsewhere. If I could have spoken freely with him, I know we would have reached an understanding.

I'm fond of a particular quotation. It says that there isn't a single person one can't love if one hears his or her story. And I agree, but it's contingent upon the other party to share that story with another. Otherwise, both parties are flying blind, totally unaware, potentially at odds.

Unprogrammed Worship is meant to be a collective exercise. When it becomes too focused on individual expression, everyone loses out. For me, personally, one of the most difficult lessons to learn was that people who were considerably older than me in years were capable of acting many years younger. I was a precocious child who wanted to be older and felt more comfortable around adults. It seemed incomprehensible that adulthood might be a state of being that is avoided as often as it is embraced.

Now I know better. But situations like these routinely crop up in ways that aren't strictly religious. It might be popular to be mindful of the foods I take into my body and the products I buy. This are no doubt important, but we are also in control of the conscious decisions we make in the way we treat others. Old fashioned virtues like kindness, compassion, and honesty are equally important parts of our Testimonies. I'll leave hair-splitting to others who feel the need to regiment and calibrate their life choices to the micrometer. Those are worldly games, and my focus goes well beyond the cares of this life.

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 3

Part 2 here.
Part 1 here.

I check my phone for a text message.

GAP DRESSING ROOM, DOWNTOWN, 3:00 to 4:30 pm

That store always makes me nervous. It provides considerable challenges even when it is not packed to the gills. I know that whatever I salvage from this trip is going to come at great risk and what is usable won’t be much. Apparently it’s a popular location for our subscribers, which is why I keep coming back here against my better judgment.

When I set up next to a woman in an adjacent room, I have little to no idea of what she looks like. I have to rely on my ears, not my eyes. Based on what I’ve heard, I assume the occupant is a woman in her late teens. This is confirmed when I peek slightly over the divider, using my camera attachment like a flexible periscope.

She’s also trying on bathing suits, but only the brassiere portion. She calls out to an unseen friend who is also trying on clothes. A group of girls appear to have gone on a shopping trip together.

Maybe we should go to Target later.

Yeah, we should, she replies.    

Her voice is girlish and youthful, very much the stereotypical high femme girly girl with immaculately applied makeup and blow-dryed hair. The audience likes women like her, based on the statistics and the research. When one considers the number of highly ranked and liked downloads, women like her are among our most favored. There’s commission in it for me if stumble upon a particularly creative and revealing setup and produce a particularly popular clip.

That depends on luck more than it does skill. Much like the dynamics of a viral video, it’s often difficult to predict success and interest. Videos I thought were fairly unimpressive have at times struck a chord.

Assuming I had a girlfriend, I might be able to take on-the-job experience and apply it to my love life. I’ve seen hundreds of women preen and primp before the mirror, scrutinizing themselves in a way they would only do in strictest privacy. That ritual in insecurity can take whole minutes before I need to start filming. I often have to do lots of editing to compress ten minutes live action into two or three.

After going through an elaborate, private ritual of self-scrutiny, each subject puts on a new outfit or element of clothing. Aesthetically speaking, this is, in many ways, much more interesting to observe. Sex is one thing, but vulnerability and perceived total secrecy is even more private than that. We may be more comfortable as sexual beings in the outside world, on our own terms. We are considerably much less confident when our bodily flaws are on display. Our worst critics are ourselves.  

I’ve done this for five years and I’ve developed a sixth sense about this location. Something about this place makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’m tempted to leave a few minutes early. The effect reminds me of gambling. Should you chance upon a winning streak, the best decision is in knowing when to quit.  The odds are in your favor only to an extent. Eventually, mathematically speaking, your luck will swing against you. Time to cut one’s losses and move elsewhere.

As I alluded to earlier, the pay isn’t what I’d prefer, but neither do I have to work terribly odd hours. Once I slaved away as a security guard at an exclusive golf course. My assignment was the graveyard shift, 7 pm to 7 am. Twelve hour shifts will really take it out of you, as well hitting the bed after the sun has risen. I don’t have to guard ice machines and golf clubs at early mornings anymore, and I’m thankful for that much. It’s tough to be strictly ethical when you’ve never had much money. Even with the constant threat of great terror that would come from being discovered, my work is generally fun.

One learns to not ask questions of one’s superiors. Plausibility denial is a good strategy. I don’t even know the name of who puts clips and pictures online. I send them along in edited form to a purposefully innocuous e-mail address. I am instructed only to use it for video submissions. Few of my contributions are ever returned for being of insufficient quality or for needing additional video edits. An operation this intensive and complex could only work in a large city, which is how I’ve learned nearly every neighborhood and general area, even if I’ve gotten completely lost a time or two.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Quote of the Week



"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."- Proverbs 16:18

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Life as the Great White Hope


He's a good player. And he's the right color, too.

The person speaking about me is a booster. I'd played football for him in Pop Warner league. While still children, our helmets and shoulder pads appear bigger than we are. We all look like Michael Dukakis’ ill-advised campaign ad, showing the candidate piloting a tank. We look cute rather than intimidating. I'm scared to death of this coach, to be blunt, but he's always let me know that I'm one of his favorites.

Kids from third grade onward are allowed to suit up. They take their first few tentative strides with helmets, padding, and other protective measures belted and strapped on. School years are broken down into weight classes. Each grade, each birthday passed by, players are allowed to gain an additional ten pounds. I started in fourth grade, when the maximum a boy can weigh is 90 pounds. By the time I’m in sixth grade, I can get up to 110 pounds, but no more.

A big kid, I always stepped on the scale prior to games close to the absolute threshold. Sometimes I had to run laps around the field to lose water weight before the action started. Even at a young age, my broad shoulders and large build meant that I would be an offensive lineman. Legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson always called players like me the big uglies or the fat bodies. The description is a truthful one, though I'm a cute kid with a baby face. I’m not exactly menacing, at least not yet.

The comment about my race is even more telling. Forty years earlier, most elite college athletes in the South were exclusively white. It wasn’t until the early Seventies that Southeastern Conference teams began to desegregate. By the time it's my turn, 70% of the players on a college team are black. To be sure, there are a few positions where whites still predominate. Quarterback is one. Place kicker is a second, followed closely by punter. And then comes O-linemen like me.

Every snap from center to quarterback is a collision and a fight for position. After every game my arms are covered with deep bruises and small cuts. Nothing productive happens unless we shove and push and block for running backs, who take advantage of the huge holes and running lanes we create in opposing defenses. No one notices us much as long as we're doing our job. But should we fail, suddenly we're completely to blame.

It's a position that requires much humility. Offensive linemen can be superstars, but they have to be legendary talents. If we are merely competent, few fans will learn our names. Sometimes there's an anonymity present in the position, a way to hide behind my helmet so no one can see my face. If I miss a block, I know it immediately and pray that the source of the error is not traced back to me.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes I miss my assignment and the quarterback gets sacked. Sometimes I arrive on the scene at the perfect moment. Most of the time, I give the player with the ball a second or two to make a cut and run for positive yardage. Linemen don’t have to be flashy. Instead, they have to be productive.

The booster took a shine to me from an early age. This started when I was still in elementary school. The grooming of jocks for greater success starts at that soon an age. When I moved up to the high school level, my advocate dangled promises of college scholarships in front of me. Like so many Alabama-bred kids, I grew up a Crimson Tide fan. Millions of young boys have that same dream, but I learn quickly that I'm simply not good enough to punch my ticket to Tuscaloosa. It’s a letdown, but I choke back my disappointment.

If I get a slot on a team, it will be for a lower-tier SEC school like Kentucky or Vanderbilt. My college tuition will be covered in full, but I'm not sure I can stomach a career of mediocre 5-7 seasons. I know I won’t be pleased to miss out on the fun of a bowl game, year after year. I'm smart enough to let my academic skills take me elsewhere. The odds of making a pro team after college are against me, because I'm proficient, but not stellar. If ratings like these existed at the time, I’d be a three star recruit with tons of potential, but I know my limitations better than anyone else.

My booster nevertheless is persistent. His connections have been built by a political patronage system. If he pleads my case and I do well, he does well, too. He's a crusty old Yellow Dog Democrat with a curious admiration for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. About the time I'm ready to start middle school, a new political face arrives on the scene. His name is Clinton and he's a rising star in the party.

It's 1992. Arkansas has joined the Southeastern Conference after years of competing in the Southwest Conference. Instead of playing teams based mainly in Texas, most of its schedule will be devoted to taking on universities in the Deep South. Simultaneously, the governor of Arkansas manages to win the Democratic Nomination for President. Candidate Clinton is in attendance when his team plays Alabama in Little Rock. He arrives late and doesn't stay for the whole game. The Razorbacks lose, but not its favorite son.

The booster has some salacious stories to tell about this newcomer. He's apparently got a fondness for the ladies and he and his wife have got some kind of arrangement worked out. He shows up at retreats with whomever he happens to be bedding at the moment. Oh, no one can prove anything, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty damning. This is mighty powerful hearsay. It will eventually lead to impeachment proceedings, six years later. But as we know now, that's in the future. What was then little more than gossip is likely not going to be disputed two and a half decades later.

In the meantime, no one hates practicing more than I do. No one feels more isolated, alone, and alienated. My friends are geeks and budding scholars, but most of my teammates are dumb jocks. The games are fun, but practices drag on for hours and involve wind sprints. I could be one of the popular kids and benefit from the reverence and personality cults granted to jocks. I could have a cheerleader for a girlfriend, but I resist. I'd feel like a terrible phony. I already feel like I'm leading an inauthentic life as an impostor.

Anyone who has ever played a competitive team sport like football knows how quickly time progresses in a game settings. It feels as though one is existing in a dream state. Adrenalin flows. A game that lasts three hours in duration feels like ten minutes to its participants. I've received numerous nicks and cuts in the middle of a game and not felt them until the final whistle is blown. I love the the blood sport involved and thrive on it.

But practice is very different. I absolutely hate the massive physical exertion required. My body temperature rises to potentially dangerous levels during fall camp in August. Summer is the South is trying for everyone. In 100 degree Fahrenheit heat, I’m asked to sacrifice my body every day but Sunday. I'm in the best shape of my life, but overexertion and heat stroke is always a possibility in soaring heat indexes and high humidity. The body cools itself by sweating, but in 100% humidity, the moisture has nowhere to go, so it runs down my face in trails. My hair is sopping wet, as though I’d just taken a shower.

I decide to quit. No one can understand why. They're sure I'll change my mind later. Why would I turn down the admiration and adulation given to all popular kids? They're certain I'll come back to the fold eventually to confess my guilt. The booster intercedes, seeking to force my hand. My father is wined and dined at an impromptu visit to Lexington, Kentucky. The former governor, Martha Layne Collins, is notably present. The symbolism and intent is obvious. I can be a Wildcat football player, or at least given a favorable shot at winning a position.

My decision does not change. I do not regret it.

Later in life, well into my adulthood, I saw an early 1960's British film entitled This Sporting Life. One of its main characters is also a booster, who discovers a budding young rugby player in the North of England. Unlike Frank Machin, the athlete, I am not a violent, amoral hell-raiser. The quiet, shy, and reserved booster in the film is the exact opposite of the man who made my case and cheered me onward. But that bit of celluloid does remind me of my aggressive play and my take-no-prisoners attitude while on the playing field. Truth be told, I held a special hate for everyone I faced. I channeled the way I felt into being a tireless player who never got rattled and played hard on every down.

I could have been a successful soldier who kills efficiently and ruthlessly. And it would have won me awards and promotions. I did my job without complaint. I never taunted other players or made a great show of celebration. That wasn't exactly my M.O. Instead, I was coldly efficient like a surgeon. I would have brought that same attitude with me wherever I went. Football is a game of momentum swings, but I seemed to be largely immune to them. Win or lose, I gave it my all.

It would have been an adjustment for me to play on a team where racial dynamics were flipped. My high school was 90% white. Only a handful of players were black. These days, winning Southeastern Conference teams sport rosters where most of the combatants are black. They usually come from small towns and, quite often, the ghetto. Black players who come from poverty have an incentive to do well and to make good. They are given a chance for social mobility, a social mobility not easily granted otherwise, and they would be fools not to grab hold of the opportunity.

My booster said I was the right color for a reason. In his mind and in the mind of many others, I was the Great White Hope. I was the white knight on a powerful steed, seeking to equalize the racial balance of a football team. It's one of the uncomfortable realities that led me to choose a different path for myself.

Black Lives Matter on the football field. However, they may not matter as much when their talent is used up and thoroughly exhausted. And there will always be calls for the next white superstar to make a name for himself in sports that are now black-dominated. This will be the case no matter how post-racial a society we become. If my mindset were different, if I was acquiescent and cowed and pressured, I might have been pushed into that role. But it would have only kept me miserable. Today I live for myself, not as anyone’s bargaining chip or quid pro quo.

Saturday Video



Oh, why not.

Baby, baby, let's get together
Honey, honey, me and you
And do the things, ah, do the things
That we like to do

Oh, do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, get down tonight
Do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, get down tonight

Baby, baby, I'll meet you
Same place, same time
Where we can get together
And ease up our mind

Oh, do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, whoo, get down tonight, hey
Do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, get down tonight, baby

Oh, do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, whoo, get down tonight, hey
Do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, whoo, get down tonight, baby

Get down, get down

Get down, get down, get down, get down, get down tonight baby