3 – Blog a33- Tom Petty

Stu, John and Mike Jr await our arrival at the Watts’ so we can all go bike riding. Spring in Miami is when all the poinsettia trees are in bloom. California poinsettias are programmed to bloom for the Christmas season. They are scrawny house plants barely more than a foot tall. In Miami the poinsettias are thirty-foot trees that spread out at the top to over-arch the streets. Not that we are on a garden tour, but spring is in the air. I love Miami. It is a city, but the feeling is welcoming. Sure, there are lots of senior citizens. Still it has the relaxed mañana attitude that makes it sweet being a teenager. Coach Earl was a perfect example of this point of view. He works us like dogs, but we know he likes us. We are his young pups, anxious to please. Just showing up at his door for a soda makes him smile. Coaching is not just a job for him. I am in a sunny mood.
“Did you ask Scott to come today,” I ask Stu and John.
They look at each other and shrug.
“What’s up with Scott?” I ask.
“Lydia.  She plays him like a yo-yo, reeling him in and then tossing him back.” Stu complains.
“That’s a fairly sophisticated opinion,” I observe.
“He’s so moody,” John complains.
“Well, that’s not new.”
“But I never know when he’s friendly or ready to bite my head off.”
“Sounds like you really are all brothers now. You happy there, John?”
“Yeah. Except for swimming. Why can’t I hang with Dave and Jazz?”
“Well, that’s up to the Watts’ and Michael’s dad. They’re your guardians.”
“You mean like they guard me.”
“In your case, yeah. You’re mom and step-dad didn’t do that.” He looks very uncomfortable when I bring that up. “But guardian means substitute parent. You hate swimming?”
“Well, I just got promoted to the A team, so now I swim with Stu and Mike. I hated it at first. It’s so hard. I didn’t know how to do well.”
“Give it some more time. Swimming with your friends now, it should be more fun. Do you like to compete?”
“That’s cool, but now that I have A times, I don’t always win.”
John really is better. He is talking like a regular teenager. Maybe not smoking pot makes him less closed off. I remember to speak with his guardians. I am still his big brother, after all.

Coach Earl comments on John. “He’s a real competitor. He hates to lose. Don’t you go coaching him. Diaz will destroy you, after what you did to Scott last year.”
“How’s Scott doing?”
“Good. He’s got State this week. You should come cheer him on in the 500.”
“He’s defending his State Title in the 500?”
“It’s what he does best, Tim.”
“We’re friends again, Coach.”
“You always were.” Coach Earl has that glint in his eye.

We decide to go to the Grove after Coach Earl’s. Clyde is running the store, with Phillip in the back working on the books. Small business is not for those who need their weekends off.
Clyde has introduced a totally urban line of fashion in contrast to the garish gay vibe Felix established. The clientele is more diverse. The store seems crowded. I worry they will expand by taking over the annex.
“Still got all the kids next door?”
“Sunday’s usually slow until after Church. The homies need to let loose after all that preachin.’”
Clyde is sizing up the younger boys. “These boys wanna do some modellin’ for cash?”
“I ain’t walkin’ around in funky underwear,” John protests.
“That’s more Tim’s style,” Clyde rejoins. “We’re all about street now, covering up with layers. I’d use my homies but that don’t sell to the white trash that shops here.”
We all laugh.
“Just find some outfits you wanna try on and get dressed in the back.”
The boys leap to play dress up. Swimmers are so gay.

We go to the annex next door to check out the youth club.
The kids are playing records. They seem to have discovered salsa, much to my pleasure. The ethnic mix is a more accurate reflection of all Miami, a third white, black and latin. The white kids run over to greet us, as they are the old timers here, at 13 and 14. Everyone seems comfortable, but I can see Clyde’s point, as each ethnicity has their own fashion sense.
The kids want stories about our ’tour.’ We have just started telling them about the walk-in church at Daytona Beach when Clyde leads the boys in, decked out in all ‘urban’ wear. The Annex kids respond instantly to white boys in streetwear. The girls get right in the faces, feeling and adjusting the fabrics. John, especially, looks embarrassed. Not that I was looking but the bulk of the clothes hides any obvious pubescent arousal. It seems to be one of the strong points of the designs. Clyde has fitted the boys in over-sized outfits. They hang loosely and make the models look younger than they are. It reminds me that at their age I was growing out of clothes quickly. Mom always bought 2 sizes up. The too small, tight-fitting disco clothes are being supplanted by the street-tough look of the city. It is a smart move to use white bread models to sell the urban look to white kids. I let the Out-Crowd boys revel in the girl attention and walk back to the store.
“Whatcha think about calling the Annex ‘Out & About.’” Clyde confirms my observation that the store will push the kids out to expand the retail sales.
“Cool. Perfect to go with Out & Proud. What about the kids and their youth center?”
“Money talks and the kids walk,” he shows insensitivity to why they expanded in the first place.
Jack is eyeing him suspiciously, so I ask, “How’s your relationship with Phillip?”
“Fine. ‘Course I’m always available for you,” he winks.
I draw Jack into a sexy kiss to dispel his persistence. Somebody takes a flash picture which makes us laugh.
“I get the message,” Clyde reacts.
“Luv ya, Clyde,” we both say. Nice to be on the same page.
I notice that Mike Jr is paying for several jerseys and jeans.
“Hey, Mike, if you like that stuff, Clyde will give you a discount for putting on a show today.”
Clyde goes over and gives Mike back his money. “You made us lots more than the cost of these duds.”
Mike goes next door to pass the word. Stu and John run up shortly and choose their selections. No more tees and ragged jeans for these boys.

We arrive at Michael’s at the same time Robby is lighting up with Dave and Jazz. Stu and Mike Jr are oblivious, but John knows what is up. He still follows Stu to the drum kit and guitar amps. I give him credit for choosing his own path, but I know how he craved to return to the hazy daze of a stoned brain. He tunes up my old Mustang when I sit beside him, not saying a word.
“What?” John complained
“Nothin.’ I’m just chillin’ wid yoose.”
“You talk funny, half hillbilly, half Brooklyn.”
“My roots don’t go deep.”
“You better seem like a real Southern boy at Skynyrd.”
“No rap?”
“Jeezus. You wanna be tarred and feathered.”
“We got U of M football security.”
“Them good ol’ boys will love watching Yankees get their asses kicked.”
We laugh.
“I heard this song by a band called Mudcrutch. They’re from North Florida.” I take the Mustang and run a couple of chords. Then I stand up and sing, with the amp turned up,

“Hey hey hey!
I was born a rebel.

Down in Dixie (Hey hey hey!) on a Sunday morning
Yeah with one foot in the grave
And one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel.”

Songwriters: PETTY, TOM
Rebels lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

I give the guitar to John. He plays it back to me note for note, except he jumps into the air as he sings ‘hey, hey, hey.’
Jack comes over and asks if it is a new song.
“Naw, I heard it on the radio. Some band in Gainesville. They put out a 45 from their demo.”
“Think we could use it at Skynyrd?”
“We still need to prove our Southern roots?”
“I love being Southern.”
“In two years from Alaska to Cracker.”
Everyone laughs.
I go and call Jay. He will talk to a friend at the University of Florida about Mudcrutch.
Iggy says he’ has a big Rebel flag we can fly.
Jack jumps around, going, “Yee Haw,” sounding like a mule, not a cowboy and especially not a redneck.
John and I go back to working on songs, ignoring them.
“Fucking fake hillbillies,” he snarks.
“Now you know what it’s like for a week on the road,” I tell him.
We smile at each other. It makes my heart sing to know he is happy.

The Out-Crowd leaves. After ordered-in pizza, we run through the songs we plan for our set. It is a good hour of non-stop rhythm and blues. Then we try putting certain songs together. In between songs, Jack and I make up dialogue, supposedly to entertain the crowd. Sometimes it’s so lame, the rest of the band just moans in despair. Better they are tuning and shifting and playing riffs than we talk. We do better at the jokes when no one is listening. We need a sound-man to keep the vibe going. We will have to make do at the concert with whoever they have on the board. Some songs are so good, it makes me tingle. Others make me worry no one will like them and we bomb. It is an uneven practice.
At the end, I try to give a pep talk to paper over all my doubts. It fails to overcome our insecurities.
Robby stands up.
“Hell, man. We’re going out there and doing our thing which is having fun and ripping up. I ain’t worried that I’ll fuck up ‘cause Michael’s right there to catch me when I fall. Jack and Hippie are rhythm machines, And Tim? Well, he knows the Jacettes sing better than him anyway, so they’ll back him up while he cries on their shoulders.”

He is right. We are too serious about being the next big thing. We just want to have fun.

Even practice is fun. Before leaving, Robby smokes us out. Jack gets extremely antsy to be home in my bed. He is raring to go, my own personal sex addict. I attempt to return to our New Romantic phase. Under the influence of pot, Jack demands domination. He is well satisfied but so sore that Robby laughs at us when we walk into English class ten minutes late.
“Not inspired enough by Shakespeare to make class on time,” Mr. Clark jokes.
It’s my chance to change our Spring production.
“Truthfully, I hate ‘The Tempest.’ It’s boring and the plot is too circular with all those spoiled Italians.”
“Hey, hang on,” Michael protests. “It’s not an Italian who wrote it.”
“I agree with Tim,” Grant adds. “What role fits my ethnicity?”
“Well, what do you suggest we do instead?” Mr. Clark gives me the opening I want.
“Let’s create our own romantic comedy from the Shakespearean Sonnets.”
“You want to adapt Shakespeare to musical theater?”
“Putting it to music? That’s a great idea.”
“So you can be the star, I presume?”
“Jack will be more than willing.”
Jack smiles at me, still in a fog from the night’s devastation of his body. Then he realizes I might be sarcastic. He gives me a quick frown. Everyone else laughs.
“You have the musical book ready to go?”
“Not until after our concert this weekend. We’re too busy right now.”
“Of course, your musical career shouldn’t suffer because you’re still in high school.”
Everyone not in the band laughs at us.
“Okay, here’s what I’ve sketched out,” I extemporize at the tip of my tongue. “Will is a young court favorite, playing mandolin for the young princesses, Mary and Elizabeth. They are desperate rivals for King Henry’s throne, one Catholic, the other Protestant. Mary is stunningly beautiful, while Elizabeth is a conniving shrew. Henry has no male heirs and must decide which princess will become Queen. It’s part ‘Macbeth’ and part ‘Taming of the Shrew.’ Will’s role is to make each princess look good in Henry’s eyes. The truth is Will is gay and has Henry under his spell, explaining why the king killed off so many wives. I have not completely thought out the ending, but Mary loses her head and Elizabeth’s reign is the Elizabethan Era.”
The class is listening breathlessly. They erupt with applause when I finish.
“You have a name for this musical?” Mr. Clark looks stunned.
“Yeah, ‘Sonnets.’
“Who wants to switch to this soap opera instead of ‘The Tempest?” he asks.
The vote is unanimous, once it is agreed that the girls can play the female roles this time. Robby is upset until I say he should play Henry, the Eighth.

Grant will be Falstaff, back from the Dead, Mary will be Mary, and Jack would be Will. Hippie asks if he could be Cromwell, the Inquisitioner. Michael agrees to do the set design, returning the Globe Theatre replica to his house. All I have to do is rewrite Shakespeare’s lines and set them to music – a piece of cake.
We spend the rest of class reading the Sonnets aloud. Jack is in drama heaven with us reading together. Shakespeare is so obviously gay. Then someone reads the line, “Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse the bounteous largess given thee to give?”
“Say, what?” Grant explodes.
”Language, Grant.”
“What I say?”
“No. The language is Olde English; it means stingy, mean, cheap. This was centuries before there were slaves.”
“Well, it don’t mean we can use what sounds like the N word.”
“I agree, but the line did say he was beauteous.”
“Shit, you call me a pretty nigga and I’s in your face.”
“Language, Mr. Grant.”
“That’s New English, my language.”
We all laugh, to Mr. Clark’s despair.

At Nutrition, Hippie asks when Jack and I are planning to have dinner with his two moms. Thursday is the night of the Baptist Youth Group. I tell Jack we’ll have a great time rolling around with other kids, cautioning him not to speak in tongues or else the youth group will pursue him relentlessly, for speaking God’s Word.
“I’ll be a false god,” he quips.
“Don’t you dare,” I order him.
We giggle.
“We’ll be there on Thursday. We need to go to the Hydroplane Stadium and do a sound check that afternoon. We can go to Hippie’s afterwards.”

I call Jay and ask him to set up a time on Thursday afternoon for sound check. We have played outdoors, but these acoustics are going to be weird, right on the water, playing to a crowd 100 feet away.
“I spoke to my friend in Gainesville. He knows the singer from Mudcrutch. No problem for you to play their song, as they’ve broken up.”
“Cool, but how do we credit it as a cover?”
“Their singer is a big Skynyrd fan. He asked if he can sing the song with you guys.”
“That’s cool. Is he young?”
“24. That sound too old?”
“How old are you, Jay?”
“The same, 24.”
“You wanna hang out with us, too? You can be his sponsor to the Kingdom of Youth.”
“Really?” He sounds 15.
“Of course. You can be a good ol’ boy, right?”
“Shucks, I don’t needs ta try.”
“See what I mean,” as I punch Jack.
“What?” he hasn’t been listening to the call.
“Jay’s coming to our show.”
“Great,” he yells.
Now Jay giggles.
“You just got hired as Assistant Manager, Jay.”
“Isn’t that what I always do, anyway?”
“You’ve been working for Mike Sr. Now you work for us.”
“How’s that’s different?” he sounds confused.
“Now we can fire you if you don’t do what we tell you,” Jack shouts into the phone.
“Oh, great.”
“Get your ass over here. I’m lonely.”
We all are giggling.
“Clear case of sexual harassment.”
“Whatever,” we both yell.

After practice, I remember what Coach Earl said. I decide to call Scott.
“What’s up?”
“What’s up?”
“Not much. How about you?”
“Com’n, Scott. I know you got State Finals this week. I called to wish you luck.”
“I wish you were there to pump me up, like last year.” He is so obliviously clueless to what he is saying.
“Coach banned me for being a quitter and a bad influence,” I remember.
“Can’t you just come?”
My heart skips a beat. I really want to be there for him.
“What night is it?”
“Friday, at 6 pm. It’s the first event. It’s at Ransom.”
“You gonna win again?”
“Doubtful. I finally matched last year’s time, but those same guys are now 4 seconds faster.”
“Five seconds. You can do it.”
“Thanks. Can you come?”
The old feelings are kicking in. I yearn to be part of it.
“I have an idea. The meets at your school. Can you find a place outside the pool where we can play? I have the perfect pump up song for you.”
“A what?”
“We’ll play a song that’s sure to get you a’goin’.”
“Thanks, Tim. It’ll be cool to see you at my meet.”
“We’ll get there before 6. After you’ve warmed up, come out to the parking lot. Show us where we can set up, where you’ll be able to hear it, even in the water.”
“Won’t it pump up the other swimmers, too?”
“Naw. This song will be just for someone special. You’ll know when we start playing.”
“You can’t tell me now?”
“I’m going for max effect. Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

Later I tell Jack we’re going to do an outdoor appearance at Ransom for Scott’s swim meet.
“Still carrying the flame?”
“Always, ‘cept he’s not gay. He’s another hopeless cause.”
“Like I was for Isaac.”
“So, you admit it?”
“Yeah. What a pitiful nerd I was.”
“Was?” I grab him and smack a big wet kiss on his lips.  He giggles as we get to it.

After school on Thursday, we haul our equipment out the causeway to Key Biscayne, where the hydroplane course is located. Seating for the fans is bleachers at the edge of the water, looking out at the concrete judge’s stand about 100 feet offshore. Jay arranged for the promoters to have a skiff ready to haul us to the concrete stand where we’ll play. We set up and play a few different songs. It takes us a while to get the amp levels high enough. The Rebel song from Mudcrutch is a good sound check, with the ‘hey,hey,hey’ chorus. There’s no backdrop where we can drape the Rebel Stars and Bars flag. I tell Iggy that his job is to wave the flag when we play ‘Rebel.’
“We have to let that redneck from Gainesville sing with us?” Jack complains.
“It’s his song. Just ‘cause ya live in a big, fancy house don’t mean ya ain’t no redneck.”
“Right. Just ‘cause yer from Alaska don’t mean ya cain’t pretend yer one, too.”
“We call ‘em roughnecks. They’s all from Texas.” I counter.
Never put down where someone’s from.

After the sound check, I call Jay about the acoustic problems. After conferring with Mike Sr. he comes back on the line.
“We have to get an amp for the Gainesville guy anyway, so we’ll swap out all the amps for more powerful ones,” Jay decides.
“Marshall Stacks, Marshall Stacks,” Jack yells.
Thoughts of how happy Jace would have been flash through my heart. It skips a beat.

Before dinner with the moms. I warn Jack that Marge is blunt and opinionated. She takes her time to mellow to you. Hippie is his happy self that we want to come to his house.
“Why was Gregory’s picture in the paper?“ Marge holds up the shot of him escaping barefoot from the Waldorf. “What he do to be photographed?”
“He was just trying to catch up with us walking to Central Park,” Jack explains.
I know the simple explanation is not what she wants.
“After the Church performance on Easter, all these photographers started following us. They were staked out at the hotel entrance when he came out running without any shoes. They made it look like shots from the Beatles’ movie, ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’”
“You think you’re the Beatles now? You want to be in a movie?”
“Actually, there is a movie coming out from the Viscaya show on last New Year’s.”
“Well, ain’t you special? How come Gregory’s never been paid for the movie?”
“Mr Antonio set up trust accounts for all of us. We got paid $30,000 for shooting the movie. If it is a success, we may get even more.”
“He just gives us a hundred bucks every once in a while,” Madge complains.
“That’s what we make for a show. Usually half goes into the trust accounts from those shows, as well.” I think how different it is for Hippie who gives all his earnings to his moms. They need it.
“I hear about musicians who end up broke ’cause they get cheated out of their earnings.”
“Mom, Mr. Antonio ain’t gonna cheat me.”
“Well, all I know is they’s traveling in limousines around New York City while Gregory had to ride in an old De Soto with no top. I hear De Soto is out of business.”
“Mom, we love that car. We drove it all the way from Miami.”
“They got to fly while y’all drove?”
“You got to fly, too.” Hippie protests.
“Yeah, second class, while they all sat up front.”
“Did you have a good time on the trip,” Jack asks, in order to change the tone of the conversation.
“I’s taken aback when the Baptist Church is only for Black people.”
“Mom, we ain’t racists.”
“Not when you’re the only white folk in Harlem.”
“You didn’t enjoy Gregory singing there.”
“I’s always proud of our boy.”
Hippie grins.
“Y’all goin’ to youth group after dinner?” Marge asks.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” Jack enthuses.
“Bless you, child.”
The Moms’ fried chicken, mashed potato and gravy, with greens on the side, remind me of great Sunday dinners in North Carolina.

At Baptist Youth Group, Hippie’s ‘pledge’ girlfriend, Anna, takes us under her wing. The kids are enthralled to hear about our tour. The youth leader lets us take over as we recount the days in Daytona and Charlotte with censored descriptions of the Roadhouse shows. We promise to bring Iggy next time. He’s the redneck hero of our disputes. The girls will be easy prey for the Iggy dog collar.

When the youth leader leads us in prayer, we’re quickly on the floor, moaning and rolling. No encouragement can get us to speak in tongues, although many of the girls do so. I feel sad when I look up to where Casper had watched us the last time. The girls all see my tears and are quick to comfort me. Religion is such a blankie.
Hippie drops us off at Jack’s, thanking us for coming.
“There’s hope for you boys yet,” he compliments us. We both agree that we felt great after the night’s out of character activities. Kids are kids, everywhere.

Friday afternoon, and school is out for the weekend – our weekend. We are all loose and past worrying how well our songs will do.
Jack describes our mood, “We be buzzin’ like flies on a pile of dog shit.”
Checking in with Jay, he says Tom from Gainesville is waiting for us at Michael’s.
“Shit, we have this high school thing we have to do. He’ll be bored.”
“Naw. He says he wants to hang out and get to know y’all.”
“Yeah. What better place than a high school swim meet?”
I’m so glad we don’t have to practice. Time for fun.

Tom is sitting with Jimmy Olson, blatantly plugging his musical ambitions with the press. Jay is sitting with them, too.
“Jimmy, my man,” I greet him.
“Tim, meet Tom. He says he’s playing with you guys tomorrow.” He’s a skinny guy, with a loopy, buck-toothed grin, and long, straight blond hair. He looks like Cousin It from the Addams Family.
“Yeah. We’re big fans of his Rebel song. Everybody thinks we’re a bunch of city boys from Miami. Hey, Tom, everyone makin’ you feel at home here?”
“You’re Tim. This here’s yer band?”
“Hell, no. We’s all in charge of the chaos. Robby got us all together at first, over Halloween.”
“Samhain,” Robby corrects me.
“So, y’all’s devil worshippers?”
“Naw. Just Robby. He calmed down a bit after I beat him down.”
Robby glowers at me.
“So yer name False Gods ain’t ‘bout religion, y’all needin’ ta be worshiped?”
“Naw. We’re just makin’ fun of bands that claims they gotta be worshiped fer entertainin’ people.”
“Cool. My last band broke up ‘cause everyone was worshipin’ themselves and wanted the fans to do so too.”
“That don’t sound like much fun.”
“It was hell tryin’ to make it when everyone thought they deserved to be idolized.”
“Yeah. How’d ya hear ‘bout us.”
“Yer single was on the radio here and I love it. We need a song that says we’re a Southern band even though we’re from Miami. Not much cred there.”
“And Tim tries bein’ a good ol’ boy, but he’s really a cracker from Alaska,” Jack pokes fun at me.”
Tom guffawed, “Cracker from Alaska? That’s rich.”
“We drove up to New York over Easter and played at road houses to make sure we could open for Skynyrd. We just play what the crowd wants to hear, and sometimes what makes ‘em mad, as well. It makes for wild shows,” I brag.
“Yeah, last weekend we played a frat. The football team chased us up a tree. We bombed them with mangoes,” Jack pipes up.
“I should git me a hard hat fer tomorrow?”
“Naw. You’re cool. I hope once we play “Born a Rebel,’ you’ll stay on stage and play with us. Can you jam on a song you’ve never heard before?”
“Sure thing. Just show me the fingering before you start.”
“This will be so cool,” I enthuse.
Tom snorts. “Y’all’s kids having fun. Just started playin’ six months ago, doin’ parties and road houses. Now you git to open fer Skynyrd. What did I miss about success? I’ve been tryin’ ta make it since I’s ten. Ya wanna hear another Mudcrutch song?”

“Go ahead an’ bedazzle us.”

“Fer us, it’s ‘cause kids bein’ friends means no one takes hisself too serious,” Robby explains.
I pause the love fest. “We’ve got this high school thing we gots ta do. If’n y’all wants ta skip it, I don’t blames ya.”
“Hey, I ain’t that old. Are you playing or what?”
“Well, we’re settin’ up outside the school’s pool and playin’ a fight song for our friend who’s in the State finals tonight. You don’t mind?”
“’Course not. Kin I bring my guitar.”
“Fer shure.”

We pack up our gear in Hippie’s station wagon. Jay drives Jimmy and Tom. I like Tom, so Jack and I pile in with them, to get to know him better. My good ol’ boy cred meter is on the rise.
“So what fight song are you playin’?”
“I cain’t explain it, but it’s Credence’s ‘Proud Mary.’ My buddy Scott will get all emotional when we dedicate it to his mom, whom we all call Mom. It’ll get him out of his head, so he can be a superman in the water.”
“Now it really feels like I’s back in high school.”

We meet Stu and Scott in the Ransom parking lot. I tell Scott we’re going to play a song to cheer him on. He expects me to have some elaborate strategy to get him to drop his time the 5 seconds he needs to win.
“No, dude. You stick to your race strategy and steady pace. Just let the song whip you up for the first lap. Get out ahead and the others will remember last year. They’ll bust their butts to not let you get away. You go back to your pace until the last lap. We’ll keep playing until you win the race.”
“I wish.”
“Don’t worry. Our band will chase away all your doubts. Believe me, you will win again.”
“I believe, you Tim. Yer my lucky charm.”
He hugs me and leaves to get ready.

Stu finds us the perfect spot outside the pool fence, with power close enough for our amps. Nobody bothers us as we set up. Right at 6 pm, the PA at the pool comes on. After a prayer, they start playing a recording of the national anthem. Tom looks at me and we both join in on guitar, just not Jimmy Hendrix style. After ‘home of the brave,’ we break into ‘Dixie.’

The crowd loves it. Soon everyone is singing along. Most of the people are from upstate. The officials look concerned but figure the school has authorized us to play. We sit down to wait for Scott’s event, the 500 free final, which starts the State Championships.

They begin announcing the swimmers. Scott is in lane 8, the outside lane, just like last year. When he stands up on the block as his name is read, I turn on the mic.
“This song is for the greatest mom in the world, Mrs. Watt,” I announce. We all break into ‘Proud Mary.’

Scott looks stunned. He expected the song to be for him. He gulps. The tears start flowing. I have a momentary doubt that we may have screwed him up. But he goes down for the start and takes off like a flash, sprinting the first lap.  This year all the others keep up with him, aware that this strategy won the race the previous year. Just as I had told him, he settles into his regular pace after the first lap. All the other swimmers keep up the torrid pace pushing each other and jockeying for position. They forget about Scott who has fallen back. We turn up our amps, so he can hear us in the water. With 100 yards to go, the fast pace begins to pick off the early leaders, who never swim this fast. Scott moves up on the pack, which looks like they are beginning to flail. With the last 25 yards to go, we turn the amps to maximum.

‘People are willing to give

Big wheel keep on turnin’
Proud Mary keep on burnin’
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river’

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, CONCORD MUSIC GROUP, INC

Scott rolls up the last two competitors and wins by a length. The crowd explodes. Tom does the leads to ‘I was Born a Rebel.’ We all follow him, our first public performance of his song.

Stu is jumping up and down with his mom, who is smiling like an idiot at us outside the fence. I catch Coach Diaz shaking his head at me. I try to make it seem like we are just a cheer squad for Scott, but he knows better. Oh, well. That train left the station long ago. We start packing up our equipment but are delayed by all the fans who seem to know who we are. Even Tom has fans from Gainesville there. We tell them to come to the show the next night. Scott comes running up, hugging and generally molesting me. He finally embarrasses me.
“How did you know that song would get to me so bad?”
“Didn’t I used to call you CB?” (Cry Baby)
“Those tears made me crazy on the first lap.”
“Then you settled down and won the championship again.”
“Thanks, Tim. You are the golden child.”
“Hey, I’m almost 17.”
He looks at me and bursts out crying again. I turn him around, into the arms of Mom Watt. Some things never change.

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