hands while you type.
A tide of red poured through the arched entrances of the stadium. I watched big red foam fingers, red mugs, red shirts, red shorts, and tens of thousands of red baseball caps. The red was a bright red, almost florescent, bold and brash like the people of my great state. My father stood next to me. He had a red sweater with Indiana University written tastefully underneath a small emblem on the breast pocket. My grandfather preferred to advertise his allegiance with greater flair lest any low flying planes or satellite reconnaissance photography might not identify him immediately with Indiana University. He wore an Indiana University sport coat, a bright crimson and white flower on the lapel and matching crimson golf pants.
“Clarence Long, class of ’42,” he says, shaking hands and slapping the backs of equally crimson seniors. “Our boys are givin’ em a hell of a time. Sure, they got a hotshot or two, but when the roosters come home to roost, you’re going to have to give it to our boys. This is my grandson, Mike.” He places his hand on my back and I reach forward for another firm handshake.
My grandfather peppers his speech with metaphors and similes that were popular in his Indiana farmland youth. His love for great comparisons and catch phrases also reveal his eighty-five years in the Republican Party.
When a woman reaches a certain age, she is getting “long in the tooth.” He still talks about the “bad apples” in the Democratic Party that want to make us all Communists. And he occasionally shouts, “Love it or leave it!” across the dinner table when I don’t agree with something about the government. The Republican party is his first great love, my grandmother, his wife of sixty-five years, and Indiana University Basketball are the other two.
My grandfather refuses to use profanity. This puts him at a serious disadvantage when cheering for a sports team in the state of Indiana. He substitutes profanity with an odd and strikingly resourceful combination of rural insults. The referee gets an earful each time he is on my grandfather’s side of the floor. “Get your dang nab head out of the clouds there big boy and blow that stinkin’ whistle once in a while,” or “You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a milk cow that’s still cavin’, ” he yells at an opposing player.
Like many families across the state, Indiana University Basketball is something of a long cherished tradition or mass psychosis, depending on your perspective. Hours are spent debating players, strategies for upcoming games and, of course, the genius of Indiana University Basketball: Coach Bobby Knight.
Bobby Knight put Indiana University on the map with his three national championships and his pathological aggression toward officials, players that miss free throws, and anyone in a hundred-yard radius when he loses a game. It is hard to believe that a man who spends several hours a year drooling, red-faced, and comparing referee’s mothers to any number of farmyard animals could be not only be accepted but idolized by sell-out crowds. Bobby Knight has one redeeming characteristic. He knows how to win basketball games and what’s more, he knows how to inspire young men to not only win the basketball games, but to do their homework in the meantime.
I have another reason to hate Bobby Knight. I cringe every time I enter a job interview in California or New York or Seattle.
“It says here that you graduated from Indiana University. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Now, Indiana University is that somewhere around Idaho, or
do I have it the other way around?
“That’s where Bobby Knight Coaches isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really follow that kind of thing.” I say lying sheepishly.
“Didn’t he get arrested after he raped someone and then hit her with a chair?”
“I think you have it mixed up. He got arrested in Puerto Rico for hitting a cop. He didn’t rape anyone but said that women should enjoy rape if they have no choice and he threw a chair at a referee.”
“And all this happened in Iowa?”
“Indiana,” I reply.
It always amazes me that the Indiana University Board of Trustees never realizes that the majority of the national television footage from their school looks like outtakes from an episode of Cops. While Bobby Knight may be a pariah among sports writers, feminists and most metropolitan areas, he is considered something of a patron saint in Indiana. His antics are not only accepted but also celebrated.
His firm discipline and offensive sound-bites are just the guiding hand that young men need, so the logic goes, in a state that considers wooden ducks to be an important export. My grandfather absolutely loves Bobby Knight. “Bobby’s out there givin’em hell again,” yells my grandpa as Knight runs screaming across a packed arena, his face as red as his crimson sport coat.
My grandfather’s attitudes and opinions are from another age as is my grandfather. It seems that at ninety-years-old, people will more easily forgive his frequent outbursts. My grandfather grew up on a farm in Hartford City, Indiana during the Depression. I’ve been to the farm. My grandfather still owns it. It is hard for him to give it up considering his own grandfather cleared the land sometime shortly after emigrating from Germany. My grandfather’s parents spoke only German up until the Second World War when the family suddenly and inexplicably became Dutch.
Despite my grandfather’s frustrations with my less puritanical political affiliations, he still loves me. He calls me from time to time to ask me about the weather in Seattle and to inquire into Washington State’s agricultural exports.
“So what type of weather are you gettin’ out there?”
“It’s sunny and a little breezy,” I reply.
“Boy, I’ll tell ya I could sure use a little rain out here. Now tell me, what are they growing out there in Washington?”
“I don’t know for sure, I think it’s mostly apples and maybe potatoes or something.”
“How is the apple crop doing this year? It’s not too sunny out there for the apple is it? “
I live in downtown Seattle and program computers in a corporate office park, but I always assure my grandfather that, as far as I know, the apples are doing just fine. This seems to reassure him. Whatever else happens in my life I won’t go hungry with that bumper crop of apples.
My grandfather makes these calls not because he is actually interested in apples but because he wants to talk with me and needs something to talk about. He doesn’t know much about my life. He understands that I work with computers and that I try to write stories. He also understands that I have not been particularly successful with either of these professions, and that worries him. My grandfather manifests his concerns about my future in offers to help me with my job.
“You should let me take a look at your Internet. I think I might know something about that type of thing. We had an Internet behind the barn back in fifty-eight till your uncle and his friends were monkeying around back there and ended up muckin’ it up. Are you sure that you put your transmission fluid in?
I still have no idea what he is talking about, but I assure him that if I need help I will try the transmission fluid. I find these suggestions endearing not only because of their obvious naivete but also because of the genuine spirit of concern. It is his way of trying to help me, and if he could I am quite sure that he would put some transmission fluid into my Internet and things would be OK.