Sit down. Let me tell you a story. It's kind of a Halloween story . . . I mean, it's about something that happened on a Halloween night thirty years ago. And it is kind of scary.
But it's not about monsters, demons, ghosts, or witches . . . well, not the kind you're probably used to. But really, the demons in my story are worse . . . sort of . . .
Maybe I should just tell you the story, whaddya think?
It's a story about something that happened way back when I was in high school. I've never been really big on talking up high school much. Bruce's "Glory Days" kind of ruined that for me. I mean, if the best you can do is talk about what happened to you when you were seventeen, what the hell does that say about the rest of your life, right?
But I can tell this story because it's not about me. It's about a friend of mine named Jimmy Masloff -- we all called him "Maz" -- and what he did on Halloween night, 1979.
It was a football night, and we were playing Fauquier County. Maz and I played for the Albemarle Patriots, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fauquier was the high school in Warrenton, Virginia, a school evenly split between kids whose professional folks went up to DC to work, and kids whose Dad's necks were burnt red from driving a tractor all day long. I'll give you three guesses which kids were tough enough to make the team, and your first two don't count.
The funny thing about playing up in Fauquier -- about 35 miles north of Charlottesville -- is that the Fauquier boys thought of us as a "black" school. Our school was pretty much right in the middle of Virginia, and 9 times out of 10 we played schools to our south, like Halifax or GW-Danville. Schools where damn near the whole team was black.
But there we were that year, playing Fauquier, lily-white and cracker to the core. Coach told us to keep our helmets down and our heads low when our bus rode in. Good thing, too. Those rocks hit the bus hard.
Now, I'd had black people throw rocks at me because I was white before. I could at least understand that. But here were white folks throwing rocks at me because my friends were black. I just didn't get that.
With a little help from the local sheriff, we made it into our locker room with nary a fight. As we waited to go on the field, Coach told us to keep our minds on the game, and not to worry about the crowd in the stands.
Oh, just so you know, I was a second-string guard back then. Maz, a junior, had been the starting left tackle for two years already, and would make all-state in both his junior and senior years. I was sitting next to him while we were listening to Coach, and he was just so calm, no ripples in his pond.
Maybe this is a good place to tell you a little bit about Maz. Bundle of contradictions, that boy. He lived out in an honest-to-God tar paper shack in the middle of nowhere, but his Dad was a fancy professor at U.Va. Poor as dirt, only three T-shirts and one pair of jeans to his name, he'd wind up a partner in a big-shot law firm in Washington, D.C. He was captain of the football team and valedictorian his senior year, but was humble, "quiet as a church mouse," Coach used to say.
We were all glad when we finally got on the field and got the game started. We kicked their butts from the get-go, leading by four touchdowns before half-time. The star of the game was a guy named Linwood Frye. A black fella, Linwood's Christian name came from a slaveholder owned most of the slaves in Albemarle County back in the day. If I'm not mistaken, Maz's mom -- the one who kicked him out the house at seven to go live with his daddy -- still has a house in Frye's Spring, back in Charlottesville.
Anyway, Linwood already had over a hundred yards rushing in the second quarter. I guess you could say we were cruising. Then, with about two minutes to go in the half, Linwood went down.
I was just watching from the sideline, but even from that far away I could see it was bad. Linwood was running a sweep right, and a Fauquier linebacker just reached up and grabbed hold of Linwood’s shoulder pads from behind and yanked down.
I believe they call that a horseshoe collar these days, and it's as illegal as a facemask. But back then, anything went. I remember seeing Linwood getting choked as his pads rode up into his neck. His legs kept churning, and his mouth opened wide with a scream that just wouldn't come out.
We were sure his windpipe was crushed if his neck wasn’t broken first.
Linwood just lay there on the ground, still as a stone. Maz was the first one to him, yelling for help from the sidelines. Right beside him, the guy who did it was laughing and high-fiving his buddies.
It took nearly an hour for the ambulance to get there and take Linwood off the field. I'm glad to tell you that he wound up being OK, just a severely bruised windpipe. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Maz.
When we finally went in for halftime, Coach tried to settle us down. Hilearthan Bates, a black senior defensive end, and his little brother Donovan, were yelling and screaming, hitting lockers and talking about "takin' that cracker out."
Maz just sat there. Real quiet.
That was when I saw something that scared the piss out of me. Maz's eyes were grey. Dull, flat, lifeless grey. Dead eyes.
Which would be just fine, except his eyes are usually green. I asked him if he was OK, and he just looked up at me, smiled, and said, in this weird, soft, quiet-calm voice,
"Nothin's wrong . . . it's going to be . . . all . . . right."
That just gave me the creeps, so I shut the hell up. When we got back out for the second half, I thought things were going to be all right. We kept on winning, and the second-stringers started coming in. Hell, I even made it in.
But it made me nervous come the fourth quarter and I saw that Maz was the only starter left on the field. He kept talking to Coach Grainer, the line coach, when he was on the sidelines, and just kept on coming back in the game.
Then, near the end of the game, I saw Maz taking a bead on that linebacker, the one what took Linwood out. It was a cutback play, and Maz was just waiting for the guy to turn after the ball. When that linebacker turned, his knee was twisted, and Maz's shoulder pad was aimed dead-on.
And Maz had planted his hand behind that guy's leg, so it had nowhere to go. His knee took the hit from the side, full force.
The crack that followed sure shut the crowd up. I heard it from across the field. The guys on the sideline heard it. Hell, the whole stadium heard it.
But Maz told me later there was a worse sound, deeper, darker, quieter. A sound he later called a "soft, moist, slithery noise," the kind of noise, he said, you might hear if you could grab hold of a pile of wet spaghetti and actually tear it in two.
Maz just stood there, straddling the squealing little pig, staring down at him, smiling.
Then he spit on him.
All hell broke loose right about then. The Fauquier team started to rush the field, and Barry Owens, Mike Kelly and I dragged Maz off the field.
Coach pulled him for what little was left of the game, trying to avoid a penalty that might hurt Maz's chances to play college ball. In the locker room, all the guys were yelling and cheering for Maz, but he just sat there with that same lifelesss expression on his face. And those dead eyes.
A couple months later, I asked Maz why he did it. He told me,"Because Linwood was my friend." Now, that's a mighty noble answer, but I don't believe it a bit. Wanna know why?
I've known Maz for years, from way back in elementary school. I've know him long enough to know he almost went to juvenile hall for something he did in third grade.
It was recess, and Maz and I were out on the basketball court. Maz's little brother was in first grade, and was getting picked on at the other side of the court by some fifth graders.
Remember that scene in Forrest Gump at the Black Panter Party when that guy hits Jenny? And Forrest just zeroes in and attacks?
Well that's what happened with Maz. When he saw his little brother in trouble, his face went slack and his joints got all kinda loose-like. And his eyes went grey. Dead grey.
He ran over, grabbed one of the fifth graders by the back of the head, and was slamming his head on the asphalt basketball court by the time the teachers even knew what happened. Took two of those teachers to take Maz off the kid, too.
So Maz might try to sound noble. He might even believe it himself. But the truth of the matter is that there's a monster inside of him. An evil monster, subtle but savage.
I heard that Maz managed to ride that monster a while, parlayed it into a high-powered legal career. I also heard that the monster eventually turned on him, as all monsters do, and left him a broken man.
All I hope for my friend is that, if he's still alive, he comes to terms with that thing inside of him. Because you can run away from Halloween monsters, demons, vampires, what have you. You can turn off the TV, leave the theater, or close the book if things get too hairy.
But you can't run away from the monster that lives inside of you. And for me, that's the scariest story of all.
This story is, of course, completely fictional. Happy Halloween.