It’s funny, the things that we remember in life, and the things we don’t. Smells, sights, jokes, awkward moments, all of these sometimes stick with us far more clearly and with greater longevity than some of life’s greatest peaks and valleys. This is a recounting of five insignificant but enduring memories from my life. This is not a greatest hits list in the sense that its my proudest accomplishments or greatest successes. Its five stories that while they were being written didn’t seem all that important, but in retrospect have helped make me who I am today.
5. The basement
Every high school group has a hang out. Be it the local burger joint, a spot behind the baseball field, or a friend’s house, no adolescent posse is complete without a home base. For my crew, it was the Zimmermann’s basement. No doubt nearly a hundred different guys and girls passed through that basement, sat on that futon, and tooled around on that drum set from 2009 to 2013.
(Alex, Aaron, Trey and I goofing off at First Baptist Concord’s Senior Day)
The best times spent in the basement were those when all six of the guys, Alex Zimmermann, Aaron Birkholz, Trey Warren, Tommy Blackburn, Jonathan King, and Andrew Davis, were all under one roof. When that happened, hilarity ensued. Taco Bell was eaten, good natured insults were hurled, wrestling matches broke out, and most importantly, instruments were played. Those nights when our impromptu jam band took stage in that unfinished basement were some of the best of my life. It’s hard to capture with words the jubilation that we shared when a nostalgic chorus of Green Day’s When I Come Around broke out. Together with those 5 guys, I came of age. The lessons learned and the bonds forged there have carried me through the peaks and valleys of young adulthood. We weren’t exactly the in crowd or the A-listers, we didn’t drink or smoke, but I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.
4. The library
Freshman year of college was challenging for me. None of the guys from high school chose to attend the University of Tennessee like I did. As a conservative creature, naturally resistant to change, the transition was a difficult one for me. Sophomore year I determined, would be different. One night, in the spirit of making changes, I reached out to a friend I ordinarily wouldn’t have called , Savannah Lucas, to see if she wanted to hangout. She responded that she was busy at the library with some friends, but that I was welcome to join. That decision to go to the library redefined the course of my college career.
(Friendsmas celebration 2015)
Waiting at the library was Savannah’s crew of singers, writers and thespians, not the personalities that I ordinarily would seek out or attract. All that aside, this group welcomed me, Ronald Reagan t-shirts and all, into their family. We became inseparable friends, and the library our social hub. Every night of the week at least two or three of us could be found at the desks behind Starbucks, simultaneously debating high ideas and laughing at low brow humor. I was different from them, but they accepted me, and whether or not I ever let them know it, they convinced a red-blooded flag waving conservative Baptist to open his mind just a little bit. That’s not to say we didn’t have disagreements. One stands out not because I can recall the subject matter, but because it resulted in Caroline Rexrode throwing my shoe out of the 11th story window of Andy Holt Tower. We were ridiculous, sometimes infuriating, and had more fun that any other eclectic band on campus.
3. The truck
During the summers in college I worked a construction job delivering windows and doors all across the southeastern United States. There is little that could have prepared a cushy little ball of white suburban clay for the culture shock that awaited him in the warehouse. In the blue collar world, everyone exists on equal ground. In college or white collar work, one is expected to abide by certain social standards and courtesies that don’t apply in the trenches on a construction site. If someone pisses you off, you tell him, in whatever manner you deem necessary. If someone messes something up, they catch hell, and the work environment is better for it. There are no passive aggressive cubicle mates or cryptic conversations with a boss. Every man knows where he stands. We were like a sports team. We relied upon each other, sweated together, ate lunch together and most importantly laughed together. Every guy in the warehouse was equipped with a lethal wit and the knowhow to use it.
Early morning truck rides with Drew Duisen and Luke Cheverton remain forever fixed in my mind. I can’t remember what we talked about, other than it probably often revolved around women and politics, but I remember the feeling it evoked. There is a special bond formed over time, sitting on the back of a truck, swilling down water in the sweltering heat and reflecting on the fruits of your labor. Blue collar work is rewarding. There’s something about clocking out at five, physically exhausted, but without any office politics or workday baggage to bring home. Only the pride that comes from seeing the physical manifestation of your labor.
2. The leopard print carpet
For years now special events in my group of friends, senior proms, fourths of July, summer breaks, have been celebrated at Katie Overton’s parents’ lake house in Tellico Village. Countless friends throughout the years have made the drive to Tellico to take a lap in the boat with PQ or get some fried chicken and fruit from Rosie. Those lake days have always been fun, but the truly memorable moments usually begin after they wind down. Long after sunburnt patrons pack up their coolers and spit out their watermelon seeds to head for home, Katie, myself, and Becca Jameson head to the plush basement to do what we do best, loaf.
(Katie, Becca and I at my 21st birthday party)
We’ve spent countless hours lying on the indescribably comfortable leopard print carpet, watching documentaries, eating toffee, and forging friendships that have become more like siblinghood. Through political campaigns, failed tests, and all of life’s hardships, I’ve always had that carpeted room and those girls as a ready escape.
1. The mean man drill
I’m not very coordinated. It’s a terrible curse to bestow upon a boy, and at times as a kid my lack of athleticism bothered me. I played sports mostly at my parents strong behest. I had tried soccer, wrestling, basketball and finally football. None of those efforts proved successful, and I think it affected the confidence of rule bound pudgy eleven year old.
In my second season, we got absolutely clobbered in a preseason scrimmage. I remember the humiliation of standing on the sideline as one of the older guys not playing a single snap while kids who weren’t even in middle school yet got rotated into the game. The loss was so bad that coach Lovejoy insisted we stay late and practice after the game. He challenged our will to win or even to be there, and lined us up one after the other to partake in “the mean man drill.” Mean man was a drill where the coach put the ball on the ground around fifteen yards away from the participant, blew the whistle and ordered him to go get it. The only difficulty being that he put the three biggest guys on the team in between you and the ball. When my turn came, no one was paying attention. I was a nice guy and well liked, but probably the worst player on the team. Something had changed in me though, standing on that sideline watching kids two years my junior play while I held their water. I got angry. I believed in myself, and it showed. I blistered by the first two defenders as soon as the whistle blew, charging as hard and fast as I could. With a head full of steam I took on the linebacker, loaded my hips, exploded into him, and wound up flat on my back seeing stars. But I popped up and hit him again, and again until I slipped by and fell on top of the football clutching it like a mama bear with her cub. I can remember my coach, his hands vice gripping my facemask, his forehead on my helmet, absolutely screaming in my face “where did that come from 99?”
I was eleven, it was little league, and I’m still not athletic, but none of that is the point. That day a cautious, polite kid took the first steps towards becoming a man. I learned that even if I may not have the physical gifts some others have, be it in sports or in business, if I want it more, if I will lay it on the line and not be afraid to fight, I can do almost anything.