8.24.2006

our town

Earlier this week I thought that movie season - the opposite of baseball season - had come early this year. With the Red Sox's playoff hopes dwindling, I'd just as soon watch more movies and fewer ball games.

Now I'm reluctantly being pulled back on board, by the sheer force of my desire to see my team win. Their chances are anorexic, but not dead. If a game is on, I'm watching. As someone at Joy Of Sox recently said, "Sometimes being a fan is a privilege. Other times it's a duty."

But not at 1:00 a.m. While my baseball obsession knows few boundaries, Allan's knows none. The Sox are on the west coast now, and he stays up nightly to watch every game. I can't watch more than three innings of a west-coast game, but it does give us more time to watch movies. We saw an interesting and touching film this week, called "OT: Our Town". It's been compared to "Spellbound" (the spelling-bee movie, not the Hitchcock film) and "Mad Hot Ballroom", because it's about young people, and the drive to succeed against difficult obstacles.

"OT: Our Town" is much more simple and low-budget than either of those films. It's the story of a group of students in Compton, California who are putting on the play "Our Town," the American classic by Thornton Wilder.

The students are low-income kids from a rough neighbourhood. Kids from their school are stereotyped as gangstas - expected to do nothing and go nowhere. The only activity their school district supports is sports. The school has a beautiful gym and basketball court, professional-looking uniforms and money for travel and awards banquets, but no stage and no auditorium. The student production of "Our Town" will be the first play produced at their school in 21 years.

With no budget and no experience, but with the guidance, support and badgering of two caring teachers, they figure out how to make it work. If "Our Town" - life and death in Grovers Corner, New Hampshire at the turn of the last century - seems an odd choice for inner-city kids from Southern California, the students couldn't agree more. But they find relevance in the play, and they make it their own.

I felt like I knew these kids - because I used to know them.

Watching this movie reminded me, again, of how much I liked working with teenagers, specifically with the marginalized kids euphemistically called "inner-city youth". Attending the AIDS Conference Global Village brought back those memories, too. Events are conspiring.

* * * *

I volunteered for many years at an amazing youth centre called The Door. That volunteer position unexpectedly led to teaching jobs, both at The Door and at a New York City alternative school, where kids who had dropped out of school were studying for their equivalency diplomas.

The students were young people perservering in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Each had endured loss and hardship that would have been crushing in any adult life. They had lost loved ones, witnessed horrific violence, been abandoned, been abused. Some were refugees from war and genocide in Africa, others from the wars in the projects. Many were "misfits" in some way, like GLBT kids who were flamboyantly out. All the girls had babies.

The Door was a true community. Young people could receive a hot meal, medical care, counseling of every sort, and education, and get involved in political action, spiritual enlightenment, or whatever else they needed. For some, it was a safe and quiet place to do homework after school. For others, it was the only place they found love and acceptance. For all, it was an oasis.

It was a community for me, too, and nurtured my own spirit in many ways. I was supposedly a tutor, but I was also a willing ear, a supportive shoulder, a friend, a reality check, a caring adult, an example. More than one member told me I was the first white person they ever really knew who wasn't a cop.

Working at The Door and at YALA was sometimes emotionally wrenching. Relationships were intense, but short-lived. Young people came into your life, you connected, you did what you could, and they disappeared.

After volunteering weekly for many years, I was offered a temporary teaching job, filling in for a maternity leave, and from there, I found the position at the alternative school. But from teaching full-time, I discovered that I was better off volunteering.

My writing career was starting to blossom, and always felt torn in two. I felt I could be neither the writer nor the teacher I wanted to be. I had already decided to go back to a less creative, less demanding day-job, when YALA was disbanded from state budget cuts. (Thanks, George Pataki.)

I went back to word-processing, but my volunteering and activism went in a different direction, towards sexual assault and domestic violence work.

More than a decade has passed since I last worked with kids. Something tells me they still need the same things.

13 comments:

MattInTO said...

My step-dad is the classic example of a fan who experiences more of a duty rooting for his team. He's 70 now and has been a fan of the Cleveland Indians since he was a boy. Summer after summer he keeps his ear glued to this giant AM radio my Mom got him that occasionally pulls in Cleveland games on hot central NY summer evenings. Every summer my Mom drives to Cleveland with him to take in a couple of games. And every winter he and I discuss their prospects and what great new talent they've purchased. And all usually for naught. Yet, there's Jimmy again the following April. Rooting for the Indians. Fandom ain't easy in his case I'm sure.

M@ said...

I sympathise about the Red Sox stuff.

I doubt this will have the same resonance as the baseball fans find, but I'm a long-suffering fan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL. They had a 1-17 season in 2003 and I was there for every home game (except one, but I had tickets and was forced to give them away). Last year they were a dismal 5-13. This year they have two wins after 10 games. It's another long, long year.

I have the misfortune of having the TiCats in my blood -- at least four generations of fans in my family. At this point it's _gotta_ be genetic. That's my excuse, anyhow.

L-girl said...

Some posts by some Matts. :)

They had a 1-17 season in 2003 and I was there for every home game (except one, but I had tickets and was forced to give them away).

It has total resonance. Good for you.

Naturally I've never been to a CFL game, I've never even seen one. Maybe we could tag along some time. It sounds like tickets are probably easy to come by. :/

I love hearing about serious fans. Matt In T.O.'s stepdad is another one. I love that they drive out to Cleveland every summer. I wonder if he misses their old giant (mostly empty) ballpark on the Lake. If I recall correctly, the Jake in Cleveland was the first of the beautiful new "retro" parks.

Now if only your stepdad could get the Indians to change their racist logo.

Reel Fanatic said...

Just be happy you're not a fan of the lowly Orioles! Since it's August and they've only won about fifty games, the team has taken their cue to start playing fairly decent ball .. they are the most frustrating team in the world, in any sport, but I just have to love them .. and as an avowed Yankee hater from birth, I'm pulling wholeheartedly for the Sox to somehow close the gap and win this!

L-girl said...

and as an avowed Yankee hater from birth, I'm pulling wholeheartedly for the Sox to somehow close the gap and win this!

Cool. :-)

M@ said...

I might be heading in to Toronto the week after Labour Day to see the return leg of the Toronto-Hamilton end-of-summer rivalry, if you're interested. Or if you're willing to head east down the QEW instead, the Labour Day Classic in Hamilton is not to be missed.

Believe me, any time you guys want to come out to a CFL game, I'd love to take you. Heck, if we show up 45 minutes early in Toronto, I think we get to play. (Hah! Argos suck!)

Incidentally, despite a season in the sewer, Hamilton has not drawn under 25,000 fans (in a 29,000 seat stadium) yet this year. So at least I'm not alone. I think the shared frustration is part of the draw.

The best thing about that 1-17 season was the one and only win. In overtime. At home. On a long field goal. I was hoarse for days. It was like winning the Grey Cup, that year. That ranks up with almost any sports moment I've ever experienced. (It is a point of pride for me to note that I was also there for the pre-season game that season. Which, unsurprisingly, we also lost.)

Ah, sports fans. Is there really no cure? I used to follow Canadian soccer intensely, too, until our last World Cup qualifying campaign fell apart. I was seriously depressed for days, and decided I had to back off for a while...

L-girl said...

Incidentally, despite a season in the sewer, Hamilton has not drawn under 25,000 fans (in a 29,000 seat stadium) yet this year.

That is very cool.

The best thing about that 1-17 season was the one and only win. In overtime. At home. On a long field goal. I was hoarse for days. It was like winning the Grey Cup, that year. That ranks up with almost any sports moment I've ever experienced.

Awesome. I love true-fan stories.

Labour Day doesn't work for me - working weekends, I'd have to plan well in advance. We're going away the following week, so I'm committed to working all weekend.

But if I can plan in advance, I can either switch days or get someone who wants overtime to take my Sunday shift. I would definitely be up for it.

When does the season run?

We would go to Hamilton, sure. The Toronto-Hamilton rivalry sounds cool, though. I usually go to Skydome and root against the Blue Jays, so it will be easy to cheer against the Argos too. :)

M@ said...

The season goes from June to October, with the playoffs happening in late October and November. The games are usually in the evening from Thursday to Saturday, though. It's not a one-day-of-the-week thing like in the USA. We actually have to check the schedule to find out when games are happening. (In fact, once the NFL starts up there are very few CFL games on Sundays.)

I'll cheer against the Argos any time, though. I'd be very happy to hook us all up for a game. The Toronto-Hamilton thing really is one of the biggest, oldest rivalries in pro sports.

James said...

From The Onion:

Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Running Dangerously Low On Storylines

L-girl said...

The season goes from June to October, with the playoffs happening in late October and November. The games are usually in the evening from Thursday to Saturday, though. It's not a one-day-of-the-week thing like in the USA. We actually have to check the schedule to find out when games are happening. (In fact, once the NFL starts up there are very few CFL games on Sundays.)


Ah-ha! I assumed it was games on Sundays only, a la NFL. (Never assume.) It also makes sense that they don't want their schedule to compete w/ the NFL.

So this is even better, as we wouldn't have to take time off work. We should shoot for a Thursday night. If it doesn't work out this season (b/c of baseball conflicts), then we should definitely do it next season, either in Toronto or Hamilton.

Do you have a schedule you can email me? Or maybe I should go to a website.

L-girl said...

Onion: ha! Thanks James. :)

M@ said...

Ugh. Another terrible game last night. We lost 51-8, and 4 of our 8 points were safeties that Saskatchewan seemed to be gifting us.

Anyhow, as it turns out there are no Thursday games left for Hamilton or Toronto this season. The Labour Day game on Monday is at 6 pm at Ivor Wynne, and the rest of the games this year are Fridays or Saturdays for both teams. I guess that won't work for you guys, will it?

If not, well, there's next year! As a Cats fan, I've been saying that to myself a lot lately... :P

L-girl said...

Oops, I'm very late responding to this comment... will email shortly.