I attended one of my nephew’s junior football games last year, and at half-time one of the parents went around with a Tupperware container full of quartered oranges, offering them to the players. “It’s nice to see the parents help out like that,” I said to my brother. “When I played, the assistant coach used to always bring the oranges.”
“You mean Gus?” he said.
“He didn’t bring the oranges.”
“What?” I said.
“Gus coached me as well, remember. A couple of years after you. He never brought the oranges.”
“What are you talking about? Every game he handed the oranges out at half-time.”
“Yeah, he handed them out,” said my brother, “but he didn’t bring them. One of the parents always brought them.”
I was shell-shocked. Literally. Well, no, not literally. Not at all, actually. But I was shocked. I suppose I misused the word shell-shocked because I am afraid you won’t take me seriously, you know, since I’m talking about half-time oranges. But I am serious. I was shocked.
I walked away from the game and sat in my car. I couldn’t believe it. I always thought Gus brought the oranges for us. We loved him for it. “Thank Gus! You’re the best,” we used to say. I still remember the citrus scent wafting through the air as he went around with his plastic bag full of fruit, the sweet juice sticking to my fingers as I reached in the bag, and the feeling of being important, just for a moment, as a grown man gave me a snack to refresh my energy, as though I were playing a world championship match and not a Saturday morning Under-13s football game. It turned out it was all a lie.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Gus used to go around the half-time huddle with a huge smile, handing oranges to us. But he was never the one who brought them. So, what, Gus? You just thought you’d get other people to do all the hard work, and then you come in and take the glory, acting like the oranges were your doing? The nerve.
I didn’t eat for three days; I called in sick for work. I just laid on the grass outside, staring up at the trees and thinking. I was so mad. I wanted to track Gus down and give him a piece of my mind. But then I kind of felt sorry for him. He was only human, right? We all have our faults, we all do strange stuff. Maybe he liked the attention, the smiles, the thanks, you know? I mean, having twenty-two kids all look at you like you were Santa Claus—that must have felt good. We all need that. That’s part of the appeal of friends and family, right? To have at least a few people in this giant, crazy world who are happy to see you. How could I begrudge Gus that?
I called up my friend, Louis (we played junior football together), and talked to him about it. Louis is a good listener, able to understand the personal emotional impact of a situation as well as its real-world practicality and offer sage advice.
“What the f*** are you talking about?” he said.
“You know… Gus… acting like he brought the oranges.”
“No he didn’t,” said Louis.
“Well, I suppose he never claimed to bring them, but he never gave credit to the person who did.”
“Yes he did. Every time.”
“It was the first thing he did every Saturday,” said Louis. “You never heard it because you were always late.”
“No I wasn’t”
“Yes, you were.”
“Rubbish. I was there twenty minutes before game time, every week.”
“Yeah, we were supposed to get there thirty minutes before the game.”
“Yep. And if you had ever been there on time, you would have heard Gus publicly thank the boys’ parents who had helped that week. He thanked the parent who washed the jerseys, and he thanked the parent who brought the oranges. Every week.”
Gus, wherever you are, this painting is for you. Thanks for handing out the oranges.
28″ x 20″ Acrylic on canvas
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