• Coming In Last

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                                                                                                        COMING IN LAST

     

    Have you ever come in last? In every contest, whether it is an athletic event, a test or a car race, someone has to come in last.

     

    My name is Larry Lynwood. For a long time it was Larry Last. Let me tell you what happened.

     

    “But some one has to finish last,” I said, “It’s a law of the universe. No one wants to come in at the end, but someone has to. Sometimes that will be me – its just destiny.” “That doesn’t make a hill of beans to me,” said my dad. “Just make sure you are never last to cross any finish line, whether it is in sports or in life.” I shook my head yes, knowing that somehow, someway, it was part of my fate to be last.

     

    My first curse was that I had been born into a family of athletes. My dad had been a high school all-star, and got a tryout with a single A farm team, the Kansas City T-Bones. He lasted three weeks, but still like to brag that he spent some time in the Minors. All my uncles were gorilla sized with the killer instinct of a fire ant and the coordination of a mamba – my least favorite was called Lizard Lynwood. He could accelerate like a gecko, and held all kinds of school records. I just thought he looked like a lizard.   My grandfather had boxed on an army team and my other grand dad played semi-pro football.  The conversation at extended family outings was always about who in the family had set some sort of old or new record – you know, biggest fish, fastest car, best looking kids. My dad was always saying to me, “I know you’ve got it in you to surpass me and all your uncles, no doubt about it, I’m just waiting for your ability to kick in.”

    My first organized sport was Dodge Ball – the beginning of my undoing and self-discovery. Undersized except for my nose, a body that was mainly chubby torso with spindly short legs– highly useful if my grade school was putting on the Hunchback of Notre Dame with me as Quasimodo – otherwise just a potato body with sticks as legs and arms. Yup – Mr. Endomorph. My eyes? Covered with half-inch lenses that still gave me less vision than a blind mole rat. Agility and coordination . I must have been somewhere else when the Lord passed those out. Tossing a baseball overhand – hit myself on the side of the head – numerous times. All of these attributes did not lend themselves to me leading the pack at anything.

     

    But back to Dodge Ball. Jack, my dad, asked, “So how was the first day of third grade? Weren’t they supposed to start some sort of physical education?” “Yes, I answered, “Dodgeball.” That’s a simple sport, how did you do?” “Okay,” I said. “Okay, what does okay mean exactly?” he asked, his eyebrows raising. “Well, I was first and I was last.” “First sounds good but what was last?” I was the last to be picked for my team?” WHAT, how did that happen?” I just looked at the ground in shame and didn’t say anything – my classmates knew I was hopeless. “Hmmm,” my dad shook his head, “What were you first at?” “I was the first one to get hit and leave the circle.” “You mean after some of the girls were eliminated, right?” “Well,” I said, “I didn’t see any girls go out before me.” My father looked at the ceiling and as if he thought there might be some divine inspiration from the God of Athletics. “We’re going to start practicing tonight, I’m going to turn you into an all star athlete in one sport or another, you’ll never be last again.” Right then I realized I should have lied about my Dodge Ball performance.

     

    We began an evening regimen and pep talks to turn me into a physical dynamo, maybe so my dad could live again through my achievements. Unfortunately there were the physical impediments previously mentioned. I was first in a couple of physical activities – better than anyone. I was to be able to bring forth a 125-decibel belch on cue – a “Bear Belch” I called it. I got some admiration from guys at school but a tongue lashing during dinner from my mother. I was eventually able to swallow large volumes of air and get into the 135 range by the time I was in the sixth grade. And, I could wolf down a foot long hot dog with the sucking speed of a black hole – first one done, of course, never last –­ the undigested dog seemed to enhance the eruptive belch’s – guys would come up and tell me I was the uncontested champion. I didn’t dare tell my father.

     

    My dad decided baseball was his first pick for me; his favorite sport. My glasses kept sliding down – couldn’t catch the ball, couldn’t see to hit. I felt I was good at sliding, but started my slide about half way to first base. Relegated to right field I took two fly balls to the top of my head in Little League (one of which rendered me unconscious with a light concussion) and that was the end of baseball. My grandfather came to my first couple of games. He was there during the second fly ball incident. He looked down at me, turned to my dad and said, Jack “Are you sure this boy is yours?” I wasn’t so quick to hug him after that.

     

    On to basketball – Junior Lakers – the rim looked blurry, and of course I couldn’t reach it with the ball. Tried a beach ball, same song, second verse. Then football, except I didn’t like being hit. The Pop Warner team I was on gave up on having me block, noting that I generally just fell down at the start of any play as soon as I was touched. Since every team member had to play part of a game, our coach took me aside and said he had a special role for me – the last one to receive the ball on the double reverse, however they never reversed, but I was out of the way.

    As I staggered into my high school years, my dad kept telling me I could overcome my lack of physical abilities with a positive attitude and recitation of a winning mantra each night before bed. He kept saying, ninety percent of athletics is mental. I didn’t have the faintest idea of what he was talking about then or now. “You know who Vince Lombardi was, right?” he said. “Wasn’t he the guy with the funny teeth?” My dad shook his head and said between his own clamped teeth, “He is famous for one very important quote. Winning, isn’t every thing, it’s the only thing.” “Do you understand that?” “Well, I said, what about the other teams, especially those that come in last,” reiterating this point to him again and again. “Someone has to come in last.” “That is beside the point, someone else can come in last just so its not you.” He didn’t know that I had been tagged with the name of “Last” in grade school and I wasn’t about to tell him. I hated being called Larry Last, but with my physical limitations, not much I could do about it other than put stink bombs in my tormentor’s lockers. My second most hated name my schoolmates conferred upon me with was Hogbutt––I actually preferred that to Last.

     

    Bless my dad’s heart, he was so desperate for me to get a letterman’s jacket that he tried to start a Lacrosse team at our school – he would be the coach, supply equipment, and I would certainly letter. Nope, turned down flat by the administration. Not deterred, he told me that maybe there were still some of the various areas in track that might just fit my skills.

     

    “Last Again,” my dad threw his hat on the ground. This instance was the hundred ten-meter hurdles race.

    The hurdles looked as if they might work because you didn’t have to run straight out––a pause for jumping the hurdles. Plus they were only about two and a half feet high – I could jump those standing still. The coach gave me a baleful look and said I could run with the others who were warming up for a practice race.   I got down in some sort of stance, trying to dig holes in the cinder track with my tennis shoes and waited for the gun. Off with a flash, 1st hurdle, caught the top with my left foot–crash­­–on the ground. Up in a second, cleared the next with a mid air dance. But it was taking too much time to jump the hurdles and not knowing the rules, I just ran as fast as I could knocking the hurdles willy-nilly with my hands. I think I may have even made up a stride or two. Finished maybe 20 meters behind. There was my dad reaching for his hat.

     

    My father had thrown the shot put and javelin during his high school days and insisted I try out–I liked that–no running. The coach agreed to see what I could do, but my dad had to be present. I hefted the shot put and threw it over the coach to impress him. It barely cleared his hat and landed just behind him – not good. My attempts with the javelin resulted in everyone within a hundred foot radius running for their lives. A track jock yelled at me, “Hey Last, you should try out for javelin catcher. “

     

    Next were the speed events. No desire on my part, since I was slow and hated to run even short distances but didn’t want to disappoint my father. He decided that maybe a short sprint – the 440 – could be my race. Looked like a long way to me, but I wanted to please him so I started with four other guys sprinting as fast as I could. I kept them in sight until the 220 mark when my gastric system failed and I ended up on the side of the track reviewing my spaghetti school lunch as I sprayed it on the ground. No more running, period. My dad was sitting in the stands, his head in his hands.

     

    My career up to this point had been marked by some successes – I had aced Geometry, was finally was wearing some shirts that were not home made, and had a dog, Lucky, who thought I was the greatest. But for some reason when it came to sports I was relegated to coming in last– I finally had to accept my fate. I could spell like a dictionary and did very well in the school spelling bee, however the last word (baccalaureate, I forgot the last a) got me again and I was the last one to be eliminated before the winner took her prize. It was funny how being second to the champion didn’t register as much as being the last loser to leave the stage. I wasn’t much of a swimmer, but as a floater and bobber I was first rate, however there weren’t any competitions in those areas.

     

    In algebra we had desks behind one another. I was pretty able, but in front of me sat J.D. Nerdin, good looking, athletic, blue eyes, thousand-watt smile, but dumb as a post. He turned to me right before the 1st exam was passed out. “Hey Last, he said, when I hand my paper back for correction, there will be a few blank spaces. Fill those in for me.” “I can’t do that, it’s cheating?” “Sure you can, or I’ll turn your face into raspberry jam.” “I’m not doing it.” “Okay, he said, how about this.” “I’ll make sure that you are not picked last until our next exam.” Now I had to think. “What activities would those be?” “Anything where we are choosing up teams,” he whispered. When he passed his paper back to me, the answer sheet was completely blank. “What’s this, I whispered, you didn’t fill in anything. “ “That’s our deal, plus I won’t call you Last anymore.” Caught with this dilemma, I quickly stepped onto the slippery slope of uneven morality and filled in the test questions. J.D. kept his promise, and made sure that I wasn’t picked last in any athletic event, just next to last. I thought our deal was for one exam, he believed it was for infinity. He was blazing through algebra but unfortunately was failing everything else, and three months later he was led away to permanent study hall.

     

    I had a schoolmate-Sally-vision as bad as mine who called me by my given name of Larry, instead of “Last”. I didn’t realize that she was just taking pity on me, and so I started to think of her as my girl friend, however she informed me I was strictly a “friend.”  She was very religious and dressed that way much to my chagrin. “Remember,” she said, “In Matthew 20:16 it says: “The last shall be first.” I read that scripture several times and could never figure out how me being last would translate into me being first. Sally looked into my eyes (she was very pretty without her glasses) and told me, “Remember, nice guys finish last.” I was as confused at this as “The Last Shall Be First” quote. But then she told me, “Just wait – you’ll see what Matthew meant.”

     

    I figured that once athletics were behind me and my dad, uncles, and grandfathers had given up in sullen disgust, I could go on to other accomplishments and make them proud. I started to tell myself that all of the times I had been last would fade into the past – to be forgotten.

     

    But the “Last” moniker dogged me. I was last to kiss a girl, last to lose my virginity (and I had to lie about that one), last to get my driver’s license, last to get a car, last to try a cigar, last to get contacts, last to pick the short straw. And every time I was a fool I was the last to figure it out.

     

    Eventually I decided to take pride in my “Coming In Last” status. Someone had to do it, and by golly, I was the one. In fact if it looked as if someone else was going to be last, regardless of the circumstances, I hung back just so I could fulfill my destiny. It certainly took the pressure off. I even introduced myself as CIL, the one who “Comes In Last.” I found it was a conversation starter and that most girls were very sympathetic. I finally was comfortable with my lastness and decided to make the most of it.

     

    I even started running (okay, a fast walk) – 5K’s then 10K’s and finally a triathlon. Trotted on the run, pushed my bike part of the way and did the backstroke during the mile swim. Last? I was in head of a 70+ year-old lady, but let her pass me on the last mile of the bike ride. As I rode across the finish line, I got a standing ovation and congratulations from the other contestants who heaped praise on me for even finishing and being so brave. I had found my niche and I milked it at every opportunity. Attractive young women clothed in tight spandex seemed to surround me with congratulations at each event. I would stop the last mile and have someone spray water on me so I could fake sweating. I dressed in white with red trim and a white hat – Nike symbol and “Just Do It” emblazoned on each garment. I became well known – even somewhat of a celebrity. Training for these events – I found Budweiser Pale Lager to be the best for carbo loading and watching reruns of Gunsmoke for my physical training.

     

    Naturally with this success of finally getting the most out of “Being Last” something happened. The God’s of “Coming in Last” must have decided they were through with me. Or maybe God himself said, “Hey, how about some Matthew 20:16 for this boy.” Something sure happened. Last in the line for a hockey game, plucked out and was the first one to start a new line. Late for a Doctor’s appointment, taken in first. Last in line at the DMV, they called my name by mistake – they were actually looking for a Larry Linhouse. Walked up to the scowling DMV masochist, the guy said, “What the hell, you are here now, might as well process you.” And interviewing for a job at Oracle, yup, last interview of the day. But then I found the interviewer and I had similar experiences, and got along very well – he admitted he had trouble avoiding coming in last himself and indeed had just finished a 10K walk at the end of the pack. The guy told me I was the first applicant that they were seriously interested in – he was glad I was the last one in and maybe it was time to even up with all those bushy-tailed bright-eyed Firsters. I got the job.

     

    I started going on blind dates because I didn’t know anyone in the San Francisco area, just Oracle nerds like myself. They turned out badly, most seemed not interested in me. I finally decided that the curse was back, but thought I’d try one last time – going to a church dance for “older” singles. Naturally I went in last so I could take a gander at all the similar “last like” dysfunctional singles like myself. I was sitting in the back at a table when a gorgeous girl (a 9 in anyone’s book – let’s face it, no one is a 10) asked if she could sit at my table. I looked around, positive she was not speaking to me, then nodded, too shocked to speak. She introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Linda Luwellen although as I was growing up a lot of people called me Linda Last.” “I’m Larry Lynwood, you and I have a lot in common.” We hit if off immediately as fellow “Coming In Lasters.” We even ran a 10K together strolling last across the finish line hand in hand. Engaged in two months, married in six. She made me feel like I was first in everything.

     

    And to top off my life of being last, we had four kids, first raters every one, but the last, of course, the best of all. Unfortunately he had inherited all of my DNA and began the finishing grade school athletic events dead last. “I hate being last,” he told me. I almost started off with my “Someone Has To Be Last” philosophy, but then I thought, maybe I should see how this works out – I did tell him the more humorous stories of my growing up and being last at pretty much everything, but that there was probably a change coming for him that would put him first, he just needed to hold on. Within two years, as you might have guessed, the genes of his grandfathers and great uncles kicked in. My last son was an all-state athlete in high school and went on to play wide receiver in college, setting all kinds of records – and was a scholastic all-American.

     

    And I finally had to agree – Old Matthew was right – “The last shall be first.” Sometimes you have to just wait awhile.

     

    Joseph Ollivier

    Talesuntold. Net

    June 2015

     

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