When I was 20 years old, I got kicked off the baseball team at my University.
I had a scholarship at the time, but athletic scholarships were renewable year-to-year based on performance.
If you weren’t performing, you weren’t playing. I wasn’t performing. Coach gave me the axe.
I will always remember walking out of his office after he had told me I was off the team.
I was in a strange sort of daze. I walked outside, the sun was shining, and I looked around for my car.
It took me a long time to process what had just occurred.
But I remember this one, single thought which was jumbling around in my head:
I need to get a job.
Baseball was over, and it was time to become an actual, real-life, normal college kid.
Most importantly, I needed beer money.
The Best Summer Ever
It was June of 2001 and summer baseball was no longer my reality.
I was living in Michigan, away from my parents, in an apartment for the first time in my life. It was the first time I was independent by myself, working and paying bills.
A friend of mine was working retail at Old Navy. He said there were jobs available.
That was good enough for me.
One interview later and I was hired. $8 an hour. I was a clothes-folder.
After the job was secured, I had one more item I needed to take care of.
There I was in my first apartment, with my first “not burger flipping for the summer” job, all alone, without a support team.
My rent was $200 per month plus utilities.
While this seems like an super-small amount of money (it was), there are a few tidbits which make it not seem so cheap:
- I had never budgeted for actual living expenses before – in my life.
- I was brand new to the job, and I didn’t get bunches of hours on my schedule.
- I had to eat, and I eat a lot – I’m kind of a big dude.
My Dad (the frugal one) and Mom (the loving one) would have helped me out if I needed a bit of extra scratch.
But fuck that.
That shit was not happening.
I had already failed. Calling up my parents and asking for money would be admitting that I had failed once again.
I was going to be alive at the end of the summer. I would be fine. I would make it through.
Tang, Pop-Secret, And Cheese Sandwiches
The $200 per month shack?
It was quite the pad.
I should have known what I was getting into when I walked up the stairs on the front porch and noticed there was a large chain around the propane tank.
This was not a nice neighborhood. And I didn’t have a roommate. I was all alone.
We had a community parking lot that had a mysterious van that never left. It had no windows. It was missing two tires.
Occasionally, someone would get in or out of the van, but the van itself was a permanent fixture.
The ground outside the van was littered with liquor bottles, needles, cigarette butts, and condoms.
My apartment was on the ground floor. Homeless folks were often looking into the windows of the apartment to see who (or what) was inside.
On more than one occasion, I had to shoo away potential thieves and trespassers. Luckily, I’m a big guy and nobody gave me too much grief.
The first rule of the “streets” is “don’t look like a mark”. As long as you have that one down, you shouldn’t have too many problems. The vagrants left me alone.
They would generally disappear if you gave them a beer and treated them like normal humans, anyways.
The apartment didn’t have air conditioning, either.
Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal in Michigan.
Luckily (sarcasm) for me, it was the hottest summer Michigan had seen in over 20 years, with a stretch of about 20 consecutive 90-degree-plus days.
A few of the days reached triple digits.
Sleeping was a nightmare. I would open my windows and sleep with 3 box fans pointed directly at me, going full blast.
The sheets would need to be peeled off of me in the morning, as sweat would be soaked through them.
Sleep? Nope – didn’t get any. It was too damn hot to actually fall asleep.
Without much money, I had to make due with what I had.
I was “intermittent fasting” out of necessity. I rarely ate breakfast, and lunch might have been a bag of microwave popcorn that was discarded in the Old Navy breakroom.
Dinner on many nights was a glass of Tang.
Buying a loaf of bread for $2 and a package of cheese for $4 would give me about a week’s worth of calories. That would have been 1-2 sandwiches per day.
Not grilled, though. That would have been too fancy for me.
***EDITOR’S NOTE: I was eating nearly 100% processed, GMO, sugar-laden bullshit. It was the cheapest shit out there. I lost gobs of fat. And calories don’t matter, right? 😉
For recreation, I would walk to the campus library and take out a fiction book. I didn’t have cable television, as it was an expense I was unwilling to pay.
On occasion, I would drive to the not-so-new-release movie theater and catch a second-run film for $3.
I distinctly remember one particularly blazing afternoon. I had an off-day from work, and I was stuck inside my apartment, just roasting.
I jumped in my car, headed to that movie theater and watched The Animal with Rob Schneider three straight times.
At 1, at 3, and again at 5.
That movie was shit.
But the theater was air conditioned.
The Summer of 2001 was quite possibly the best summer of my life.
I was finding myself, in search of my true identity.
I was no longer a “baseball player” and I had to recreate myself.
I had to stand on my own two feet, and I was determined not to fail again.
I needed to master all these new skills – a new job, a new identity, paying bills, buying groceries, fending for myself, etc.
It was scary as hell.
And I loved every damn second of it.
I can’t help but wonder if I would ever let my own children go through the same thing.
A Nation Of Wimps
By the time Fall 2001 rolled around, and my summer of reinvention was over, I had a different perspective on life.
My confidence which had been shattered in the spring, was rightfully restored.
I had figured out how to work a job like “most people”, pay my bills on time, and still find a way to drink a few brews on the weeknights.
I had managed to survive – and eat – on a budget. I had lost 25 pounds in the process. This was a side effect of being too prideful to ask my parents for funds.
Often, when life gets tough, I think back to 2001 and that summer as a way of remembering what I can get through with a bit of effort, grit, and determination.
The biggest feeling that summer gave me……….was the feeling of freedom.
I was finally free.
I didn’t have to meet anyone’s expectations.
I didn’t have to live my life for my parents or my friends.
I didn’t have to perform well enough to keep my baseball scholarship.
I didn’t have any classes to attend to or professors to impress.
I just had to be me, and figure out how to “adult” on my own.
Just me and my apartment. And the crackheads in the parking lot, of course.
It was 100% liberating.
And it begs the question………………..would I allow my own children to have such an amazing, transformative experience?
I don’t think I can answer that question.
I hope I would allow them that experience, but the uncertainty of the situation would have been tough for my parents to handle had they known the extent of the struggle.
Maybe the beauty of life isn’t in its ease.
Perhaps the goal shouldn’t be comfort and simplicity.
We should take satisfaction in life’s improvements, but find solace in its struggles.
The “A+” on the paper isn’t the reason for the assignment.
The battles themselves are always what makes the war worth fighting.
Yours in a melancholy remembrance of the good, old days,
Do you have a period in your life when you went through something similar?
Tell us about it in the comments section below. 🙂