Changes...Changes... This story explains why I think it is the greatest sport on earth. It is because of those who play it, watch it, and dream of it.
By Don Barone
"Still don't know what I was waiting for…"
Dateline: Stop & Shop, Farmington, CT
My breakdown came in the dairy aisle.
I have always wondered what a breakdown would feel like. Do you fall apart? Do like your arms fall off? Do you start screaming and yelling and spitting about the end of days, or at least the end of today?
When my breakdown came I just looked like an old dude with a Rolling Stones baseball cap on backwards sitting down on the dairy case ledge.
I remember my ass was cold.
Not much else.
Except this…whoever it is who lives inside of me, pretty much just hit the off switch.
Boom…just like that…next thing I knew my ass was cold.
But I also knew this.
I was done.
The old dude with the backwards Rolling Stones hat, was just done.
Simply, nothing left.
The running on empty light had lit, and then went off.
End of the road.
"…and my time was running wild…"
And why a mental breakdown in the dairy aisle? Why would I sit on the edge of the dairy case for who knows how long looking at a tub of Parkay butter stuff with Fresh & Creamy Taste?
It was because I had to put it back.
And the other few grocery items.
Because I needed gas in the car.
And I knew, I couldn't afford both.
Knew that if I handed the debit card to the cashier, I might not get it back.
You need to know this, at 17 years old I was out in the world living on my own…I was a man before I had facial hair.
My first mental breakdown came in a 4th floor walkup, two-room shared bathroom apartment located 20 feet above where the fire escape ended.
I slept in a sleeping bag on what used to be a couch before I was born. I said I was 18 so I could bartend in a shot and beer, rock and roll joint until 4AM. Then I went back to the apartment, slept until 7:10am…got up, went to school until around noon…got out early because I was majoring in "Work Study," which meant I was being trained on how to hang on to the last rung of the ladder…drive for "Work-Study" to an automotive repair shop where I would paint cars until 4PM…leave there and drive to Sears Roebuck, where my Dad worked for 30 years, clean up in the basement bathroom then go sell LP's and 45's until the store closed at 9pm then drive to the shot and beer rock & roll joint and toss cans of Genesee Beer at people until 4AM.
I was 17.
I had already been stabbed twice.
I had already had a darning needle shoved through the calf of my leg.
I had already had a rival gang pile out of a car on top of me, take a switch blade to my hair, ripping out what they couldn't cut out, then laying my arm on a curb while several jumped up on down until it snapped at which time they picked me up and tossed me into a restaurant dumpster.
I was 17.
And I had survived all that.
But I couldn't survive a tray of ice.
Ice cubes caused my first breakdown.
Or lack there of.
I woke up in my sleeping bag on what used to be a couch with the stitches in the palm of my right hand throbbing - a very practical lesson of not putting your hand up when someone swings a butcher knife at you. I went to the refrigerator to get some ice to ice the throbbing; and in the ice cube tray, there was only water.
I thought Niagara Mohawk, the power company, would give a kid a break on being late.
I had no electricity.
I remember just sitting on the floor in the puddle of what should have been ice, and just crying, until I stood up, grabbed the refrigerator, breaking open my stitches as I pushed it across the kitchen floor to my apartment door then launching it down several flights of stairs.
24 hours and $250 dollars (paid for in change by my friends to the desk guard at the Erie County Lockup) later on Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo I told myself I would never be broke again.
Worked out pretty well.
"…a million dead-end streets and…"
Now to be honest I may have had a sort of min-breakdown my junior year of college at SUNY/Buffalo where I was majoring in Writing Stuff/Poverty at the Center for Media Study.
This time it was a fever that brought about the mini-breakdown. So at least part of it was germ based and not all db based.
It was book buying week of the Spring Semester which meant in Buffalo there was 5 feet of snow on the ground. Barb and I had been married for a few years…she was working to pay for my tuition…books though were always a problem…especially big fat ones with the word "Literature" anywhere in the title, or sub title, or sub-sub-title…so I supplemented my income by supplementing…me.
I sold stuff.
The stuff of, you know…me.
One pint usually got me two of the smaller textbooks.
Other stuff of me…got bigger books.
But I had a fever.
I was out of the business, of me, even though I tried to convince the nurse that trust me there was "no fever down…" ah…you know.
She didn't buy it, and I couldn't buy books.
The book I read that changed my life, Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., that book that made me want to be a writer, I read bundled up in a parka in an unheated North Buffalo library sitting next to an unshaven guy sleeping with his mouth open.
I have in my bookcase right now, that book, signed by Vonnegut, so I guess it didn't work out bad after all.
And neither will this.
My latest breakdown.
"…every time I thought I'd got it made…"
Every year since the year I left being an employee of ESPN to an Independent Contractor for all things with 4 letters, I have made less money.
This year the final numbers will be less than half of what it used to be.
And the house of cards, came apart.
And I choose that. Many people in America have not been so lucky. In my heart, in my brain, in my soul I am a working stiff. Ask my wife, she will tell you that I think of myself as just a bartender/car painter/part time Sears Roebuck LP & 45's working stiff that somehow learned how to type.
I am not a Bigshot, I am not special, I am not even in the classic sense, a freakin' writer.
I just got lucky. The blue collar guy working time and a half. And my time ran out.
Simple as that, no one caused this but me. Truth is I'm astonished I have made it this long. Wouldn't have come close if the universe hadn't sent a saint my way in the form of bb.
Trust me when I say, if you happen to read my stuff, like my words, none of it would have happened without the continuing sacrifices of Barb.
I would probably not even BE ALIVE without her coming into my life.
But I also want you to know this: I am not alone. Millions of regular ass folk are going through this kind of stuff. And to be honest with you, maybe upwards of half of the Elite anglers as well.
And I did it for one reason.
And they do it for one reason.
They do it with a stick.
I do it with a keyboard.
We do it because we CAN'T NOT DO IT.
And let me tell you just what exactly CAN'T NOT DO IT means.
It means, for me.
It means, for them.
"…it seemed the taste was not so sweet…"
Love of the sport.
Love of those who play it.
Love of those they compete against.
Which is the reason so many of them are so concerned about the controversy going on with the guy who may or may not have tried to buy a bigger fish for bigger bucks to win.
Dear Mr. Alleged Bass Buyer, this is what you don't get about what you may or may not have done.
You sir, have slapped our bride.
If it was a joke, you sir have spit on her gown.
If it was not a joke, you have belittled our bride, and it makes me sad.
Because sir, also know this, none of us, not a one, would ever slap anything you love.
Until a few years ago, I thought I had covered the greatest sports on earth. And then I came here. And found this. And found them. And found you.
And fell in love with it all.
If I have to leave it, which I believe I have to do. It will be the hardest thing I have faced since sitting in a puddle of ice in a dark stinky apartment alone, at 17.
It has taken me forever to write this story because of trying to type through the tears.
Today I talked with our accountant about refinancing the house in a last ditch effort to continue past 12/31/2012, and she asked if I really wanted to do that, and when I said "Yes, yes I do…" I knew then I couldn't.
I have no more catch up years left. I can see, and smell, retirement looming.
I have hung it all out, as I know one of the owners of BASS who I know and also love, has as well.
I have hung it all out, as I know a few of the Elite Anglers who I know and also love, have as well.
Maybe something will work out.
Maybe it won't.
But please know this - there is no one out here doing it for anything other than the love of it.
Doing it for the sportsmanship of it.
Doing it for the honor of it.
Please give them your respect.
Please give them your honor.
Please give them your love.
Because the future of this sport comes not from corporate America.
The future of this sport comes from those who line the docks.
The future of this sport comes from those who line up to watch the launch.
The future of the sport comes from the crowds.
The future comes from YOU.
And wherever I may be, I will tell people about the greatest sport on earth.
And the privilege I was given to meet it.
To love it.
And wherever I will be I will follow it.
And if you spit on my bride…
…I will come for you.
"…so I turned myself to face me."
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