55 Year Reunion
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03/17/08 06:17 AM
Senior year Al Hayward was the goalie on the soccer team. I was one of the forwards. In those days when a keeper got the ball he always punted it down the field, but Al had a better idea. When we saw that Al was going to get the ball, the two inside forwards turned and just started running. Al would decide who was the most open, call his "name" and throw the ball his way. Today keepers trying to start quick counter attacks with long throws downfield is a common play; but I'd never seen it before Al came up with the idea and it wasn't done by any other team we played. The one thing I never quite understood was why he yelled "Mickey" before flinging the ball my way.
03/22/08 10:47 PM
Al Hayward was one of the true originals in our class. He joined us in the eighth grade. Al had been left back, in spite of his being among the smartest kids in the school. "I'm not one of your achievement guys," he explained. And that was true so long as achievement meant fulfilling other people's expectations.
He was metaphysically inclined for a fourteen-year-old: I remember his describing death as "just a blackness." There was a streak of nihilism in him--his own interior darkness--which surfaced in various forms, among them over-the-top humor.
Al, Bob Hunter, and I teamed up to write our ninth-grade class prophecy. Al supplied the overarching conceit: reverse evolution. Our English teacher, Marguerite Scanlon, dismissed it as flip. (We weren't always amused by her either.) I still remember incidents from the narrative.
You may recall the ballad ensemble Al put together: Bob Hunter, Buddy Wides, Bill Lieber, with himself as the lead singer. They came on stage wearing hip boots and carrying plungers. The Four Flushers, they called themselves.
Al's most famous stunt--I wasn't there to witness it, but it became legendary --was to climb out the front window of a moving car and in through the back. It wasn't as though he wouldn't have recognized the danger; Al's reality-testing was as good as that of anyone I've ever known. Perhaps assuming the risk made him feel more alive--the equivalent of winning at Russian roulette.
Toward the end of our senior year, Al and I and our (underage) dates went to Scottie's, across the New York line. Al turned on his power of persuasion and got everybody served, both food and drink. When the food came, he gazed in evident amazement at his plate of chicken smothered in dark gravy. "It looks like the La Brea tarpits. O my God," he said, holding up a thigh bone, "it's a fossil!"
If you were a guy who despised external discipline and were finishing high school with no clear prospects, what would your course be? Why, join the Marines naturally. Al came back from Parris Island to that year's Turkey Day game with St. Cecilia's a changed man, looking all around himself, anxious lest a drill sergeant happen by and he, having left his cap at home in Oradell, not be able to salute properly. This sort of abjection couldn't last. He was out of the Corps in little more than a year, on just what grounds I can't remember.
The last time I saw him was when we were in our mid-twenties, at a pizza parlor in Emerson. "Which way are you headed, Al?" I asked. He responded, characteristically, with a story. "Imagine you're riding on a bus amid wheatfields that stretch as far as the eye can see. It's Kansas. You look down at your hands and say to yourself: 'Ho-ly, these are the hands of a neurosurgeon! What have I been doing all my life? I have my Father's work to accomplish.' Well, one day I looked at my hands and decided: these are a plumber's hands." This by way of explaining that he'd signed on for an apprenticeship. I don't think he followed through on plumbing either (despite the head start he'd gotten with the Four Flushers).
We both spent most of the ensuing twenty years in California, Al in the Bay Area and I in L.A., but we lost touch. Occasionally word of the other would pass through our mothers, who were still in Oradell. In the spring of 1983, while my family and I were preparing to move back east, I heard that Al had died suddenly. I've never learned exactly what the circumstances were. I can't but wonder whether it was "just a blackness," or something else, he encountered.