I Didn’t Make the Paper for Sports

nfl_a_baugh_576-e1276475731257I never made the local papers for high school sports. I played Frosh Soph football but I didn’t try out for varsity and I didn’t really care. Strange that years later I would replay some of my actions on the field, wondering what would have happened had I tackled that speedy tailback — the one with the tinted eye guard helmet – instead of letting him slip past me and score.

I had some brief successes: I made two picks as a free safety, and I ran one straight back to line of scrimmage and got pummeled by the offensive line. One angry lineman shouted “You’re going down!” as I lay at the bottom of the pile, grinning and holding the ball. What if I had tucked that ball under and ran for the sidelines? Perhaps I might have moved the chains another forty yards up field. Maybe that tailback who beat me earlier would have been forced to run me down. Maybe I would have beat him, and ran it all the way to the end-zone and scored.

It never happened. I didn’t give myself the opportunity to try again. I lost interest. The summer before Junior year saw the advent of a new world filled with drivers licenses, girls, beer, beach bonfires, surfing and guitars, and I hated the thought of going to summer football every day and especially those two weeks of double days in scorching August. I quit.  Later, at twenty-five, full of nostalgia from playing fantasy football, I would have given anything to intercept that pass again and run it back one more time.

So I never made the papers for sports, and I never thought I made the papers for anything.  Today I found this old piece from 1992 in the Los Angeles Times, a bit about how Nicholas Gustavson got a small scholarship. Strange how the internet works, recording old newspaper articles from the past before the civilian internet existed? Perhaps LA Times was available on Prodigy back in 1992.  Did someone scan all this data in later?  Probably some guys sitting in front of a scanner, dreaming of their glory days playing football.

What I learned from Googling myself

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So, I googled myself today.  Come on, you’ve done it. Call it narcissism, vanity, or just plain curiosity.  It’s certainly okay to do this. We live in a world where employers google you before your job interview, so you better fire up your browser and check yourself out.  What do you find?

Unfortunately for me, I have a namesake Sex Offender hogging the top spot on a google search for my name, Nicholas Gustavson. Please be assured, this is NOT me.  This guy lives in Connecticut (I’m in California.) He got convicted in 2013 of Second Degree Sexual Assault against a “25 year old female who is a resident in a mental health facility.”  The charge description reads like a horror version of Eric Puchner’s short story “Children of God.”  Good grief.

My other famous namesake was a day laborer named Nicholas Gustavson who was shot dead by Jesse James or Frank James, or somebody in their gang or the Younger Gang, back in 1876 during a bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota.  I already knew about this famous namesake as a kid, from reading a book my parents displayed on their coffee table “Wild & Woolly An Encyclopedia of the Old West”  This fantastic ’70s tome taught me all about the demise of Custer, the Gold Rush, Billy the Kid, and Jesse James and his gang.  What a shock I felt reading this as a boy, that I had been gunned down by outlaws. Who was this man, my namesake? Apparently he was a recent immigrant from Sweden, who didn’t understand enough English to realize he was about to die. Apparently, you need to understand English in order to deduce that a gang of outlaws with rifles and pistols yelling at you to get off the street means you should get the hell out of there or maybe duck and cover.

“What? But I need to use the ATM? Excuse me, I just need to deposit my check, Mr. James, can you not park your bank-robbing horse in the handicap spot?”  I mean, come on, Nicholas Gustavson. Either the history books got this encounter completely wrong or you were just a complete idiot. See the gun, buddy? You can’t translate what a G-U-N in your face means? Did they really need to say gevär for you to understand you are about to die? And oh the shame and embarrassment I felt as a child reading this. Why couldn’t he have been a valiant western character, a Swedish “Shane” who could have at least died gun fighting the bad guys?

I guess real life, unlike the movies, is a desultory pay day, just putting one foot in front of the other to the bank, trying to cash your paycheck before the bank closes. Head down, sweating, dog tired from the hard labor of building up America in the 19th Century.  Maybe he worked so hard for that paycheck that he was going to cash it, come hell or high water, or Cole Younger getting up in his face and trying to take it from him. Did they have federal insurance for bank deposits back then? I doubt it. Maybe Nicholas Gustavson represented Thoreau’s famous statement “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Maybe he knew the stakes, but he kept on walking, looking to turn that paycheck into an American dream. Rest in peace, my namesake.

Il Palio

Daily Mail has an article with some great pictures from this year’s Il Palio, the famous 400-year old horse race that occurs every summer in Siena, Italy. I was there in July 2001 and I remember waiting all day in the Piazza del Campo for the race to start. I sweated like a pig under the relentless Italian sun. We survived on pizza slices and water bottles with frozen cores that we purchased with real Italian lira (this was the summer before euro banknotes were introduced) from a vendor with an ancient cart.

As the afternoon wore on the piazza filled with fans from all the Contrada. We watched countless parades of armored horsemen and then the revered racehorse from each Contrada.  During the race, I remember one horse suffered a career-ending injury and its Contrada raged with grief as only Italians can do. We learned later they would have to put the horse down. Some men violently ripped cameras from tourists who had snapped pictures of their doomed horse. The cameras had invaded their sorrow, and the outraged Contrada shouted encouragement to the camera thieves.

Later, I was thrown aside by two burly men who busily plowed a path through a medieval alley for their winning horse. They were followed by a platoon of women garbed in the colors of their Contrada. Looking back now, medieval Siena’s ancient Il Palio seemed like a barbaric rite from Games of Thrones, with its violence, blood, passion and death. Even now I can’t stop looking at it.

Nicholas Gustavson’s short story ‘Tasting Class’ wins Easy Readers 45th Anniversary Writing Contest

magainze-cover  I’m proud to announce that my short story “Tasting Class” won the Grand Prize in the Easy Reader News 45th Anniversary Writing Contest.  It’s a story about wine tasting and murder in the South Bay (Santa Monica Bay, that is) I found the wealthy Los Angeles beach community  to be an awesome setting for a story about wine tasting, aging, and what it takes to preserve the past.

You can read the story here:  http://www.easyreadernews.com/107762/grand-prize-writing-tasting-class/