My hands are rough from working on a dream"
Dateline: Greyhawkin' I-40 East & West ...
In the toilet, the embers sizzled.
The matches left a mark. Burnt rings on the bathroom floor.
Small white tile, gold flecks.
Exploded tear drops.
Paper ashes stuck to the exhaust fan.
... and the embers, sizzle.
The typewritten letter left a mark.
Said, basically, we don't know what it is you do, but you are done doing it.
Out of the "news" biz.
Out of the writing biz.
So many words left, nowhere to put them. When it came to me, "Eyewitness News," had seen enough.
... and the embers, sizzle.
Under the covers, I read.
Read the only words I had left.
Black background, white letters, under the cotton.
80-proof. Me, and, Jack.
Blue box, with swirls.
Called Barb, said, I was done.
Tried to say I was useless ...
Done writing, now just reading what others wrote. And they wrote, I sucked.
Me, and, Jack. Under cotton.
Called the daycare, said the wife would pick up the baby, today.
Me, and, the blue box, with swirls. Under cotton.
A few weeks later in the California unemployment line, I signed autographs, and for benefits, with the same pen.
... and the embers, sizzle.
The done me.
The gone me.
The sucks me. Useless me.
Years later, the smell of cotton sheets once again came back, strong, as the turn signal clicked.
Click. Click. Click.
And the window wipers scrapped the glass on the downward move.
Then I turned and drove down my street.
Seven minutes from Bristol.
All I had to read, was a letter.
And a label.
And a taped up box.
In the driveway, I read the letter again.
Looked at the label, again.
And again, it had my name on it.
And the smell of cotton sheets.
"Dear Mr. Don Barone ..."
When I went inside my house, my wife and 6-year-old-son were there, my daughter, born in California, was still at school.
When I told them what had happened, my wife began to tear up. My son, just hugged me.
And I went upstairs.
To the master bathroom, and stood over the toilet.
Knelt on the earth-colored tile.
And threw up.
Then went to the bed, and laid-down on the tea green cotton sheets, and covered my face with my hands.
And screamed into the sheets.
Screamed out the pain ... the past. The demons.
Then I went back downstairs.
And screamed as a family.
As I tore into the box.
And threw the packing peanuts on the floor.
And kissed my wife.
And kissed my son.
And my daughter when she came home.
As we danced around the kitchen breakfast island.
While the embers sizzled in the New England fireplace.
And the teardrops exploded on the brick hearth.
As I reached down and picked up the trophy.
And carefully, so very gently, placed the Emmy on the mantle.
The Sports Emmy from SportsCenter. My first.
And every time I walk by it ...
... I see embers floating in a toilet ...
... smell burning paper ...
... and feel Kleenex and cotton sheets ...
And know inside, that's what trophies, are made of.
" ... out here the nights are long, the days are lonely ... "
If you are a rookie and your team just won the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the Championship, you need to know this.
Dude, you've been jipped.
Because trophies are made to be held with broken hands.
Made to pass by wounds as they are lifted up.
Made to be held over bruised heads.
And battered minds.
Earned, or taken, never given.
If you are holding a trophy and you haven't had the crap knocked out of you ... give it back.
First comes the bile, then the sweetness.
First the tears, then the trophy.
That reflection you see in the bronze, is not your future, it's your past.
Every glint, your failures.
Every glint, your doubts.
Every glint, your perseverance.
Your faith, in yourself.
So rookie, if life hasn't smacked you ...
If your goals haven't busted you up ...
If your confidence hasn't be called out ...
If you haven't been down, and back up ...
And you are standing there holding the hardware ...
Hand it back.
To the blistered hands.
The bandaged souls.
To those who've earned it.
Because, you haven't.
" ... I'm working on a dream ... "
Elite Series pro Dave Smith told me this, "Back home in Oklahoma, I'm in the manufacturing business."
I know he said it for a fact because I wrote it down. And Dave is a slow talker. Big, tall, quiet guy ... the Oklahoma plains in a 6-foot, 7-inch frame.
White polo shirt quiet.
Khaki pants quiet.
If you are jotting stuff people say down onto a little paper pad, Dave is a blessing in sound bites.
But as I look back at those notes now I realize, Dave lied to me.
Spun me like spitted out gum going down the toilet. To say that Dave is in the "Manufacturing Business" is about as kin to saying I'm some sort of outdoor writer.
I write about what's inside those who chase the outside.
And Dave builds what it is that those folks, chase.
Dave, I may not be one of your employees, but buddy, we in the same business. Partners in the chase.
I write about it, you hand it to them.
And then, the lucky ones hold what Dave makes over their heads.
Mankind's symbol that, one moment in time, was your moment in time.
And will be for the ages.
Statues of dreams.
I have been under the falling confetti as various dreams have been hoisted high.
I've been watching as statues of dreams get handed around, each handoff brings an arms length look as if to see it's real, and then usually a kiss, to taste if it is real.
I've never seen anyone under the falling confetti hoist a game check above their head.
They may say they are going to Disney World, but long after the Mickey ears have turned to dust, that dream will still be sitting up there on the mantle.
I never asked Dave what his title is at MTM Recognition, but if you had to make up the stationary for the joint, on the masthead, there wouldn't be any name above Dave's.
" ... though sometimes it feels so far away ... "
Dave started the biz "a couple of years out of college, rented a little storefront in a shopping plaza."
Dave now owns that plaza ... and everything that surrounds it as his business, MTM Recognition, has pretty much grown and now takes up the entire city block in an area of Oklahoma City that sits under the jet fighters from Tinker Air Force Base.
As far as I can piece together from the Company President and COO, Roger Mashore, and a couple other company folks who took us, this is how Dave may, or may not, have started this thing.
Someone handed him a trophy he didn't like.
Now, I know it usually takes a bit more than that to get to a place where you can have stationary with your name on it, but at the core of all of this, is one driving principle ... recognition (which frankly until I just typed that out never really understood the name of Dave's biz, until just now).
Pats on the back you can hold over your head.
And as I see it, someone handed Dave a trophy he recognized as being not so good. So he fixed it, and built his own. Sort of like Thomas Edison getting tired of the candles blowing out.
Now, Dave's company makes every championship trophy that any NCAA athlete will hold over his head.
And they also make a bunch of the Super Bowl and World Series rings.
Here's the company-speak-email I got from the President, Roger ... who BTW has worked for Dave since he was 16 and Dave was his high school history teacher/basketball coach who had Roger deliver trophies Dave made at night in his garage and then sold to local coaches.
"MTM designs and produces custom rings, watches, and jewelry at its location in Princeton, Illinois. The facility is one of the premier jewelry manufacturing operations in North America. Acquired from Jostens in 2001, the plant and its artisans are well known in the industry — having produced twenty-six Super Bowl championships rings and all six of the Chicago Bulls championship rings."
Normally, I wouldn't be agreeing to put stuff like that in my story, but Dave and Roger, and all the other folks we met there were great people who took a whole bunch of time to show me things and explain what it was I was looking at, so you've got to cut folks like that some slack every once in awhile you know, so I did.
It won't become a habit, if you get my drift there.
But I came here because Dave is the man behind the Bassmaster Classic Championship and the Angler of the Year Trophy.
He competes to win them, but he's also the dude who makes them.
Pretty damn cool.
Be as if Babe Ruth actually built the house that Ruth built.
" ... I'm working on a dream ... "
In the next week or so, 12 anglers will finalize the chase for the trophy Dave built. Make no mistake, when they cross that stage and they hold the bass they have caught out on front of them, what they are thinking inside is pretty much this ...
" ... are they big enough ... can I do it again ... can I do it every day ... will my fish be bigger than his fish ... can I win. Win. Win ... "
And then on stage, lift the trophy above their heads.
From Kevin Short, two-time Bassmaster Tournament winner: "The trophy is the best part of winning. The trophy will be around forever. My buddy Stevie came over to the house after my win and he didn't want to see the check, all he said was, 'Where's the hardware?'
Bassmaster Classic Champion and Angler of the Year winner, Skeet Reese: "Winning Angler of the Year in 2007 ... that one is nearest and dearest to my heart. Right now that trophy is front and center in my living room, sitting there right in the entertainment center where I can see it every day I'm home."
Right now as I write this, I am thousands of miles from home.
But if you were to come into my house, right in the back off the kitchen is our family room.
In the family room a floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace with a Norman Rockwell print of a small town hanging just above the mantle.
On the mantle ... the girls. The Ladies.
Three Sport Emmys.
And right now my son, Jimmy, is home watching the house for us, and if he reads this and walks over to the mantle and picks up the first lady and turns the base over he will see this printed on the bottom in black Sharpie.
And if he then picks up the one next to it and turns it over, on the bottom of the base in black Sharpie he will see this printed.
And if he goes to the final one and flips that over, printed on the bottom, he will see his own name.
This is the first time anyone in my family has heard anything about this. About what's printed on the bottom of the trophies.
And I did this when I was handed the trophies so that when I'm long gone my children, and their children will know ...
... of embers floating in the toilet ...
... of the smell of burning paper ...
... the feel Kleenex and cotton sheets ...
... of knowing inside, that's what trophies, are made of ...
And that when you walk across the stage that is life, and hold whatever trophy it is that you can hold above your head, you are showing the world that those who said you couldn't ...
... were wrong.
" ... and I know it will be mine someday."
Working on a Dream
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.