Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tommy Watts - Part I

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I was almost fifteen when I fell in love with Tommy Watts. He wasn’t much taller than me and usually I was attracted to taller guys, but his personality shone so brightly that I couldn’t help but be fascinated. He had strawberry blonde hair and a mustache, and facial skin so red he always looked as if he’d just ducked out of the grip of some mother hell-bent on scrubbing an invisible spot of dirt from his cheeks. And his eyes! Tommy Watts had eyes the color of cornflowers.

He was muscular in the way that not-so-tall men have – that Irish fisticuffs champion physique. I used to picture him in waist-pants and leather lace-up boots with a wide belt, his arms curled, fists balled, ready to box like pictures I’d seen of men from the late 19th century. Tommy was always ready for come-what-may. He might not have been the biggest guy out there, but a girl knew she was in good hands when she was with Tommy Watts.

He was as athletic as a monkey. There was nothing I knew of that Tommy Watts couldn’t do with his body. He could jump into the air and twist around three complete revolutions before he landed facing you. He could do handstands, backflips, handstands that turned into backflips, backflips that turned into handstands. He could stand on his head. He could backflip and land standing on his head. The fact that he ended up making his living scrambling around in trees as a forester speaks to his athleticism. 

One of my favorite feats of gymnastics involved him flipping onto the roof that covered the back doors to the alley at my high school. But he did it with flare! He faced out into the alley, back turned toward the building’s wall. He’d jump up and grab onto the roof’s edge as if he were going to do a chin-up. Then he slowly extended his legs out, body straight and stiff as a board, until he was perpendicular to the roof. Magically, he’d keep his body perfectly straight and continue completing the arc until he was upside-down, face down, legs pointed to the sky. Then he would speed up and finish off the pendulum swing by landing on the roof on his feet. I once saw him accomplish this routine with a cast on his right arm. Yes, somehow he did it one-armed.

Tommy Watts had deadly aim with a rock. He would take fifty-cent bets that he could hit a specific window in a building with a rock. He never once had to pay off in all the time we spent together. The summer of 1972, he broke out every single pane of glass on the Costello Street side of Watts Elementary School (no relation), one fifty-cent bet at a time. That’s a tidy sum.

I will share my best, and worst, memories of Tommy with you. The best involves the day after I fell in a sewer. The worst involves the day I decided to hide and surprise him. ~~GH

[Tomorrow: Tommy Watts, Part II]

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