Monday, May 23, 2016


Rodney Jones

Rod Jones got lost in Rochester Hills, a moat-like suburb that seemed to circle Rochester proper for some unknown reason. He was nearly late for the match, hadn’t allowed enough time obviously, and he felt knackered before he’d even arrived at the field. His fellow players on the Detroit Roadsters were already loosening when he pulled into the parking lot. The Oakland County team was huddled across the field—a collection of gold and black uniforms shimmering in the sun. He scanned both teams.
As usual, he’d be the only black man on the field—strange for a team from Detroit—but this was rugby. What was the old saying? Rugby was a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen. That word “gentlemen” usually excluded people of color, both here and abroad. He’d never be completely comfortable in the milieu that a top law school had placed him in. He could fool his clients, his colleagues, even a judge now and then, but he would always remember his father saying, “You’ll always be the token affirmative action hire to them. You’re a plonk if you think any different.” Did the old man expect him to work by his side in the Higher Blackley post office in Manchester?
 Sitting with the car door open, he put on his rugby shoes. They were old, a muddy, scruffy mess an outsider might say, but he felt like himself with his rugby shoes on, felt like the kid who made the team as a high school freshman. He rose, feeling that tug in his back again. Sitting in an office chair ten hours a day worked against playing sports well. He did a few stretches, not nearly enough, locked the door, and took off.
Running toward the field, he decided he’d have to get himself one of those navigational systems. For years, he’d divided his time on the 1-94 corridor between Ann Arbor and Detroit. He hated being late. Finally on the field, he was greeted by his mates and within five minutes, the match had begun.
            Rodney was a hooker. It was his job to hook the ball backwards during a scrum. He was on the small side to play this position; hooks took a lot of grief as defensive players. But he’d played hook back in the UK and was more experienced at the position than his teammates.
It was also a tough position due to the amount of running involved. But he loved playing it, was disappointed that he didn’t get big enough to own the position. Instead he had to earn it every time.
It was a glorious day and all the men were playing well. Both teams on fire. That’s what he loved most--to have the game played as perfectly as possible. He was running easily when he saw a loosehead prop coming toward him. Big guy; usually the tall ones played lock forwards. But this guy was coming at him like he knew something Rodney didn’t. My God, was he terribly far-sighted perhaps or gormless, a half-wit—who didn’t see Rodney standing in his path? They were going to collide in a second. He felt fearful suddenly. He saw an explosion: bright lights, wavering lines, a tidal wave of nausea. And then he felt nothing. Nothing.


Roger Allen said...

Couple of minor corrections:
"You’re a plonk if you think any different." should be "plonker"
"he put on his rugby shoes." Always rugby boots, not shoes.

I presume Rod Jones plays Rugby Union, which is the "gentlemen's" version, but there is a long tradition of black men playing Rugby League, the traditionally professional version played by members of the working-class in the North of England. You'd really need to explain why Rod plays Union rather than League even now if his father was a postman. There's cross-over between the two codes now, but at one time anyone who played League - even as an amateur - was permanently banned from playing Union. There's also an important exception to the exclusion of blacks from Rugby Union in the last few years Fijian, Samoan and other black Pacific Islanders have made names for themselves in R.U., especially as forwards, but there has always been a long tradition of Maoris playing for the New Zealand All-Blacks, going back to the earliest internationals in the nineteenth century.

Charles Gramlich said...

Nice description of character

Mathew Paust said...

Gripping. The research on rugby you obviously did is impressive.

Margot Kinberg said...

I am so richly enjoying these character studies, Patti! Thank you.