A New Shoe for Blue
You Do What You Can with What You Got
|These articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use.|
I had been home from the trip to California , Washington and Kansas City only three days before I had to report to work at my summer job. I was not in any position to avail myself of any scholarship funding, so prior arrangements had been made for me to work for my tuition to Wilmington College at a local automotive manufacturing plant that built windshield perimeter moldings for American built cars.
I was in a new town, working at a new job with people that I did not know at all, and was somewhat intimidated by the large man that I met at the office door. He did his best to be cordial and welcome me to my new job, but it seemed that he was not used to being in the office and his demeanor indicated he was anxious to get out on the shop floor, where it was obvious he was more at home as he pointed instructions to several employees as we headed for my work station.
I'm sure he had done this hundreds of time with new students, and as he automatically went thru the safety instructions and work schedule, it was clear he was anxious to get back to real production work, but he forged ahead and gave me the mandatory tour of the restrooms, uniform storage and the first aid station. We then headed toward the end of a long row of stamping presses and walked down to the third one and he said this was where I was going to work for at least the next three weeks. It was a huge, dirty machine that had been painted many times over the years, was over 10 feet tall by seven feet wide and had small metal chips and shavings scattered all about among the lubricating and cooling oil puddles.
I noticed both curious and nervous looks on the faces of nearby student press operators as the foreman showed me how I was to walk up to the front of the machine, then step back two steps and insert my hands into the stirrups that were attached to cables that went thru vertical tubes, then passed overhead and attached to the top of the machine. This was the current approach to safety it seems, and it was explained that when my hands were in the stirrups, they would be pulled back and out of the way when the press was activated by my stepping on the foot pedal.
As I watched the foreman work the press foot pedal while displaying the workings of the hand stirrups, I noticed a new electrical box mounted at the right side of the machine, and noticed that the press operator at the machine to the right of us was also looking at the box, then at me, then shrug his shoulders while rolling his eyes.
I finally got done with the instructional part of my first day on the job and was guided towards the ‘before' pile of plain steel sheets and then shown where to begin the ‘finished' pile of the window trim pieces once they had been stamped. After inserting my earplugs, I tied myself into the hand stirrups, grabbed a piece of metal, inserted it into the press, then stood back and stepped on the foot pedal. A loud bang occurred as the press was engaged, my hands were pulled to the rear and another loud bang indicating that the pressing process was completed. I extricated and stacked the stamped piece and inserted the next blank, and on and on until late afternoon when it was clear that I needed to move the pile of completed parts to a moveable pallet.
It was at this time, while cleaning the chips and shavings from the stamping area that I noticed what appeared to be different colored puddle at the edge of the stamping die and a piece of something that was not looking like a piece of anything that I been looking at all day. I unhooked my self from the stirrups for a closer look and was surprised to realize that it was the end of a finger including a piece of fingernail. As I looked up, I noticed that the machine operators on either side of me were looking at me and shaking their heads in a display of dismay.
It was just before quitting time, and I was not sure whether to quit work for the day, notify a supervisor, or ask if someone needed to have this piece of finger saved or set aside for some reason. As I continued to look around, I noticed that the far side of the stamping die was cleaner as well as one side of the floor area where I had been standing. Both of the adjacent operators were from Japan and each spoke quite good English and they began to explain that early yesterday the operator of my machine had experienced some form of an electrical malfunction and the machine had lowered itself while he was removing a pile of finished stampings, as I had just finished doing, and the die pieces had caught the end of three fingers and that they must have missed the little piece that I had uncovered. I am sure I had become a little unhinged in this new environment in light of learning of the misfortune of the previous operator, and both the Japanese guys looked at me and simultaneously said ‘you are blue', referring to the change in the coloring of my face I suppose.
At that moment the bell rang indicating the end of the work shift and I followed my new ‘friends' to get washed up and file out of the factory along with the other workers. I began to notice the large number of immigrants that were working there and while they did not all look to be of the same nationality, a number of them began to congregate as they walked toward the dormitories, chatting in broken English about football. I was a football fan and my ears perked up and I walked more in their direction to see if I could join the conversation, but certain that Wilmington College did not have a football team. As I was catching up to them they noticed me coming and one of the guys turned to ask how I was doing, still concerned about the color in my face I suppose. They introduced themselves to me as Jimmy Mak and Benoko (Benny) Mak, and though they had the same last name, they both wanted to make it very clear that they were cousins, not brothers.
I introduced myself as Will, but as others gathered around they decided to introduce me as ‘Blue', somehow finding that to be humorous for some reason, but it seemed to stick as I continued to be introduced as ‘Blue'. We all turned and began to walk toward the dorms, and I soon figured out that the football that they were talking about was actually soccer, and they were going to their rooms to get changed to play a game, which they explained they did every day after work.
They asked me to join, but explained that I had never played soccer, but at the time I was quite physically fit as I had competed in several high school track events, and they insisted that I give it a try as they were always short of a player or two. I went back to my room and changed into some shorts and a t-shirt and from my dorm window I was able to see some of them gathering at the practice field and my adrenaline began to flow in anticipation of some physical activity, and the excitement of learning a new sport, not to mention the opportunity to compete.
I watched as they talked among themselves for a few minutes in an assortment of dialects and an occasional animated display of hand gestures and the occasional glance in my direction. It was apparent that even though they were from an assorted array of countries, they could all speak some English and had played soccer before, and it turned out that most of them were already on the varsity soccer team. They started to back away from each other, loosely forming two groups, still looking in my direction on occasion. Jim and Beni were in one group, and Jim looked over at me and said: “Hey Blue, you come over and play on our side”. He commented on the strength of my legs and noted that it looked like I could run, but had I ever played soccer before? I had no clue how to play, and was sure I wasn't going to be able to fake my way thru anything, so I admitted that I had never even seen a game of soccer played, prompting a quiet “Gringo” from one of the guys in the back of the group. Several others were rolling their eyes and shaking their heads, but Beni told them to just put me at left wing because they had no one to play that position or that was able to kick left footed and that I would cause the least amount of harm ‘over there'. Beni told me that the team member that played left wing graduated last year.
They quickly told me that the gist of the sport was to kick the ball in the opponent's goal and keep them from kicking the ball in our own goal. Easy enough, I thought, and as I trotted towards that side of the field, another member of our group asked where my shin guards were. Shin guards? Never heard of them I said and he pointed down at his legs and lowered his tall sock to display the thin sectioned pad that was to protect that lower part of his legs from other kicker's feet. It was not long at all until I began to understand the value of shin protection, and the lack of admiration for tennis shoes. Two days later was Saturday and I went back home to Middletown and purchased an inexpensive pair of soccer shoes and a good set of shin guards, and upon my return to school I felt much more at home on the field and was able to be more aggressive as well.
The balance of the summer was actually very enjoyable, I got used to working in the hot factory, and running in the hot sun at soccer practice became bearable, and I actually was getting the hang of soccer and was beginning to get some passes in my direction and made the occasional attempt at scoring a goal. I was not a prolific scorer, but had developed to the point that I could be depended upon to get the ball to someone that could. It turned out that I was as fast as anyone else on the team, and had gotten proficient at being able to dribble the ball past most defenders, but continued to lack a good power shot from the left wing position.
When school started, the coach took notice and Jim and Beni put in a good word for me and I was invited to try out for the team, and ended up practicing for the left wing position. A pretty good soccer player had returned at the start of school and was getting most of the reps in practice, but the coach continued to be supportive, and called me to the side one day after practice, and was kind enough to explain that I had some potential if I could improve my shooting from the far side of the field as I had become pretty good at kicking left footed. He suggested that after everyone else had left the field to go get one of the 55 gallon drums that were used for trash and put it out 15 feet from the center of the goal and try kicking the ball near it, as that was the correct location for putting the ball in play at the goal. He explained that if I could manage to get the ball near the barrel that would give the forward nearest to me an opportunity to head the ball in, or the far side forward to make a kicking attempt to score as the ball dropped.
Made sense to me, and the additional practice would give me the opportunity to improve my cardio and lung capacity, so I began to do as the coach had advised. I have always been some what competitive, and trying to kick the ball near the barrel quickly turned into kicking the ball into the barrel. I never got a high percentage of balls to actually go in, but they were getting damn close and occasionally one would go in. The increase in the number of my kicks that were being centered correctly did not go unnoticed by the other guys and my camaraderie with them was gaining on a daily basis. The more I played, the better I got and the more competitive I became. This only inflamed my desire to be able to score more points, as I did not think I was contributing enough from the offensive perspective.
Just before the start of the season, it became apparent that I was going to make the team, and this allowed me to be able to buy a pair of the professional soccer shoes by Adidas at a very cheap price. Oh man! What a feeling. These little cuties were extremely soft and made me feel faster as well. I continued to practice the power kicks from the left side until it was apparent that my left shoe was becoming extremely scuffed to the point that I was concerned that It might begin to tear, potentially causing me to trip or stumble. This premature wear was the result of not only regular practice sessions, but the additional ‘barrel' practice and the fact that I had been trying to get the ball to spin in one direction in a manner that it might make the ball curve as it approached the goal, and when I attempted to do this I was adding additional roughness to the very tip of the left shoe.
The coach inquired to Adidas and was told that I could not buy just one replacement shoe, leaving me with the option to purchase another pair or just get this one repaired. On a student's budget, it was clear what my option was going to be, and I approached a local shoe repair man to see what could be done in the way of repairing the toe section of this one shoe. The repair man was concerned that because of the location of worn area, that he was not going to be able to just sew it up without leaving a thick seam, and that he was unable to acquire a piece of the soft leather that was found on these shoes to be able to replace this toe section. I said I would think about it and get back to him the next day.
On the way back to the dormitory I had stopped to get something to eat, and as I sat at a table in the restaurant, I looked down at my briefcase that I always carried around with me, and was aggravated to find that it too had a torn spot near one of the corners and was in need of some repair as well. Thinking that I would just take it back with me to the shoe repair store, I reached down and fingered the worn area and it began to tear away. I picked it up to get a close look and realized that the inner side of the leather had a rougher surface than the outer surface, and then it hit me. I knew what I was going to do to get my shoe fixed.
The next afternoon, between class and practice, I took my briefcase into the shoe repair guy and asked if he would be able to use a piece of my briefcase to fix the shoe. My idea was to use a piece of the briefcase leather, inside out, bend it into a wedge shape at the front of the shoe, blended into the sides in a manner that formed a wedge at the front with a flat spot about 2-3/4 inches wide. The repair man thought I was not mentally awake, but I asked if he would just go with me on this one and he completed the repair with out comment.
I went back the next day, anxious to get back to wearing my Adidas shoes, and on the way home I stopped and bought a small bottle of glue in the bottle with the rubber top with a small split in it. I stopped at the city park and went to the kid's area and sat down and applied a good smearing of the glue on top of the flat area of the repaired shoe. Before it could dry, I put a thin layer of sand from one of the kiddie sandboxes over the glue and waited for the glue to dry, then wiped off the excess sand and headed back to practice.
Everyone was kind of laughing at my newly repaired shoe, thinking that it was the result of a poor man's repair job and they were mostly right, I suppose. I was happy to be back in the lightweight shoes, but all was not as well as I had hoped, as I was having some difficulty running as I would often catch the corners of the wedge in the dirt, particularly when trying to cut hard to the right while I was dribbling the ball. In addition to appearing to be a little clumsy, it was getting painful to the big toe in that shoe, because the newly tapered area left little to room and was pinching more and more with each step.
I had run hot water in the tub and was soaking my feet when I got the idea about what I was going to have to do to make this work for me. I got up from the tub, went down to my car and got a file from the tool box in the trunk. I got back in the tub and began to file at both the left and right corners of that front wedge. I filed the edge back about 3/4” on each side, thinking that would prevent the stumbling while making a sharp cut with the ball, but still had to do something about that sore toe business. I looked at the file again and decided that the best thing to do was to file the top of the toe nail on the big toe on my left foot to conform to the tapered surface of the wedge in the shoe. I did not want to raise a ‘bubble' on the flat surface of the top of the wedge on the shoe as it would screw up my plan for using the wedge.
After a few days of filing both the tip of the wedge corners and the top of my toe nail, the plan was starting to show some promise. My plan was, that if I could increase the surface area that came in contact with the ball, and if the contact surface could develop more friction when I twisted my foot, I would be able to get a hell of a spin on the ball as it left my foot, and boy, was I ever right about that. Even I was amazed at how ell it worked. All the practice with the barrel gave me the ability to center the ball with power, and now that I had that increased surface area with the additional friction, I could kick the ball and it would confuse the hell out of the opponent's goalie.
After a little practice, I would scan for defensemen positions, and adjusting my kick for distance, I could center the ball with so much spin on it towards the imaginary barrel position, that as it approached the goal area, the goalie would come out to catch the shot in front of the goal. But what would happen is that as the ball got near the goal and started to drop, the ball was still spinning hard and it would start to turn just short of the goalie, and curve itself into the net behind the goalie's position. Man, did that ever piss them off!