To absolutely no acclaim, I ran on the St. Elizabeth Catholic Secondary School track team in Grade 11. It was the spring of 1989, just as Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” was soaring to No. 3 in Canada and the U.S. I was fast, but not legit fast; I was baseball player fast, not track athlete fast. And I wasn’t sure if I was a sprinter, middle-distance or long-distance runner. Neither was my coach. I was a little bit good at all of the above. In the regional meet, I ran the 100 metres, 4×100 relay, 4×400 relay and 400 metre race.
Did I say “absolutely no acclaim?” Well, dig into this sweet success: my 4×400 (that’s four runners each doing one lap as fast as humanly possible and it hurts) team was just not bad enough that we qualified to go to the provincial meet as an alternate. That meant that if another school’s 4×400 team didn’t show up or couldn’t compete for some reason, we would have the privilege of entering the meet and likely finishing last in our heat.
We didn’t get that privilege.
So we – meaning me and my three 4×400 teammates – had to sit on a grassy slope in the sun from probably 9:00 to 3:00 watching other students run, jump and toss their way to provincial track and field glory.
I was really not friends with anybody on the team, which included the few St. E athletes who actually qualified for a provincial event. I wasn’t enemies with them, either. This is what it is to be the quiet guy. You’re right in the middle – but, socially, really more toward the bottom. So I sat there with my beloved black Walkman with digital display, and listened to a mix tape I’d made. It was loaded with the pop, New Jack Soul and Top-40 hip-hop I loved at the time, mostly taped off the radio. You can surely guess one of the songs featured on that tape.
“Buffalo Stance” felt uplifting and kind of sexy. “Who’s looking good today? Who’s looking good in every way?” (Now that I think about it, reminds me a little of Dear Rouge’s “Best Look Lately.”) It had an ear-wormy chorus, catchy instrumental bits and raps that were fun to rhyme along with. Plus, I’ve always loved songs where the singer acknowledges the band, which she does right off the bat, introducing the high hat and tambourine and even the DJ.
So this song takes me back to being the quiet guy surrounded by cooler (and, tragically, mostly younger) kids, taking solace in my music (which I continue to do almost every day of my life). That is, until one of the younger cool kids robbed me of my solace. I don’t remember her name. I just remember she had short dark hair and pale skin and looked kind of like Martika, who had a one-hit-wonder splash at the time with the ode-to-addiction ballad “Toy Soldiers,” which was probably also on that tape. So let’s call her Martika. Martika saw my sweet black Walkman with digital display and asked to borrow it. I really didn’t want to let her borrow it. I needed my solace. But she was cute and intense and a little intimidating, so I let her borrow it. She kept it for most of the rest of the day.
It was a rough day of solitude and silence. Well, boredom would be the word for it. I guess I should have felt flattered that she enjoyed my mix tape. But I was too miserable to feel flattery. She gave it back hours later with a quick thank-you and that was that. You were not welcome, Martika. You were not welcome.
I left that acclaim-free track experience behind me and didn’t join the team the next year. Fortunately, my school had a softball team in Grade 12, which was much more my speed. Was there acclaim? Oh, yeah there was acclaim: I was voted Most Sportsmanlike Player on my team. That was, like, the second-highest honour you could get in St. E athletics. Beat that, Martika.