Audrey, Rugby and Rod Stewart’s wife

Twenty-five years ago today, my wife and I had our combined bachelor-bachelorette party – yes, on April Fools Day. Most of my friends indeed thought I was kidding…and are still awaiting the punchline.

I published this essay about how Rugby led me to my wife (or her to me?) in the book Voices In My Head, written for my mother and father on their 70th and 75th birthdays, respectively. I offer it now to mark the date 25 years ago when Audrey could have said “April Fools!” and walked away…I’m infinitely better off that she wasn’t fooling.

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Audrey and Me
Young men play sports. Young men in Texas MUST play sports. I believe it is part of the state constitution, under the Articles of Testosterone, right after the one about “Men must hunt deer” and right before “Texas has the right to secede from the Union whenever we damn well please.”

Go to the State Capitol; look it up.

The first sports team I can remember was the baseball team Terry and I were on in Spring Branch called the Bears. These weren’t the “Bad News” Bears, these were the “We just plain Suck Rocks” Bears. We played at a field that was dusty and rough, with very little grass, and our skill level wasn’t even worthy of that. Terry was our only good player (a lefty first baseman, and the oldest) and I’m not sure why he stuck around; probably because of me, or maybe cause mom told him to. I clearly remember pitching (I only got to pitch when we were way behind), with a kid from the other team taunting me to throw it over the plate. I walked a couple of batters to catcalls from the opposing dugouts.

Then I started aiming for the batters.

It made me throw a lot harder. But I still missed. That is when I first learned to trash talk. Words sometimes hit harder than a baseball (and I was more accurate in throwing them).

I learned two very valuable lessons at that young age: channeling your anger can be good in sports if you can control it; and I absolutely abhor baseball. The sport is adequately described as two guys playing catch with lots of others standing around watching. It is no wonder that when little kids play t-ball they inevitably end up picking grass or putting their glove on their heads; face it folks, America’s pastime is boring unless it is the ninth inning with a runner in scoring position…and even then only because most of the crowd got their third beer at the seventh inning stretch.

One lesson I didn’t learn: don’t try to compete with your older (i.e, much taller!) brother until you are at least as big as him.

Basketball was where this lesson should have hit home, but did not. I absolutely love to play basketball, so much so that when I tore the ACL in my right knee playing in the YMCA league playoffs in my thirties (okay, maybe late thirties would be a more adequate description), I had my knee scoped (arthroscopic surgery), played for another year and ripped it right in half in the playoffs the following year

▶▶▶ Adult ADHD Aside: when playing in the YMCA leagues, I was a young man, married, with a daughter. But my mother would still come to my games…and absolutely hound the refs. I’m saying that she verbally rode the refs so hard that my wife and daughter moved away from her in the stands. Let’s face it, the refs did suck; but even my own teammates were asking me “Dude, is that your Mom?” ◀◀◀

But playing with my brother as a kid was brutal. I had the word “Spalding” tattooed backwards on my forehead (for you non-ballers, he was tall, he blocked my shot many times, physics works). Later in life, sports became a way to meet ladies. Sometimes you wouldn’t think that way, what with most of the sporting teams I played on being non-coed and all. But it did seem to work out that way. And, since that’s how I met Audrey, it definitely worked out.

Most of the sports I chose to participate in did not require long distance running, but require sprints intersperses with lots of waiting around. In high school, I was invited to run a 10K race with one of the people from DataPoint (my Dad’s work) who I occasionally played volleyball with. 10K, 6 miles…I imagined it would be a walk in the park.

I realize about an hour later that I was wrong. It was somewhere out in the hill country (lots of hills in that there hill country, by the way), and the ups and downs killed me. I swore I’d never do another.

About nine months later, I get a phone call. There was a very nice-sounding young lady on the phone, asking me if I participated in this particular 10K last year. I responded yes I did, and she said she was recruiting for this year’s race. She asked me if I was interested, and, since time cures most pains, I told her I might be, but I didn’t know if I was going to be in town that weekend.

“Thank goodness,” she said. “That’s the best response I’ve had all morning?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Well, I called one number from the list of last year’s runners, and his wife burst in to tears when I told her what I was calling about. She said her husband passed away last month.”

“Bad timing there,” I said.

“Then another guy told me he was now in a wheelchair, having had his leg amputated.”

“What a drag,” I replied.

“So you’re my best call of the morning,” she said.

“Wow,” I said, “you mean I rate over a dead guy and the one legged man?”

She laughed. “My name is Kelly. I’ve got a few more calls to make, but could I call you back later and talk some more?”

“Sure,” I answered, certain I would never hear from her again.

But, surprisingly, she did phone back. And we did chat, for hours, about running, San Antonio, and other topics. She said she was from Houston, where I’d spent some time in my earlier years, so we covered that area as well.

“So what do you do?” I asked, after telling her I was a college boy.

“I’m a model and a student,” she said.

“We have a lot in common,” I replied, “because I am a model student.”

“I spend part of my time in New York City,” she said, ignoring my witty reparte’ (a skill Audrey would later perfect), “and part back here. I haven’t had any big jobs yet, but I will.”

Our conversation began winding down, and I asked her out.

“Why don’t you come meet me at the football game tomorrow?” she said. San Antonio’s Mayor Henry Cisneros was trying to promote SA as the place for an NFL team, and the big event was a preseason game at Alamo Stadium, a high school football stadium that is adjacent to Trinity University. It is a smallish stadium, and it was going to be a madhouse.

“That place is going to be a madhouse,” I said prophetically. “How will I recognize you?”

“Well, I’m very pretty,” Kelly replied. “I’m blonde with a very dark tan.”

About this time, I was certain I was being set up. I did a quick memory scan to see if Bob or Tom owed me one, and if I had told them about the lack of fun I had at the last 10K. I became convinced this was all part of one of their evil plans.

“That describes just about every girl in Texas, Kelly,” I replied, venturing toward being snarky.

“Oh, but I’m very pretty,” she said.

I told her I’d look for her, then hung up.

There was no way I was going to go down to Alamo Stadium, just to have Bob or Tom jump out with a camera, asking me how I could possibly fall for that one.

A few years later, in 1983, about the time I was graduating from Trinity, I noticed that Rod Stewart had himself a new girlfriend. Her name was Kelly Emberg, she was blonde and beautiful with a dark tan, born in Houston, discovered for a magazine cover in in New York City.

It was then that I started really hoping that it was Bob or Tom pulling my leg. But things have a way of working out.

I learned little from this life lesson, other than I continued playing sports but without looking for women… especially when I began playing Rugby. In Texas, people play football (or Football with a capital F); we played sandlot tackle football with no pads and few rules, every weekend during high school in San Antonio. Let me see: tackling, with no pads…either we were trying to get hurt or we were training for Rugby without knowing it.

Rugby is more common in Texas than most people realize, but it is certainly an unusual sport to choose. I knew little about it until playing basketball with a guy from Compaq named Mike Glass. Mike had been playing for the Woodlands Rugby Football Club, and after I slammed into a wall going after a loose ball on the basketball court, he told me it was the sport for me.

He was so very right.

Rugby is the most challenging and the most enjoyable sport I have ever participated in. It is much more team oriented than other sports, requiring backs (small, fast guys) and forwards (big, usually slower guys) to do their job. When I played, the rules did not allow for substitutions, so it was a grueling 90 minute game.

My first game was an away game, in Galveston after some rains. The field was muddy, and the fire ants, to save themselves from drowning, were climbing on top of each other, building living fire ant towers. A few folks (my friend Troy included) got tackled into those mounds. I was still learning, and continued tackling with my head like you are taught in Texas football. This had the desired result on the opponents, but was making me dizzy since, of course, I had no helmet (yes, I know, not too bright). After I had chipped one of my back molars doing this, at halftime Mike suggested that I might want to lead with a shoulder instead of my noggin. He also gave me two ibuprofen, introducing me to a pregame and halftime routine he liked to call “better Rugby thru drugs”.

In spite of the ants and the modification to my dental work, I was hooked. Rugby is a constantly moving sport, akin to ice hockey…except no substitutes. You have to play offense and defense, and that role switches quickly. We played with no pads, although now I see some players wearing a padded undershirt; this is still much less than shoulder pads, helmets and the other protection that American footballers wear. And even though we were playing without padding, the times I saw someone get hurt mostly occurred when they were doing something mighty stupid. The first game I watched, a player from the other team tried to tackle an oncoming runner with what I can describe only as a bear hug tackle: arms open wide, awaiting the embrace. The hug he got separated his shoulder, a gift he would not have received had he
tackled properly.
Audrey in London
I played for the Woodlands for five seasons, and parts of others. Sometime in 1997, Audrey walked onto a Rugby pitch for the first time. She was with a girlfriend who was dating one of the forwards (c’mon, ladies…dating Rugby forwards? Are you serious? These are the guys who spend all their time in the scrum!). They had been out partying the night before, and Audrey almost didn’t come because of the hangover she was nursing. This hangover is what she blames on warping her vision and opinion, when seeing me on the field, asking her friend about me and telling her friend to arrange an introduction.

I’d like to say that was that, we met and dated. But, since we all know “men are useless”, it was a bit more complicated than that. It was several months before our lives finally became intertwined.

I played wing. The fullback that played for the most part with me was named Doyne (and, no, don’t ask me where that name was from). My friend Doyne worked at Compaq and he and I carpooled out to the Woodlands for practices and then to the bars afterwards Tuesday and Thursday nights for all five of those years. Visiting the bar was required, as they wanted the extra business in exchange for hosting the visiting team for the after match festivities following home games. Rugby practice, a volunteer team sport that we actually paid dues to play, is difficult; after each practice most of us ordered a pitcher of water and a pitcher of beer. The scrummies (forwards) usually ordered two pitchers, and called us backs many names (in a show of love and support, no doubt).

My fellow back, Doyne, began a continuous barrage of information about this gorgeous redhead who wanted me to ask her out. Through blind and idiotic loyalty to my current girlfriend, I declined. Doyne told me he was going to take her out, but that didn’t last long (thank you Doyne!) I began running into her, mostly at Rugby functions, where she was surrounded by men hitting on her. She always found me for a dance or two, and I loved those brown eyes…and everything else.

I found out early on how persistent of a young lady she was. When she crashed my annual Halloween party, audacious enough to not wear a costume, knowing that my girlfriend was also in attendance, she had me.

And it slightly irritated me that she knew it; but only a bit.

Next time, I tracked her down at a dance. Or, at least she let me think I did (which I appreciate to this day). She was wearing a red and white striped shirt, and my Compaq friends kept asking me who she was. She kissed me, and asked me to follow her back to her place. I would have followed her anywhere. Mesmerized, I followed up to the parking lot. Still mesmerized and more than tipsy, I failed to notice which car she got in as I walked over to mine. The “more than tipsy” part kicked in when I dropped my keys, futzed around some more. When I finally got the car started and backed out of the spot….she was no where to be found.

There was no GPS, Al Gore hadn’t truly invented the Internet yet and I did not yet have her phone number. I didn’t know where she lived, and barely knew her last name.

I’d lost the girl of my dreams in the parking lot of a bar (now THAT would make a good country song).

Temporarily lost her, of course.

from VOICES IN MY HEAD © 2010

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