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The Adventures of Me and Jack, Part II

Jack Klugman, MVP

September 11, 2004

Jack Klugman used to play soccer with the Mexican kids in the park down the street. He was never very good at it, but what Jack lacked in speed, skill and youth, he made up for with the intense, grim determination exclusive to aging males. Pretty pathetic, really. Jack Klugman Here he was, 60 years old if he was a day, and he simply refused to admit, outwardly or otherwise, that these young Latino kids had something up on him.

Needless to say, Jack was always among the last chosen in any pickup game. In the picking-of-sides hierarchy, Jack ranked just below the fat asthmatic and just above the girls. This was, after all, a man's game replete with the machismo and chauvinism inherent to the neighborhood's primarily Latin population. Jack may have been slow, easily winded and white, but he was still a man, and therefore respected with selection prior to Diego's thirteen year old sister (who, incidentally, went on to win state in gymnastics that next year).

Most of the kids Jack played soccer with were teenagers, and therefore too young to remember his run as television's Quincy, ME. They considered him something of a mascot, and, in an odd turn, nicknamed him "Matlock." This pet name had less to do with his career on the small screen, however, than with his age and his whiteness. Jack was too bitterly focused on showing these pups that this old gringo was worthy of some playground credibility to notice that they were undoubtedly making fun of him.

For all his work ethic, I never once saw Jack Klugman score a goal. In fact, he rarely even Jack Klugman touched the ball. On the occasion that he did, it was quickly stolen by his younger, faster, more skilled opponents. Mostly he just ran back and forth between the goalposts a lot, trying to keep up with the ebb and flow of the game. Often he would wave his hairy arms wildly to ensure that his teammates didn't miss the fact that he was wide open.

He also spent considerable time wiping sweat from his forehead with his red, white and blue striped wristbands. The matching headband, apparently, was not doing a sufficient job. Typically, Jack would play until his black socks sloshed about in his sneakers and you could almost see his lungs sweating through the chest hair. None of this was a pretty sight, and all of it reeked of desperation. I love Jack Klugman like a brother, but even I had to turn my head and pretend not to notice his hopelessness at least once per game.

There is one game in particular that stands out in my mind as the zenith of Jack Klugman's soccer career.

The game was shirts versus skins, and, much to our collective dismay, Jack was a skin. His silver back fur glistened and the wretched odor of AARP angst burned the nostrils of his opposition...a typical Tuesday afternoon. The skins were losing in an especially magnificent Jack Klugman fashion, as that's what happens to a team that, in effect, plays the entire game a man short. Jack, despite being matched up against the fat, asthmatic kid, had not touched the ball once. He was playing with his usual zest, and by the second half it was apparent that the fervor he brought to the field that day was taking its toll on his 60 year old body.

Between laps up and down the field, Jack was bending at the waist and panting for air. His headband was soaked through with sweat, and even his fat, asthmatic rival was soon running circles around the poor man. In fact, this fat little bastard took such glee in outrunning his opponent that he didn't see the ball coming when, on a simple zone clearing kick, it smashed into his neck.

The fat asthmatic kid's knees liquefied on impact. He melted to the ground, clutching his throat, eyes wide with panic. Jack immediately rushed to the fallen player's aid, soothing the victim and helping him into a prone position on his back. It took a minute for the rest of the players to notice their comrade's position and to rush to his side. Jack, now firmly in control of the situation, was waving the other Mexican kids back as he listened for breath from the fat asthmatic's husky torso.

The kid turned the color of pale sweat and no sound came from his mouth. It was obvious to even the most casual observer at this point that the fat asthmatic kid was no longer breathing, the force of the soccer ball having crushed his trachea. It was just as his eyes began to gloss that Jack took action, standing with his brow furrowed and eyes stern. He raised a single upturned index finger before dashing through the stunned crowd, returning immediately from the sideline with a ball pump.

Jack Klugman

Lips pursed and his furrowed brow even more furrowed than in previous furrowings, Jack Klugman knelt over the chubby would-be corpse holding the ball pump in one hand. Diego's sister let out a muffled gasp, and several of the smaller boys turned their heads from the scene unfolding. Drawing deep from what he'd learned on the set of Quincy, ME, Jack expertly felt for the boy's adam's apple and moved his unshaking fingers down past the cricoid cartilage and into the round indentation beneath. He then removed the needle from the ball pump and with it opened a small hole in the boy's throat. Talk about resourceful!

Life saving oxygen whistled through the ball pump needle protruding from the boy's neck. Old Jack "Matlock" Klugman had just saved the fat, asthmatic, Mexican kid's life by performing an emergency field Tracheotomy!

The assembled crowd, realizing that their friend would live, decided that is was ok for them to also begin breathing again, and then did so. Jack stood up, calmly ordered the nearest boy to run and call an ambulance, then walked confidently to the soccer ball and kicked it into the opposing goal. Head still high, he strutted over to where I had been watching the game.

"It's time for a drink. Let's go."

We went, and we drank. Jack, to my knowledge, never again played soccer with the Mexican kids, but he and I did do a lot more drinking and had many more adventures before all was said and done. Jack Klugman is, after all, a man of action.

Five-Oh! Five-Oh!

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