“The Tragedy of Lambchop Jones”
Approx. 1700 words
Lambchop Jones used to wonder what it would like to be black, as many people assumed he was when they didn’t have a face to put with his name. He can’t recall how many times people looked at him with disbelief and said, “You’re Lambchop Jones? Hmmh…I was expectin’ a black fella.”
Some folks still say things like that around here, men mostly. It’s the kinda thing Lambchop’s dear ol’ Ma would have said, she who had named him Lambchop because she said he was nice and plump, like a good ol’ lamb chop. She wouldn’t mean anything offensive about any part of it, the talk of “black fellas” and such; it’s just the way some folks talked, and folks who aren’t exactly bright enough to figure out their own ways of talking have little more than watching others to go on. Most never considered Lambchop’s mother a bright one; she did name her child Lambchop after all.
That was another thing people thought about Lambchop before they found out otherwise; they just assumed his name was a nickname. Surely no one would name their child Lambchop. That supposition may only be off by a degree of one person, that one person being Lambchop’s mother. Surely, she would; surely, she did.
And he went with it; what was he gonna do? It was the name they gave him. Sure, people assumed he was black sometimes, but he wasn’t; he was poor white trash. And even though it sucked to be poor white trash, he could imagine that it was much worse to be black; still, he couldn’t imagine what that would feel like. He did wonder at times, but he knew it wouldn’t do him any good.
Lambchop grew up well enough in his first years, and when he was seven, it was just assumed that he would play football. He was built for it, of average height for a seven-year old boy and broad, but more than that his name was Lambchop Jones. If you can’t expect a guy named Lambchop Jones to play football, then it’s hard to imagine just who you can expect to do so.
Lambchop went at it like he went at everything else, with quiet efficiency. Mama was so proud, as he proved a star on both sides of the ball at every level.
By the time he was in high school, interest grew beyond just the state colleges. Scouts from all the Division 1 universities in the southern Mid-Atlantic region had seen him play before he finished his sophomore season, and even before his senior year he had signed a letter of intent with the school that would give him the most financial assistance and athletic exposure, while keeping him close to home. There had only ever been the two of them, and football and school aside, Mama was gonna need his help.
The high point of Lambchop’s football career was the state championship game his senior year of high school. He caught 11 passes for 187 yards and four TDs; defensively, he had 15 tackles, four sacks, and two interceptions. While not totally quantifiable, it is still considered to be the most impressive performance in a state championship game. It was also the last game of football Lambchop ever played.
That summer, while working to strengthen the financial standing of his upcoming freshman year, he fell off the back of a truck and shattered his ankle. Yes, he would walk again, even run again, but his football days were over.
The university couldn’t really be expected to extend all the previously agreed to benefits, as Lambchop wasn’t going to be able to fulfill his side of the deal, but they knew enough about saving face to keep the boy in the education game.
Lambchop had gone to school in the hopes of turning football into a profession; instead, he became a surveyor. Surveying suited him because it gave him his alone time. He worked with two other men usually, but most of what he did he did alone, which suited him. Ironically, that alone time has become the worst aspect of the job these days; these days, the last thing in the world Lambchop needs is more alone time.
After graduation, Lambchop just went about his business, saw to his mother, and progressed in life the way we’re expected to progress in life. He married a woman, had a couple of kids—boys—and never thought about what might have been.
Sometimes he and the family would be out at Fridays or the Outback for dinner, and he would run into one of the guys he had played with, and he could never understand why they were so interested in talking about the past. There always seemed to be someone nearby who didn’t know about Lambchop’s legend and heroics, or the tragedy of that shattered ankle, which, they always felt, had kept him from “the big bucks.”
Lambchop could never understand how they had so much extra time to talk about the past. He couldn’t even think why they would want to. He hated thinking about the past, thought it was just a waste of time, and he would have thought that even if he had never broken his ankle and had gone on to the professional football career that everyone foresaw for him.
Often, they would call to him from the bar, and he would send his family ahead to the table or the car—depending if he was spotted arriving or leaving—to give him a good reason to beg off after a couple minutes of “yes, that sure was a great game” and “yes, that sure was a tough break.” Some of them even used that word, “tragedy.” Few people talk about those days now, and none of them dare to call his accident a tragedy, given all that has happened.
He would decline their offers to buy him a beer, lie when he said how good it was to see them, and go and catch up with his family, all the while wondering how they didn’t have anything better to do or talk about.
Lambchop’s boys, four years apart, were as different as night and day. The older one was so much like his father it was scary. Quiet, consistent, and focused, he took some of the height of his mother’s family; aside from that, he was his father over. The younger one was built like his father, but that’s where their similarities ended. He has an excitable boy, happy, interested, and full of life, like his mother.
Lambchop wouldn’t lie and say there wasn’t a special place in his heart for his older boy, reminding him so much of himself, but it didn’t mean he loved the younger any less. His zaniness was such that would have unnerved his father when he was younger, but Lambchop was continuously tickled by the boy’s actions despite himself.
One thing the boy loved doing was to lie in wait and jump out and startle unsuspecting family members.
Both boys had been cautioned about the wide berth they needed to give their father when he was on his riding lawnmower, but Rusty was five, and sometimes five-year old boys forget cautions for the sake of having fun.
He was lying in wait beside a pine tree when his father circled it on the tractor. In his defense, there was plenty of room between where he jumped and his father’s path. He was on a bit of a slope, however, and when he came down he slipped. He still would have been fine, but he got startled; trying to scramble back up the slope, he fell backwards, and his right arm went straight under the mower.
Those few moments are where Lambchop spends all his time these days.
Even the coolest of heads would get lost in a moment of such decision: Keep going? Stop? Disengage the mower? And it’s not like his mind could even decide on those possibilities. His mind just went blank, numb. When it did kick into an actionable gear, he disengaged the mower, set the brake, and turned it off.
Mercifully, if there could be anything like mercy in such a situation, the boy had pulled what was left of his arm out from under the mower’s deck, which meant that Lambchop didn’t have to muster the courage to do so.
“What was left of his arm” wasn’t much, and the moment he saw it, Lambchop’s mind stopped working the way it had before.
If it was just the trauma, the boy might have made it; it was the shock that killed him. Small children aren’t made to experience such horrors; Rusty was no different.
And that’s where Lambchop lives these days, in those few seconds. He still goes to work and drives a truck; he pays his bills and loves his wife and son as well as he can. Despite it all, in his mind he is always in those few seconds when reality ripped, and his world crashed.
These days, when he and his wife and son are out at Applebees or the Outback for dinner, instead of calling him over, those men at the bar just throw up a hand that tries to not look so sad. They usually nod before they go back to their conversations. Those no doubt then turn to the sad tragedy of Lambchop Jones, which he can see on their faces before he passes.
Lambchop tosses up a hand and makes his way to what he hates thinking of as what’s left of his family. He wishes they would call him over and talk about his football days. He’d love to hear them replaying his heroics, heck, even lamenting the big bucks he left on the table when he fell off that truck, anything that might let him pass a few specks of time in any time other than those few seconds that he always lives in.
This treatment makes him think he has a better idea of what it would feel like to be black. Maybe that’s misstated; maybe he just has a better idea of how some white men make black men feel at times. He even catches Mama looking at him with that look of sad pity sometimes, and she knew he was white even before she named him.