Work, Good Work

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Work, Good Work

Fan fiction usually comes from fans of fiction. But what if, rather than 50-page Word documents on Luke Skywalker’s childhood, a fan brought fan-fiction-level enthusiasm to Auburn Football? Has that ever happened?

Yes, it has.

Like a lot of Auburn fans of his generation, Josh Dowdy’s grew up primarily under the influence of two men — his dad and Pat Dye. He was always the only Auburn fan in Sunday school. That’s powerful stuff. So, what kind of fan fiction might we expect from such a fan? The answer lies below.

“Work, Good Work” is a short story written from Pat Dye’s perspective. Dowdy wrote the story in July 2019. As Auburn begins its first season on Pat Dye Field in memoriam, now’s the time to share it. The story’s plot is in no way based on actual events. However, some of the details framing the story are drawn from Dye’s two books, In the Arena and After the Arena.


Work, Good Work

I remember when Tim first suggested we hire interns. I looked at him, waiting for him to use a different word. He looked back at me just like he’d said something perfectly normal. People move on from things. You’d think I would know that.

Then he really got me when he said we wouldn’t pay them. And then he said eventually some of them would be paying tuition to the University to work for us for free. I still don’t know whether that makes more sense or less. Anyway, I give each of ’em a thousand dollars at the end, and tell them not to tell anyone, especially Tim. So far I guess none of ’em have.

* * *

I almost never go out for breakfast. Of course, I like it here. And one of my favorite times here is in the morning. And I can eat exactly what I want for breakfast exactly how I like it fixed right here. But, sometimes I like to get out. One day a few months ago I went downtown for breakfast.

Just after I’m served—as I’m about to start eating—a kid sits down at my table. He looks like a freshman. I hope he is, for his sake. I’m waiting for him to explain himself; to say that we’re somehow cousins, or that his daddy played for me. Instead, he just says he’s read both of my books, and that he really liked them.

I try to say thank you, but before I can get it out he asks me if I ever changed my works-based view of salvation. I say, What does that mean? He says that in my first book I said I hoped to be counted righteous on account of the good things I’ve done having outweighed the bad.

He tells me that’s a works-based view of salvation. I want to tell him that whatever his preacher or his daddy—and I’m thinking they’re one and the same—taught him to believe doesn’t mean he knows anything about the life I’ve lived or how that life looks to my Maker. I want to tell him he really knows nothing about salvation because he’s never known desperation.

But, I can tell he means well. He’s just a kid. And the quickest way to get rid of him is not to play his game. So I let him talk.

He tells me that God’s standard is perfection, and that no one can meet that standard. Because no one can meet that standard, and because the wages of sin is death, God required someone to pay the penalty for sin. God chose his own Son for this role, and his Son willingly gave himself as the sacrifice to pay that penalty. He tells me the way to be counted righteous is to place my faith not in my own works, but in the work done by Jesus.

He invites me to church, of course. He goes to one I’ve never heard of. He asks if I know where it is, and I should say yes—but I tell the truth. So he gives me directions in detail. It’s basically in a trailer park. He asks me if I’m gonna give his church a try. Now I’m wondering if maybe the kid himself is the preacher. I don’t want to lie straight to his face, so I tell him that I’m not interested. To my surprise, he accepts this—doesn’t bother him a bit. He gets up, says he’ll be praying for me, and then he walks out.

I went out for breakfast again a couple weeks ago. I went to the same place. I guess that wasn’t smart. I wasn’t thinking about him. I wasn’t looking out for him. And, he does the same damn thing. Sits down right as I’m about to start eating. I give him an unfriendly look. I try to tell him without saying it that I don’t want to hear another sermon.

He gets the message, and says he has a different question for me. He wants to know whether the incident with the Florida State student on our team bus happened more like I tell it in the first book or more like I tell it in the second.

I don’t even remember that the story is in both books, let alone how the two are different. Before I can say anything, he lays out for me how the stories differ. The only thing that gets my attention is that in the first book I don’t say that I put my hands on the guy, and in the second book I yank him off the bus.

The truth is I don’t remember. I tell him that. He tells me something about someone he knows doing research on cognitive reconstruction, and how he knows memory is a fluid thing or whatever. I’m about to tell him I want to eat my breakfast alone when he leaves same as the last time. Says he’ll keep praying for me. I want to tell him not to bother, but I just stick eggs in my mouth.

So I get to the studio one day last week, and Tim puts a piece of paper in front of me on the desk. Tim picks the interns. I trust him to get kids who deserve the opportunity and will make something of it. I don’t know who they are until their first day. But, this time—for whatever reason—he shows me this piece of paper. And, right there he is. I’m somehow not surprised. It’s how things go sometimes.

I point at the kid. “No.” Tim is surprised, of course, and asks why not. I tell him about the first breakfast and the second breakfast. Tim just laughs and says the kid’s daddy played for me. “What!” I look at the name again.

“Hell, he didn’t play for me.”

Tim knows I didn’t mean that. Everyone knows kickers are different. I wish I’d learned earlier just how it is they’re different. He’s not a lineman or a defensive back. Once a kicker proves to himself that he’s your best kicker, he has nothing to prove to you. Not a damn thing. He wants you to believe in him whether you’ve got reason to or not. And, you better do it, if you want him to save your ass. Anyway, if you ever need a kicker, it’s your own damn fault. All the same, I tell Tim I will not have this kid pestering me for nine months. I tell him to find somebody else.

That brings us to last night. Nancy wanted us to meet some friends downtown for drinks. She knows I don’t want to. I know she doesn’t ask me to do much. Still, sometimes I say no, and sometimes I say yes. I have my reasons. That’s not complicated.

From our table I notice a guy at the bar. He’s maybe 25. He’s a little under-dressed, but he’s completely relaxed. He’s drinking liquor.

After maybe 20 minutes, a young woman walks in. You can just feel every eye in the place train on her. She’s beautiful. I mean stunning. She’s dressed and made up for Fifth Avenue. And she walks right to the bar and sits down next to the under-dressed guy.

They talk just a couple minutes—not long at all—and then she turns to walk out. As she’s walking to the door, the guy unloads an incredible string of profanities at her. I mean just awful. He says everything you could imagine. He’s got a big voice—so he’s not even yelling. He doesn’t have to. He’s almost calmly saying these things, and I bet you could hear him outside.

It’s mostly just a string of cussing, but I caught something about how nothing will ever change who her daddy was. And, all of it is building up to him calling her—you know, he calls her something most folks won’t say. He timed it to hit her with that right as she got to the door. I mean he really drives it home.

So my impulse is to get up. I don’t know whether I’m gonna knock this guy out or try to talk sense to him. I don’t know. I just feel myself starting to get up, but Nancy puts her hand on my leg. She looks at me. She isn’t saying, don’t go. It’s more, just wait a second. So I do. I look back at the bar, and the bar tender is in the guy’s face, saying something quietly. Then the guy leaves. That’s maybe worse. Now he might chase her down. I want to make sure he doesn’t. Nancy tightens her grip. I have to let it go. I have to let someone else handle this. So I sit there. I try not to think about it.

We get home, and Nancy and I talk in my kitchen for a little while. I don’t have to tell her anything. She knows me. We talk more about our friends. Jerry has bought some land to plant a vineyard. Does that mean he’s losing his sense—that kind of thing. I kiss her goodnight and go to my room.

I sat on the side of the bed for a minute. I know what I saw. I have never in my life talked like that to any woman. I never would. But, I saw something of myself in that guy at the bar. Not myself now, but myself at that age.

I used to love seeing players grow up. Some of them could do it the first two weeks of camp. Some it took four or five years. They go from kids to men. It’s incredible. The game is worthless if it can’t do that. And it doesn’t do it as much anymore.

I’ve gone through another change, in the last 20 years. I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know what did it. Maybe the divorce. Maybe nothing like that. Maybe I was always gonna be different when I got to this age. Maybe something completely outside of me has changed me. I’ve thought about that before.

This morning I put on a fairly nice pair of pants. I drove toward town, but stayed on Wire Road till I got to Webster Road; drove into where the trailer parks are. I found a place that looked about like a machine shop with an office attached. I walked across the gravel to the door, where a little man—he looks maybe 60—welcomes me to West Auburn Baptist Church.

Follow Josh Dowdy on Twitter @heartofauburn. His latest book, True to the Story: Southern Reflections with Gospel Connections, is available on Amazon.

from The War Eagle Reader

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