Following my meeting with Sandy and Maya Bedrossian the afternoon after I got famous on Facebook, I went outside, where Jacob was already waiting for me.
So were Ethan and the crew…although I didn’t know why they were filming on Thursdays when they usually did that earlier in the week.
“We’ll get some coverage of your baseball lesson,” he said, “and then it seems Maya wants some more footage of you in the pool. We’ll probably turn it into two segments for the next show.”
I was a little ticked off that Ethan broke in before I had a chance to say hello to Jacob, but I was getting to know Ethan…and getting to know that, in the Sharpman house, the show came first.
“Can you do something different with Jacob this time,” Ethan asked. “We’ve seen enough pop flies.”
Although me and Jacob had tossed plenty of baseballs back and forth, he’s never made a diving catch yet…and they’re a necessary fielding skill. You have to learn how to land without hurting yourself and how to get back up to make a throw. It was maybe a little advanced for Jacob, but it’s never too early to start to learn something useful like that. One thing I decided when I started tutoring kids in baseball was that I wanted to make good fielders out of them, and not just good hitters.
I reckoned the lesson would look good on film, too.
And then I realized that I was thinking in terms of the show and not in terms of teaching. It’s scary how easily that happened.
So I introduced Jacob to diving catches, and he took to it immediately. I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about getting dirty – some kids are a little touchy about that, and I’ve only seen Jacob in clean clothes – but he seemed to like that, too. I got to demonstrate and get dirty too, and Ethan said the segment was terrific…and would I please get into my boardshorts so they could get more film of me in the pool.
We didn’t do anything too original in the water, although I was less distracted than I was the last time and was able to keep track of the stopwatch. Interestingly, Jacob turned in a new personal best for freestyle laps even with the cameras watching and the microphones pointed at the pool. Then I got in the pool and, at Ethan’s suggestion, we played a couple rounds of Marco Polo. I’m afraid I was guilty of thinking of the show some more when I was the Marco and I thought it would look cute if the kid outsmarted the teacher.
Sure enough, with Ethan’s prompting, Jacob pulled himself out of the pool and left me looking like, well, as he’d put it, left me looking retarded. We all got a laugh out of it, though, and Ethan said it would look great on film.
Then it was time to send Jacob upstairs and so I could have my hour’s workout with Matteo.
I dried myself off and ducked into the pool house to put on a fresh Body Armour tshirt and basketball shorts that I brought with me, knowing that I was gonna be filmed working with Matteo. (It was a good thing, too – the clothes I’d worn to teach Jacob diving catches were ready for the washing machine.) I then reported to the gym to wait for Matteo.
He showed up, 5 minutes late of course, dressed in a big baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants that were all wrong for working out on an almost 100° day in the SGV.
“Oh good,” he said, “the new heartthrob has time for me after all.”
“Where’d you get that name?”
“It’s on your blog. Besides, isn’t it better than Baseball Boy?”
“You read altogether too much stuff online that you shouldn’t be reading. My blog isn’t for boys your age.”
“I know all the words you use,” he said, “and I skipped over all the stuff about girls. I skipped over the stuff about the Dodgers too.” I wasn’t sure how much that left lol. But I wish you hadn’t called me the fat kid. Even if that’s who I am.”
“Did I do that?”
“Yeah, before you met me though. You and Keaton were talking about how you treated the kids who got picked last. You admit you bullied them some…”
“Bullied is a strong word, and, like I think I wrote, Dad turned me around on that real fast. He even taught me that, when I was team captain, I should pick some of the kids who didn’t usually get picked. I didn’t always do that – I wanted to be on a team that won – but I did it sometimes. Hey, kids can be jerk…” I stopped myself.
“I know ‘jerkoff’ is a word, even if I’m probably not supposed to use it.”
“Well…kids can be mean.”
“Is that story about Keaton true, the one where he says he beat up a kid who made fun of a kid who kept being picked last?”
“Probably. It’s the kind of thing he would do.”
“Hey, I just thought of something. He could be your bodyguard to keep away the paparazzi!”
I burst out laughing, hearing Keaton in my head going off on how that would probably be the gayest thing in the history of the world. I couldn’t quite explain that to Matteo, so I said that I could probably take care of myself with the paparazzi…and that there probably won’t be any paparazzi in the first place.
“The question is why are you wearing that?,” I asked, indicating his sweats. “You should be in something light and comfortable…”
“This is what Ethan brought me to put on. Mom’s idea. She obviously doesn’t want me looking like…like what I look like. At least not until I start losing the weight.”
This was the same Maya who told me that she didn’t want any film of Matteo in the pool. Still, I wondered, if his losing weight was going to be the next big thing on the show, why weren’t they letting him appear as he is…which isn’t all that fat in the first place?
So I got down on the mat with Matteo and we did some of the stretches from the Beverly Hills Institute of Bullshit workout plan. Matteo is totally not flexible, like he could barely touch his knees when he bent over, so, looking at the bright side, maybe all those complicated stretches will help him. There’s nothing wrong with being limber.
Then the TV cameras barged in on us and got a lot of film of Matteo doing his workout with the gym equipment. It’s not like they have him using huge amounts of weight or anything, and I gotta give him credit for doing what I asked him to do, but he did it like a total martyr. I suspected he was making it look harder than it was for the TV audience, but that’s Matteo in sarcasm mode. Don’t get me wrong: I like the kid. But his sarcastic side is sometimes hard to take.
And meanwhile there I was, feeling like a totally gayass personal trainer. I told y’all when I was working with Lucas that I’m not an expert in strength and conditioning, and, with Matteo, I’m only following the instructions I was given. I reckon I can count out reps as well as the next guy, but I didn’t get into this to be a personal trainer…and I hoped that that wouldn’t be the impression people would get when they saw this segment on the show.
After about 15 minutes the crew left and we finished our workout, which we did more easily than when the cameras were there. That may be a big difference between Jacob and Matteo: Jacob seems to like being on camera. Then I said:
“You’ve promised and put it off again how many times? You’re gonna get into a pair of boardshorts and you’re gonna get in the pool, and I’m not leaving today until you do. C”mon, dude, the cameras are gone, Jacob’s upstairs, no one’s watching…give it a shot. You may like it again. I understand you used to like swimming.”
“That was a long time ago. Before…”
“Before I stopped appearing in public in a bathing suit.”
“That’s bullshit.” That slipped out, but it’s what I was feeling. “And you know it. Who made you so afraid of appearing in a bathing suit? I know people a lot heavier than you who put on swimsuits. I’ve got a buddy who weighs in at around 275#…and he goes to pool parties.”
“Do I know him from the blog?”
“Maybe not. You said you don’t read the baseball parts. He’s on my softball team. He doesn’t get embarrassed…and that’s with people watching. Nobody’s watching here. C’mon, I’ll go upstairs with you…so you can’t welsh on your promise again.”
That may have seemed like a little much, but Matteo clearly had some bigass issue and I was flying blind trying to fix it.
So I walked upstairs with him and stood in the hallway outside his room while he changed. He came out the door in a bathrobe and flip flops, looking real unsure of himself, which isn’t how Matteo usually looks. He usually has on his tough sarcastic exterior.
“You ok waiting here while I change back into my boardshorts?,” I asked when we got outside. Just in case Matteo couldn’t still swim, I wanted to be in the water with him. “Don’t run away on me.”
“I won’t,” he said, as he took a seat on the end of one of the chairs by the pool.
I changed back into my still wet boardshorts real fast anyway, since I didn’t want Matteo to change his mind after I got him this far. He was still on the deck chair when I came out of the pool house. I found a kickboard sitting around in a closet by the pool a while ago, and I had it out and ready for Matteo to use, just in case. I let myself in the shallow end and looked expectantly at my pupil.
“Now or never,” I said.
“Never,” he answered. “You sure you wanna see this?”
“Dude, what’s there to see that’s so terrible? So you don’t have a 6-pack. Big deal.”
He stood up and very slowly took off his robe. Underneath he had on a pair of deep red boardshorts and he looked…
…entirely fine. Really. Yeah, he looked a little heavy, but he is a little heavy. That wasn’t a surprise.
“Dude, you look fine. We could have the cameras here and it would be no big deal.”
“You’re just saying that,” Matteo said. “You know I’m a fat kid and you know my parents have me on a diet and exercise program…and this is part of that.”
“Actually it isn’t,” I said. “I just wanna get you in the pool and see if you can’t have some fun in the water. Do you think you still remember how to swim? I’ve got a kickboard if you want something to hold onto…”
“I remember. At least I think I remember. Well,” he said, actually stepping onto the first step and getting his feet wet, “we’ll find out. If I drown, that’ll solve a lot of problems for everyone.”
“Dude,” I said, “stop it with that kind of talk. It’s not funny.” It’s hard not to think of Travis when I hear of someone who even jokes about killing himself. “And just get in the pool. The water’s great.”
It was kinda weird, like I was giving a swimming lesson to a little kid only I didn’t really know how to give swimming lessons. I gotta admit I was getting frustrated too, and thought about pulling him down off the steps and seeing what happened. But then I thought that wasn’t something Matteo would enjoy…even if it would have done him a lot of good.
Finally he was in the water…and, yeah, big surprise, he remembered how to swim. He had no trouble floating, and, even if he dog paddled more than swam to the deep end, he got there. (Yeah, don’t worry y’all, I was there every stroke of the way. I may not have swum competitively, but I did take a lifesaving course. I even lifeguarded a few times as a very brief summer job.)
I wanted Matteo to play some in the water and get some exercise that way, but I wasn’t sure how to get him to do it. While I never thought twice about dunking Jacob under water, I wasn’t sure about Matteo…especially as this was the first time he’d been in the water in like 4 or 5 years. We swam back to the shallow end where I thought he might have an easier time of splashing around.
“I reckon you don’t need the kickboard.”
“Of course I don’t. I’m not that retarded.”
Then – to my surprise – he splashed me. So I splashed back.
And he laughed. A little, but he laughed. Like he was having fun. I just hoped nobody was watching or they’d have ruined it.
I got out the ball Ethan had found for me and Jacob and we tossed that back and forth some. Then I swam him to the deep end and back again. It may not sound like much, but I realized that it was probably pretty huge for Matteo. I mean…I finally got the kid in the water. That was my achievement for the day. It even made me forget that I was an overnight Facebook sensation.
“Was that so bad?,” I asked him once we were drying off on some of the pool furniture. There are enough chairs out there to seat at least a dozen people.
“I guess not,” he said. “And at least we know I can swim. Well…some…”
“Yeah, well…you’re not winning any Olympic medals swimming the way you do now, but this was, what?, your first time in how many years?”
“4,” he said. “I remember exactly when I stopped appearing in a bathing suit in public. I was 5. It’s something I heard a friend of Mom’s say, because she thought she was fat. Actually she was kinda fat. I just liked the way it sounded. And it was a good explanation. That I stuck to. I can be stubborn when I want.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” I said. For a kid who’s so good at sarcasm, I was surprised he missed mine lol.
“But what made you want to repeat what that lady said? You were a little boy. And they told me you enjoyed swimming when you were learning.”
“Yeah, I did enjoy it.”
“So you stopped swimming because of what that lady said? Dude…you were 5. Why were you listening to what women were saying about their bodies in the first place?”
“I couldn’t put my fingers in my ears and not hear it, could I?”
Ok, maybe he had a point. That just goes to show that people really need to be careful what they say when kids are around. I had a suspicion that there was a little more to it, too…although I wasn’t sure what I should say that would get him to keep opening up. So I just stayed quiet and let him talk.
“Ok…so it was Dad.”
“He was the one who said the thing that made me stop appearing in a bathing suit in public.”
I really wanted to know what it was that Matteo’s dad said, but I also didn’t want to ruin the moment. He looked a little like he was fixin to cry again, and I didn’t want to be responsible for that. Then – there was a lot going through my head at this point, although I was excited that Matteo was trusting me like this – I thought that it might be painful for Matteo to repeat something that had so bothered him when his dad had said it.
So I decided to shut the fuck up and let Matteo talk if he wanted to in his own good time.
I reckon that was the right thing, because Matteo finally said:
“Ok, I’ll tell you. He said ‘look at Matteo – he looks like he swallowed a basketball’ in front of a whole bunch of people who were here out by the pool.”
Well…at least I had my answer. And, yeah, it made me want to go and punch Robert Sharpman in the face for it. I’m sure he thought he was being hilarious when he said it…but look at the effect it had on his own son, an effect that was still going on 4 years later. You can see how badly that fucked with the kid’s head, although I didn’t know what to say. You can’t tell a 9 year old boy that his dad’s a jerkoff, even if his dad was a jerkoff…and is probably still a jerkoff given everything he’s doing with Matteo’s exercise program and diet and shit. And I didn’t think I could just say ‘dude, you should be over it by now’, because he obviously wasn’t.
So I settled for:
“Thanks for telling me,” I said. “Do you feel any better? Meemaw always says that things aren’t so bad when you share them with someone else.”
“My grandmother. That’s what I call her. It’s a Southern thing.”
“Oh. I call my grandma ‘grandma’ – that’s Mom’s mother. Dad’s mom died when I was little. Which grandma is your meemaw?”
“Dad’s mom,” I explained. “So what did you think of the pool?”
“But you did it. And it turns out you can swim.”
“I bet I looked pretty retarded in there.”
“We gotta work on it, but that’s what I’m here for.”
“I thought you were here to teach Jacob to get better at baseball.”
“I’m here to get you both better at baseball.”
“You know that’s not true and that you’re here to put the fat kid through his exercise program.”
“I’ll make a ball player of you yet,” I said. “The most important part is we’ve heard the last of ‘I don’t appear in a bathing suit in public’. That’s bull…nonsense, and now you’ve proven it.”
“Well…maybe not on the TV show yet, but, ok, if it’s just you I’ll appear in a bathing suit.”
“That’s a huge step forward, dude,” I said, going to high-five him. He was surprised at first, and then he missed my hand. Then I remembered something I read in a magazine somewhere.
“There’s a great trick for high-fiving someone and not missing.”
“Looks like I need to know it. What’s the secret?”
“Look at the other dude’s elbow. Sounds weird, I know. But it works every time. Watch.”
Lucky for me, the trick really does work.
“Ready to go upstairs?,” I asked.
“Yeah. Thanks, Hunter.” He high-fived me again and headed back into the house.
I had a Dodger game to watch, so I went back into the pool house to change.