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The Secret Life of Kirk Ferentz

A vague and mild-mannered man drives into Cedar Rapids, Iowa with his wife for their regular weekly shopping and his wife's visit to the beauty parlor.

David Banks

"We're going to go for it!" The Head Coach's voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his new Hawkeye jacket, with the collar turned up rakishly to cover his neck, James Dean style. "We can't make it, sir. Their front line is just too massive if you ask me." "I'm not asking you, Davis," said the Head Coach. "Squad Right, Z-Foil, X Trap! We're running this bastard right down their throats! We're going through!" The pounding of his heart confirmed to him he was in the right. The Head Coach stared at the fog created by his breath; it was no more than 20 degrees, if that and he never felt so warm. Just before he took off his headphones to ensure there would be no turning back he blurted out, "Silent count! Just like the Battle of Trenton." "Silent count!" repeated Coordinator Davis. The crew, knowing this was the moment that would decide the game collectively put hands on knees and stared out through the cold to watch history unfold. "The old man is back" one assistant said to another. "The Old Man ain't afraid of Hell!" . . .

"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Ferentz. "What are you driving so fast for?"

"Hmm?" said Kirk Ferentz. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. "You were up to fifty-five," she said. "You know I don't like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five." Kirk Ferentz drove on toward Cedar Rapids in silence, the whistle of the head referee to resume play fading in the remote intimate gridiron of his mind.

"You're tensed up again," said Mrs. Ferentz. "It's one of your days. I wish you'd let Dr. Vandenberg look you over."

Kirk Ferentz stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have her hair done. "Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done," she said. "I don't need overshoes," said Ferentz. She put her mirror back into her bag. "We've been all through that," she said, getting out of the car. "You're not a young man any longer." He raced the engine a little. "Why don't you wear your gloves? Have you lost your gloves?" Kirk Ferentz reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven on to a red light, he took them off again. "Pick it up, brother!" snapped a cop as the light changed, and Ferentz hastily pulled on his gloves and lurched ahead. He drove around the streets aimlessly for a time, and then he drove past a John Deere dealership on his way to the parking lot.

. . . "It's the pesticides billionaire, Dennis Albaugh," said the university employee. "Yes?" said Kirk Ferentz, removing his gloves slowly. "Who working him?" "Trustee Davis and of course Gary Barta, but there are two big shots from the law school here as well, Professor Stevens and Dean Lippet. Dean Lippet flew in from an international law conference in Berlin just for the meeting." A door opened down a long, cool corridor and Trustee Davis came out. He looked distraught and haggard. "Hello, Ferentz," he said. "We're having the devil's own time with Albaugh, the pesticides billionaire. He just won't give a penny. Wish you'd talk to him." "Glad to," said Ferentz. In the room there was Albaugh wearing a cardinal and gold striped tie, drinking a soda and engrossed in his smartphone: "Mr. Ferentz. Dean Lippet." "I just finshed reading your book on motivation in the age of social media," said Dean Lippet, shaking hands. "A brilliant analysis, sir." "Thank you," said Kirk Ferentz. "Didn't know you had that in you, Ferentz," grumbled Stevens. "You don't need any help on this one, but thank you for allowing us to join in." "You are being too kind," said Ferentz. "He's in the Cyclone Ring of Honor. They'll not get a penny from this dude," whispered one Barta intern to another. "His son-in-law is on staff in Ames and half his family..." "Quiet, man!" said Ferentz, in a low, cool voice. He pulled from his breast pocket a small notebook. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped. Someone handed him a fountain pen. He wrote for what felt like an hour but it was only a minute. "Albaugh," he said. "We've never met have we?" Dennis Albaugh looked up from his phone to see Ferentz but a few inches from his person. "No. No, we haven't," said Albaugh nervously. Ferentz looked him right in the eyes and smiled. "You know, Aldous Huxley once said men don't learn very much from the lessons of history, and that's the most important history lesson of all," he said. He took the soda from Albaugh's hand and motioned to a chair. "Have a seat Dennis. It's time to plan your place in history..."

"Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!" Kirk Ferentz jammed on the brakes. "Wrong lane, Mac," said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Ferentz closely. "Gee. Yeh," muttered Ferentz. He began cautiously to back out of the lane marked "Exit Only." "Leave her sit there," said the attendant. "I'll put her away." Ferentz got out of the car. "Hey, better leave the key." "Oh," said Ferentz, handing the man the ignition key. The attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it where it belonged.

They're so damn cocky, thought Kirk Ferentz, walking along Main Street; they think they know everything. Once he had tried to take his chains off, outside Coralville, and he had got them wound around the axles. A man had had to come out in a wrecking car and unwind them, a young, grinning garageman. Since then Mrs. Ferentz always made him drive to the garage to have the chains taken off. The next time, he thought, I'll wear my right arm in a sling; they won't grin at me then. I'll have my right arm in a sling and they'll see I couldn't possibly take the chains off myself. He kicked at the slush on the sidewalk. "Overshoes," he said to himself, and he began looking for a shoe store.

When he came out into the street again, with the overshoes in a box under his arm, Kirk Ferentz began to wonder what the other thing was his wife had told him to get. She had told him, twice, before they set out from their house for Cedar Rapids. In a way he hated these weekly trips up north -- he was always getting something wrong. Kleenex, he thought, bubblegum, razor blades? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, cardorundum, initiative and referendum? He gave it up. But she would remember it. "Where's the what's-its-name," she would ask. "Don't tell me you forgot the what's-its-name." A newsboy went by shouting something about a trial.

. . . "Perhaps this will refresh your memory." The District Attorney suddenly thrust a photo of a moped at the quiet figure on the witness stand. "Have you ever seen this before?" Kirk Ferentz took the picture and examined it expertly. "This is a Piaggio Typhoon 125," he said calmly. An excited buzz ran around the courtroom. The Judge rapped for order. "Your star player, Tyler Beckford, the quarterback, is able to ride one of these, I believe?" said the District Attorney, insinuatingly. "Objection!" shouted Ferentz's attorney. "We have shown that the defendant has no arrest record, not even a parking ticket to his name. He is a law abiding citizen and promotes such behavior to his family, his staff and of course his players!" Kirk Ferentz raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. "With any known make and model of scooter with a 125cc engine," he said evenly, "A skilled rider can easily have made it through any yellow light from as far as 100 feet out. It is not even a question worth debating." Pandemonium broke loose in the courtroom. A woman's scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired woman was sobbing with relief in Kirk Ferentz's arms. It was Marissa Beckford, mother of the quarterback. The District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without rising from his chair, Ferentz let the man have it with the point of his chin. "You miserable cur!" . . .

"Puppy biscuit," said Kirk Ferentz. He stopped walking and the buildings of Cedar Rapids rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him again. A woman who was passing laughed. "He said 'Puppy biscuit'," she said to her companion. "That man said 'Puppy biscuit' to himself." Kirk Ferentz hurried on. He went into a Hy-Vee, not the first one he came to but a smaller one farther up the street. "I want some biscuit for small, young dogs," he said to the clerk. "Any special brand, sir?" The greatest scooter rider in the world thought a moment. "It says 'Puppies Bark for It' on the box," said Kirk Ferentz.

His wife would be through at the hairdresser's in fifteen minutes, Ferentz saw in looking at his watch, unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes they had trouble drying it. She didn't like to get to the mall first; she would want him to be there waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather chair in the lobby, facing a window, and he put the overshoes and the puppy biscuit on the floor beside it. He picked up an old copy of ESPN The MAGAZINE on the coffee table in front of him and sank down into the chair. "Can Ohio State Win The Title Through the Air?" Kirk Ferentz looked at the pictures.

. . . "The weather forecast is perfect for our horizontal passing game, sir," said the young assistant. Coach Ferentz looked up at him through tousled hair. "Leave me the weather report," he said wearily. "By the way, we're running it today." "But you can't, sir," said the assistant anxiously. "They lead the nation in run defense. Their front line has two first rounders and they have the reigning Butkus Award winner." "Well, somebody's got to remind them of the history of this game called football," said Ferentz. "It may as well be us. Spot of brandy?" He poured a drink for the assistant and one for himself. Thunder clapped around them and wind battered the windows. "Sounds like football weather," said Coach Ferentz. "But the report is clear. It says it will pass well before kickoff. There is pure calm right behind this front," said the assistant. "We only live once, young man," said Ferentz with his faint, fleeting smile. "Or do we?" He poured another brandy and tossed it off. "I've never seen a man that could hold his brandy like you, sir," said the assistant. "Begging your pardon, sir." Coach Ferentz stood up and strapped on the belt for his headphones. "It's only forty kilometers away sir. The calm weather is just over there," said the assistant pointing westerly. Ferentz finished one last brandy. "That's nice," he said softly, "the fans will appreciate it." The pounding of the thunder decreased; there was only a slight rat-tat-tatting on the windows, and in the distance for the first time in days was a bright shock of sunshine. Kirk Ferentz walked to the door humming "I gotta a feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night." He turned and waved to the assistant. "Assemble the team! Time for chat." he said. . .

Something struck his shoulder. "I've been looking all over this mall for you," said Mrs. Ferentz. "Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?" "Things close in," said Kirk Ferentz vaguely. "What?" Mrs. Ferentz said. "Did you get the what's-its-name? The puppy biscuit? What's in that box?" "Overshoes," said Ferentz. "Couldn't you have put them on in the store?" "I was thinking," said Kirk Ferentz. "Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" She looked at him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said.

They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling sound when you pushed them. It was two blocks to the parking lot. At the drugstore on the corner she said, "Wait here for me. I forgot something. I won't be a minute." She was more than a minute. Kirk Ferentz pulled out some Bubble Yum. It began to rain, rain with sleet in it. He stood up against the wall of the drugstore, chewing.

. . . He put his shoulders back and his heels together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Kirk Ferentz scornfully. He took one last bite on a large piece of bubblegum and then threw it to the curb. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he stepped up the mic to face the media; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Kirk Ferentz the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.