Thanking the Linemen Josh Lefkowitz
When Barry Sanders rushed for over two thousand yards, he bought each of his offensive linemen a $60,000 Rolex. Warren Moon used to take his linemen to Hawaii. Tom Brady has purchased his many linemen a variety of gifts, including an Audi Q7 SUV one year, and another time, a pair of Ugg boots. (“Dear Giselle,” I imagine one of the linemen writing in his thank-you note, “thank you for the lovely pair of Uggs…”). It’s a tradition – or rather, an idea – I fully support: that the glory may fall to the flashy, speedy running back who zigs and zags into the end zone, or the handsome quarterback with well-coiffed hair, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifice of five burly linemen throwing their enormous bodies against the blitzes of opposing defenders. I, having recently turned forty, took a look around at my life and realized I was happy. I didn’t want to jinx the damn thing – I knew there was still grief and struggle to come – but I was feeling a certain sense of accomplishment; if you’ll allow me, I felt I had reached the end zone and wanted to celebrate. Moreover, I wanted to acknowledge the linemen who had helped me achieve this moment, and take them out for a fancy meal. But who were the linemen? Who had sacrificed themselves so that I could make it to here? My first thought, as it often is, was Jackie, my long-time partner of many years. But of course, Jackie herself was the end zone – by which I mean my life with Jackie had been the goal all along. So it was my past relationships, really, who I needed to thank. But I didn’t like the idea of arranging a big thank you dinner with all of my previous girlfriends; just planning the seating arrangements was enough to give me a headache. My parents, of course, were likely candidates: they had birthed me into this world, swaddled me as a baby, even turned my infant head regularly while sleeping to create “such a round, smooth cranium” as Jackie liked to say. Plus they’d provided food and shelter, and bought me clothes from The Gap. And yet, if I’m being honest, it was much more complicated than that. Sure, in a number of situations my parents were the O-Line, but in other moments they – or rather, their influence, or beliefs – were the D-Line, and the very obstacles I needed to dodge or avoid or outrun. To that end, my therapist seemed due for a lineman-like gift. I could treat him to a steak dinner – but hadn’t my years’ worth of weekly checks paid for several steak dinners already? Ultimately, I realized there were too many people to thank; practically every person who had crossed my life’s path had helped in some way. The guy who got me high for the first time, then drove us to 7-11 and let me loose inside; my California Aunt; my high school acting teacher; that girl from summer camp who’d whispered “you’re great”; on and on the list went. All of these people had helped me, and yet I wondered, had I ever truly been a lineman for another? I was thinking about all this in line, as it were, at CVS, waiting for the cashier to finish with his customer, when another cashier at a counter further down opened up and called out “Next” and the woman behind me in line began to dash over to him. “Excuse me,” I said, then paused and added, “y’know what, that’s okay – I’m not in a rush,” and so allowed the woman to jump in front of me. A scrum of a play, maybe half-a-yard pickup at best, but no fumbles and no injuries meant it wasn’t the worst outcome; at the very least, there’d be another chance to move the chains.