Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Parham aces it

Having spent a few relaxing days in Morehead City on the kindness of friends with an empty cottage, I return enriched from an unexpected source. The cottage, you see, was bereft of links to the external world. No house phone (although that meant nothing given the cell phones my wife and I both have), no Internet (which was fine because I would have ended up doing some work when I really needed to just play) and no television (well, there was one but no cable and no antenna).

I guess my friends don't want their three kids, all under 10, to spend summer days in front of the idiot box. There was a VCR on the premises but aside from the few children's videos (the ones we brought and the ones there), it went unused. (Try to find a video store that actually rents videos these days! Mission impossible!)

Searching for reading material the first evening we were there, I saw a bright green-colored cover of a paperback sitting on the night stand. I had intended to pick up the hardbound copy of "Maravich," after realizing "In Utero" was a just a collection of sheet music of songs from the Nirvana album of the same name. But the lime green caught my eye, as I'm sure it was intended to do, and I picked up the book and was delighted to see it was Tom Parham's memoirs, of sorts, "Play Is Where Life Is."

If you don't know, Parham was formerly the head tennis coach at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College and his Bulldogs won the 1979 NAIA championship. They tied for the 1984 NAIA championship and were the only national titles won by the school until Anthony Atkinson and the men's basketball team won the 2007 NCAA Division II crown.

Parham, who played basketball at AC back in the 1960s, moved onto Elon College and won a national championship there, too. But he spent many years in Wilson (26, I think) and he left an impression here that will never fade. Parham, who also served as AC athletic director, was part of the social scene here when tennis was the most popular game in town in the 1970s.

Given my brief first-hand experience with him and being aware of his reputation for mirth, I knew it would be a good read. Parham divided his book into two parts — the first was a rambling autobiography of sorts, divided by the different towns in which he spent significant time; the second, which I didn't get to, is a treatise on tennis.

I was, at first, just interested in the Wilson part so I flipped ahead to that chapter, which I believe is the longest in the book. He didn't miss mentioning many of his cohorts and I found most of his stories to be either very amusing, laugh-out-loud funny or still-get-a-chuckle-3-days-later funny.

His style is, as I said, rambling and chock-full of typos which almost seemed to be intentional. The impact is like sitting at a bar, listening to story after story because, as he points out, people in one's life are stories. I would agree with that because everyone has a story or 3 and as you go through life you learn about them when you come across someone.

I was so taken by the Wilson chapter, I read the ones on his youth in, at first, Madison then Robbins. After re-reading the Wilson chapter, I continued on with the one on Elon, which is now Div. I Elon University.

I know that some folks were bound to have cringed when they read their names in the book but something tells me nobody will be sore with Parham for putting their exploits in there. Good lord, he told enough on himself to balance it out.

I don't think this book is for everyone and the language and content veer wildly to the crude end (although being a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson, I'm hardly complaining, just pointing out) at times. It's also like a long-running inside joke but I think Parham succeeds by making the reader feel a part of it. Still, there's some stuff that only a Wilsonian with open ears and eyes will get.

So I missed the All-Star Game, the Home-Run Derby and 116 hours of SportsCenter as well as 4 days of e-mail, but there's nothing like being on vacation with a good book!

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