I Worry About The Coach

by Steve Bernstein

The same week the young soccer team got stuck in those caves in Thailand, our government was putting kids in cages over here. Cages here, caves there. I had a feeling the cave kids would be okay.

Along with the rescue teams, the people of Thailand joined forces, cooking food, washing clothes, supplying transportation and doing whatever they could. The world was pulling for this young soccer team. I felt a little hopeful.

But I worry about this young coach. A diver lost his life trying to rescue the kids. I wonder how much guilt the coach is walking around with? How’s life going to be for him? He encouraged the team to explore the caves. The kids’ parents reached out and consoled him. No blame. They understood.

The whole thing threw me back.

It was 1968. South Bronx. July. I was fourteen. It was hot. Real hot. I was out in the street and went into the bodega to buy a cold soda. Pappo, the owner’s kid, came up to me and asked “Yo bro, you got that big wrench to open up the hydrant? “Nah man,” I said, “Wish I did.”

Being the only white kid on the block, I needed some street cred. One of those credentials was that I had that special know-how to open up the fire hydrants with my old man’s big ass monkey wrench. Opening that hydrant was our version of making a swimming pool out of the street, giving us kids a way to cool off. Even though it was only six inches deep and trash and dog shit was floating around, we didn’t care. It was wet and the water that streamed out of the hydrant was cold and hard. Refreshing.

But my old man wasn’t around, neither was his plumbing van that had the wrench. So I said to Pappo, “I got another idea. I know this little place under the old High Bridge where we can jump in the river and swim around and cool off.” Me, Pappo and his two buddies walked the few blocks up the E. L. Grant Highway and I brought them to a little spot under the bridge where there were giant rocks holding up one of the supporting bridge pillars. I thought I was hot shit having this cool secret swimming hole nobody knew about.

It was me, Pappo and his two buddies that jumped in. Didn’t matter that the river was slimy, it was at least wet. It was me and Pappo’s two buddies that came out.

Pappo drowned. I didn’t know he couldn’t swim. I brought him there. I couldn’t save him. Even though his dad forgave me, just like those Thai parents forgave the coach, I’ve been carrying this guilt around with me for fifty years.

That’s why I worry about the young coach.

Steve Bernstein is a retired plumber who for over three decades has been a teacher and mentor for at-risk-teens as wall as an animal rights activist and humane educator. He recently self-published STORIES FROM THE STOOP, seven adventure stories from his colorful childhood growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s. He can be reached at stevebernsteinauthor@gmail.com.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *