Balboa Park - Cover

Balboa Park

by Jake Rivers

Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers

Romance Story: This is a story of a guy from Oklahoma who moves to San Francisco when he sees his girlfriend with another man. He meets a young Greek girl at a soccer match when he dumps a beer on her blouse. He has the pleasure of teaching her about Jazz.

Tags: Romance   Drama   Melodrama  

Author's Note:

Balboa Park soccer stadium is located along Interstate 280, just north of Geneva Avenue in San Francisco. It is a short walk from the Balboa Park BART Station. It has been a hotbed of Premier League Soccer in San Francisco for generations.

To make it clear, the two Chapters, Chapter Two—Life ... Here and There

andChapter Four—Summer of Love are time in the past and the other four Chapters are time

in the present (late 1967 and early 1968).

Chapter 1: Red Card Romance

"I loathed the game and since I could see no pleasure or usefulness in it, it was very difficult for me to show courage at it. Football, it seemed to me, is not really played for the pleasure of kicking a ball about, but is a species of fighting."

George Orwell, Such, Such Were the Joys

I was at Balboa stadium for my usual Sunday of soccer. It was warm for the early November day, but rain was forecast for later in the afternoon. The big match was between the Scots and the Greek Americans, at one o'clock. I grabbed a ham sandwich and a couple beers and walked up the ramp. These were the best sandwiches I'd ever found anywhere. The rolls were always fresh and the ham high quality. They had condiments but I liked it best with just plain ham and the roll.

I stood there for a minute trying to get a feel for the mood of the crowd. If the vibes felt right I enjoyed sitting on the front row, about six feet above the field. I would sit near one of the dugouts where I could listen to the guys talking on the bench and see the action up close and personal.

A lot of the players got to know me over time and I kinda came to be known as a neutral—that is, I wasn't into the ethnicity of the game. I mostly didn't care who won; I just loved hard-nosed, skillful fútbol, football or soccer, whatever they wanted to call it.

If the vibes were bad I would sit up on the top row, off to the side a bit. It gave me a safe spot to watch with a good overall view of the action ... safe being the key word here. Overriding my instincts, I sat down above the Scot's bench. I figured I could move at half time and be safe enough for any expected ensuing extra-curricular activities.

The game started typically enough for these two teams. Both teams regularly brought first-rate, young players from their home countries and put them to work in a network of restaurants, travel agencies and other small businesses. They would find them a place to stay, often with family members that preceded them, and give them a stipend for each game played.

The Scots typically played a hard-nosed defensive game with a tough, no-fear libero balanced by a young phenom up front who brought a grace and speed of play that Balboa rarely saw.

The libero, or sweeper, had free rein to run around the field and knock people over—he loved to take the best of opposing players out of the game. He was a stocky tank of a man with deceptive speed and a take-no-prisoners attitude. He defined the word pugnacious and was a man the fans loved to hate, with his fiery temper and equally fiery mop of red hair. After a few minutes of play he would turn bright red and his freckles could be seen from across the field. Adding an exclamation to this was his playing without his bridge showing this big hole where his two front teeth used to be.

Missing two front teeth on a child is a cute thing. Seeing this force of a defender charging at you with a committed intent of maiming you ... well, the missing teeth that made him look more than a little demented was not cute.

The Greeks played a disciplined passing game softened by the highly skilled players breaking out with great individual efforts. They had a young player, maybe in his early twenties, Theodoros Nikopolidis, who was a free kick specialist who was a wonder at getting off crosses into the box with pinpoint accuracy. Five minutes into the game, Teddy as he was known, put a low cross to the near post of the Scots, which was headed across to the far post for an easy chest-in giving the Greeks a quick one up lead.

I could see the Scottish libero looking fiercely at Teddy and I knew there was going to be trouble. I'd finished one of my beers and the sandwich and decided I'd move as soon as I finished my second beer. The Scots kicked off after the goal and Teddy intercepted the pass back up the line by the Scots defender and he held the ball, moving up slowly while waiting for one of his players to break. He made eye contact with the left wing and let go with a deep pass to the far post that was headed diagonally across the goal away from the defending goalie.

Teddy was standing there with a big smile on his face as the ball passed in front of the keeper and across the goal line. Hands on hips, standing loose and easy, he never saw the Scots' enforcer coming in late, cleats up.


The ref came running in blowing his whistle, red card waving futilely as the players started fighting and the fans came running down, too many of them jumping over the rail to the field to join the fight. I started edging away, knowing this was going to be a bad one. My attention was arrested as I saw a pixie of a girl jump over the rail to the roof over the Scots' bench. She looked to be about fifteen with a slim figure and long wavy black hair that hung halfway down her back.

I stood there admiring her fierce temper as she shook her fist and shouted imprecations at the Scots players. I'm sure that I would have blushed if I'd understood anything she said. Since it sounded Greek to me I assumed by this she must be Greek. Then she made a very un-girlish sign to one of the Scottish players standing there with a ball in his hand, away from the fray. I'd noticed this with a few of the teams. Some of the players had learned through painful experience to step back out of the way and let the fights take their course.

The girl turned, standing with one foot on the railing, and saw me staring at her. She gave me a quick grin and stepped into the stands just as the ball thrown by the irate Scot hit her in the back of the head. The ball hit her at the moment she was transferring her balance from one foot to the other and she took a dive right at me. I threw my hands up too late and succeeded only in flinging my beer right on the front of her blouse and deflecting her into the wooden bleacher seat.

The fight was getting worse, so I picked her up and ran to the side about twenty yards and sat down, still holding her. She was stunned from the force of the ball hitting her, but was starting to come around. Her pleated wool skirt was hiked high on her thighs so I pulled it down and saw a nasty cut on her knee from hitting the edge of the bench seat.

I grabbed the handful of napkins I always stuffed in my pocket for lunch and held it to her knee—trying to staunch the blood. I looked to see if she was hurt anywhere else and noticed the beer had turned her blouse and lacy white bra more or less translucent. Hell, no question, it was more than translucent. I could see that she had small but well-formed breasts with dark areolas, currently nicely firmed up from the chill of the beer.

I quickly looked at her face and upgraded my estimate of her age a bit, maybe a year older than fifteen. She had heavy black eyebrows, an oval face of creamy white with the remnants of a summer tan. Her cheeks were flushed from the fall and I presumed the high emotions she had been feeling. Her nose was small, a little upturned with a slight bump at the bridge of her nose.

With no thought of propriety or reason I leaned over gently and kissed that tiny bump. Two things happened at once: the girl opened her eyes, staring at me and a rough hand grabbed my shoulder squeezing and pulling me up.

The man attached to the clenching hand was shorter than me but burly, wide through the shoulders with a heavy build. He had a bushy, full mustache shot through with grey and dark wild eyes that made it clear to me that I was in trouble. He pulled his hand back, the callused fist looking like a boulder to me and I instinctively crossed myself ... later I realized that probably saved me from a great deal of discomfort.

The man hesitated in view of my making the sign of the cross while the girl jumped between us, jabbering at him something fierce. She pointed at her knee and her head—obviously explaining what had happened. She said something else and he shook his head no. With a steady firmness in her voice she repeated what she had said. He finally nodded his head but didn't say anything.

The girl introduced herself and her father, "I am Jacinda Nikopolidis. You may call me Jaci. This is my father Theodoros Nikopolidis. You may call him sir and smile at him."

I put my hand out to him and said, "Sir, I am Jimmy Moore. I was trying to help your daughter." The smile part was definitely weak.

He shook my hand with a great deal of hesitation and muttered something.

She smiled and told me, "He wants to know how kissing my nose was helping me." She added sweetly, with just a bit of sarcasm thrown in, "Actually, I'm kind of curious myself."

I looked at him, seeing only the impending threat and gave it a shot, "Well, Sir ... uh, well, Sir, see—well she was in shock so I thought..." I looked at her and continued, "Oh, hell. I don't know why. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I'm sorry."

She nodded an acceptance of my apology and put her hand on her father's shoulder. "We own a Greek Restaurant over on Mission called the Athens. It's normally closed on Mondays but during the soccer season we have a party for the club and friends and relatives after every Sunday game. My father has invited you to come tomorrow to thank you for helping me. You should be there at seven."

I took my jacket off and asked her slowly, "Okay, so he has invited me. I get the idea that he doesn't really want me to come. Do you?"

She gave me a warm smile and said, "Yes, Jimmy, I do. Please come."

I handed her my jacket as I told her, "Sure, I'd like to come."

She looked at my jacket in her hand, instinctively taking it when I'd handed it to her. Puzzled, she held it up with a question in her eyes.

She hadn't noticed her blouse so I waved my hand at her, "So you can cover up—you can give it back to me tomorrow night."

She glanced down at her now "see-through blouse" and, face flushed, she threw the jacket on and ran up the stairs. Her dad glared threateningly at me and held his hand out. With some fatalism I shook his hand and felt his immense strength and the hint of pain that I knew would come if I hurt his daughter in any way.

He had nothing to worry about ... somehow I knew with a great conviction that I loved her. Hurting her would be a form of masochism.

They got the game started again and when I went up to replace the not exactly wasted beer I saw Jaci and her father helping an injured player from the Greek club into a car. I could see a red stained bandage around his thigh and saw that this was the injured Teddy. Neither team seemed particularly interested in the rest of the game. It started raining and turned into a defensive struggle. Everyone, including the refs, just wanted to get it over with.

Chapter 2: Life ... Here and There

"Man, as long as people want to hear jazz, I'll give it to them."

Lionel Hampton

I was an only child and when I was two my dad died in the water at Guam ... he didn't even live long enough to make it to the beach. After rushing through training he was shipped to the Pacific and this was his first ... and last action.

My mom raised me by herself and I tried to make it easy for her. Sure, I got in trouble like any kid, but I knew it would break her heart if I did anything serious. She was a cook in the cafeteria at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

I dreamed of going to OU as a kid. I knew I wasn't the all around athlete that my dad was—he was the starting fullback on the 1939 Orange Bowl team that was skunked by Tennessee, 17-0. He was also a good enough baseball player to get invited to some pro tryouts, but after mom got pregnant, he took a marketing job with a local oil company and gave up sports.

I worked hard at my grades and my running, hoping I'd be able get enough in scholarships to make it and it worked out that way. With mom's help I was also able to get a part time job in the cafeteria and I pretty much coasted through school and earned a degree in math.

After I graduated, I got a job with the same oil company my dad had worked for. My job was to analyze the data they collected from the exploration process and make sense of it. They sent me to a one-week assembly language programming class at IBM followed some time later by another class in FORTRAN. With my math background it was fairly easy for me to pick it up.

There was one other thing that was always a big part in my life. My dad's older brother—the one I was named after—owned a jazz club in Norman. It was a nice bar cum restaurant of a decent size. He had a house band that was always changing and he brought in some of the better jazz groups over the years like Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd and the Brazilians João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. My personal favorite was John Coltrane; he played with such incredible freedom.

When we got together for family functions, they always seemed to degenerate into jam sessions. Everyone on my father's side of the family seemed to play one or more instruments. I grew up listening to this over the years and grew to love the music.

When I was about ten Jimmy asked me, "Do you still have your dad's trumpet?"

I shrugged my lack of knowledge and he got up and together we searched, finally finding it on a shelf high in the garage. He brought it in and cleaned it up—wiping it off, cleaning and oiling the valves, then gave it a shot. It had the most incredibly pure tone. As he played it, everyone nodded, I guess in tribute to my dad.

He started working with me and within two years I was jamming with the family. I formed a jazz group in high school and later in college. Like my uncle's band, it wasn't anything really formal. We'd get a gig and I'd scramble around and see who was available.

Sometimes we would have three or four guys, other times a half-dozen. When I started college I started playing with the band at the club. I really enjoyed when I had a chance to jam with the various groups that came through to play in the club. This would be after the show or when they were practicing or even just screwing around.

I spent a lot of time on weekends at the club. They would be cleaning up, stocking the bar, in general getting ready to open. I liked to sit on the stage and just noodle around—playing but not really thinking about it. It was a great release for me; I always seemed in such a mellow mood afterwards.

One afternoon when I was doing this, John Coltrane walked in; he was scheduled to play that night. I stopped playing and stood up but he waved to me to keep playing. After a minute he cut in with his soprano sax, taking what I had been playing to somewhere entirely new. He nodded for me to take over and we did that for about twenty minutes. Each time we switched we went to a place I'd never been before ... he would play with the harmonics. I was pretty damn good ... he made me great.

He moved into his hugely successful My Favorite Things and I just sat back and listened.

When we finished, he came over a looked at me for the longest time. Then he nodded and patted me on the shoulder, "Your dad was good, boy, but you are a damn sight better." He started to walk away but turned back. "I've never mentioned this to anyone, but I saw your dad just before he died. I was playing for the Navy Band in Hawaii and he had a three-day leave on his way to Guam. We got some guys together and played and got drunk for two days. He had your picture and kept showing it to everyone. Jimmy, he was proud of you. He would be even more proud now."

Playing with him that one time changed the way I felt about music. No, not that so much as he made me feel the music and how to play it.

I thought about it later that night while he was playing and I knew that he was somewhere I could never dream about being. I guess I saw it like being a gunfighter—no matter how good you are there is always someone better.

From John, I learned both pride and humility about music and where I fit in. I came to understand that I played for myself really. Playing with or for someone else was just something I did; playing for myself is whom I was.

Over time I played with so many groups and so many styles I could just fit in. I didn't just play jazz. I would do a little of everything. One year I met a kid from Mexico working on his masters. While he was there he played guitar for a local Mariachi group. We became friends and I wound up playing with them. One time I played "Zacatecas" and they were amazed that I could play it " ... just like a Mexican." I played Ave Maria at a cousin's wedding and Taps at a friend's funeral. I got in with a couple of guys and we played pop stuff at a local club; stuff like Tijuana Brass and Dizzy Gillespie's 'Dizzy Goes to Hollywood' album. Really, we'd try to play about anything anyone asked for.

Three years after I finished at OU my mom died in a car accident. One time we had been talking and she asked me that when she died she wanted me to play St. Louis Blues at her funeral. She told me it was dad's favorite song. I kidded her about never dying but agreed.

When the time came I couldn't do it. Uncle Jimmy came up and played it for me in a muted, melancholy style and I stood there and cried. As he played the words from W. C. Handy ran through my mind:

"I hate to see the evening sun go down.

Yes, I hate to see that evening sun go down.

'Cause it makes me think I'm on my last go 'round."

Always after that a tear would form when I heard that song.

It was a hard time for me since mom and I had been so close ... she had always been there for me and it just never occurred to me that one day she would be gone. I felt like making a change but Jimmy told me to get over my grief first.

"Don't leave for the wrong reason; leave when the time is right."

We talked about San Francisco—he had some friends there. "John Handy is a friend of mine. He's never played here before, but I know him. He knows more about the jazz scene in San Francisco that anyone else."

A couple of months after that I was at the wedding of one of the guys I ran with in college. During the reception the band took a break and I sat at the piano, just messing around. I couldn't play it like I could the trumpet but I was pretty good. I was just picking out some of what I call bar music when the bridesmaid sat next to me. I looked at her but I didn't stop playing. She was a big girl—almost as tall as me but a lot curvier. She was at the least voluptuous but somewhere south of chubby. And she was drunk on her ass. At first she sat there, leaning into me and listening to the piano.

After a bit she started naming songs, asking me to play them. I never did find out if she was trying to stump me or just liked the songs. Somehow she sobered up a bit and I wound up giving her a ride home. I also never found out how that seemed to happen ... it just did. Which lead to breakfast in bed, which somehow I fixed. I didn't learn her name—June Burroughs—until she finished eating. I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I had taken the time then to think about what was going on but lust can be a terribly powerful force on a young man.

We dated for a few months in a sexual frenzy until one night a gig got canceled and I drove over to June's place. We hadn't made any promises or anything but I felt like we were pretty close and making progress. I opened the door and right on the living room sofa she was going at it with OU's current Heisman candidate, a big blond kid from Waco, Texas. I looked at her and made a quick decision. Whatever had been there was gone and nothing else really mattered ... it's not like she was mine ... or anything like that.

I looked at him—he wasn't exactly cowering and I made another quick decision. If he broke his hand against my hard head the OU alumni club would lynch me. I walked away, muttering to myself, "Damn! That was another of life's lessons learned."

Several weeks later Jimmy and I talked it over and we decided it was time for me to try something new. I cleared things up and headed west. I had an offer from The Bank of California to develop algorithms for computing interest in their bond department. It seems that FORTRAN was not accurate enough for the huge sums they worked with. It was something I could do and I was looking forward to the move.

Chapter 3: A Guitar, Two Mandolins and a Concertina

The next day I showed up at the Athens restaurant right at seven. I wasn't sure what to wear so I put on a sports coat and slacks but left the tie in the car ... just in case. I knew that in the Latin culture showing politely late was de rigueur and there were too many risks for me in showing up too early. What if I had to spend a half-hour alone talking with Jacinda's father, Theodoros?

There were about a dozen people there but no Jaci. Her brother, the walking wounded was there, sitting on a sofa wearing shorts with his leg extended and the thigh heavily taped.

I walked over and introduced myself, "Hi, I'm Jimmy Moore; I was in the front row when you were taken out yesterday. How's the leg?"

"Hello, call me Teddy—everyone does. I've seen you around the stadium a lot on Sundays ... don't you have a life?"

I laughed at that.

"The leg is better that I have any right to expect. They thought the femur was broken but it's just a nasty bruise and cuts from the cleats that took twelve stitches. I'll be out until the spring season. Say, thanks for helping Jaci. I didn't see it but one of the guys saw the jerk that threw the ball at her." Laughing, he continued, "He also heard and saw what she did to make him mad. She does have a temper!"

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind."

"I guess you met my dad?" At my nod, he continued, "He can be intimidating but if you show the family respect and honor you will never find a more loyal friend. Anyway, thanks. Jaci is special and has a lot of friends."

Deciding to risk it, I asked, "Uh, many boyfriends mixed in those friends?"

Teddy looked behind me at an arriving Jacinda, "Here she is now. Let's ask."

Jaci smiled at him and then me, a bit mystified, "Ask what?"

I gave Teddy a dirty look but he ignored me, "Jimmy here was wondering if you have many boyfriends. What do you think, Sis?"

Jaci rolled her eyes, "Yeah, I have so many that I can't keep their names straight. Thanks for reminding me of Jimmy's name ... I would have been really embarrassed to have had to ask him."

She took my hand and started walking around and introducing me to people. "I forgot to bring your jacket. Thanks! I had no idea what your beer had done." Here she blushed prettily. "You'll have to come to the house to pick it up. Maybe dad will let you take me home," she added in a teasing voice.

"I guess I shouldn't wear that blouse when the Scots play. Or when you are around, huh? What do you think?"

I turned a little red but stood my ground, "I uh, I liked it."

She snorted and said, "Yeah, I'll just bet you did."

"Say, some of the guys are going to do a kind of 'roast' on Teddy to give him a hard time for falling down hurting his leg and only helping with two goals. Can you think of anything to add?"

I looked over and saw a small band setting up for the dancing after dinner and saw one of the guys had a trumpet. "Yeah, when the time comes, just say something like, 'One lesson for you from all of this ... the next time you have to play the Scots, just tell them, Never on a Sunday.' And I'll take it from there."

She nodded then went off to check on the food. The restaurant was providing some appetizers and dinner was potluck.

I went over and talked to the trumpet player—he was okay with my borrowing his instrument. I was pleased his trumpet was decent quality.

People kept coming in. Jaci introduced me to her mom, Dori, her oldest brother, Dominic, and her younger sister, Elissa. Her mom was sweet and smiled a lot ... and didn't speak much English. Dominic was sturdy and pleasant. Elissa was an imp—I could see she would be a problem. She was about twelve and when Jaci introduced us she stood then and rubbed her nose with her finger. Clearly, someone had been talking.

After everyone ate—and I had no idea what half the stuff was—they did the roast and it was mostly funny and nothing in a mean spirit like sometimes happens. When it came time for Jaci she ad-libbed a bit.

"Teddy, we all know how much you love to play against the Scots, I mean you play for a few minutes, get a couple of assists and sit out the rest of the game. I think the next time you play them, just never, ever, play them on a Sunday."

Not exactly what I'd said, but it would work. I was already on the stage holding the trumpet. I jumped into a Dizzy Gillespie arrangement of Never on a Sunday, a kind of bluesy, jazzy version. After about twenty seconds I segued into something like the Tijuana Brass version ... loud and very up-tempo. When I stopped I wasn't sure if it had been such a good idea. Everyone was staring at me like I had three heads. Then Teddy started clapping and everyone joined in. I gave the horn back and the band started right up with a dance number.

I looked for Jaci but someone already had her on the floor. The guy was tall and skinny with black curly hair and eyes that were a kind of smoky black. I shot several arrows in his back but it didn't seem to bother him. As the first number started, Elissa stepped up and grabbed my hand, pulling me on the floor. Jaci saw us and laughed as she shrugged helplessly.

Elissa actually danced pretty good and started right off with, "Do you love Jaci?"

I figured, what the hell? "Sure, kid. I know it's hopeless because she said she has all these boyfriends, but what can I do?"

She nodded sagely, earth mother, wise in the ways of love. "Yes, it is a problem. Maybe I can help you out? Should I?"

Oops—that backfired. At this stage I figured I had nothing to lose by having her on my side. "Sure, Elissa. I know my heart will be broken without your help. It's a shame that you aren't older. Then maybe I wouldn't have this problem."

She smiled at that. She seemed to be enough of a woman to know that I was putting her on. Jaci was walking up as the dance ended and Elissa told me, "Quick, kiss my nose?"

Without thinking, I did.

Jaci arrived, finally ready for a dance, and asked, "What was that all about. Do you kiss all the girls on the nose or just those in the Nikopolidis family?"

I didn't answer—I could be mysterious too. I also kissed her on the nose, eliciting a smile, and we started dancing. It was a dream to hold her in my arms. The band was playing a slow, instrumental version of 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco'. I pulled her in a little closer and she didn't resist.

I started to ask her for another dance but a smooth looking older guy, about my age, stepped in and held her close for two dances. I found out later he was a distant cousin and had just arrived from Greece. He looked kind of smarmy to me. He was a little taller than I was with black curly hair and teeth that lit up the dark corners of the room. I went back and simmered over a beer and then with some determination walked out and cut in before the second song finished.

We started dancing again, not talking ... both of us musing on whatever. She was probably missing smarmy man and I was admiring how wonderful she felt in my arms. Thinking of something, but not really thinking, I asked her, "Do you go on dates?"

Made curious by my question, she asked, "How old do you think I am?"

Thinking quickly how touchy girls were at that age—I had finally decided that she was sixteen—I added a year and said, "Umm, uh, seventeen?"

She stopped, staring at me and abruptly disappeared, as girls were wont to do. I walked over and sat down next to Teddy. He looked over at me and asked how I was doing.

"I don't know Teddy. Say, how old is Jaci?"

Looking at a girl over by the bar he was distracted for a minute. "Oh, she will be twenty-one just after Thanksgiving. She's about a year-and-a-half younger than me."

Twenty-one? No way! Damn. Okay, that explains the disappearing act.

Teddy added, "Hey, you're really good with that trumpet. It was kind of funny but I don't think everyone got it."

I sat there with Teddy while the band played out the set. It turned out later that they were from a soccer team down in San Jose. Elissa came by and I asked her where Jaci was. She gave me a look that said either 'you blew it kid' or 'wouldn't you like to know?'

I saw Jaci a few minutes later over by the kitchen door but when I got there she was gone. I was walking by the stage where another group was setting up. This was both clearly the main event and a Greek group. They had a guitar, two mandolins and a concertina of some type. The guitarist was older and I assumed he was the leader.

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