Stardom denied…

We were a formidable collection of athletes–pole vaulter, sprinter, hurdler, shot putter, discus thrower. Versatile. Dedicated.

One problem: All us tracksters comprised a large part of our summer of ‘70 Colt League baseball team.

But we had DD at the helm. With a solid working knowledge of baseball and successful experiences as a player.

Another problem: He was a half year younger than most of us.

And so begins the saga of one of my favorite athletic endeavors in my storied [in my head, not yours] sports career.

Game 1: A gorgeous sparkling late Friday afternoon in early June. [Not to worry. I won’t be detailing every game. I’m no sadist.] Al H, opposing first baseman whose right leg dwarfed our shortstop, stepped to the plate and launched a pitch from DD [yes, our ‘manager’ was our opening day pitcher] deep. And that was the last we saw of our center fielder Eric. When authorities arrived, they first talked to the guy sculpting stacks of cut lawn with his feet. Me. Seems I was the last person to actually see Eric.

rocket-launch-693236_1280

“It all happened so fast. Al H sent that moonshot toward Big Sur. Eric and I looked at each other. I shrugged. He took off, the wind took his hat, and that was it.”

“Didn’t you even get in position for a relay throw?” asked the cop.

“I was the one who yelled for someone to call missing persons.”

Disgusted at my lack of baseball acumen [or the fact that I had settled back into my ready stance], the cop shook his head.

Fickle fans. But I wasn’t going to buckle. “Hey, I’m a shot putter! I’m not expected to know how to play baseball!”

Meanwhile, at least five runs scored on the Al H missile launch. As memory serves.

And we had switched pitchers. Twice. Yes, folks, a loooong home run.

The authorities left.

“Let’s play some baseball!” shouted the ump.

Clearly, he had never watched one of our practices.

What he envisioned as ‘baseball’ was nowhere near what we flailed away at.

At one of our early attempts to organize and hone our skills, Eric [before his tragic disappearance] and I stood in the outfield and watched as DD tried to clarify with a few of our track athletes one of the finer points of baserunning…or the steal signal…or dating Sally. Something like that.

Anyway, I looked over to Eric. “What we have here,” I said, summoning a line from Cool Hand Luke, “is a failure to communicate.”

Eric looked back. “What we have here…is a failure.” **

So, sure we had communication issues. And we weren’t all that sharp in the field. But by god, you put a bat in our hands and our ineptness really shined through.

So consistently piddly at the plate, in fact, that pitchers threw three no-hitters at us. Consecutive no-hitters. That, baseball fans, is 27 straight innings without a hit. Riveting entertainment, doubtless.

Undeterred, however, we actually won the last of the three.

How do you do that? To this day, I’m not quite sure, but credit our pitcher, Steve V, for keeping the other team’s hitters at bay…and us–utterly stupefied–in a position to win a game.


**Bravo, Eric. It’s been over four decades and your classic line remains ingrained in my memory. I hear rumors that–years later–you actually did find your way back to your family and fashioned a very successful life. Good for you. I still have your hat, by the way.

To be continued.

More from the 500-Word Challenge…

Nothing to Write About

unsure face

Well, Jeff Goins has suggested we write about hope, as in, “I hope I have something to write about.”

People often suggest regaling readers with images of the past.

But why would I want to write about the days in the ‘hood’?

Who wants to read about the halcyon days of the 60’s when our Chestnut Street and California Street intersection would be so quiet at night that Jimmy T and I could hang our heads out our upstairs windows and, from 50 yards away, hold a conversation without raising our voices. We just let the quiet of the night carry our words from one house to another.

And there really is no reason to share the ecstasy and the agony of my first Little League base hit. I remember making clean contact, pulling the ball to right field and standing there in disbelief that it was  A. in fair territory and B. whistling past the second baseman. As I said, ecstasy. Perhaps I soaked in that moment just a bit too long, as the right fielder promptly picked up the ball and threw me out at first base. Let me take a moment to ask: Shouldn’t that kid have been coached to automatically throw the ball to his teammate at second to make sure I didn’t take the extra base? [Assuming I would actually reach first base.] In essence, then, it’s all his fault that I suffered the humiliation of being thrown out at first from the outfield.

But again, that’s not even worth writing about.

Still on baseball which, unlike today, was the number one sport in the U.S.

We lived on the fields behind Lincoln School. Pick-up games were the order of the day and it was generally the same 12-15 kids. With five to seven kids per team, we had to make in-game adjustments. We would ‘close off’ parts of the outfield, depending on if the hitter was right-handed or left handed. We might leave out an infielder. But one game feature we insisted upon: the fence. We had to have an outfield fence. Home runs that sent some poor sap off to Maple Street or the blacktop just didn’t carry the same cache as a ball that cleared a barrier.

So, what were we to do? We weren’t about to set up wooden boards or something even equally inconvenient. Instead, we lined up enough of our Schwinns, front-wheel-to-back-wheel until we had our fence. Easy to shift and sturdy enough to take a few shots to the spokes, pedals, and chains. If the ball was flying out that day, shifting this fence was a matter of kickstand up, roll 20 more feet away from home plate, kickstand down, and ‘play ball!’. And when the ball flew well past that chain of bikes, we might as well have been hitting towering shots over the deepest spot in Candlestick Park.

But, the struggle to dig up meaningful enough content continues.

No need to bore readers with reflections on the Monopoly tournaments that ruled the neighborhood in mid-July. The blue and yellow and green cash filled the air whenever owners of Baltic and Mediterranean landed on Boardwalk or Park Place. Not a pretty sight.

And finally, I see no reason to revisit our adventures around the Lincoln School cafeteria to poke our heads in to watch the folks square-dancing. After all, any thing or place on the forbidden list was just what the doctor ordered for kids without the cash for trips to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk or evenings at the movies. Instead, we patrolled the playground and rattle those tetherball chains till the poor custodian stormed out to chase us off.

Now that was entertainment.

Well, seems I’ve at least entertained myself. So that’s something.

Your cards and letters begging me to stop writing? Keep’em coming.

An Un-Career Retrospective

gratisography post it note hysteria

Today, I’ll be taking on one of life’s great mysteries:

Why didn’t massive multinational cash-spewing corporations gut their entire marketing, research,–or custodial–staffs to hire me a few years ago. [Your definition of ‘few’ may vary widely from mine. That’s a topic for another post–perhaps one covering ‘denial’.]

Were these commercial monoliths too busy raking in profits to even scan my impressive ‘built-to-succeed’ resume?

Had to be.

Baiting Hooks

Otherwise, why would they not rush in and offer a job to someone who baited hooks with chunks of squid and meticulously positioned them to allow for an efficient untangled toss into the Pacific Ocean? No matter that I lasted just past lunch on my first day. Old-time journalists have nothing on me. I truly was an ink-stained wretch [emphasis on the ‘wretch’].

Okay, so maybe that experience didn’t translate as neatly into corporate life.

Shafting

But there is no way they should have overlooked my months as a shafter. Yessir, you bet. Look around you. Bet you can’t find one shafter within 50 miles of you. Seems my time at San Diego Paper Box Company wasn’t as highly valued as I thought it should be. That job went like this: I muscled eight-foot tall rolls of paperboard to a metal, uh, shaft–seven inches in diameter. I then judiciously postioned [i.e. rammed] the shaft through the roll’s hollow core.

Locked and loaded for action.

I’d flip the switch and off it went, delivering premeasured cuts through the paper at very high speed.

And son of a gun if something mechanical that moves at high speed doesn’t generate lots of heat.

And that heat radiated from that shaft.

And that shaft found my exposed hands and forearms.

And those body parts incurred second degree burns.

Nothing like one’s own searing flesh to encourage more careful maneuvers around that machine.

But nowhere in the plant did I see one, “Respect the shaft!” sign.

Of course, I wouldn’t have complained about that to future prospective employers. My loyalty? Skin-deep. The mid-interview change of bandages might have hinted at previous workplace concerns, however.

So, maybe I wasn’t quite white collar-ready right then.

Strike Three!

But by gosh and golly, I would have thought my time at ITT as a ‘materials handler’ would have earned me a spot somewhere in a company’s higher echelon. This job neither belies the requisite high-level skills [“Hey, Dave, we need more masking tape to label these wire samples!”], nor does it do justice to the extreme dedication I exhibited in taking on the job. Dedication…ignorance. Such a fine line between the two. You see, I was crossing a picket line—a minor detail that the temp company managed to omit.

Despite the waving signs and the colorful language directed my way, I was determined to make good on my commitment. Well, that, and there really was no convenient way to hang a U-ie and floor it.

Besides, I was lucky enough to be driving a yellow Gremlin at the time.

Some folks might question the sanity of a writer using the words ‘lucky’ and ‘Gremlin’ in the same sentence, but–armed with a firm sense of denial–I see it differently.

If I’d been cruising past these scarred, tatooed, and high-spirited folks in a Camaro, I wouldn’t have lasted ten feet.

But in a Gremlin? Even the most hardened and embittered would be brought to their knees with sympathy.

Memories fade of course, but I think I recall one of the leaders putting down his barbed-wire-on-a-stick and backing others away with the words, “Let him go. He’s worse off than we are!”

Wise words indeed.

And with that, despite so many wanting to hear of my stint at Equality Screw Company, my career retrospective has reached its conclusion.

To quote Boon from ‘Animal House’: “A new low. I’m so ashamed.”

 

Taking stock…

 

frantic reflection

So today is a good day to revisit some lessons about the writing life that I have learned recently.

You might be asking, ‘What makes today a good day for this?”

Answer: I can’t come up with any other topic.

And so…the lessons.

  1. I prefer short pieces. Why? Because it forces me to make every word count? To challenge myself to condense profound thoughts into neat little packages of insight? Uhhh, no. That would require sweat and heavy investment of ego and time away from watching Hallmark movies. The real reasons? One, the less I write, the less I have to edit. Two, I often get distracted during–you know, the NFL just isn’t the same since Joe Montana and Steve Young left the 49ers–the writing process.
  2. I prefer cooking to writing. Cases in point: Quick Bread. Coffee Cake. Stovetop Chocolate Cake. Chile Verde. Apple Cake. Blueberry Muffins.  Biscuits.  Well, those and a host of other reasons. When I’m done cooking, I have something concrete [please reserve comments on the appearance of my baking ventures.]. When I express myself with text, I run the risk of folks thinking I’m a whack job. But when I express myself in the kitchen, I connect with most folks through a shared experiences–whether with the preparation or with the consumption. When I cook, I have a genuine audience–family members, neighbors, even myself. And then there is the comfort elicited by the aromas that greet you at the front door, the warmth of the cake straight from the oven. I’m still waiting for my words to envelop me in the same way. It doesn’t mean I’ll be putting down my pen, of course. But I’m realistic about what I like.
  3. I prefer finding images for my posts to writing them. Yeah, that sounds pretty weak, but it’s just more fun. And scanning those images has often generated plenty of material for my ‘stories I’d love to write but will never get around to’ file. I mean, how can you not have stories swirling in your head after a quick cruise through gratisography.com? I also advocate image searches as a strategy in my free prewriting course.
  4. The people whose blogs I read are better writers than I am. They explore topics more deeply. They weave words together seamlessly. They’re informative. They have a clear point of view.
  5. I dislike those people intensely. *
  6. I am a small, small person.
  7. There are so many resources available to make me a better writer and content creator.
  8. People don’t appreciate how much energy and concentration it takes to avoid, ignore, or downplay/disregard said resources. I mean, really, all these people with so much to share. There has to be some kind of angle, don’t you think? **
  9. When I spend an hour whether I should use ‘in anger’ vs. ‘angrily’, I’m pretty certain I need to walk away from the computer, writing room, house, city, state, and probably country.  [Reason one for always carrying my passport with me.]
  10. I’m still convinced a new MacBook will vault me into literary stardom.
    10a. My wife disagrees and thinks I should get back to work.

* Of course, I don’t. In fact, because of the warmth and sincerity of their work, they are quite likable.

** Nope, neither do I.

Procrastination takes over…

dog as life coach mailing label

dog lives for the day mailing labels

Seems I’m getting a little text-fatigued lately.

At least that’s my piddly excuse for engaging in a short detour into the world of semi-useful graphics.

I figured creating these mailing labels for a colleague’s upcoming birthday was just the ticket. Jon Acuff, in his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, which, no, I still haven’t finished, would label this little departure from more important projects, a ‘noble objective’.

[It just hit me…this post isn’t exactly a solid endorsement for his book, is it?]

Then again, it may just be a plaintive cry for help from someone who just can’t [or doesn’t want to] stay focused, because this book really is the real deal. It’s like he knows me. [I take that back. If he really knew me, he’d probably shake his head and see me as a lost cause.] Whatever the case, I like the book and I am learning, if not immediately applying, a lot.

 

 

/>

A Day in the Life…kind of.

hourglass day in the life

So I went to my inbox and there sat my assignment for the day.

That obsessive JG had left more work for me: Take your readers through a day in your life.

I started to nod off just thinking of the topic, but I knew if I didn’t get this done, I wouldn’t get that bonus check awaiting me. [Luckily, a previous assignment nudged us to lie to our readers so there may well be some carryover here. I have retained Siri as my official timekeeper. Such a loyal and efficient assistant. She told me I had surpassed my time allotment. I plowed through, though, as that just means a bigger cash bonus at the end of January.]

So, let’s get on with it. [I just noticed that’s the second time I started a sentence with ‘so’. The madness has to stop.]

First of all, I watched no football yesterday, thanks to this writing challenge. Oh, sure it’s not like I wrote all day, but I have to blame someone and the faceless JG might as well take the blame.

I used part of my morning finishing my highly-acclaimed project piece from the day before–a classic Q and A with some of my most avid readers–Ward, June, and The Beav from Mayfield, Colorado.  I set them straight on some of the ills of the National Basketball Association. I’m certain my pithy answers made their day just that much more memorable.

I baked a pumpkin [Okay, okay, it was sunshine squash] quick bread with a molasses, brown sugar, and cinnamon swirl and had to hurry through the follow-up photos and notes, as Cook’s Illustrated was hounding me for any and all documentation of the venture. These imaginary editors can be such divas…

I posted the experience on my wordinventions.blog site. [And yes, I am using a .blog address and yes, that suggests I am a lowly hack, but hey! I’m powering down an overly rich quick bread with coffee and you’re not!]

Next, I opened the local newspaper to an interesting article about the community college’s graduation ceremony of June 17. Full page, nice photos of grads, really special. Made unspecial, however, by the fact that it is now six months after the event. This proved one thing: My detractors, enemies, rivals, and other assorted scoundrels with nothing better to do have teamed up to tease at my last remaining shred of sanity.

I can just hear these lowlifes: “Let’s make him wonder if he’s in some kind of time warp and maybe he’ll just drift away to either six months prior or six months ahead.”

“Yeah, boss! That’s a good idea, boss. What’s a time warp?”

Yes, my day was shaken a bit. I reached for the quick bread and broke off a hunk. [Note to readers: always eat your cakes and quick breads in hunks. Check any utensils at the door. It tastes 3.4 times better.]

With sanity restored, I launched into some vital Web research: I need a coffee grinder that doesn’t result in a layer of black dust strewn across the kitchen counter. Vital, I tell you. Seems Krups might be my answer. And no, don’t accuse me of product placement.

It was time for errands around town. Still fraught with anxiety over my coffee grinder issues, I needed a shot of calm and equanimity. [And yes, I need to work on verbal redundancy and…here I go again,… superfluousness. Honest, folks, that is the first time in my life I have ever used that word. Thrilled that dictionary.com is letting it slide.]

Anyway, for faith-restoring dose of goodness, I headed to a U.S. Postal Service subsidiary at, where else but a swimming pool and barbecue supply store. Yes, you read that right. We’re a quaint town, we are.

And sure enough, plopped on the floor was Max, Golden Retriever and resident one-dog greeting committee/customer relations wizard. [Not his real name. He prefers a lower social media profile.]

Energized by some good-natured tailwags and wrist licks, I headed for Office Depot to look into creating dog-themed address labels for a colleague.

Mission accomplished: I printed out about a hundred with a photo of a Yellow Lab–50  with the words, “Can I have a dog as my life coach?’ and 50 with a quote from Robert Falcon Scott:  ‘The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment.’

We later met friends for dinner at Laughing Planet. Felt good to team with D and C to contribute to the place’s claim of ‘laughter’. My wife and I did the usual mid-meal plate switch, as she wanted a taste of the Santa Fe Bowl and I was ready for some of the Highway to Kale she usually orders.

We four teamed up to solve pretty much every woe of the world, except for this writing challenge’s damnable creator who will, no doubt, have another assignment awaiting me in my inbox tomorrow.