Thursday, September 11, 2014
Ah, ol’ Frank Turnhauer-- his slacks hiked to his bellybutton and his safety glasses that looked more like swim goggles -- swinging his weed whacker back and forth and back and forth. This had been the Miller’s neighbor’s every-third-Sunday ritual for at least the last seven years. The weed whacker quieted, and Frank looked up from his front lawn. Roger backed away from the window and out of the sunbeam that split the drapes. The intruding breeze from the open dining room window behind him ruffled the hairs on the back of his head.
The soles of Roger’s loafers pressed into the freshly cleaned Berber carpet. He hated that the assorted marks left by Lily's playtime, and the generous merlot stain, had been scrubbed. Slowly stepping backwards he bumped into the end table, which had been moved about two feet from its prior placement beside the heat register. Resisting the temptation to pull the chain on the table lamp, he leaned down and shuffled through the mail on the table. He read the labels: Sara Miller…Sara Miller…Sara Miller. A few of the names and addresses were handwritten; they were probably Hallmark cards or maybe even personal letters. Rachel always had a thing for snubbing emails and writing letters to friends. Wait! Here’s one addressed to Roger Miller -- Get a new low fucking rate! Roger flicked the envelope onto the carpet, thought twice, and then picked up the envelope and replaced all the mail on the end table exactly as it had been.
A thud emanated upstairs. Roger gasped and pivoted toward the staircase. Jasper the cat darted down the stairs. "Jesus," Roger said as his muscles relaxed. He walked over to the curio cabinet beside the open window in the dining room. Roger wiped his hand over the empty top shelf. No dust. He stared into the empty space and imagined the pictures that had adorned the shelf not long ago, and the happy family of three between the frames. He could still recall details in the pictures: The seagull flying over Lily's shoulder, or the way Rachel's faint suntan barely revealed the pale strip around her wrist where her Gucci watch was normally worn, or his own slightly crooked Kansas City Royal's baseball cap. The breeze sneaking in the open dining room window felt cooler now.
The tears threatened to spill again. Roger began to alleviate an itch on the back of his neck, but then began to dig his fingernails into the skin when the memories became too harsh. Roger pressed down harder, and squeezed the skin on his neck. The pain scattered in all directions, but it didn't relieve the anguish that had been brewing in his psyche. He'd once read that the brain only focuses on wherever the body feels the most pain; his neck stooped throbbing even though his nails punctured the skin and he twisted. "I'm sorry Rachel. I'm fucking sorry," he yelled. "I fucked up."
A women's voice was approaching the front door. A rush of nervous excitement overcame Roger as he pried his fingertips out of his neck. He quickly tiptoed back over the too clean Berber carpet and toward the front living room window. He peeked through the gap in the curtains again, beyond the tiny handprint. A slender brunette dressed in a tight-fitting skirt and suit coat moved toward the porch. Her wavy hair bounced about her shoulders with each oncoming step. Her overtly white teeth were framed by her puffy smiling lips. The early evening sun beamed off the gold badge pinned to her dress coat. "Oh shit," Roger whispered as his heartbeat quickened even more. He hurried through the living room and dining room. Then he sucked in his stomach and squeezed back through the open window -- the same window he'd snuck through after too many last calls and Rachel had already locked the front door.
As the knob on the front door began to turn, Roger slammed the window shut and made his getaway through the back yard. The lady in the skirt and dress coat entered the home, a young couple in tow. "The house is in move-in condition," the lady told the couple. "The owner is highly motivated to sell. She and her daughter are moving to Dallas in a week."
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Josh chuckled nervously. "Is this some kind of prank?" The blade pressed harder beneath his kidney again. "Shit. I don't know what you're asking."
A smile crept across Josh's face. "You're kidding. Right? A quarter? Listen. I don't know what you're up to but I could probably just kick you in the balls right now and run. And what is that tiny thing you're threatening me with? A pocket knife? You'd barely wound me. Tell you what. How about you just take the money on the ground and let me be on my way?" He shook his head and chuckled again.
Josh began to slowly move his arm upward. The man pressed the shaking knife harder on Josh's side, but Josh was not affected. Josh reached underneath his dress shirt and pulled out a red rubber ball -- a hole drilled in the center -- that hung from a gold chain. The man's eyes widen. The blade eased off Josh's side. "That quarter was meant for the pay phone to call my mother," Josh said, rolling the ball between his fingers. "I was going to tell her I love her, and say goodbye. I didn't bother asking anyone for another quarter. Instead, I walked down by the creek. I was going to do it there. But first I asked for a sign, for anything, to make me change my mind. And this red rubber ball came floating down the creek." He released the ball and it bounced off his sternum. "My middle name is Red."
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
When the correspondent from ABC’s Good Morning America asked 10-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up I didn’t need too long to think. “Third basemen for the Philadelphia Phillies,” I responded. I caught my reflection in the lens of the hulking television camera before me; I had burly side-burns and spit chaw, while clad in mid-80’s Phillies home pinstripes. All I needed was about twelve more years developing superior glove-work and defensive range while harnessing the hand-eye coordination and nearly superhuman raw power to lead the National League in home runs eight times and earn an NL MVP nod three times. Okay. Okay. I wanted to me Mike Schmidt. I wanted to me Mike Schmidt because I grew up emulating Mike Schmidt. I grew up emulating Mike Schmidt because he was my father’s favorite baseball player. He was my father’s favorite baseball player because he was the best player on his favorite team. He also embodied the default benchmarks that typified my father’s favorite athletes: he was boring and a workaholic who “played the game right.”
Why was Good Morning America interviewing me? I was chosen as South Williamsport Area Grade School’s “Whiz Kid of the Year” and was invited to the White House to meet Ronald Reagan with other northern Pennsylvania “whiz kids”. Psyche! My Little League team was coached by a gentleman named Fred Heaps, who had been coaching Newberry Little League teams for nearly 40 years at that point. His most notable achievement was leading a local team to the Little League World Series in 1969. More importantly, he was known for doing kindhearted things like buying baseball gloves for kids who couldn’t afford them, or reminding his teams that he loved them, win or lose. What I remember most about him was how he preached “fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals,” and giving me a quarter for answering “Tony Gwynn” when he asked who was the purest hitter in the major leagues. ABC put together a piece on Fred Heaps during the MLB All-Star break in 1988. Coach Heaps passed away two years later, during my final year as a little leaguer.
Larry Bird was born in the tiny farm community of French Lick, Indiana. His youth was dedicated to back-breaking manual labor, and, as far as Bird knew, would always be. Even when he accepted a scholarship to Indiana University -- one of the most decorated collegiate basketball programs in the county -- he bailed out when life at a big-time university proved too overwhelming. He later enrolled in the less prestigious Indiana State University basketball program, where he single-handedly took the Sycamores to the NCAA national championship game in '79. Even when Bird's father committed suicide, he was resolute -- kick ass on the court and remain discreet off of it. THIS GUY, my friends, was not only born to win NBA championships, but also to be one of my father's favorite athletes.
Larry Bird's greatest foil on the court was -- no drumroll needed -- Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Bird and Johnson met in the aforementioned NCAA championship game, and again in the NBA championships 3 times. But the comparison delves so much deeper. Their nicknames alone are clue enough that a discerning mind would recognize which player my father would idolize.
"Magic": Flashy. Gaudy. "Look at me, everyone."
"The Hick From French Lick": See word "Hick."
However, Magic was the perfect antithesis to Bird. Magic's team was the "Showtime" LA Lakers. Magic's cheesing mug was on billboards and television commercials. Magic bedded nearly as many women as he had amassed career assists. One the other hand, Bird's Boston Celtics mirrored gangly white working class schlubs in both appearance and attitude (yes, Robert Parish did, too). Off the court, Bird's face only appeared in his defender's nightmares. And I'm pretty sure Bird is still a virgin.
Okay, here's the example that perfectly epitomizes Dad's affection for Bird over Magic. While Magic was romancing one woman after another on velvet bedspreads, Bird was putting in his mother's driveway. As a result -- Magic got AIDS, and Bird got a chronic bad back. However, my father respects Magic. The ex-Laker was, and is, a true professional and a stand-up human being (despite now being part-owner of the blasted LA Dodgers). But whenever Dad is outside on a chilly November morning, building a retaining wall or hauling dead trees, he is Larry "The Hick From French Lick" Bird, but in Dickies work pants and a flannel shirt.
The other sport my father enjoys is football. His favorite NFL player should be exceedingly easy to guess. (Dad doesn't pay attention to hockey. His head would explode trying to determine a favorite player because every NHL athlete is either Mike Schmidt or Larry Bird on ice skates, more-or-less. I bet Alexander Ovechkin would be the only guy off the table.) That player is Peyton Manning, duh. Dad has always been a diehard Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts fan, to boot. Peyton Manning is the stereotypical overachiever. His workaholic credentials are legend. In fact, he's such an overachiever that he's ripe for satire -- he shows up to training camp before Valentine's Day; he breastfeeds rookies (in public) until they're mature enough to put on pads on Week One; he's competed in the playoffs with a severed head.
The Colt's vaunted starting quarterback sat out the 2011 football season due a faulty neck. That year, replacement quarterback Curtis Painter "led" the Colt's to a 2-14 record, ensuring Indianapolis the number one pick in the 2012 NFL draft. The team had since decided to draft a young college quarterback to replace a departing Manning, The two choices were obvious: Standford's la-de-da pocket passer Andrew Luck or Baylor's super-charged field general Robert Griffin III. Both were tremendous talents who had celebrated college careers. Both were also dedicated and hardworking athletes who were, by all accounts, respectful human beings. Dad liked them both. Prior to Draft Day he stated in an email to me "I'd gladly take either Luck or Griffin." Either player seemed fully capable of eventually returning the Colts to the Super Bowl. To Dad, the variables of the quarterback were irrelevant; leading the team to victory was paramount. However, all else being equal, I knew my father preferred Andrew Luck. Why? He was boring. Moreover, Andrew Luck looked and acted as though he were divinely born straight from Peyton Manning's rib.
During the 2012 NFL season, Luck spearheaded a Colt's offense to an 11-5 record. RG3 did the same at the helm of the Washington Redskins. Both teams made the playoffs. That Thanksgiving, I was watching the afternoon football games at my parents' house with my father when a Subway commercial aired, starring a hamming-it-up Robert Griffin the Third. Dad grimaced and shook his head, and said "See now, that bothers me. This guy is only a rookie and he's doing television commercials." I reminded him that Peyton Manning has literally been in every other friggin' commercial for five years straight. I should've imagined his response; "That's right. But he's already won the Big One." Touche'.
I never grew up to be the baseball player in the camera lens. Sure, I could've grown badass sideburns and stuffed chew under my bottom lip, but I was destine not to be Mike Schmidt. As much as I daydreamed -- even if I'd tried like hell since I was a little leaguer -- I could never have become Reggie Jackon, or Larry Bird, or Magic Johnson, or RG3. I never wanted to be Peyton Manning -- he who sacrificed a puppy to Satan in exchange for a first-round playoff bye, or appeared in enough Starbucks commercials to gain membership into the Screen Actor's Guild.
I'm not upset that I never achieved my childhood dreams. Nevertheless, I do possess the capacity to build a retaining wall or haul dead trees. Hell, I suppose I could even lay a driveway if I really, really want to. In the minds of some, completing such chores is the everyman's version of winning the Big One.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Oh, it’s you again! I was just sitting here by the fireplace, lounging in this silk bathroom and puffing on this gaudy pipe. Here are a few random thoughts…
--Stacked on the magazine racks are copies of a Time Magazine special edition celebrating PrinceGeorge’s—the royal baby's—
first birthday. Time Magazines special editions should be reserved for transformative figures like Maya Angelou, and life-changing events like 9/11. But a baby!? A baby makes no conscious decisions. Babies should be relatively boring to everyone but their parents—even royal babies. Babies do not deserve to be covered, or exploited, by Time Magazine. They deserve binkies and clean diapers; that's about it. And what's with the outdated notion of a "royal" family anyway? Can we please mature as a society and starting calling them what they are…those blasted Windsors down the street.
--Right now, somewhere on Earth, one kid is starving to death in a hut made of plywood and particle board, while another kid is programming the rec room DVR to record Man Vs. Food. A 5-year-old is choosing between begging for a handful of rice or stealing stale bread from the corner market, while a grown man is being paid handsomely to do battle against a 3 pound bacon double cheeseburger on a Kaiser roll.
I guess some are blessed while others are lessed.
--The give-a-penny take-a-penny jar is a fine idea on which to base a financial system, in theory. The problem is, somebody needs to give a penny first and expect nothing in return. Otherwise, the jar will be perpetually empty.
-On the Dr. Oz program the other day (don't ask) a so-called medium was so-called talking to the so-called dead and relaying the so-called messages to living family members in the audience. If you believe that ghosts are whispering vague details about themselves to the few with the gifted ability to listen, you probably search for The Sixth Sense in the documentary section. Mediums are clearly shysters using age-old tricks. Regardless, they're on network TV at 6:00pm on a Tuesday, manipulating the fragile emotions of desperate widowers and grieving daughters, and whatnot. How can rational networks executives, not to mention Dr. Oz, allow this? The antics perpetrated by mediums are exceedingly cruel, and shouldn't be gloried. Dr. Oz has plenty of reasons to be ashamed, and this is chief among them, unless, of course, he is delusional too. Who made this man a doctor?
--Rush Limbaugh is like a terrorist. If people talk about him, he wins. Shhh.
--The crisis at the border is disturbing, indeed. Those demanding that the children be deported back to war-town drug countries are, by-in-large conservatives, who are, by-in-large, the WWJD contingency. Would Jesus herd fearful 12-year-olds into cargo planes and unceremoniously dump them back into a netherworld in which 1 in 5 will be murdered by the henchman of drug lords. Probably not. But then again, maybe Jesus requires the proper paperwork.
--If religious indoctrination of children ceased tonight, tomorrow's world require far less missile defense systems.
Frankly, a person shouldn't be allowed to explore religious options until he's old enough to drink.
--Faith, by definition, is belief or trust in something that lacks logical proof, or despite evidence to the contrary. Do you realize some US lawmakers dictate policy via faith!? If I told you I had faith that a loose leaf notebook could halt a SCUD missile you'd shrug me off. That is, until I became an elected official and contracted Dunder Mifflin to build a coastline defense shield.
How did Occam's Razor get so dull?
--A pastor on the radio said that God has a plan for all babies (the pastor noted that God especially has a plan for Christian babies. Go figure!) and He knows what the future holds. (Some babies are born with heroin addictions or faulty livers or, ah dead, but whatever.) If God has a plan for all babies
Consider this, many children are read First Bible Stories at bedtime. Right there on page two is the Noah's Ark story. That's literally one of the first stories a child learns, the most widespread mass murder in the history of the world, perpetrated by He who watches you sleep.
And what's more, page one is the Adam and Eve story. One of God's first bits of dialogue goes something like "don't eat of the tree of knowledge." Right of the bat, the divine judge, jury and executioner is warning the reader not to question anything in the following pages, or face eternal punishment. Heeelllooo.
The (what should be) obvious...
--You don’t need religion to be a good person. Regardless to whom you pray before bedtime, you shouldn't be loving, or giving, or sympathetic only to impress a feckless god.
However, many people are various sorts of assholes—Muslim or Christian or whatever—because the same feckless god clearly and concisely instructs (or at least strongly suggests) them to be.
ISIS; Hamas; Westboro Baptist Church; Al Qaeda; Michelle Bachmann..."Imagine no religion."
--The Pope is the one-man royal family of Catholicism. Sure, he rides around in a bullet-proof phone booth on wheels, lives in the penthouse (or, ah, "guest room") of a snow globe, and requests that you collapse to your knees and smooch the gaudy ring on his finger because he's a living god on Earth and all, yet…he's soooooo humble.
"Congratulations John Paul, you performed juuust enough miracles to become a saint…two."