Fathers and Sons

Angels and the Outfield

He just brought it home one day after work and presented it to me. No set up. Not born of a previous request or conversation.

The Glove. 

Reggie Jackson model, waffle-pocket Rawlings. The Finest In the Field. 

Said he’d bought it from an acquaintance. Some guy he knew from the store. Paid $25 for it, used.  I remember him feeling shrewd about the deal.

It was huge. The finger holes were like catacombs. My 10-year-old digits barely reached.

And, oh, it was really used. The traditional method of breaking in a glove is to place a baseball in the pocket and tightly tie the glove closed with string so that you preserve a sweet spot for the ball. The Glove must’ve been given a Swedish Massage and then placed, empty, under the tire of a dump truck. Its pocket folded over its fingers like pages in a book. Its leather soft and pliant. It was so broken in I could clap with it. What padding it had was massaged into sweet surrender (presumably by the Swedes). But given that my fingers barely filled 25% of its real estate, padding wasn’t really relevant to the equation. 

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The Road Ahead

Saving Time

Springing forward always makes me think of Sad Sam Jones, who pitched in the major leagues from 1914-1935. 

In Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times,” Sam tells of how he never threw over to first base to chase back a runner.  He once went five years without even attempting a pickoff move. “I once heard Eddie Plank say, ‘There are only so many pitches in this old arm, and I don’t believe in wasting them throwing to first base.’”

That’s how I feel about the clock in my car, the one clock I have dominion over. I never turn it forward and back. Although I don’t have the extension of my major league career to think about, I dedicate the occasional stray thought to the preservation of one of my few useful services to my family: I’m really good at opening jars. “Dad?” Karry will call from the kitchen. “Help.” 

Given that the vast majority of my contributions to the house fall under a loose category I like to call, “Intangibles,” I’m mindful of getting the most from my meager talents.  This is why I never complained all those years we went without a dishwasher. Any excuse to stand next to Karry.

So, for going on 25 years, I’ve saved myself two turns a year (fifty jars if you’re keepin’ score). My car clock’s in permanent Spring Forward Mode, so it’ll now be accurate for the next six months.  For the rest of the year, it’s always an hour earlier than my car says it is. During the winter, every time I turn the ignition I experience a small satisfaction realizing it’s not that late. Always makes me feel a little ahead of the game. Though it mostly has the opposite effect on my passengers, each of whom tends to experience an ‘Oh sh*t, what time is it?’ momentary freak-out. 

Like most of my idiosyncrasies, it drives my family nuts. But I like having an excuse to think about Sam Jones when I think about spring. I’d like to think that Sam would appreciate that, too.

There are only so many twists in this old wrist.

Can’t wait until Opening Day. 

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Righteous riffs

Just another Saturday morning ….

Karry catches the rising sun spotlighting the frost on the trees, says I’d appreciate, implying more than her, she hates all of winter … but as the sun continues to rise, she thaws, and is broken by its beauty, how the backlit frost glows, how the trees just glisten, like the sun has cast the morning in moonlight, and for an unspoiled moment we just stand awed in our old kitchen and stare at an older sun we’ve never seen before kissing the backs of the bare trees good morning.

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Righteous riffs

No Great Hurry, Not Soon Enough (a meditation)

In my imagination, this is where we are tonight ….

Walking into Potter’s, glancing left and finding enough open, old, red stools at the bar to accommodate us (whoever’s available, whoever wants to come), their acquisition by our keisters a confirmation, the most formal, capital “A” Arrival I can think of right now, the granting of official permission to leave everything else outside for Here … Now … the simple This.

In my imagination Robert, the forever bartender, towel over his shoulder, who spent contented decades pouring and washing, fills our glasses full of Pabst — all that our thirst has required here since 21.

Yes, we make a point to clink each other’s glasses. There may be toasts, but everything that has ever needed said is whispered in full measure by just our being together.

There is no clock on the wall.

If we’re lucky an old regular may shuffle in on cue to check the daily number off the TV, letting us know it’s seven. In the right company, in the right place, such a sun dial is sufficient.

We don’t bother with the menu, remembering it like we recall the Gettysburg Address Mr. Landman made us memorize in 8th grade history.

Everyone orders their regulars … there may be a cheeseburger, maybe wings, maybe a Greek Western, maybe a Double Giant Whammy Doodle.

For me, it’s a Poor Boy (what Potter’s calls their grilled ham and cheese topped with lettuce and mayo) without tomato on a hoagie roll. Unostentatious and perfect, the sandwich and the setting. Small salad (with beets, because, you know, Uniontown) tossed in their homemade Italian whose taste is worth any indigestion later, and their legendary fries sprinkled with seasoned salt, to share.

But the nourishment I come for is not on the menu.

It’s to hear everyone’s laughter again. Bill throwing his head back in full cackle. Tom’s revving up and going silent in high gear. Matt’s high-pitched giggle. Homer, ready with his quick squirrel chuckle. Andy’s shoulders heaving when he gets going. Chris, fighting through his laugh to throw more logs on the fire. Wolfie just shaking his head.

We go a little quieter when the food comes, order seconds of Pabsts, and are in no great hurry once the bill comes, carrying on the conversation we started here as teenagers.

Cheers, boys ….

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Righteous riffs

Catch Before Fall

Tuesday, November 13, 2020

I plant the black camp chair firm

in the back yard grass just

as the sun and I tip

our hats good evening to this,

the season’s last warm day.

From 70s, 60s now and falling fast,

fall’s full fragrances mingling with the mix tape of neighbors’ bustling,

whispering to me that this is indeed a great, shared secret.

A lawn mower over yonder pushed from front to back,

growling louder and receding,

like the wave of a season’s coming and going….

Neighbor kids squealing just beyond the reach of each other’s tag,

the barking dog so wanting to break free from its leash to join this,

its favorite game in the world ….

The pork chop dinner through the kitchen’s open screened window wafting,

soon summoning the congregation ….

The wrist-revving motorcycle, racing up the street

chasing the last of the jacketless daylight.

50s now, and falling fast,

I rise from my chair and lay down,

surrendering so the grass can pillow my head,

and draw in the deep breath of …

the neighbor’s finished mow,

pork chops on the table,

the fallen leaves scenting the air and promising

a Last. Satisfying. Crackle. Crunch.

When I recluctantly stand back up,

fold the black camp chair, plant it ‘neath the porch,

and shut the back door behind me, turning the lock.

The leashed dog still barking, wanting to play.

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Righteous riffs

Over. Time.

So, THIS would have been the day 

When we would stretch after-school Nerf football 

On the perfect patch of Connor Street between the power lines 

Until the very last drop of daylight … and then some.

Until 

You could smell dinner on the table from each of the houses 

along your deep post pattern.

Until

our moms would yell us inside, 

and we’d beg or ignore for five more minutes.

Until 

we could run under just one more tight spiral 

on that perfect patch between the power lines.

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Righteous riffs

Murder, She Polled ….

(Season 3, Episode 6)

On Friday nights, we’ve taken to watching old episodes of Murder, She Wrote. 

As one does. 

As an aside … happy belated 95th birthday to Dame Angela Lansbury. As an aside to the aside, I found Em the most awesome t-shirt in the universe to honor the occasion. 

To give you just a taste of our recent bliss, last week we dialed up Season 3 Episode 5, and watched the sublime “Corned Beef and Carnage,” [how there isn’t a statue built to the person who came up with that title is a crime that should have merited its own two-part episode ending with a part-one cliffhanger, but I digress…]

… featuring a cast that would rival any Love Boat episode … Charles from MASH, Larry from Three’s Company, “The Man” from Chico and the Man, Kenickie from Grease, and the lovely Susan Anton (insert purring cat sound here).

After last week’s carnage, our expectations were highest-level-before-infinity as we curled into our comfy living room chairs to fire up episode 6 last night. It guest-starred Leslie Nielsen, playing David, an old-high school crush of Jessica’s, who was returning to Cabot Cove as a four-time-divorced smooth-talking debonair shyster, having hired a quartet of young scuba divers to plumb the depths of Cabot Cove in search of forgotten, sunken Pirate treasure.

As one does.

Oh, how high the piles of cocaine must have been in their weekly writer’s room? 

Anyway, here’s where I need you to pay attention and weigh in …

… the episode opens with Angela chatting with Amos (Tom Bosley’s dim-witted sheriff character who Bosley inflects with the absolute worst Maine accent ever attempted) and good ole’ Seth (the town doctor whose relationship with Jessica always almost-but-never-quite teeters beyond the platonic), when David (Leslie Neilsen’s character) spies Angela, taps her on the shoulder, and … 

… gives her an impossibly-hard-to-watch full-mouth excruciatingly long kiss. 

Out of nowhere. With no context.  

For context (as if it even matters to the scene) …  Jessica is a widower, who turned to mystery writing only after the sudden, unexpected death of her dear husband, Frank.

Needless to say Em and I were as taken aback as Seth and Amos. 

In full disclosure, one of us may or may not have blurted out: “What the EFFFFFF is happening right now?” 

No lie, we exchanged at least two rounds of astonished rejoinders by the time those suddenly carnal 50-somethings pulled away from each other.

It was then that we realized that, evidently, we care more about the character (not to mention Frank, her widower, who is probably still spinning in his fictitious grave) NOW than the writers did THEN. This is where we welcome your perspective to balance ours.

Knowing what you now know about the scene (also, if you want to appreciate the following question in its full context, we wholeheartedly encourage you to dial up Season 3, Episode 6, watch it beginning to end, and then return to the polling question. Better yet, start at Season 1, Episode 1, and work your way through the massive pile of dead bodies that Jessica amasses leading up to her randy street encounter with Lt. Frank Drebin.) …

… please weigh in the following. Thanks (as always) for the gift of your time and attention.

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Excursions

To be continued ….

It was significant, though it was nothing fancy.  

Actually, she made just about every detail significant, though none of it was fancy. 

She let me take her to lunch today, just the two of us (since we went out to dinner as a family on Sunday). She got dressed up just a little bit. Wore the brown blouse that she knows I have always loved her in. Was ready a couple minutes early. She let me drive. Let me hold the door for her as she got in, and also as she got out. Took my arm as we negotiated the parking lot slush. Let me pick from the menu, even though she wasn’t interested in anything other than breadsticks and tea. 

Truth be told, she hates Pizza Hut. Has ever since she got the most violently ill after a visit years ago. As has been her custom consistently across the 26 years I’ve known her, she gives you one shot, and that’s pretty much it. 

But she has been known to make the occasional annual exception on or around February 14. When she lets me coax her into a victory lap over some breadsticks and tea. 

That was the precise fare on Feb. 14, 1991, when we spent our first ever Valentine’s Day together gazing out at some fat snowflakes from a booth at the Waynesburg Pizza Hut.  

She’d forgotten about the snow then, she confessed as I recalled the weather report from 26 years ago. 

We both fought the urge to take the full measure of this annual pencil-tick-on-the-doorjamb moment. 

But I made myself vulnerable before her … with the same ease that convinced me 26 years ago that she was The One and Only. I could always tell her anything. 

Confessed to her how embarrassed I was about forgetting how to surprise her. I’ve lost it … from lack of practice. Couldn’t come up with anything for Valentine’s Day for her. Not that we’re big V-Day people. We’re beyond the hype you might say. Still, though … I used to have game. Used to knock her socks off. When I couldn’t afford roses, I once made her a bouquet of roses I drew, told her they were better than the real thing because they would never wither. She kept them for years. Once saved up for a diamond necklace, though the biggest one I could afford was the tiniest one they had.

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Righteous riffs

Reminiscing in tempo ….

I can’t remember when I found them, I just remember as soon as I saw them I had to get ’em.

For him.  

That was us for a good 14 years, from my first gig as a 14-year-old until I gave up my spot on the bandstand a couple years after getting married.   

I think I made them a Christmas present. And I was right. He treasured them. 

For years afterwards, whenever I’d visit, he’d always point ’em out from their privileged perch on the mantle in the living room. “I smile every time I look at them,” he’d say. “They make me think of all the good times we had.” 

And then we’d reminisce about those good times

I know exactly what he means.

I took them back when we cleaned out the old house four years ago. Gave them a privileged perch on the shelves leading upstairs, so I’d see them every time I came home. 

I smile every time I look at them. They make me think of all the good times we had. 

That’s what I’d tell him if I could call to wish him a happy birthday today. 

I can hear the sound of his voice pitching up the second he recognized it was me, as pure as the tone of his horn.  

“Peeeeeeete!” 

He was always genuinely glad to hear from me every time I’d call. What a gift that was.

That’s what I’m missing today.

I’d call him to wish him a happy birthday, and he’d be the one making me feel good.

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The Girls

Pluck

The girls are out for errands after going to church. Peter’s still sleeping. I’m alone at the dining room table, looking out through the screen door on a rainy Sunday morning. The poblano plant is finally starting to sprout. “Look at them … they are mutants!” Emma gushed when she went out to inspect earlier this morning. Until she said it, I hadn’t noticed. But they’re now the size of chubby toes, and have finally caught up to the jalapenos we’ve been enjoying the past couple weeks. 

The porch garden was foremost among Emma and Karry’s experiments this summer. My wife suppressed her pessimism born of past failed backyard garden attempts sabotaged by the gluttonous cemetery deer who, for years, have roamed and ravaged our neighborhood as expectant as tourists with lobster bibs. Her youth nourished by lush family gardens in the country, Karry fully indulged Emma’s initiative. As my wife is a resigned realist, I found her sanguine act significant. 

So they rimmed the perimeter of our porch with seeded planters of tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, jalapenos, poblanos and onions. Neighbored them with basil, oregano, spearmint, and cilantro. For months, Emma dutifully tended her little green village daily. The monitoring of progress has elicited from the girls consistent spasms of giddiness. I know this not from direct participation, but through the evening glee that wafts through the screen door back into the house. Admittedly, some subjects have fared better than others. But even the humblest of harvests have brought small joys.

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