Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Fisher Tontine

Truth be known, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be sitting in this chair. Oh, it’s not the chair I mind, a rocker is as good a way as man has invented to wile away the hours, not that he hasn’t tried to find other high-tech alternatives. Lord knows men in lab coats are paid handsomely to dream up ways of making me comfortable during my ‘twilight years’. If I'd had this stroke sixty years ago, instead of damn near twenty years into the new millennium, the kids would have stuck me in a nursing home. Today, I'm afforded the luxury of a ‘long-term care facility’.

But, I guess I shouldn't complain. In all fairness, my family does come to visit from time to time. So does Haley's Comet. It's only been a few months since my grandson needed braces on his teeth, evidently the consequence of an altercation at school. Cicely and Charles brought the little shaver to see me… I’m trying my best to remember his name, but it escapes me right now… Mike… Myles… Mason… I forget. I’ve seen the lad two- maybe three times, now, and I still can’t remember his name. Personally, I thought the ring through his nose was a bit overstated, but I did like the tattoo on his neck proclaiming Satan Rules! Besides, four thousand bucks doesn’t go as far as it used to, I don’t think, and I really don’t need the money. In fact, I wish they’d take it all… then they’d throw me out of here and maybe I find my way to southern California or Mexico. At least down there, I could listen to the ocean go out and come back in.

I blame all this on Dave Fisher. He’s the no-account disloyal son-of-a-bitch who got me into this mess. On November 24th of 1967, as we sat at the Grapevine Lounge in Garden Grove, California, drinking mai-tai’s or Cuba Libra’s or some such concoctions, we made a tontine. It was my last night in the U.S., and Dave had flown from Denver to Los Angeles to spend a week with me before my unit shipped out to Vietnam.

We’d met the summer after I graduated from high school. All the jocks took jobs working for the Aurora Parks Department, no doubt a payback from this or that unnamed booster with the political clout to make it happen. The jobs were menial, of course, adjusting sprinkler heads, moving hoses, mowing grass, etc. I was a baseball player of some accomplishment, and Dave a gymnast. Admittedly, he looked better in shorts and t-shirt than I did; he had six-pack abs long before they became fashionable.

Of course, vanity has its price, but I was the one who paid it for him. David Hugh Fisher was the slowest individual who ever drew breath. This became doubly frustrating because he had a car and I didn’t. So, we double-dated a lot. If we were going to the drive-in movies, I’d tell Dave to pick me up at 6 p.m. Then, I’d tell my date that we’d be by to get her at 8 p.m. When Dave finally got around to picking me up at 8:15, we’d only be a half-hour late to pick up my date at 8:30… if Dave felt like really hustling.

Dave lived with his sister, as he had throughout high school. Fiercely independent, his frequent clashes with his father had forced the arrangement, but it made co-existence possible and actually fostered their relationship to some extent. There can only be one man in the family, at least at the Fishers’, and lent credence to the assertion that the acorn does not fall far from the proverbial tree. Stubborn, combative and inclined to over-react, he was never far from trouble… just my sort of role model.

We were inseparable for the next year; drinking, fighting, carousing… all the foundations that made life tolerable for the adolescent male in the middle ‘60’s. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but many of the situations I found myself in framed my attitudes for the Marine training I would ultimately receive. Often I’ve wondered, which came first, the chicken or the egg… did I become a Marine, or was the training merely the fulfillment of an existential prophesy?

Enlistment in the service was out of the question for Dave, because his draft classification was 1-Y. Basically, as I understood it, that meant that they could only draft him if all the grandfathers in the U.S. were on life-support. Of course, this suited him just fine. He felt like the Vietnamese hadn’t done anything to provoke him, so why should he be bothered with the whole mess? Now, don’t get the impression that Dave was a Peacenik. In fact, quite the opposite was the case. It’s just that Dave liked to have you touch him inappropriately before he kicked your ass. “Nothing personal, Bob, but I don’t look good in khaki. Besides, if I got started killing gooks, they’d have to close the borders and declare the entire country a disaster area. I wouldn’t want to put that welfare burden on the American taxpayer.” Little did we know the truth of his remark.

We lost contact not too long after I went in-country, but that wasn’t his fault, either. I’d told him not to bother writing, I probably wouldn’t get half the letters, anyway, and I knew it made him uncomfortable. Dave was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve… it might detract from his fashion ensemble, or indicate that he was in some way soft, and this couldn’t be allowed to happen. I thought about him often, though… wished I had him manning a door gun or crewing my Huey. Sometimes just a hand on my shoulder made all the difference when making a difficult landing in an unsecured drop zone or looking back into the aft section to see what was taking so long as they loaded stretchers or body bags. In a combat zone, a helicopter is a vulnerable piece of equipment; essential for deployment of troops, re-supply of supplies and personnel, and removal of wounded and dead. A few minutes could, and often did, become eternity. Truthfully, during the twenty months I spent in Southeast Asia, our tontine was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t want to waste my time thinking about eventualities that would never come to pass.

The concept of tontines is attributed to Lorenzo Tonti, a Neapolitan banker who started one in Paris in 1653, but evidence exists that places the origins much earlier. In Mr. Tonti’s version, each subscriber paid a sum into a fund, and in return received dividends from the capital invested; as each subscriber died his share was divided among all the others until only one was left, reaping all the benefits. In the original scheme, the capital reverted to the state when the last subscriber died, so it was really a kind of national lottery. They may have been the world’s first stabs at annuities.

Our tontine was less enterprising, both in terms of monetary gain and membership. In fact, it was limited to us, exclusively. The only codicil agreed upon was simple. If either of us ever got to the point, either physically or mentally, where a dignified life was no longer possible, the other would end that life and accept whatever consequences arose. From time to time, I’d send small amounts of money to the San Francisco bank keeping score. I never checked the balance, because it wasn’t an issue. Frankly, for years, I didn’t even think of it in any terms except as an insurance policy against my reckless, self-destructive behavior. Tell me, where can one buy a policy insuring that someone will put a bullet in his head, should he be unable to do it himself? No, it had nothing to do with money. It was all about a sustained love that transcended years and continents, a love that ignored petty differences and overlooked implied slights or circumstances.

The asshole loved Phoenix. Approximately thirty hours or so after Ted Dickerson, Dave and I loaded up Dave’s ’69 El Camino, armed with enough marijuana, mescaline, white crosses, blotter acid, peyote, mushrooms and Budweiser to endure a trip from Denver to Arizona, we arrived in the Valley of the Sun. It was October of 1971, and by now, Dave and I had both married and divorced our wives, and decided that the winters in Colorado were more hassle than fun. Ted was necessary only because he had friends in Phoenix who’d put us up for awhile, and, lest I forget to mention, he was our source for the drug of the day.

Until that winter, I didn’t really realize what hedonistic capabilities I possessed. I wasn’t into the marijuana, because I didn’t smoke… anything. But, don’t let me loose around the mushrooms, because I’ll eat every last one and disappear! Ultimately, though, I didn’t really fit in. I’ve always attributed it to my Marine background, but, truthfully, Dave was every bit as fit and as tough as I ever was. He was merely more trusting of the people and the environment. I needed a little structure. If I wasn’t making some money to pay my own way, I was uncomfortable asking others to support me, no matter how much they had or were willing to share with us.

Plus, I had an overwhelming desire to go to college. I think Dave finally got tired of listening to me piss and moan about it, because one evening he came out of the bathroom after a half-hour primping session, sat down on the couch and threw a packet at me. “Here, Motherfucker… now shut up and go to school.” Inside the packet were acceptance papers from Arizona State University in Tempe. He’d sent away for high school transcripts, forged my name on God only knows how many documents, and gotten me enrolled as an undeclared major. As I perused the documents, I seem to recall saying, “That’s Doctor Motherfucker to you, Dickweed… or will be soon enough. Oh, and… thanks.” So much for pomp and ceremony…


Our divergent paths brought various, sometimes great geographical distances to prevail during the Eighties and Nineties, marked by infrequent gatherings conjured by one or another mutual friend. Dave became a shadowy merganser, prone to flight upon whatever whim or stimulus might present itself. I’m sure he convinced himself that all his “deals” were important.

Mostly, he kept to himself, as was his nature. Relationships were difficult for Dave, because they required him to schedule his routine, thereby inhibiting his flight capabilities. It was easier and cheaper to fly solo. Many times, I witnessed his lack of constraint and “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” approach to life as I struggled to support my wife and family, and secretly, God forgive me, I envied him. I also think he sensed this, because invariably as he hugged my family and me as we left after a barbecue or birthday party, he’d whisper in my ear, reminding me how lucky I am.

We’d almost totally lost touch by the time 1999 arrived. The last I’d heard, he was still in Phoenix. When I got the call from his sister, Karen, I was understandably taken aback. She asked me if I could come to Denver, she had some bad news regarding David. At first, I didn’t know whom she was talking about, because I didn’t recognize her last name, and I’d never heard anyone refer to him as “David”.

“David?” I asked. “David who?”


No further explanation was necessary. My wife packed me a small bag and drove me to Kansas City International Airport. During the one hour and forty minute flight to Denver, his face was ever-present as over and over he tossed the packet at me.


Scripps Sanitarium is nothing if not surreal. There are no wards, no ICU, no Patient Services Representative, no surgical amphitheater, no gift shop, no waiting areas and the cafeteria is for staff only. There is a non-denominational chapel… and a well-staffed morgue. You see, all the patients at Scripps Sanitarium are terminal and comatose… vegetative, I believe the nurse termed it. They’re all beyond help and beyond hope, being kept alive for various reasons; harvesting of tissue and organs, well-meaning wishes of family who can’t bear to say goodbye, failure to sign a living will… just to name a few.

When they escorted me into the room, I asked Karen a few questions as I gazed moronically at the cadaver lying on the litter. It wasn’t really a bed, or at least not any type of bed I’d want to lie in. Few machines were present other than a simple heart monitor and the IV stand that dripped glucose into the huge veins protruding from his arm. The ventilator had been introduced into a tracheotomy position in his neck and at first, I didn’t recognize him. One glance down at his articulate fingers, though, and there could be no doubt. This was Dave, or whatever semblance of him that remained.

For a while, I didn’t speak. It brought to mind the viewing at my grandfather’s wake. No one spoke there, either… I don’t know why, unless it was deemed disrespectful to the dear departed. I wanted to grab his shoulders and shake him. Wake up, you… you son of a bitch!

“A motorcycle rider found him under an overpass when he stopped to find shelter during a rainstorm, Bob, about three miles north of Ault. There wasn’t a mark on him, so the cops didn’t investigate it. There wasn’t a trace of drugs or alcohol, either… we just don’t know what to think.”

“Where’s his van?” Dave loved that 1976 Chevy Stepside more than any of his possessions. As far as I know, it was the only new vehicle he ever bought. Whenever we had gotten together, all he ever talked about was how much he hated it, and how much damn trouble it was becoming… new transmissions and engines, rods and struts… shocks… but, it’d be a shame to let somebody else have it after dropping a fortune into it. Yea, Dave, we know…

Karen just shook her head and refused to look at me. “I don’t know… the police have never found it.”

I put my arm around Karen and escorted her out to her car. We drove to a nearby coffee shop and sat for a while, discussing the situation and what the medical people had to say. “How long will this be allowed to go on?” I asked. Time for unnecessary sentiment had passed.

“That’s the sad part, Bob… he could stay like this for years. His heart and lungs are healthy, it’s just his brain that has quit functioning… he left no Living Will or DNR orders.”

I took a deep breath and looked out the window. It was threatening rain. “Yea… well, look, I need to take care of a little business. Would you mind taking me to Avis or Hertz?”

Three days later, we buried Dave in Mount Olivet Cemetery, next to his mother and father. Karen and I hastily assembled what few friends we could find as well as a multitude of extended family. As I stepped into my rented Chevy Lumina, she gave me a hug and a sealed packet addressed to me.

“Evidently David wanted you to have this. I’m sorry there wasn’t more to give you. You’ve been a true friend.” Then she walked away, leaving me to my thoughts.


The near-silent whine of turbines soothed me as I adjusted the reading light above my seat. The Fasten Seatbelt sign had been turned off, and I relaxed a little as I tore open the corner of my packet. One quick push of my index finger broke the seal and I released the dog-eared document from the envelope. As I did, two tickets fell out;

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego California, Section AA, Seats 32 and 33, Super Bowl XXXII, January 25, 1998, Denver Broncos vs Green Bay Packers.

They were intact… they’d not been used. The letter was brief, in keeping with his personality. He spoke of a few investments I’d find when I investigated the tontine, and went on to speculate as to my dubious parentage and altogether disgusting habit of correcting his grammar. Briefly, he spoke of the tontine itself, and how he sincerely hoped I’d never get to read this because I’d be long dead before he had his heart attack while servicing several hookers at the age of ninety-five.

I folded the paper and placed it back in its bier. Then, I closed my eyes and slept until the flight attendant shook me in Kansas City.

Oh, I left out a couple of details. The idiot left me over half a million in tontine funds. Can you believe that? Now I have to find a way to keep the government from getting their money-grubbing hands on it… or worse, my family. I think I’ll go get a cashier’s check and leave it to the Hare Krishna’s. I’m sure they could put it to good use, and maybe it’d keep one or two of them out of the airports. Who knows, they might even name a damn temple after me.

Last, he told me he loved me. Ain’t that just like him, rat bastard that he was… If I’d have known he was going to get emotional, I might have thought twice before injecting that pentaflouroethyl ether into his IV. Don’t worry, it’s undetectable, not that anyone would probably bother to look.

Twenty years has passed since that day in Denver, and time’s inexorable march has forced many of my natural processes to decline and fail. But, one thing that hasn’t failed is my memory, at least when it comes to Dave. I guess I must have loved him, too… at least enough to kill him.
Bob Church © 6/24/02

Sweeping Changes in Catholicism

Vatican City (API)-- In his attempts to bolster flagging attendance world-wide, Pope Benedict, the new German pontiff, has adapted Church Canon to more properly position the liturgy to a younger, hipper flock. Although unavailable for immediate comment, the Holy Father, through emissaries of the Church, made the new changes while celebrating Mass at St.Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Already, quarrels have emerged from within the clergy regarding the amount and type of Heavenly Brew offered at Communion. Some factions within the Church heirarchy insist that the Brew of Christ be of German origin and served at room temperature, while others prefer it chilled to 36 degrees Fahrenheit and served in goblets purchased at the Church, immediately before Mass. As of this report, only one Holy Pretzel is sanctioned.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Searching for Bo Belinsky

For some time now, I've written stories about homeless people, and I honestly don't know why. I've never been homeless and can't claim anything other than second-hand knowledge, but on some level, I think I identify with (my conception of ) their plight.

Anyway, I compiled an anthology of novellas and short stories dedicated to the subject, one of which is the story contained below. Needless to say, any hopes of finding a publisher have long since been abandoned. I hope you like the story.

Searching for Bo Belinsky

If you’ll listen closely when you watch a movie that shows people riding in boxcars, you’ll probably hear any conversation syncopated with rhythmic thumps meant to depict the wheels crossing rail connectors. Truth of the matter is, those sounds really exist in a form approximating the Hollywood sound engineers’ efforts—or, at least such has been my experience, only when you’re actually riding in a boxcar, you feel the jolt a split second before you hear it, allowing your ears to prepare for the sound and interpret it. This can cause confusion if the track sutures aren’t located directly across from one another, because it creates a sub-set of distinct, staccato adjunct sounds mirroring their mates’. Further, depending upon the time of day, season, ambient temperature and geography, the sound varies, even if only slightly, to the discerning listener. With a little practice, one’s precision in sound thumpology becomes attuned to individual tracks, giving a ‘road map’ of approximate locale and destination. Of course, none of this has a damned thing to do with the story I want to tell you, but I thought it might acquaint you with my style and help you understand my unfortunate propensity to embellish, ad nauseam.

The freight car I’d jumped into outside Elko was no more or less comfortable than any other except that the scant light provided by a harvest moon shining through tiny cracks in the wooden superstructure revealed a few empty crates large enough to secret an individual who might desire the security and prospects of an uninterrupted night’s sleep inside with a modicum of privacy. Honestly, I had no concern for the train’s destination or estimated time of arrival; both being mere factors that I’d have to deal with at some point in the future, with ‘future’ being the definitive word. In my world, anything that has either happened or might happen are merely conceptual red herrings only peripherally affecting my current mode of operation. I like living this way because every second becomes important in spite of any promises or threats created by others intended to motivate me or dissuade me from accomplishing my present mission, whatever it may be. Each decision I make is necessarily predicated upon factors obtained in the moment, without regard for extraneous minutia others might deem worthy of consideration.

Like many travelers, I prefer to engage in conversation with my peers at my own behest, exclusive of their mind-numbing requests to ascertain my name, destination, religious and or sexual preferences, marital status, familial home, etc., etc., ad infinitum; all of which receive my immediate verbal scorn and warning to desist. Normally this is enough to discourage most, but there are a few who insist on expanding the envelope, at least far enough to let me know that they’re not going to shut up until I respond.

Such was the case tonight. The sound of the large car door opening interrupted my sleep and I realized the train had slowed. This could mean many things, few desirable unless I wanted to get off. These days, with the implied threat of terrorism pervading all sectors of society, the railroad security crews kept close watch on the trains and any cargo not on the engineer’s manifests was unwelcome—especially the human variety. So, I stayed stock still in my container and watched the unclear visage of my new ‘partner in crime’ close the door and hover behind a broken slat, peering out into the darkness, watching and listening for any indications that he’d been discovered.

In a few minutes, the bifurcated thump of moving wheels slowly increased in speed as the huge diesel locomotives once again overcame the inertia of its load and powered us toward its destination. Once the sonic symphony repeated at a predictable rate and my unexpected new confederate evidently felt more secure, he began the same process I’d begun hours before, shaking the crates and trying to find an empty one to jump into. Necessarily, he pushed the top off my crate and as soon as I felt his fingers on the top, I stood up and shouted at the top of my lungs, “ARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!”, flailing my arms about in my best imitation of a crazed zombie from The Night of The Living Dead.

As I watched him back up in sheer terror, I heard his scream end as he hit the sidewall of the boxcar and crumple in a heap on the floor, breathless and stunned.

Fearing I may need to defend myself, I jumped out of the crate and moved to the far end of the boxcar, where I crouched in the darkness.

“Jesus Christ, man, lighten up! I’m only lookin’ for a place to crash.” Even through a hacking and coughing attack, the guy’s voice sounded non-threatening… and young. I wondered if he was sick; I couldn’t afford to get too close to him on any account, but if he had TB or some other God-forsaken communicable disease, he could take me out without trying.

“Well, you stay over there. Don’t come any closer or I’ll slice and dice you like a ripe cantaloupe.” Pure bluster at best, my knife would barely cut cardboard and I’d broken the tip off some years back while trying to pry a stuck quarter out of a pay phone, so there was no way in hell I could even stick him.

“That’s fine with me.” he said, raising his beleaguered frame to a sitting position. “Would you happen to have any water?”

“Did you mistake me for the Culligan Man?”

He said nothing but started to laugh— not an outwardly vocal expression, more a stifled, staccato chortle. “That’s funny,” he said, his voice soft but resilient. “I guess it was a pretty stupid request… I’m sorry, I meant no offense.”

Oh, shit, here we go. I hate it when people apologize when they shouldn’t. They just sound needy. Oh, please, mister, don’t think badly of me, I shouldn’t have dared ask you for something so valuable as a drink of water. I took my canteen out of my backpack and tossed it across the floor to him. “Do me a favor and pour it in something or at least try to keep from French kissing it with your yap. For all I know, you might have AIDS or syphilis or the plague.”

Screwing the cap off the plastic canteen, he said nothing as he drank. “Thanks,” was all he said as he put the top back on and tossed it back over to me, “but just so you’ll know, I don’t think you can get AIDS or syph’ off a canteen spout. I think you have to touch a toilet seat or something… but I ain’t so sure about the plague. In any case, I think my hepatitis will kick plague’s ass.”

This seemed to please him; again he began to chortle in a manner similar to the previous. Suddenly, I recalled where I’d first heard just such a laugh. It was 1978 and I’d wandered into a party in Santa Cruz—a cultural phenomenon accepted as the height of decadence by practically any standard applied. The unmistakable ambience and aroma of Maui Wowie filled every crevice; every bean bag chair, sofa, table, and nearly ever square inch of floor space held a motley assemblage of students, musicians and other hedonistic revelers dedicated to smoking yet another fat one and discussing the moral ramifications of the industrial revolution upon sixteenth century stone workers, all to the dulcet tones of REO Speedwagon crooning in the background. That unmistakable titter could erupt from any quarter at any time under any circumstance from anyone… including me. I wasn’t a big smoker of anything, much less marijuana, but it was physically impossible not to gain a contact high merely by remaining in the room, and I wasn’t about to leave. After all, I’d been invited, and it’d be impolite not to stay, especially since practically any booze made by man was available in seemingly indefatigable quantities. Now that I think about it, this party initiated me into the “Munchies” phenomenon and I experienced my first meal of sugar donuts dipped in blue cheese dressing and ice cream sandwiches topped with frozen asparagus tips (to add a little crunch, as I recall), with a stick of butter for dessert, washed down with the water we cooked the hot dogs in. I believe that may have been the night that we got pulled over by the California Highway Patrol during our trip to the liquor store. The officer contended that we might want to consider doing more than five miles per hour on the freeway, but he didn’t arrest us. Personally, I think he was a stoner, too, while off-duty, but since he confiscated nearly $500 worth of beer, whiskey and wine I guess he felt that we’d suffered enough. Of course, this required that we return to the liquor store with that purloined MasterCard, but that’s a story for another time.

Quickly I dismissed the idea that my new acquaintance could be high since it’d be nearly impossible for anyone to run and jump on a moving boxcar while tripping. But, he did have a unique sense of priorities and despite my natural reluctance, I found myself starting to like the kid.

“Where you headed?” he muttered, apparently taking another stab at conversation.

“I’m searching for Bo Belinsky.” I informed him succinctly.

“Oh, yea?”

His answer emboldened me; it sounded like he either might actually know about Bo or he was high and I might need to reconsider my previous appraisal of the situation. “Yea,” I bated, “do you know where I can find him?”

“Maybe… it depends.”

I guess I should have expected it. The road is full of characters; loaded down with people who know people, people whom (but for a bad break here and there) would have become rich and famous. Sure they would… and Bo Belinsky was running from me. Right.

“On what?”
Fuck you, pal, it’s my turn to play inquisitor for a while.

“Well…” he replied slowly, drawing out the word and raising the pitch of his voice at the end, “I don’t know who I’m talking to. For all I know, you might be someone bent on doing him harm, and I couldn’t permit that.”

Of course you couldn’t, you and Bo being tight buddies and all. “Yea… certainly not.” I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say at this point.

“You got any food?”

“Oh, you won’t give me information lest I be some demented hit man unerringly devoted to my quest to do Bo Belinsky bodily harm, but you might be willing to share some information if I’ll consider not killing you long enough to give you some food, does that about sum it up?”

At least, this time he didn’t laugh at me. I could feel his eyes burning very tiny holes in my jacket as they searched me, yet I smelled no odor from burning material or flesh, so I have to assume that his particular quantity of psychic energy couldn’t cause me to spontaneously combust, and this gave me comfort. A minute or so passed and he still hadn’t spoken, so I again opened my backpack and located a can of kipper snacks, which I slid across the wood floor to him.

“Hmmm…” he said, “Canned… something… it’s always been my favorite. Once again I thank you for your hospitality. My fingers tell me that the tin has a pull-off top. When I open it, will coiled-up snakes jump out?”

His mouth wasn’t visible, but I felt his smile; it was full and his teeth were crooked and too big for his mouth, and his thin lips would be stretched to their breaking point across the upper and lower boundaries. It was a smartass smile, and it only came in one form, no matter what his race or sex. I ought to know, too, because years ago, I held a patent on it.

“Eat your fucking sardines, asswipe, and try to show a little gratitude; in some circles folks exact a lofty price for their kindness. I’ll settle for a little information.”

I heard him snort. “Yes, you’re looking for Bo Belinsky, as I recall.”

“That’s right. Know where he is?”

“Yes, I believe I do, at least I know where he was about five years ago. Of course, I can’t assure you that he’d still be there, but I have good reason to believe he will. If you truly want to find him, you might try Las Vegas.”

Las Vegas. Now doesn’t that just figure? “And you know this why?”

“I read it in the paper, I think. Well, read may be an exaggeration in terms, actually; more properly stated, I think I saw it in the Review-Journal while I was ripping out the back page of the Living section to use as toilet paper. It was laying around at a flophouse in Henderson, so I stuck it in my backpack. You know as well as anyone that McDonald’s provides the crème de le crème of napkins for softness and absorbance, but at two o’clock in the morning in the desert, a newspaper sometimes has to suffice.”

The conversation had taken a vicious turn. I wanted information about Bo Belinsky and suddenly we were discussing his toilet habits. “Yea, well, your acumen in the field of substitute toilet products is very interesting, if a bit disturbing considering that, thank you Jesus, I don’t even know your name.”

“Okay, I’ll drop it, I just thought my research, my bracketology if you will, might add to your knowledge of survival skills.”

I had to ask. “Bracketology?” Now the bastard was making up words. Ordinarily, I might have let it slide, but this guy was just a little too glib for my liking.

“Yea… bracketology. Before the security guards threw me out of the bus station in Elko where I tried to catch a few winks on a bench, I watched a discussion about the subject on ESPN. Every year when the NCAA determines the national champion in basketball, for the tournament, the eligible teams are seeded and put into brackets based on a number of criteria such as national ranking, number of overall wins, conference wins, etc., etc. Then, they play in single-elimination format, one team moving on and one team going home, until all but two teams have been eliminated. One of these two teams becomes the national champion. These brackets have become a phenomenon in and of themselves. Sports fans bet on them and hold office pools to reward the most successful ‘bracketologist’, bars have their own contests, and so forth. Since the advent of the inter-net, the process evolved into one of the biggest moneymakers a website can hold. The beauty exists in bracketology’s adaptability to practically any subject. For instance, while sharing a jug of Gallo with a compatriot behind a dumpster outside the rear entrance of a trendy café just off Fisherman’s Wharf last winter, on the loudspeakers that piped music to the diners, I heard a deejay discussing his bracket in the “World’s Worst Love Song” competition. As I recall, I Honestly Love You by Olivia Newton-John, according to listeners calling in, kicked the ass of Barry Manilow’s Mandy, and moved on in the tournament. That’s bracketology.”

I couldn’t speak for a few seconds. Simultaneously, I brought to mind exactly how far removed from society I’d become and how grateful I am of it. I’m reminded that this particular foible of society, the deep-seated need to compete in all aspects of life, provides all the impetus I need to stay in the shadows. Long ago I recognized it and understood that it couldn’t change; society’s very existence depended upon it. People’s lives became marathons of ego-gratification, most run with too little training and too much dopamine. Artists, in all their forms, lay dormant upon the altar of profit, bound and gagged, hoping to be accepted by the Gods and rewarded with the myrrh of emulation and the giddy treasure troves provided by benefactors and angels. Early on, I realized that anything more than a few degrees removed from the bottom line equated to intellectual masturbation and I simply left it behind. Bracketology… individuals’ most recent attempt to prove their standing among their peers, the only chance they might get to enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame. In my estimation, society’s competition is an addiction… it’s to want the wrong thing very, very badly—and not be able to stop. I wondered if my new friend felt the same way.

“Isn’t that interesting…” I thought about faking a yawn, but saw no purpose. “Care to tell me what the article said or do you want to dance around some more?”

“Ha!” His audible snort preceded the blast of the train’s whistle, a warning to motorists or other interested parties that an iron bullet the length of four football fields approached and had absolutely no intention of yielding to anyone or anything. I hoped his intentions paled by comparison. He said nothing more until the drone of the whistle left no more reminders of its presence than a ringing buzz in our ears. “Forgive my long-winded preface, I freely admit to such tendencies. But, more to the matter in question, I’m struggling with a dilemma. Since we first engaged in this ‘conversation’, you’ve twice blessed me with worldly kindness in the form of food and water, and it could be argued that your company is a third. In light of this revelation and in consideration of the knowledge I possess, I’m struggling with a decision as to how I should proceed.”

“Out of concern for Mr. Belinsky, I presume? You think I’m trying to find him so I can do him physical harm? How do you know he’s not a relative or a close family friend or perhaps a fraternity brother? Or maybe you think that no one who lives on the road would ever hold anyone dear? Aren’t you a bit young to be a cynic?”

“Why do you automatically assume that it’s Bo Belinsky’s welfare that fuels my dilemma? I dare say the cynic’s cloak might fit you better than me. If you’ll just tell me why you’re looking for him, I’ll tell you what I know.”

“Where did you grow up, pilgrim?” I said, in my best Bear Claw Chris Lapp voice.

The question gave him pause. Such questions tend to stick in the craw of most road warriors. Most of us run from at least one demon, and I wasn’t sure I’d have answered it myself, if asked directly.

“Midwest” he uttered, his voice committed and forbidding. Ask no more.

“Did you root for a particular baseball team when you were a boy?”

“Sure… didn’t everybody?” Then, anticipating my next question, he added, “Cubbies”.

“Acch!” I yipped, the word bringing me pangs of sympathy pains. “No wonder you dropped out. I swear, to anyone who could endure the bungling of a club so inept, so inveterately abominable, I can only pass along my condolences and thank God I had the good fortune to grow up with parents who taught me to think a little.”

“Need I remind you that we’re currently occupying the same boxcar?”

“Do I need remind you that I despise wit, especially when it’s aimed at me? Okay, I’ll give you that one. I grew up in Southern California, in a largely unincorporated area in Orange County, east of Tustin. In those days, every kid was a fan of the Dodgers, so, naturally, I rooted for the Angels. On a warm spring day in May of 1962, my dad took me to Anaheim Stadium to watch them play Baltimore. I was eleven years old, and it was my first major league ball game.”

“And Bo Belinsky hit a homerun in the bottom of the ninth to win the game…”

“Do you want me to answer your question or do you just want to hear your gums bump together?”

Only the continuous hum of the locomotive and the waltz of the wheels broke the silence for a while. Then, in a voice so small that had I not been listening closely, I may have mistaken it for a wheeze or sigh, I heard, “Sorry.”

Bolstered by his apology if still suspicious of his motives, I continued, “Pop took me early so that we could watch batting practice. In those days, the Angels attendance wasn’t what it is now, given the fact that they were LA’s ‘farm club’ behind the Dodgers, so for the price of general admission, we waltzed right down to the box seats and sat down in the first row, right next to the Anaheim dugout. Friend, I tell you, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Sure, most of them were rookies or guys none of the other teams wanted, but that didn’t matter, because, to this young kid, they were all Hall of Fame ballplayers.”

“Did Belinsky make it to the Hall of Fame?”

I’m glad he couldn’t see my smirk. “If he did, he paid to get in, just like the rest of us. No, Cooperstown won’t be erecting any bronze statues of Bo. You see, Bo is quite the ladies’ man or at least, that’s his reputation. He became known more for his drinking, pool hustling and carousing than for the mark he made upon baseball. That’s not to say that he wasn’t talented. In fact, at one time he was one of the dominant pitchers in the league. He threw left-handed and possessed a live, riding fastball that naturally broke into the hands of right-handed hitters. In fact, on the day I went to see the Angels play, he made history by pitching the first no-hitter ever pitched in a major league ball game on the west coast. The team mobbed him after he struck out the last hitter, and as he walked off the field, he tossed the ball into the stands, right into the baseball glove of a certain youngster sitting in the front row. ‘Here, kid,’ he said to me while removing an enormous wad of tobacco from his cheek, ‘tell your buddies what you just seen’.”

Again, the whistle blew long and strong and lights shone through the cracks in the sidewalls. We’d reached Las Vegas.

I heard him scrambling to his feet. “This is where I get off. It’s been great talking to you, and I thank you for your hospitality.” As he put his backpack on, I saw his form illuminated against the back lighting. “Listen” he said, as though in afterthought, “I may be seeing Bo while I’m in Vegas, is there anything you’d like me to tell him?”

“No”, I said, “but there’s something I’d like you to give him. Come over here so I don’t have to get up, if you don’t mind.”

He walked over and crouched down next to me, a young man with gracile features. I reached into my backpack, pulled out the ball and placed it in his hand. “Here, if you see Bo, give this to him. I’ve been keeping it for him for forty-five years, and not a day has passed that I didn’t feel like a thief. You see, my young friend, none of us ever really own anything… we can only borrow it for a while. Tell him I’m sorry I didn’t get it back to him sooner.”

Later that day, a young traveler fortified with a plot map approached a grave in Paradise Memorial Gardens in Las Vegas, Nevada. The marble headstone bore the inscription:

Robert (Bo) Belinsky
December 7, 1936—November 23, 2001

In the bronze vase intended for flowers, he placed the browned weathered baseball that struck out the twenty-seventh Baltimore Orioles hitter to face Bo Belinsky on May 2, 1962. If he said anything at all, he was the only one to hear the words.

Bob Church©3/26/07

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I get letters...

Today's Horoscope:

Today, if you aren't careful, you may accidentally insult someone by a poor choice of words, and hurt their feelings. In particular, the expression "hideously deformed" may not be as neutral as you might have originally thought.

Alright, let's get started. It seems that yesterday's offering might have been just the tiniest-bit heavy-handed. I should know better than to sit down behind the business end of a keyboard less than two hours after watching CNN. But, those of you who took the time to remind me of my literary shortcomings (and you were monumental in number) can take solace from the knowledge that I am profoundly chastened by your voluminous discordant missals. This morning, I'd like to share some of the mail I've been getting from my readers:

Dear Bubba (if that truly is your name, which I doubt to be the case),

When are you finally going to die? Your column is
easily the worst thing I've ever read. It is neither insightful
nor enjoyable. Do us all a favor and die. Die! Die, die, die,
die, die!

Have a nice day.

Sister Carmelita Finster, Caramelite Sisters of Carmel

Sister, I'd love to die, actually, if for no other reason, just to make your life complete. Unfortunately, I've been cursed with good genetics and a relatively healthy lifestyle. Therefore (the possibility of a huge meteorite or out-of-control bus notwithstanding), it's likely I'll outlive you by twenty years. Further, I intend to continue writing my column and in spite of your contempt, you will be forced to keep reading it because not even super-human faith can deny the mojo I hold over you. Think of it as penance. In fact, think of everything as penance. Oh, wait-- too late for that one. Never mind.

Dear Bubba,

My husband installed a new fixture in our bathroom.
It sits right next to and resembles the toilet bowl, only
without a seat. When I turn the handle sitting on top,
water jets up in the air! What in the world is it?

Audrey LaDouceur, Parsiphany, New Jersey

Mrs. LaDouceur, it is a toilet, and your husband is an idiot who doesn't know how to hook it up. What other possible explanation could there be? Good grief, woman, use your head! Sheesh... that's what you get for marrying some French guy.

Dear Bubba,

I've always wanted to learn to speak a foreign
language. You've always been so helpful with your
advice, can you tell me where I can purchase
a book on Prussian?

LaMelle Thasquidian, Prince Edward Island

Mr(s). Thasquidian, today is your lucky day. I've just finished my new best-seller, Prussian For Your Shy Sasquatch. It's a step-by-step dual purpose tutorial, combining the newest techniques in language skills and toilet-training for your own urban legend! In the event that you don't have a sasquatch, the same methods apply for a yeti or skunk ape. Just send me a cashier's check (or cash) for only $260, and you'll be soon be snuggling and cooing all those Prussian sweet-nothing's to your favorite sub-human.

Okay, that's enough. Get out of here, you knuckleheads... there's customers to swindle aplenty, and you haven't checked last night's Lotto numbers yet... you could already be a multimillionaire.

Until tomorrow... same bad time, same bad channel.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Double double, toil and trouble

It has been my experience that we are so often less than what we’d like to be and even further from what we should be, that what we become looks more like what we shouldn’t have become than what we couldn’t. It is not our failure that ultimately does us harm, it’s our inability to cope with failure and our tendency to subvert failure into functionality. When life deals us lemons, we mix it with equal parts of unrequited love and abject disappointment and produce ‘lemonade’, making sure that we sweeten it with ample aliquots of lust and short-term gratification before serving it to friends as some trendy just-arrived-from-Columbia forbidden pleasure only available now and at no small cost.

Nowadays, many a philosophy of life revolves around the amplification of voice and marking of territory as substitutes for the accumulation of toys. While this may be the Twenty-first Century equivalent of The American Dream (aka The Great Ubiquitous Bastardization), the no-longer-subtle murmurs of disquieting realization have begun to penetrate the American (yet somehow still vaguely human, if only grotesquely displayed) psyche. Apparently, it is becoming less and less chić to wave the giant foam finger and proclaim at the top of our voices and in great numbers “We’re #1… we’re #1!”

So, under-achievers that we’ve now become, where do we go from here? I’m not so sure it really matters, as long as we just go. In the next 5 years or so, the hundred (or thereabouts) CEO’s of the remaining American corporations will have retired, taking with them what remained of the American economy, so we’ll take our crumbs and add them to our lemonade, selling it at inflated prices to all our junkie friends. Thanks, George… oh, and… Dick? I can see your hands making Dubya dance… you’re not fooling anyone.

“Halliburton’s #1, Halliburton’s #1!”

I fell in to a burnin’ ring of fiber

We entered the room slowly, carefully taking note of its contents. It was easily the largest room on the fifth floor, and even opening the door required a herculean effort on both our parts. As I stepped across the raised threshold, I realized that I could see my breath and felt gooseflesh start to erupt upon my forearms. On one end of the room, the once-pristine white walls carried the subdued red remnants of a life-and-death struggle directly above the half-eaten carcass of a large sea lion. As my scan of the room proceeded, I noted a small swimming pool with an even-smaller ice floe drifting within its confines, bumping up against the porcelain sides. Stepping in front of me, the attendant grabbed my bicep with a very large hand and pointed to the opposite corner of the room. There, with head resting upon front paws, lay a huge white bear. The animal’s eyes carried a sadness I’d never before witnessed.

“This is your new roommate,” he whispered.

I could scarcely find words. “Is—is… is that a polar bear?”

Shaking his head sadly, the attendant cupped his hand over my ear, “Actually, it’s a bi-polar bear… you might want to proceed slowly in your efforts to get to know one another.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

And now, a short word from our sponsor

Call me insensitive, but I’m getting a little tired of homeless people holding up signs featuring non-traditional fonts. I’m not asking for Edwardian Script or Trebuchet, but it would be nice, at least once in a while, to see something besides Chiller, Comic Sans and Freestyle. Just once I’d like to see a nice Arial or even Helvetica… but, I suppose those are too much to ask from a red crayon.

Friday, March 21, 2008

An Engineer Takes A Look At Worry

Sometimes I wonder whether or not I’m concerned about the right things. I don’t necessarily worry about it, but I wonder. What if I’m investing most of my emotional stores in issues that lack the prominence others consider important? Somewhere within every person’s psyche is there a bin individually designed, sized and erected to house one’s anticipated worries? Is this worry bin capable of accommodating extra worries at unforeseen times? Does it have a lid to keep the worries from spilling over into the other bins designated for love, hate, fear, sadness or guilt? As the worries pile up on top of the other worries, do those trapped in the lowest reaches of the bin eventually start to break down due to pressure and weight of the others, into a worry-mulch? Is there a pressure control valve on the worry bin that keeps the lid from blowing off and contaminating the other bins? And if the worry pressure relief valve does open due to abnormally high pressure, where are the surfeit worries sent? Are they merely re-cycled like the great zero discharge treatment plants, and re-introduced into the worry bin when conditions permit, like when your kid finally graduates from college after only eight years and you no longer have to worry about whether or not you’ll be able to pay the tuition next semester? Are the worries in any manner quantified as to intensity and/or importance and assigned a level in the worry bin? Does the worry bin need periodic maintenance to insure its structural integrity and if it does, what does one fix it with? Is there an affordable service that can be contracted to dump one’s worry bin, just in case he decides to hell with it, I’m starting over?

So much worry, so little time…

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Position of Non-Missionary Importance

I may quit writing.

I’ve been informed (and I’m being kind when I say this, it’s a pure and simple euphemistic attempt on my part to be nice—for reasons I’ve not yet stopped to consider, but I shall at some point in the future and report back—if, indeed, I don’t decide to quit writing) that my sentences are unnecessarily long, needlessly convoluted, and difficult to interpret without re-reading; worse, it seems that my writing (when boiled down to its lowest common denominator) is ‘conversational in nature’.

Conversational in nature? Can you believe someone would say something like that to me? Do you think I really want to converse with someone… anyone, for that matter? Yes? Oh, really… my, my, my… we’re a bit full of ourselves, aren’t we?

Well, let me assure you, The Big Fella doesn’t need conversation to make his day. He’s really quite satisfied creating just the sort of communications that require no oral gratification (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with oral gratification, necessarily, as long as it’s conducted by consenting adults possessing the intellectual and emotional ability to discern the ramifications of their actions and take proper measures to protect themselves against communicable diseases, but I shouldn’t need to tell any of you this… it should go without saying) whatsoever. He’s been known to go for days on end without once requesting that any other being speak to him, which, by the way, is not true of oral gratification… he has been known, on occasion (and nearly always unsuccessfully), to beg for that. ‘Conversational in nature’… it is to laugh.

Do you really know what I think about all this? “Well, ex-cccuuuussseee me!”

Oh, and, for what it’s worth? I’ve also decided not to quit writing—if for no other reason, it might piss you off.

I have an idea currently being processed in my frontal lobes concerning two penguins and a very large can of Sterno. I promise you the story will not be conversational in nature.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fun in Room 234 West

Oh, yea, you’re wearing white, or at least some shade of white—I don’t see any particular shimmer that I might associate with an angel or other symbol of chastity/purity—but white, nevertheless. So, I guess I should be grateful that it’s you who showed up and not one of those dreadful paisley beings content to flit about the area, offering up saccharin Oh, you poor bastard verisimilitudes without being asked.

The chair is pretty comfortable, too, all in all, not at all like I’d envisioned the three or four hundred times that I’d played it out in my mind before I arrived. You positioned the backrest back a few degrees so that I wasn’t forced to sit completely upright for the entire three hours, too. Thinking back on it, maybe I should have offered some outward display of amity, but I was a little busy trying not to throw up my nuts along with my spleen, pancreas and an organ that I couldn’t recognize; I hope it wasn’t something I might need in the event I ever stop puking. One of the lifelines entering my arms is something chemically related to rat poison, although not nearly so inexpensive or easy to pronounce. The other drips in the stuff that will keep me from throwing up… I must make a mental note to deny the charge when I get the bill. Perhaps I can work out a deal with them to recover from the bucket and reattach my gall bladder as a tradeoff for not filing suit.

That’s right, Vera, wipe my mouth off, that’s helping a lot. I can almost take a breath now without the waves overtaking me. Oh, hell, yes, put the blood pressure cuff on me… God forbid that my blood pressure get a little elevated, I might feel a little discomfort. Come over here, Princess, lean down a little so I can whisper in your ear. Yea, that’s it… listen, Do you have anyone you want me to kill? Put some morphine in that sack and let it drip in, and I promise I’ll whack anyone you want…

Wait, don’t leave, I—

Do me a favor, will you, Sugar? Call fuchsia back over, I think I feel a good one coming on and I’d like to try a little target practice…

Monday, March 17, 2008

...Et filii, et spiri--oops! (Part 3)

I am not a pearl hunter of any repute whatsoever, a fact whose sudden realization troubles me greatly. Vines, lianas of all types, certainly… recognition of their presence would not have seemed out of place at all. I can locate them at any time by merely extending my arms and they project a thousand years in any direction; the soulless appurtenances are omnipresent. So if I had envisioned a crudely fashioned ladder climbing intrepid to the forest canopy, I’d have merely shrugged and started climbing. Nevertheless, the vision of all manner of shells appeared before me; pukas, cowries, conch, abalone, spirals, starfish, you name it… piled alongside a strange flattop wooden stump decorated with the carvings of strange and elegant glyphs, some form of quasi-Byzantine or perhaps Maori tribute, no doubt. It is at times like this that I wish I had not dropped Cultural Anthropology 217 in college… Dumbfounded is a state of being that visits me more often than I’m comfortable admitting, so I shall refrain from emphasis upon the condition’s presence except to modestly and circumspectly (did I include casually?) mention it. I could see no path leading in any direction, no wood shavings to identify a carver’s influence or any other indication of a human presence. Yet there they were—graphic representations of intelligent origin, apparently created by carbon based beings of corporal substance.

I sat down upon the glyph-stump, hoping I wasn’t committing some undefined sacrilege against the spirits of the forest, and paused to take stock. Yes, I was lost; yes, I couldn’t be sure of east from west, inside from out… but now I knew I was not alone.
Okay, listen up because I don't want to have to repeat myself... it's irritating. And I don't enjoy being irritated so early in the morning. There's nothing worse than waking up and immediately having to confront something or someone devoted to the exercise of pissing you off.

As I crawled out of bed and tried to walk the seven steps into my bathroom (six if I have to step over the cat), what is the first thing I hear after I flush?

"Make sure you put the seat back down."

Of course, the voice came from a position roughly concentrated around the other side of my bed. I can't be certain, the room is still dark since I already turned the bathroom light off, however, since for the last thirty years or so (give or take a year one way or the other, record-keeping is her bailiwick, not mine) circumstance has determined that no one enters my bedroom except the dog, the cat and a certain woman whose presence I've come to expect, unless I'm hallucinating or experiencing some sort of strange brain aneurism, odds are pretty good that my wife is trying to piss me off before she even offered a morning greeting.

Plus, I think she did it without even facing in my direction... I can't really see her, but judging from the timbre of the voice and her long-practiced habit of sleeping facing away from me (she swears it has nothing to do with the fact that I snore), I'm sure she's feeling very smug knowing that her warning is even now causing a slow burn to develop inside my cranium.

Quickly, I grabbed my water glass and opened the hot water tap, allowing some warm water to fill the glass. Then, as I heard the rustle of a robe being fitted onto a now-standing woman, I poured the contents of the glass all over the toilet seat now situated in the requested down-position.

As she entered the bathroom and prepared to sit down, I smiled at her and offered, "What makes you think I bothered to put it up in the first place?"

When I heard the scream, I'd reconnoitered the approximately nine steps (twelve if you're not running) necessary to take me out of range of an immediate barrage of expletives/hair brushes.

Of course, I had to make my own coffee... but the silence is magnificent.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

John Prine and Iris DeMent - In Spite of Ourselves

John Prine and Iris DeMent - In Spite of Ourselves

Hi, folks... In case you're not aware of him, there's an American folk hero whose music is very special. His songs come as close as anyone I'm aware of to capturing the soul of the American ethos. This particular clip is from a CD of the same name, In Spite of Ourselves, a delightful set of duets recorded with a half dozen or so female singers including Iris DeMent, Trisha Yearwood, Connie Smith, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane, Patty Loveless, Melba Montgomery and Fiona Prine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I've been carrying this particular CD (as well as seven or eight other John Prine CD's) around for about ten years... I'll never tire of listening to it.

By the way, I stole this from Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers. Check it out, Scot's a great poet.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

...Et filii, et spiri--oops! (Part 2)

Damn… it’s beginning to look like my choice of a sidearm might not have been the best, either. Although in retrospect I recall my mother using the very same weapon as an effective deterrent against a little boy’s hands that assaulted the rack of cookies cooling on the window sill, an ordinary wooden kitchen spatula might not provide the sort of firepower capable of convincing a marauding leopard that he’d committed a serious logistical mistake by choosing me as his prey. How much pleading on my part would be necessary to dissuade a two-hundred-pound growling, biting, flesh-rending killing machine with razor-sharp claws and jaws capable of crushing the skull of a deer fawn, even if I am slamming his head with the business end of a wooden spoon? I suppose that if all else fails I might try to smother him with my cup. I know that would work if I were that jaguar… Bubba don’t play that game, that’s just nasty. Ain’t no part of a cup getting anywhere close to my face. Just the stank alone would be enough to make me run off into the woods.

Okay, so let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that I'm not dead now. Maybe the jaguar had a change of heart and decided that the cup had already skunked his prey and I wasn't fit to eat. I mean, even jungle cats won't eat just anything, will they? His cousin who lives with me is pretty picky about what she eats, so there's a possibility that I'm still sucking oxygen... I'm just sayin'...

Honestly, I’m really starting to think that the author of my Outdoor Survival Guide might be full of crap. I should have known better, though… it’s really all my fault. With a name like Betty Crocker, how good a survivalist could she be? Possum flambé, indeed…

Friday, March 14, 2008

...Et filii, et spiri--oops!

It’s spooky in the woods, especially when you’re not wearing underwear, at least not underwear in the strictest sense of the word. I suppose that a cup is not really underwear, and honestly, it’s not all that easy to keep in place as I walk. I have to hold onto it with my hand, and this keeps me from brachiating properly, even though I switch hands fairly often, dependant on terrain. If I’m crossing a fallen tree trunk, for example… I have to look over it to see if landfall on the other side is lower on the right or left side, and then I hold onto my cup with the opposite hand. I could have worn shorts under my jeans if I had any clean ones available, and if they were the ‘jockey’ style. Boxers are technically more comfortable, but they have no containing structure for a cup. I tried scooping up a very large amount of leaves and putting them down the front of my pants, situating them such that their bulk, in theory, might form a support structure that would prohibit my cup from moving. However, gravity tends to have the same effect on leaves that it has on cups, unfortunately, so within a half-mile or so, not even the massive bulk of my boys could keep it in place without assistance from my fingers.

That’s why I envision myself looking a bit like a chimpanzee as I make my way through the underbrush and branches. Chimps don’t brachiate like humans when they walk. Their arms tend to hang rather than swing opposite the leg that’s being advanced, and since I can’t swing both arms, my stride might appear as much simian as human. It’s a little demeaning, but I don’t worry as much about it now as I might have when I first left the trail. Decorum becomes much less important when outside the range of other human eyes.

(To Be Continued... perhaps)

No Maundy, this Thursday

Thursday… most noble of predecessors, the one day of true accomplishment set in a string of under-achievements. No other day can boast of burgeoning weekend or carry with its eve the subtle reminders of anticipated events on the horizon, just beyond the setting sun, off the port bow.

Today, for today only, stand on the folksail and breathe the heartiness of the sea air. Make that little extra effort to open your lungs and your mind to the possibilities looming before you in the oceans of opportunity life brings; ride the clippers on waves of extracted effort, the breeze of hope tantalizing and exhilarating you, daring you to be more, to do more. Toss all the carcasses of doubt and fear overboard and revel in the glory of the day.

Sail freely with the wind, content in the knowledge that your destination will be reached. After all, today is Thursday… and those special deck shoes cost you nearly 2 bills.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Annotations In The Great Void

Recently, in a moment absolutely overflowing with sanity, I suddenly realized that I’ve become a man of a certain age. And, with this distinction comes a responsibility to myself, an implicit obligation of accountability. Words like ‘legacy’ occupy a new prominence within my thought patterns. What have I done in my life that makes me stand out in a crowd? I think it was at precisely that moment I realized I am a living, breathing footnote.

Six decades… a fair amount of time, in human terms, I think. I briefly considered computing the total amount of oxygen I’d consumed during my lifetime, and the resultant amount of carbon dioxide, but since neither would offer me the prospect of any sort of distinction among my peers, I abandoned it. After all, I didn’t force myself to hold my breath for long periods of time in hopes of conserving precious oxygen or producing less carbon dioxide… I’m not a strict conservationist by habit or theory. I’ll never go down in the annals of history as The American Who Inhaled Less Oxygen Than Any Other Sixty-Year-Old Man… but it won’t be because I didn’t think about it.

In fact, nothing of a physical nature causes me to stand out in such a way that a stranger might look at a photograph of me lined up next to a cross-section of similarly aged males and say, “Oh, look… there’s Bob Church, world’s (fill in the blank) man.”

I’ve neither held public office nor desired to hold public office, my nearly two weeks in graduate school reminded me that the world has plenty of ruminant nutritionists, and fifteen years of Catholic indoctrination failed to convince me that God called me to the priesthood (sorry, Mom).

In high school, I graduated four students south of the cut-off line for Top 10%, which basically meant that if I could somehow get away with murdering Sylvia Grigsby, Dick Salmon, Cynthia Jean Morrow and Lawrence Brandywine, my counselors might recommend me for the Caldwell Grant, the $500 work-study stipend available to freshmen in good standing at Mundane State College. Oh, wait, I would have had to take the SAT’s to qualify… never mind.

Once, when I applied for a job as an ‘on-air personality’ at a local FM-radio station in Denver, the station manager interviewed me and stated that while I had a face superbly crafted for radio, my unfortunate stutter, lisp, low IQ and lack of personality tended to make him think I had no real prospects for success as KQFM’s new all-night disc-spinner. Evidently it is not enough to be able to rhythmically thump your chest in a manner that sounds like helicopter blades turning in the background… who knew?

This might have gotten some people down… but not me. I did what any lower middle class, under-educated, testosterone-rich male with no job and absolutely no direction in life might have done… I got married! And, after five kids and more than thirty years of keeping her mouth shut when common sense would urge her to complain to anyone who’d listen, she’s proved, if nothing else, that she has a huge heart and a well-developed sense of humor.

Yes, I’m no more than a footnote in the eyes of the world. I recall the old Shakespearian adage, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”, to which I would add “and some, while technically being able to spell ‘great’, hold no real conception of the word’s meaning outside the clichéd version used every twelve seconds on SportsCenter”.

To my fellow footnotes: I hear ya, pal.
P.S.-- Although I was a 10-handicap golfer at best, I'm the best damn plumb bob putter on the planet. Does the Guinness Book of World Records have a category for that?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Illegal Pleasures

The Thought Police picked me up today. I knew I was risking the ire of certain Bush Administration officials who weren’t exactly pleased with the outcome of the Midterm elections, but I never dreamed that something so innocent could be punishable.

The bailiff brought me, still cuffed, into the courtroom where I was to be arraigned before the Honorable Judge Whitney Baird, magistrate for the Third District of All That Is Holy. A tall, gaunt, stern-looking man, he emanated condescension as he sat down and called the court into session. I had the feeling that I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t remember exactly where or when.

The prosecutor, a dark, swarthy man of a certain age (who closely resembled Alberto Gonzalez), stood and called criminal after criminal forward for his or her case to be heard. The offenses varied in gravity, from theft of a previously-happily married woman’s heart to the immoral electioneering charge against the campaign manager of the newest Democratic senator from the state of Missouri. I watched as one after another the charges were read, a plea was offered and each was found guilty and sentenced without any further discussion of the matter.

When the court clerk finally called my name, the bailiff jerked me to my feet.

“Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, his face now contorted into a pained expression, “Mr. Church is charged with violation of Article 38-A of the Personal Offenses Code, possession of an illegal smile with intent to distribute, a class B felony carrying a maximum penalty of two years in Purgatory.”

Judge Baird continued to look at the sworn complaint in front of him until, after a few seconds, he looked over the top rim of his bifocals and scowled at me. “You’re a Democrat, aren’t you?”

“Guilty, Your Honor!” I offered, in a voice unnecessarily loud and perhaps a bit more joyous than good sense might dictate under the circumstances.

“You disgust me…” he said, anger crawling out from between his clenched teeth with each word, like roaches who realized that the lights just went out, “How do you plead?”

“Guilty again, Your Honor!” I repeated, a smile representative of the exact offense for which I was being charged now plastered from ear to ear like a half-wit ten-year-old who’s just been told, screw the cavities, it’s Christmas and he could have more candy.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw the book at you,” he challenged, his face now twisted into a sneer worthy of Jimmy Cagney during his portrayal of the young tough in Boy’s Town.

Suddenly, I remember where I’d seen him! He was the guy I’d seen Tiffany Trim get into the cab with on Fifth Avenue, after she left my apartment. Quickly, I put two and two together.

“Well, Judge, may I approach the bench… alone?” My smile persisted.

A quick motion of his finger and the bailiff released me from his grasp. “I think a man of your obvious wisdom and great compassion might be inclined to reconsider a penalty if a certain defendant knew where his wife really spends each Tuesday evening from five to nine p.m. and was willing to inform the whole court of her, um, love of French culture.”

I swear the man’s face turned seven different shades of crimson before all color disappeared. “Step back…and not another word, do you understand?” he whispered, his eyes suddenly looking very sad and a bit teary.

Standing up, he declared, “Mr. Prosecutor, this is not an illegal smile! Have you never before seen a shit-eating grin? You are free to go, sir, with the apologies of this court.” The gavel slam was of sufficient ferocity to cause several spectators to jump. “Case dismissed!”

Never again will I question the ability of Karmic forces to protect the clueless or punish the haughty… another reason why this smile will last until next election when the job is finished.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lawrence = Pacifist

For reasons I still don’t understand, one of my co-workers found it necessary to introduce her ‘significant other’ to me today. Honestly, I’d have been perfectly happy to sit in my office alone and suffer through my half-hour of not eating lunch, but since she was witless enough to interrupt my crossword puzzle (can anyone tell me a five-letter synonym for ‘feckless’?) with her desire to give me the opportunity to laugh at this putz, I figured I’d go along with it.

“Bob, meet Lawrence. He’s a pacifist.” Okay... is this some sort of a trick? A pre-emptive strike perhaps? Could it be her attempt to hotwire my brain into immediately equating Lawrence = harmless? That’s a little intrusive, don’t you think? She’s bullying me into accepting this jerk without giving me the opportunity to form my own opinion, and I find that downright offensive.

“Oh, a pacifist, eh?” I countered, and kicked him in the nuts.

Well… that’s when the screaming started-- from her and him.

“You BASTARD!” she roared. Lawrence, to his credit, wasn’t saying much at all, unless the sounds I heard coming from the fetal-positioned lump on the floor beside my desk could actually be construed as language.

Lawrence = pacifist… Bob = bastard… yea, I think I’m getting the hang of this. Plus, as an added bonus, watching Lawrence made me think of a five-letter word for ‘feckless’— inept.

My co-worker then went to the boss with her complaints about my problem with controlling negative emotions. Personally, I can’t understand why anyone would conceive of this as a problem. Some situations dictate that anger, hatred, or even blind rage is a perfectly acceptable and reasonable response to some stimuli. For example, have you ever stood in the cash-only, 8-items-or-less lane at the supermarket for thirty minutes behind a dozen other dopes while some gormless twit attempts to purchase two months’ worth of booze and cigarettes for her entire apartment complex with an expired debit card and $50 worth of stolen food stamps? I’m willing to bet that even Lawrence the Pacifist might be just a tad testy.

Instead of attacking me for not being able to control my negative emotions, why the hell do these people have problems expressing them? Have you noticed that it’s never the obnoxious bastards, but the ‘quiet, polite’ individuals who march down to the police station and turn themselves in after wiping out an entire wing of the Golden Age Care Center with a tire iron and sledge hammer?

So, next time I take a sip of your drink without asking or feel the necessity to try your patience by giving you a quick punch in the balls, please try to be just a bit more empathetic. Saying “thank you” is optional, of course.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Your Sunday Anti-Doxology

Kids are pretty adaptive, I think. These days, psychologists throw around terms like dysfunction to explain why Johnny can’t go out for recess without trying to beat Billy to death (lazy eye, my ass, he could see well enough to rat me out to Mrs. Larrick for passing notes) or liberally dosing Peggy Browley’s sandwich with cayenne pepper (okay, I admit it’s lame, but the bitch wouldn’t let me copy her answers and I damn near flunked fourth grade). ‘Dysfunction’ was the rule rather than the exception in my neighborhood, we just accepted it as the norm and went on about our business.

When I was a kid, my father relied on the Working Man’s Bloody Mary, Coors beer and tomato juice (aka Colorado Kool-Aid), to cure his frequent hangovers. These he'd drink as my mother screamed bloody murder across the breakfast table at him; if he continued drinking the way he did, his liver would soon be shot to hell and never mind that what was left of his brain was already pickled and what's more, maybe me and the kids won't be here some morning when you finally decide to wake up and smell the coffee! How would you like THAT, Mister? Oh, what am I saying; you'd be ECSTATIC about that, wouldn't you? Don’t shake your head at me, you goddamn, drunken ol’ bastard. Just stick your head in your drink and do what you do best, the kids and I can learn to eat sand when you get your ass fired again. The saddest part of the entire opera was her eventual lack of enthusiasm for the exercise. She’d played the role for so long that the defining aria crested while she grabbed his hair as she tried (usually unsuccessfully) to lift his head from the table and set it back down into the plate of bacon and eggs she’d just fixed him. He’d get up from the table, swearing and threatening, slam the back door and go to work, leaving us with the silence of the lambs; an enraged woman fueled by two pots of black coffee and enough frustration and desperation to nourish an Al-Queda terrorist cell. Getting ready for school on these mornings was tricky at best.

I used to really hate my father for what he did to my sisters and me, for leaving us to fend for ourselves with a mother who, for all intents and purposes, had become our responsibility.

When I finally became an adult myself and became intimately acquainted with the vicious throes of hangovers myself, sometimes I can't blame him… not really. I wouldn't want to listen to that kind of shit either when I'm hung-over… never mind having four stricken-looking children silently eyeballing me in mute reproach.

Yes, it’s true, for the better part of his adult life, my father was a drunken bastard. But I understood him a lot better after becoming an adult myself (arguably), because I grew up to be a drunken bastard, too. Fortunately for all concerned, I married above my station and, saints be praised, my wife possessed the capability of modifying my behavior without playing the role of shrew or harpie, high sheriff or exalted executioner. Her techniques were far more subtle and devious, the psychological equivalent of the rubber hose treatment; the only marks were implanted on my brain—I have no specific memories of what she did, I just knew that I never wanted any more of it.

Bob Church©3/09/08

Saturday, March 08, 2008

From The Mouths Of...

The intrepid man in the long black trench coat walks against the flow of pedestrian traffic on the crowded street, occasionally puffing on his Cuban cigar. Without warning, he begins walking alongside the attractive young lady in the too-large sweater and fashionable sunglasses. Taking his hand from his pocket, he sticks a microphone in her face.

“Pardon me, Miss. Could you possibly tell me where I could find an honest man?”

Pushing his hand away, the girl begins to trot. “Bugger off, creep!”

Undaunted, the man grabs a large black man by the arm, walking briskly to keep pace. “Excuse me, Sir,” he continues, extending the microphone upwards towards the man’s face,
“do you have any opinions regarding the sanctification of nightshade in religious ceremonies?”

“I got your nightshade right here, asshole, if you don’t let go of me!” Shoving Trench Coat hard against a bus-stop bench, the man walks away, looking back every other step or so, making sure he isn’t being followed.

Brushing himself off, Trench Coat once again joins the throng of humanity, merely one more wildebeest among the stampeding herd. Crossing 45th street, he stops and sits down on the bench next to the older, totally bald gentleman reading a folded-up copy of Variety. Pushing the microphone under the man’s chin, Trench Coat inquires,
“Are you really reading that or is it just a prop to help you pick up chicks?”

Baldy glances over his trendy, horn-rimmed spectacles, then turns a page, pretending not to pay attention. “Some of us actually can read, my friend… and we already have plenty of female attention, thank you very much.”

“Oh, yea? How many words a minute do you read?”

Without looking up, the man replies, “Oh, about fifteen hundred, I’d guess...”

“Do not.”

“Do, too.”

“Do not.”

“Do, too.”

Bringing the microphone even closer and waving his hand toward the crowd, “Prove it to all those across America who’re watching us right now...”

Still not looking up, “No. I don’t feel like it. Go away.”

“Well, tell me this, then... have you ever had the shingles?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Okay, one more question and I’ll leave you to your fantasies of me… When you were on Survivor, did you ever see or pet a monkey?” Satisfied with himself, Trench Coat pushes his rimless glasses a little farther up on his nose and once again takes a puff off his cigar, a devilish grin exposing the distinctive gap between his two front teeth.

The bald man stares at Trench Coat, a bewildered look suddenly broadcasting across the prominence of his face. “Lucille... honey, is that you? Have you, at long last, come back to me?” Standing up suddenly, he grabs Trench Coat by the ears and kisses him broadly on the lips. “Oh, my darling... I knew you’d come to your senses and return eventually!”

“I’m not Lucille!”

“Yes, you are!”

“No, I’m not!”

“Yes, you are!”

“No, honest... I’m not!”

Backing off to arm’s length, the bald man cocks his head to one side and scrunches his eyebrows, the lines on his face becoming even more pronounced. Letting go gently, a disconsolate look on his face, Baldy confides, “No, I suppose you’re not… Lucille is much taller and has fuller lips. It was too much to hope for.”

“I’m six-four, you know…”

“No you’re not.”

“Am, too…”

“Are not… five-eleven, tops…”

Craning his neck, Trench Coat stretches his arms and puts the microphone back in Baldy’s face.
“Hey, pal, you really should see someone about those delusions.”

“I’m not delusional.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not. And get that damn microphone out of my face! Besides, it’s not really a microphone, anyway.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it’s not.”

Stopping to look, Trench Coat holds it up to his face and stares for a few seconds.
“By God, I believe you’re right!”

Grabbing the microphone, Baldy takes a bite and spits it in Trench Coat’s face, before taking another and chewing it. “I love raw carrots.”

“Do you hate Saturday as much as I do?”

“Yes, I’d have to say I do.”

Tapping Baldy on the knee briskly, Trench Coat rises off the seat. “See you Monday, Paul… give the band my best.”

“Okay… see you later, David...”