Category Archives: Life

Keep your eye on the (base) ball…

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The first job I ever had – I mean genuine, real job, where they wrote you a paycheck and didn’t just give you the money they had in their pocket – was lining baseball fields.

And it taught me a lesson I remember until this day.

I got the job in the summer of ’78, when I was 14. Up until then I’d cut apricots, mowed lawns, washed cars and shined shoes (unshined them is more like it) but the summer of my 14th year I decided I was old enough to go find me a big boy job.

I don’t recall how I thought of it, but at some point in my search I went to the Parks & Rec Department in my little town to see if they had any jobs I could do. It turns out they did. The guy who’d painted the lines on the baseball fields in town had quit, and they needed someone to take his place. I filled out an application, talked to some lady with a title like “assistant director” and a few days later received a call saying I got the job. A little confession here: no small part of this lucky turn had to do with, to the question “have you ever lined baseball fields before?” I answered “Yes, of course I have.”

A more truthful answer would have been “No, no I have never done anything even remotely close to drawing thick, straight, chalk lines all over a baseball diamond”, but somehow I wasn’t quite able to write that one down on the application.

The fields were situated all over town, so on my first day, because I was a kid still 2 years away from getting his license, Dad drove me (every time after that he handed me the keys to the old truck and said “Keep to the backroads”). And that first day went pretty badly. The next few days after that weren’t much better. Turns out I was terrible at drawing lines on baseball fields.

The wheels on the ‘line chalking’ contraption that you used to do the job were out-of-round, and hard to push in a straight line. And the lines that were already there (that I thought I’d just follow to make new lines) were pretty much obliterated by previous games. It seemed like the harder I tried, the worse I did. I even started to go really slow, taking twice as long, in my effort to carefully create the thick, straight lines I’d need to keep my job.

I was getting angry with myself, and embarrassed too. I didn’t know what to do. And with no youtube how-to videos for help, and no one I knew who’d done this sort of thing to ask, I felt alone. Really alone.

So one evening, about a week in, I sat down on the side of a field and decided to spend some time thinking rather than working. I started it with toughts of quitting. I hate to admit it, but when I begin doubting myself an early instinct I have is, just cut and run. But then I felt even more embarrassed, like really, I can’t figure this out?

So I figured it out.

Here’s what I came up with: my solution to the wavering, crooked lines I was drawing had been to go slower – to be careful. And then I’d go slower yet, and be even more careful. I was watching the line as I drew it, trying to match what was there before. But the slower I went, and the more closely I watch the line in front of me, the worse I did and the more frustrated I got. So I thought “The hell with it – I’m not going look at what I’m doing, I’m going to look at where I’m going”. Instead of trying to match a blurry, messy, disappearing line I started looking at the bases I was drawing my lines to. And when I did a weird thing happened – I started to speed up. I would just look straight toward first base, and quickly walk to it. Then I’d do the same with second, and so on. All of a sudden the job was taking half the time it used to.

And the lines were almost dead straight.

After that I started hearing from the assistant director lady that the players loved how the fields looked. The lines had never been so straight. And I felt proud.

Lesson? Don’t worry too much about where you’re at, just keep your eye on where you’re going to…

 

 

 

 

 

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Cycles of Attraction

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I taught myself how to ride a bike – at least that’s how I remember it.

I think it was the summer of 1968, when I was about four years old. Dad was in the Army and stationed at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. We lived on post in a home that faced a large rolling green. Between that green and our house was a sidewalk that led out to the street in one direction and further into post housing in the other.

The first mode of transportation I recall using to traverse the long sidewalk was a little red fire engine. You remember the one – it had pedals on the inside of it and a bell on the hood that you’d ring with a pull of the string.

Those were safe and comfortable times inside my steel fire engine with wheels at all four corners and no real way to tip over. I’d pedal up and down the sidewalk as Mom watched from the front porch. I’d ring the bell and she’d smile – and all was right with the world.

Sometimes I’d still be out there as Dad walked home after he got off duty. I’d see him coming and pedal just a little faster, and ring the bell a little louder. And he’d smile – and all was right with the world.

But one day, as dad walked home, I could see he had something in tow – it was big and blue and had handlebars and naked pedals hanging off either side.

It was a bike.

I knew what bikes were – I had friends who rode them. They were typically complicated contraptions that wobbled at first until the rider got going pretty good – at which point they seemed to become a magical sort of thing that would then take its owner anywhere he wanted to go.

The bike Dad was bringing with him seemed better than most. It was a full sized bike – like a grown-up would ride – so at first I guess I thought it wasn’t for me. But when he got to where I was in my little red fire engine he said that the bike would be mine. He’d got it on post, from the wife of a friend who was shipping out and didn’t have room to bring it along.

I was excited by the idea of riding this bike. It was beautiful and it glistened in the sun. It had long, curvy handlebars with white grips, and its frame stretched up from the pedals to meet the handlebars in a long, rounded arch that resembled a slender gas tank. It was one of those bikes from the fifties that were built to resemble motorcycles – a gracefully curved and slender motorcycle.

The only reason I had any chance of riding this bike is because it was a ladies model – and as such you could step into it rather than having to throw your leg over it. But there remained the issue of how to get the whole affair started.

Dad said something about putting me on the seat and giving me a push – but in standing next to the bike I could tell that if I sat down on the seat I wouldn’t be able to touch the pedals.

And I knew from my little red engine that pedals equaled progress.

Dad was just off work and was eager to go inside, so our conversation was short. He walked the rest of the way to the house with the bike in hand and leaned it up against the porch – where I stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted to ride the bike – because that’s what boys do – but was afraid it wouldn’t work out.

Finally my desire overcame me. I climbed out of my fire engine and walked over and laid my hands on my new partner and decided I’d just figure out how to make this relationship work. I guided the sleek bike out to the sidewalk and started running, still holding onto the handlebars. When I reached a certain speed I jumped up onto the closest pedal. This action pulled the bike sharply to the left. To counter this imbalance I pushed the handlebars to the right and fought the bike back to the middle of the sidewalk.

In my memory we battled like that for the rest of the evening. Up and down the sidewalk I’d run her and then jump on – and she’d test my balance and try to throw me back off. It wasn’t until I realized that her imbalance was in direct reaction to mine that I started to make any progress at all.

And then on one pass it all sort of fell together.

I ran my run, jumped my jump and then… then I stepped fully into my new bike. I stepped in and stopped worrying – worrying about how to reach the seat, or fearing that I’d fall and fail. Before I knew it we were both gliding smoothly up and down the sidewalk –neither of us were wholly in control – yet somehow we both were.

That bike taught me a lesson I’d get to relearn some 40 odd years later.

I’ve written in this space over the last year and a half about things like baseball and motorcycles – soccer, cars and basketball. And I’ve used those illustrations to communicate my feelings for, and my journey with, the woman in my life. Maybe speaking directly isn’t my strong suit, but let me be very direct in what I’m about to say:

I love you Loretta Sayers, and the ride is just getting started.

 

Brian

Brothers

In honor of National Brothers Day I thought I’d write about my little brother, Brian.

Brian is two years younger than me, and two inches taller (which doesn’t seem right, but whatever) and is really one of the best guys I know. He’s always ready to help, and is cool under pressure which – if you had a childhood like ours – was a vital skill.

And by “childhood like ours” I don’t mean to imply our childhood wasn’t good, or healthy or loving. It was those things. But it was also dangerous, and daring, and exciting – mostly because we made it that way.

Here’s the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

Our parents were born in Ireland – and because they were they liked to go to Irish events to comingle with other Irish immigrants and do Irishy stuff.

One Saturday when I was about 12 and Brian 10, they piled us in the station wagon and took us to an Irish dancing competition at a local middle school (think Riverdance for 7th graders) so that we could watch the children of other Irish immigrants bounce up and down to really fast Celtic music.

Whatever.

Brian and I pretty much hated that stuff because, well, I guess because we wanted to be American, and outside, and running wild, and – you get the point.

So the minute our folks looked in one direction, we beat feet in the other. And to make sure we executed a clean – and dance spectating free – getaway we ran flat out. Right around a corner and into the parking lot. Where a car was coming. Pretty fast too. That Brian ran right in front of. And which hit him.

Really hard.

I was right behind my little brother and saw the whole thing. I saw him run in front of the big sedan – I saw him fly up into the air after it slammed into him, and I saw him land on its hood and then roll off one side as the terrified driver stomped on the brakes.

And then I watched Brian fall to the ground in a crumpled heap.

At which point he sprang to his feet, shot me an “oh crap” look, and took off running as fast as he could. I took off running too. After all he’d just been hit by a car – which we were pretty sure we’d get in trouble for – so there was no time to waste.

It was that sort of danger and excitement we were always on the lookout for.

On that day we’d got lucky and it fell in our laps – but most times we had to actually create the peril. Like the time we ran down a herd of deer in the field behind our house with homemade spears (kitchen knives lashed to broom sticks in case you were wondering).

Just a heads-up here to Greenpeace: Despite our best throws, no animals were harmed in the making of that adventure.

From there it pretty much ramped up to include stuff like BB gun battles, forest fires, and cliff climbing. But in consideration of those of you with weaker constitutions (and Mom, who sometimes reads my column) I’ll leave the more daring stuff to the imagination.

I will tell you this: You know how your memory of you from childhood seems sort of average, but there’s always one whose exploits seem larger than life? Well that was Brian.

And remember – he was my little brother.

But at a point he just seemed to get, well, bigger. I don’t mean in stature – he actually didn’t get tall until later – I mean the stuff he was doing started seeming bigger than the stuff the rest of us kids were doing.

Even though still kind of short, in about the 9th grade he started dunking basketballs during our neighborhood games.  On regulation height baskets.

Up until that time he’d been my cohort, my partner in crime (I wish that was just a figure of speech, but one escapade actually landed us in a holding cell). He was my brother. He was the copilot on our go cart runs down ridiculously steep hills, the second to jump the bicycle ramp behind me, and Tonto to my Lone Ranger.

But then he got strong. And fast. And big.

And pretty soon we weren’t so much partners as independent contractors. We started going our own ways when stuff like girls and cars began to happen. Although there was that time I threw him the keys to my hot rod and told him to drive it home because I was gonna ride uptown with some friends.

He might have been 14 at the time.

But our paths started to diverge. As the little brother I used to sometimes look down on got harder to live up to I think I created distance between us.

It got to the point where I wouldn’t get on a basketball court with him anymore. And on a skateboard – which was not only transportation in our neighborhood, but a lifestyle – he started doing things I’d only seen in the skateboard magazines.

It wasn’t too much later that, following a chat with Uncle Sam, I headed off for a series of Air Force bases. After that I heard Brian got a basketball scholarship. And then broke some kind of state high jumping record. I think I heard he was lead singer for a punk band too. And one day I opened a magazine and saw him in an ad.

After I got out of the service I think Brian was living the life of a SoCal surfer. I went to college, got married, had some kids and got a mortgage. But Brian was always somewhere like Hawaii, or Bali – in my mind he was always still doing those things that seemed just a little larger than what others did. And what I did.

And for a long time there was more than just a physical distance between us.

Every couple of years we’d hook up at Christmas or Thanksgiving, and catch each other up on the latest. I’d tell him what my kids were doing and he’d tell me about some amazing adventure he’d had. And then we’d head off in our own direction again – until next Christmas. Or the one after that.

My little brother is now 51 – which makes me 53.

And while I can’t quite put my finger on when, something happened, quite a few years back now, that let me get back closer to the only brother I have. I’m not sure how it happened, or why, and don’t really care at this point, but somewhere along the line I got over myself.

I got over my perceived shortcomings, and whatever else it was that was causing me to do that crazy habit I have sometimes of being aloof – and I found my little brother again.

You know today is not really National Brothers Day – but it would be stupid to wait for a contrivance like that to say the things a brother needs to hear.

And what I want to tell Brian is I’m always right behind him – no matter what’s around the corner.

I’m Weird

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I have a secret – my secret is that I’m weird.

My guess is you’re a little weird too.

I’m willing to bet there’s something about you that you don’t want others to know. And the reason you don’t want them to know is because you don’t think they’ll understand.  You’re afraid, at some level, that their lack of understanding will lead them to judge you for your difference. Continue reading

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Renewal

I used to own an old VW Bug.

I bought it a few years ago when I lived out in the valley. I hadn’t owned one for a while – since I was in the service probably – but had begun feeling the itch to own one again. Continue reading

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She Deserved Better

 

I was behind a man and woman when they crashed their motorcycle.

I was coming up the middle of a three lane highway when traffic across all the lanes started slowing drastically ahead of us. Something was clearly wrong. Then I could see what (part of) the problem was: There was, spinning and flopping down the middle lane, the whole tread of a tire. I didn’t think too much of it, as treads come off cars and trucks all the time. What struck me as odd was how severely the traffic ahead of me was reacting to it. I thought as common as this sort of thing is, surely most of the other drivers had seen it happen before.

So why the big slowdown? Continue reading

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What will you build today?

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When my Dad first came to America from Ireland he didn’t yet know how to build a life here.

He was a farm boy from a poor family in Ireland who saw America as the promise land, based on the stories he’d heard about how good life here was from the US Army Soldiers stationed near his village. It was just after World War II and his Uncle Walter, who lived in California after emigrating from Ireland himself, had sponsored Dad’s entry into the country.

Part of the sponsorship agreement was that the new immigrant had to find a means to support himself – and soon – or run the risk of being sent back home. But because it was the years just after the war, when a lot of GI’s were still returning home and re-entering the work force, jobs were scarce.

So Dad had to get resourceful. Continue reading

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I Try not to Eat Glass

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Charlie ate broken glass.

He’s my son, and was about 14 months old at the time and, if I recall correctly, that was his first trip to a hospital emergency room. By the age of six he would visit emergency rooms four more times, for things such as breaking his arm, knocking himself out, and cracking his skull.

But I’m getting ahead of myself – allow me to back up a bit and explain how it was that Charlie came to eat glass. Continue reading

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Paper and Pen

 

 

 

I write right?

Sure I do, but why? I mean why write when I could just talk, or run, or a myriad of other activities that do not tie me to paper and pen.

Some people never write. They have no interest in it. But me, I have to write – even when I have no interest in it. I’ve got this funny brain that, well, seems to have rubber walls – stuff keeps bouncing around inside those walls until I open a door and let it out. Continue reading

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I Was Afraid to Write this Column

The kids in the neighborhood I grew up in had a certain fearlessness about them.

Well most of them did – there was this one kid named Shawn Reilly who seemed to be afraid of everything. And because fear was such a big part of his daily life it kind of set him apart from the other kids. In fact even now when I think about the kids in the old neighborhood his face doesn’t always pop up. He was a bit player. Sort of like a lesser character in a favorite movie of yours – you don’t always remember right away that he was even in it. Continue reading

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