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Saturday
Apr282012

Bruce Springsteen show San Jose 4/24/2012

 Up close with the Boss!

The pit lottery: I waited in line with 1100 other general admission hopefuls—everyone got a numbered wristband. Anxiety and hope danced above the crowd like bees over a garden... spreading pollen.

They told us a random number would be picked and they had room for 399 people in the pit. When they finally announced the starting point my stomach tightened, my throat clenched.

615! Someone shouted out of a sea of people. JUBILATION broke out in one area of the crowd—others groaned from a sick feeling of disappointment in their guts—and everyone right around me just starting doing the math (615+399=1014)

I was number 985... YAHOO! I just made the cut with 29 to spare! High-Fives all around in the group right around me (Which, after a few hours in line together... began to feel less like strangers and more like friends).

Epic show...

I was stage right... about third row... there was plenty of room to maneuver in the pit.

Started the show by introducing himself!

"Hailing from Asbury Park New Jersey... The only man in Rock n Roll to introduce himself... Bruce Springsteen!"

The crowd was charged up for We Take Care of Own and Wrecking Ball... but everyone went nuts when the first few notes of Badlands blared in the building. Maybe the greatest 'fist-pumping' song in Rock-n-Roll history.


I was on Nils' side... loved watching him work closeup... Now I know why Bruce calls him the most over-qualified second-guitarist in rock.

The band was awesome... full horn section... trumbone... two trumpets... two saxes... alto and tenor... Clarence's nephew Jake was really good... you really felt how much fun he was having. The chick who does the "Rocky Ground" vocals was goosebump-amazing... (Michelle Moore) Felt like a church choir.

The crowd surfing was like 30 or 40 yards into the crowd... talk about trust (especially considering that a lot of people were probably more interested in touching him...than carrying the load—if you know what I mean.)

Lots of young people at the show... bulk of the crowd was 30-60 yrs.
saw quite a few father-mother-daughter-son date situations... (indoctrination can be a good thing)

He brought up a young lad to sing the solo on Waiting on a Sunny Day... he nailed it! Kid had a sign in the crowd, declaring that he had been Practising, practising, practising!  (Obviously not an Allen Iverson fan.)

Later, he brought up a 10 year old girl to dance in Dancing in the Dark.


Bad Ass version of Johnny 99... special for all of us who know where Mahwah is and what happened there.


Had a great view of Max - That man plays drums like he's powered by a jet engine... raw power!!!!
No Patti - Bruce said, "She's at home keeping the kids away from their drug stash."


I got to touch him twice! Although it was brief... because some woman body-slammed me out of the way.

By far the two big highlights of the show were:

Bruce asking the crowd if we were properly sexually stimulated... (cheer) and then he declared, "He didn't think we were!"—then they broke into the intro for 'Rosie'—crowd went nuts. He even did some of the same funky dance moves he did in the old Phoenix video from 1978. (After 20-something shows in almost 30 years.... a dream come true.)

Then, the finale: Tenth Ave Freeze-out...

When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band...

The band stopped.... and for 90 seconds or more everyone stared at the big screens, that had pictures of Clarence and Bruce from 1970's til the last show of last tour... I watched Bruce watch the screen... he never blinked... just kept his eyes fixed on the screen soaking up the images of the big man and himself in various states of age and vitality....

As he said earlier about Danny and Clarence during the introduction of the band... (during my city in ruins...) "AS LONG AS WE'RE HERE... AND YOU'RE HERE... THEY'RE HERE!"

3 hours and nine minutes: No Breaks... not even the pretend break before the encore.... just straight through!

One of the best days of my life...

 

 

Saturday
Sep102011

Stressed Out Over 9/11 Anniversary

  
FreeVideoCoding.com

   I’ll be honest: I’m dreading the 9/11 anniversary. I get an anxiety in the pit of my gut thinking about it – I wish it wouldn’t come. Is that bad? I feel bad about it. Do other people feel stressed as it draws near?

   It’s not that I want to forget about what happened; it’s not that I don’t want to remember… I just don’t want to re-live it.

   I never need to see those planes hitting the towers again. The images are etched forever in my mind. I can’t bear to see the building fall, the growing cloud of dust chasing terrified people through the streets of Manhattan.

   Should I feel guilty that I just want to skip it and keep it in the past? I do!

   I know some people need this day to cope… maybe I should need it too. But I don’t. Why don’t I need it more?

   I have wonderful memories growing up in the New York area. I can still hear my mom’s voice begging me to be careful on the indoor observation deck of the south tower… I was nine year old and my toes were pushing up on the protective railing, my face pressed against the cold glass - looking out over the city. From the top of the World Trade Center, Manhattan looked like a gray Lego-metropolis, with a zillion miniature cars zipping about. My dad pointed out all the landmarks including where we lived in New Jersey. He told me that we could see the twin towers from our town. I was incredulous; why hadn’t he told me this before?

   On the way home to Ridgewood he proved it to me. We drove up to the lookout on Heights Road. It was an amazing view of the NYC skyline – right in our backyard. There they were, the king and queen of the skyscrapers - towering over the other buildings. I was just a little boy, but I felt like I had just done something really big; I had been to top of the world.

   Ridgewood New Jersey, the town I grew up in, is a train stop twenty miles from New York City. A lot of the residents commute into Manhattan for work each day. By September 11th 2001, my family and I had long since moved to California. I always suspected that Ridgewood was hit hard by the attacks, but I had been gone for fourteen years and had little or no contact with any of the kids I grew up with. I really didn’t know for sure.  

   In 2004, I found out the truth. I accidently ran into an old baseball buddy in my new home of San Diego. I hadn’t seen him since high school. We had a few beers and talked about the baseball teams we played on together, the guys we played ball with, who the pretty girls from school married – the typical remember-when type stuff. When I asked him about 9/11… he told me something I will never forget.

   The morning after the attack… there were twelve empty cars in the Ridgewood train station parking lot – people who took the train to work that day and never came back. 

   So, here we are; on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attacks, I feel that dread creeping up on me. I want to run from it; I want to ignore it and go on with my life, but then I think of those cars in the Ridgewood train station parking lot, like twelve metal tombstones seared in my mind – and a little voice inside my head whispers to me… if those families can live with it everyday, then I can relive it for one.  

Wednesday
Aug312011

Fantasy Football: The First Online Social Network

My buddy Hoss calls fantasy football Dungeons and Dragons. “I’ll trade you my warlock for two of your sorcerers!” He often jokes in a high-pitched voice when the subject comes up. To him: Fantasy football is a time-sucking annual geek party that rears its nerdy head every fall. He just doesn’t get it!

The fantasy football haters might argue, that at best, we are pseudo-fans. Just the other day Texans’ running back Arian Foster tweeted about his injury, “4 those sincerely concerned, I’m doing ok & plan 2 B back by opening day. 4 those worried abt your fantasy team, u ppl are sick!”

WELL THAT’S A HELLUVA THANK YOU!!!

I would think a little gratitude wouldn’t be too much to ask for honoring you with the top pick in my draft! (How dare you!)

Sure it brings in fringe fans! But it also gives the fans of crappy teams something to root for late in the season when their perennially pathetic teams are phoning it in and making plans on whether to hold out for training camp next year. Before fantasy football, December Sundays in Detroit were meant for Christmas shopping, shoveling snow, or cleaning out the garage; they certainly weren’t for watching the Lions get their arses handed to them by the Vikings thus securing next year’s number one pick!

Excuse the rant – that’s not my point anyway! My point is… there’s something Arian Foster and my hater-friend don’t get. There’s a reason why fantasy football is so important to Americans and it has very little to do with football - WE’RE TALKING MAJOR SOCIALLY SIGNIFICANT THINGS HERE!

Do you have any idea how many women play fantasy football? The answer is A LOT! I looked it up; according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, thirty million people played fantasy football in 2009. That is nearly the entire population of the state of California and that was two years ago! Depending on who you believe, anywhere from 12% to 25% are women. That means between 3-7 million women duke it out with the boys on a weekly basis.

Think about that for a minute!

That’s Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs every Sunday – a kind of battle of the sexes intertwined around America’s most testosterone-driven game. A weekly tug-of-war with women winning their fare share and talking trash to the guys who find it hard to swallow that ‘they were outwitted by a girl.’ The only question; Will he pull the… ‘she was lucky’ card. (And boy o’ boy watch the message board explode if he does!)

I remember when my good friend Cara won the championship in her first year! (Oooh! How that rankled a few of the guys!) Another dear friend of mine, Suzanne, had Tom Brady in his record setting year of 2007. She kicked butt all season long. I’m sure it was a point of contention, because unlike Cara, she wasn’t much of a football fan and only did it to be part of the office circle! (Now she’s got her pink Chargers shirt and knows the names of the players! That’s a new fan born!)

My favorite situation though is the old spouse vs. spouse head to head matchup, the week when husband and wife face each other, especially with something on the line late in the season. Would love to be a fly on the wall listening to their conversations, especially if the hubby gets the beat-down from the old lady. (Oh that would be priceless!)

Fantasy Football has made Sundays a truly co-ed experience. Now, I’m not trying to say women weren’t fans before fantasy football, I’m just saying it’s been a game changer; the desire to participate and be part of the group has brought a lot of women into the tent and made them fans. It’s a fun game and now more than ever, women are playing and playing well. That’s pretty special:

AND THAT’S NOT EVEN THE MOST POWERFUL THING IT’S DONE FOR AMERICANS!

The most significant phenomenon fantasy football has done in my life and I’m sure countless others is:

It’s helped keep friendships alive:

I’m 42 years old. Many of the people I play fantasy football with I’ve known since college. As many of us know, after twenty years, even good friends have a way of growing apart. Many of us live in different cities and different states. As families have sprouted up and commitments have grown, it’s become very easy go long periods of time without talking to the old buds, but then there’s fantasy football to the rescue every year – bringing us back.

The fantasy football draft is one of the most sacred times of the year – not just because we get to choose our teams. I know that, for a couple of hours each year, the whole gang is online together – picking our players, typing away in the chat room, shooting the bull on the phone while we await our turns. It’s a reconnection our busy lives and the great distances between us rarely afford – and it doesn’t end there.

Over the course of the year, there’s message board smack talk, the ‘let’s get it on’ texts before our head to head matchups, and the granddaddy of it all, the victory phone call after securing the win! It’s not just that it gives us a reason to interact, but it gives us motivation to actually do it. How many times do we say to ourselves, I need to give this or that friend a call, but fail to do it because we’re too busy, or too something, to make the effort. It’s funny how a big victory over an old buddy can break down that barrier lickety-split!

More than anything fantasy football has become an important social element in our society – a yearly re-birth of friendships now woven into the fabric of our culture – dominating our Sundays and bringing us all together.

 So, as Arian Foster blasts the fantasy football community for being concerned about his injury… as my buddy Hoss cackles at the ‘geeky-ness’ of it all… keep in mind all the good things that fantasy football has brought us.

Clarence the angel told George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, “No man (or woman) is a failure who has friends.”

Fantasy football is not just a game anymore.

It’s a tie that binds friends together! And that’s a pretty cool thing if you ask me.

 

http://www.johnnypromo.com

Sunday
Aug142011

Don't Jinx It! A Little Leaguer's Superstitions

A pack of Ding Dongs, twelve red gummy fish, and a can of Mountain Dew – that’s what I ate before I got four hits on opening day of Little League in 1981. All my life, whenever I did something a certain way and did well, I just kept doing it that way until it didn’t work anymore. So, before the next game I did everything thing exactly the same and I got three more hits.

That’s how the superstition of the 1981 was born.

I hit like crazy that year and all season long, I was terrified that any deviation, however slight, would sabotage my success. So, I lived and played by one simple mantra, don’t jinx it!

That meant: I had to ride my bike to every game, stop at Pat’s neighborhood deli for the same sugary treats, use my Steve Garvey model wood bat (an anomaly well into the metal age), and a host of other quirky in-game rituals.

Soon, word spread about my pregame meal and it piqued the curiosity of my teammates. One by one they interrogated me to learn my recipe for success. 

“Why Ding Dongs? Why Mountain Dew? Why not Coke?”

“Why twelve fish?” Big Ed, our catcher and my best friend on the team, asked me. “Are you superstitious about the number thirteen too?”

“Yeah, but that’s not why.” I told him. “I got twelve fish because… after getting the Ding Dongs and the Mountain Dew… I only had twelve cents left.”

It didn’t take long for Ding Dongs and fish to become common sights in the dugout before games. At all levels of baseball you learn that hitting and winning is contagious – truth is superstitions are too!

I have always believed in jinxes – someone or something that brings bad luck. My over-active imagination took it much further. In my mind, ‘The Jinx’ was a goblin-like creature that put the hoodoo on anyone who ignored the rules of luck. The Jinx wanted you to fail and it would send obstacles your way to test your commitment – and baseball was the Jinx’s favorite sport.

The first jinx incident of the season happened in the eighth game of the season – we had yet to lose. I had just scored a run and was returning to my seat on the end of the bench – the spot where I always sat, during every game so far. But now, Todd Vandercroft was sitting there. I stood over him and looked down in disbelief.

“What?” Todd said.

“You’re in my seat.” I said.

“So?”

“What do ya mean, so?” I tried to put it back on him. “Are you trying to jinx us?”

That caught our catcher’s attention. Big Ed came over. His own success had made him a believer. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing!” Todd said. “What’s with you two?”

“You know!” Big Ed said. “This is Johnny’s seat.”

“I don’t see his name on it.”

“Do you want us to lose?” Big Ed asked.

“No!”

“Then get up!” Big Ed ordered. He was the biggest kid on the team and he didn’t much like Vandercroft anyway.

“This is stupid!” Todd said, but he got up and moved to the other end of the bench. I sat down.

“And don’t ever sit there again.” Ed sat down next to me and started putting on his catcher’s shin guards – that was one of his superstitions, unless he was batting or in the on-deck circle, he had to have them on.

“That goes for everyone.” He said louder. “I don’t want anyone putting the hex on our undefeated season. Anyone have a problem with that?”

Nobody did, because whatever Big Ed said was law.

It was a wonderful season; we were still undefeated and I had at least one hit in all twelve games going into a Monday night game near the end of the season – then the Jinx unleashed his army of demons.

Uniform on, my gear in my bag, and snack money in my back pocket, I was all set to leave the house, BUT I COULDN’T FIND MY BAT. I had looked everywhere, but my gut kept bringing me back to the closet of random things near the back door. Thinking it might just be lost inside the forest of junk, maybe buried in a nook or cranny, I decided to turn that closet inside out!

Just like the legendary John Henry driving steel, I worked my way through that closet at super-human speed. On my hands and knees I became a grabbing and tossing machine, inching deeper into the darkness, hoping each clutch would be the one when I’d finally feel the thin smooth wood handle or the fat, pockmarked barrel – scarred by success.

After a few minutes, the closet was empty and the hallway was full. Old shoes, soccer balls, tennis rackets, raincoats, and various other things, were piled high in a giant mound on the floor, but no bat. Worried and frustrated, I did what any scared little boy would do.

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOM!” I cried out for my mommy!

I must have put the right amount of ‘peril’ in my shriek, because my mother came running with the urgency of a mama bear responding to the cry of her cub. The thump-thump-thump on the basement stairs grew louder with every step. “I’m caaaah-minnnnnng!” She yelled with drawn out syllables.

She burst into the kitchen with her head on a swivel and the look of terror on her face. She scanned my body for missing limbs, gushing wounds, or some other dark fear that only a parent would know.

“What is it?” She barked, panicked and out of breath.

“I can’t find my bat!” I said.

“What?” She deflated; the air rushed out of her like a punctured balloon. “Oh for heaven’s sake!” Her expression instantly switched from worried to aggravated; her eyes narrowed and anger crept into her voice. “Don’t you ever do that again! You scared me half to death. I thought it was an emergency!”

 “It is an emergency!” I hopped up and down to prove the situation was in fact dire. “The game’s in forty-five minutes and I need my Steve Garvey bat or my hitting streak is toast.”

“You and your superstitions!” She said exasperated. I could tell that she just wanted to order me to cleanup the mess and walk away, but she looked into my worried little face and suddenly her mood changed again. “All right, all right, calm down.” Her mommy detective hat was now on. “Where did you have it last?”

“Da!” I snapped back. “If I knew that?” I smacked my head with my palms – too incredulous to finish my thought.

“Don’t be fresh with me young man!” Mom wagged her finger at me.  “Or that hitting streak will be stopped right here, right now, by me!”

Whether it was the panic in my face, a little boy’s puppy dog eyes, or maybe just that her only son so desperately needed his mommy’s help – a need that arose less and less these days, she let the insolence pass and once again tried to help.

“Ok, ok! When was the last time you remember having it?” She emphasized ‘remember’, perhaps in an attempt to preempt any more ‘freshness’ as she so often called it.

I thought for a second. “I know I had it at the game on Saturday.” I said confidently.

“Ok, that’s good. Did you leave it at the field?”

“No! That’s the first thing I do when the game ends. I definitely had it when I…”

A light bulb went on in my head.

I bolted toward the door. “I know where it is!” I shouted, grabbing my bag of gear on the way out.

“You’re welcome!” Mom yelled as the screen door slammed behind me. “You’re cleaning this mess up when you get home!”

It was a hot and muggy June evening, I felt the first few droplets of sweat running down from my armpits as I pedaled my bike down the street. I was sure that I knew where the bat was. I didn’t ride home from Saturday’s game, the Henrys gave me a ride; they threw my bike in their station wagon. When they dropped me off, I unloaded my bike and must have forgot the bat. God, I hope they’re home!

I rode up the Henry’s driveway and jumped off my bike; it crashed to the ground. Leaping up all three stairs at once to the porch, I pounded on the door. Nobody answered, but I heard noises inside.

“Anybody home?” I yelled and knocked again.

Through the door I heard, “Hold on a sec, ok?” When the door opened, I saw her long blond hair first, then her pretty face; it was Monica, Doug’s older sister.

“I need my bat!” I blurted out.

“Oh, it’s you!” She said with disgust. “Doug’s not here.”

“I left my bat in your dad’s car and I need it.” I said.

She shut the door in my face.

“Please, Monica,” I pounded on the door again. “It’s an emergency!”

She opened it a crack. I could see the phone now cradled in her crooked neck – pinned between her ear and shoulder.

“Hold on.” She said into the phone and then looked at me like I was a cockroach. “Do you see my dad’s car in the driveway?”

I looked at the empty driveway; there was an oil slick where the car should be. I got a sick feeling in my stomach.

“That’s cuz he’s not home,” She said, with maximum condescension. “Now get lost!” She slammed the door shut for the last time.

“Maybe Doug brought it inside.” I yelled. “Can you at least look?”  

“No! Go away!”

“Please Monica!” I yelled, but the futility began to sink in. I half-collapsed onto the door. It must have looked like it was holding me up. “I need my bat! I said softly to no one.

“Sorry, that was just my brother’s bratty friend…” I heard her say to whomever she was talking to on the phone. Her voice grew faint and then I couldn’t hear anything but the television – I couldn’t tell what show was on; it was just noise. I realized she wasn’t coming back. I looked through the part in living room curtains, I could see their grandfather clock; it was 5:25. I felt the presence of the Jinx.

Moping back to my bike, I got an idea. I’d been inside their house dozens of times. I knew they kept a bunch of sports junk by the back door, just like we did. Maybe, just maybe they brought the bat in from the car and left it by the back door. It was worth a look anyway. I pushed my bike to the side of their house and leaned it against the aluminum siding.

The backyard looked like a junkyard. Doug’s dad was a tinkerer. A beat up old car on cinder blocks was inside a detached garage – door wide open. The knee-high grass was starting to turn brown in the June heat; a handlebar-less lawnmower, the engine torn apart, was barely visible in the overgrowth. A trampoline was by the back fence. It looked like a deathtrap – rusty broken springs hanging every which way. I navigated through a maze of crap, a go-cart with only one wheel, a ten-speed Schwinn bicycle that had seen better days, and a weather-beaten set of golf clubs laying flat across the path to the porch stairs. The deck was brand-new though; a shiny coat of red paint made it gleam like a diamond in a dog turd.

I carefully scaled the steps; relieved they didn’t creak under the pressure of my feet. I scanned the deck for my bat, but it was completely empty. They must have just finished painting. Shoot! I saw the wet paint sign. I checked the underside of my sneakers – Oh thank God. No red paint!

I put my eye up to the window next to the door and peeked inside. The kitchen was empty. I put my ear up to the pane and listened – nothing.

I was running out of time, so I decided to take a chance. I pushed the button on the screen door handle, slowly, to minimize the noise. It clicked. I opened the screen slowly; it made a slight metallic whine as I pulled. I turned the nob of the inside door. Bingo! It was also unlocked. I quietly eased it open, stuck my head inside and listened. I heard the TV, the evening news I think; it sounded like CBS anchorman Rolland Smith. I stepped inside carefully guiding the screen door to a gentle close behind me.

I saw it immediately. My precious bat was propped up in the crack between the washer and dryer about eight feet away. I could see it, but the path was fraught with peril; various gloves, bats and balls littered the floor; there were so many potential noisemakers it was almost as good as a burglar alarm. Thank goodness I wore sneakers and carried my cleats in my bag!

One step in I heard Monica’s voice – I froze. My heart beat so fast I thought I was having a heart attack. I now expected to be caught. What would I say? Sweat poured down my sides. The pits of my uniform were soaking wet. I stayed perfectly still and listened. She was talking on the phone in the next room. (She must be walking and talking) I could hear her part of the conversation loud and clear. She was blabbing away about some guy named Carl. Apparently, they had done some smooching at a party over the weekend and now she was regretting it.

I noticed I was holding my breath and suddenly I felt a desperate need for oxygen; I wouldn’t last much longer without it. I exhaled as slowly and silently as I could. My heartbeat was so violent it felt like it could shake the whole house. As I drew in some musty air, polluted by shoe-stink and dirty laundry, Monica’s voice suddenly faded.

Whew! I had to act fast. I stepped very carefully, mindful to avoid anything round on the floor. I didn’t want to send a ball rolling or bat bouncing across the linoleum tile floor. I stepped on a glove and then a jacket; two more steps on open floor and I grabbed it. I went out the door the same careful way I came in. A few moments later, I was on my bike and down the driveway.

Pedaling out on the street, I felt both proud and ashamed. I avoided the jinx and got my bat, but it left a sour taste in my mouth because I had to break into a friend’s house to do it. It would have been a lot easier had Monica helped me, but I understood why she didn’t.

There was bad blood between us. Last year, as a high school junior, she chaperoned one of our sixth-grade class field trips. A few of us made it miserable for her, relentlessly teasing without mercy.

(I would share the details, but now as an adult, I wince at the memory of what we had done to her. Twelve-year olds can be cruel and suffice it to say, we were.)

Errrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Minutes later, I jammed on the brakes and did another jumping dismount. Cooooshhhhhh! The bike hitting the sidewalk outside Pat’s deli made a loud noise. I ran inside and looked up at the clock, 5:34. I’ll make it! (The field was only a ten-minute ride away.)

 I grabbed a pack of Ding Dongs on the fly and went right for the soda case. While I felt for the coldest Mountain Dew, I soaked up the cool refrigerated air against my sweaty body.

I heard the door slam and a curly-orange haired kid in a blue superman shirt and red shorts burst into the store. He was small, maybe nine-years old.

I know him! I couldn’t place him until I thought of Dr. Seuss. I wonder if the Cat in the Hat knows you’re out without Thing 2?

That thought, the hesitation that is, would cost me. Thing 1 beat me to the counter.

“Pack of baseball cards.” He ordered. “And I’ll take the rest of them fish!”

“Hey!” I protested. “I was here first.”

“Bull crap!” He said.

I recognize that bull crap! He was our paperboy’s little brother; he usually tagged along the route saying ‘bull crap this’ and ‘bull crap that’! It was his favorite phrase for sure. His name was Danny or Donny or something like that. 

 “You can’t just cut in front of people like that!” I said.

“Don’t gimme none of that bull crap! You were getting a soda. Huh, Pat?”

Behind the counter, Pat shrugged. She had long ago given up arbitrating disputes between customers. She was short, fat, and old. She spoke very little and moved slow; she made everything look like a herculean task. When she turned the gummy fish jar upside down, shaking out the last few fish into a plastic sandwich bag – it seemed to exhaust her and it made me think of the Jinx.

The kid dropped a fistful of coins, mostly pennies, on the counter. It made a big dull metallic splat. Pat started counting the money – one cent at a time.  

“Pat, please tell me you have more in the back?” I asked with a desperate voice.

Pat nodded and that made me feel better. I was losing time, but at least I would get my fish. I looked at the wall clock: 5:36.

When Pat was done, Thing 1 scooped up the leftover pennies and looked at me. “Now, it’s your turn, dufus!” He said and walked away.

 

Cha-ching! The drawer of the cash register opened and Pat dropped each coin into its proper slot. After about twenty chink-chink-chinks, she slammed the drawer shut and finally looked at me.

“I need twelve fish as fast as possible please!” I said.

“We’re out!” she said.

“What?” My voice cracked like Peter Brady. “You said you had more?”

“I did?”

“Yes you did. I asked you if you had more and you nodded your head like this.” I mimicked her nod from earlier.

Pat shrugged.

“What about in back?” I asked – now in full panic mode.

She shook her head no. “He got the last one.” She motioned with her head toward the kid. The door slammed shut behind him.

“Ahhhh!” My blood began to boil. “This is not happening!” I put a dollar down for the soda and Ding Dongs; I didn’t wait for the forty cents change because Pat was too slow and I needed to get those fish – quick.

 

Outside of the deli, I yelled out to Thing 1. “Hey Danny!”

The kid turned around. “My name is Donny, dufus!”

I saw him chomping away at some of the fish. My stomach churned.

“Sorry. Hey… Do you remember me?” I said. “You’re our paperboy.”

I was trying to flatter him. At best he was a mild help to his brother and more likely an irritant forced upon him by his mom.

“I know who you are, so what!” He said.

“Today’s your lucky day Donny!”

“How’s that?” He said.

“I’ll give you a buck for 12 of those fish.” I tried to sound like I was offering him a deal of a lifetime.

“No deal.”

“Come on!” I snapped. I thought about knocking him down and taking them, but I didn’t – I’m no bully! “Ok, I’ll give you two bucks.” I waved two bills in the air. “That’s fifteen cents a piece.”

“It’s more like seventeen cents… dummy!”

“What?” I started to do the math in my head and then gave up. “Whatever, the bottom line is I need those fish!”

He gave me a funny look for a second and then counter-offered. “Three dollars!”

 “You paid a penny a piece!” I was outraged at him and at everything that had happened to me in the last hour.

“That’s my price.” He said. “Take it or leave it.”

 “Okay, okay you little shyster!” I heard my mom say that to a door-to-door salesman – I figured it fit even though I didn’t really know what the word meant.

I held out my last three dollars. When he grabbed for it, I pulled back. “Let’s see those fish first.”

The kid gave me a weird vibe and I wasn’t taking any chances. Donny smiled; he had red jelly bits stuck to almost every tooth. He seemed to enjoy the fact that I didn’t trust him. He began counting out the fish in the plastic bag with a whisper. “Seven, eight, nine…”

“Do you gotta touch every single one?” I said.

“You want twelve? I’m counting twelve!” He said.

I cringed, thinking about where those grubby little fingers may have been.

“Twelve on the dot!”

We traded the sandwich bag for the money, simultaneously.

“Thanks!” I walked toward my bike counting the fish… nine, ten, eleven! Wait a minute. I quickly counted again. “Hey, there’s only eleven here!” I turned quickly.

“Sucker…” He said. Fifteen feet away Donny’s devilish smirk should have been a warning of his evil intentions. He stuck his arm up in the air and showed me two fish in his hand – like a soccer referee giving a player a red-card (or in this case two little red-cards). I took one step toward him and he bit the tops off and laughed his head off.

I charged him.

Donny stopped laughing and ran, but didn’t get far. A few yards away I caught him; I grabbed his hand just in time to stop him from eating the remaining nubs, but he kept trying. He laughed as we wrestled to the ground. Partially chewed jelly bits spewed from his mouth with each chuckle; I felt the wet gummy shrapnel hitting my cheeks, but I didn’t dare let go of his hand to wipe them off. If I did, those fish would be gone forever and my hitting streak officially jinxed.

I was too strong for him; when I wedged my elbow into his throat it prevented any chance of him getting his mouth near his hand. He groaned and started to choke. I felt him weakening and I made my move. As I pried back his fingers one at a time, he coughed out a scream; “help” (cough), “help” (cough), help me!” Nobody came to his rescue; Finally, he broke; the fish fell to the ground, first one, then the other; I pushed him away and scooped them up off the sidewalk.

“Ha! Take that you little brat.”

He wheezed and coughed and when he caught his breath, he yelled, “That’s bull crap, I’m gonna tell your mom.

“Oh yeah?” I said as an idea popped into my head. “Do and I’ll tell your brother about the tip money I saw you pocket.”

His expression changed; he tilted his head and squinted his eyes, like he was sizing me up and wondering how much I knew. I knew nothing of course. It was a bluff – but my educated guess must have hit the mark, because Thing 1 walked away without a peep; I didn’t even get a ‘that’s bull crap!’ out of him. Too bad I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I could have saved myself three dollars.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that the little booger had actually bitten off one head and one tail – so I did in fact have an anatomically complete fish. I blew on ‘em once, popped ‘em into my mouth and hoped Thing 1 wasn’t a nose picker! Either way, I dodged another jinx.

 

On my bike, I pedaled as fast as I could toward Hawes field; I went through stop signs and red lights at full speed. When the street turned into the downhill stretch, I pumped the pedals several more times and coasted. I reached into the basket and grabbed the Ding Dongs. I opened the pack using my teeth, but I tugged too hard and the package tore open and one of the Ding Dongs got away. Ahhhh! I felt the bump under my butt when my back wheel ran over it.

Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I jammed on the pedal brakes leaving a ten-foot-long skid mark on the street. I ran back to inspect the damage.

The Ding Dong no longer looked like a Ding Dong.

Once shaped like a hockey puck, now the Ding Dong was flat in the middle and bloated on each side; tire tread markings were pressed into the foil. Though smushed, there was no breach of chocolate or crème. The foil had held. I had a decision to make and very little time to make it. Hex the streak or eat Ding Dong road-kill? I scraped it up off the pavement.

Back on my bike, now I was seriously worried about missing the start of the game. I took no more chances; I could finish the rest of the food on the bench. Up ahead the field was in sight. I could see red uniforms on the field and black ones in the dugout.

“I’m here, I’m here! I shouted.

I hopped off the bike, letting it run free; it ghost-rided for a while and crashed to the ground near the dugout fence.

The game hadn’t started yet. The opposing pitcher, Gary McQueen had just finished his warm-ups. The first pitch was just a moment away.

 “John, what in the world!” Coach Sonnet said. “You’re late.”

“I know, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t find my bat.”

A few snickers came from the bench. They all knew about the bat, but nobody could have imagined the nightmare I went through to use it that day.

“Hey ump!” Coach Sonnet walked over and said something to the umpire. I was panicking. What if they don’t let me play? Does my streak end?

Coach Sonnet walked back with a blank look on his face. “You gotta bat last. Sorry, but that’s what happens when you’re late.”

Whew! I was relieved and disappointed at the same time. I was too good a hitter to be batting last, but throughout the streak I’d batted in several different spots in the order, so no jinx there. On the bench, while the game started, I downed the last of the fish and sipped some Mountain Dew; then I began to work on the smushed Ding Dong as our leadoff batter walked up to the plate to face the son of Big Foot.

 

Gary McQueen was one of those early bloomers, a big kid who was more man than boy; and he had the body hair to prove it. He looked like a teen-wolf. He was probably the only twelve-year-old in the league who needed to shave everyday. Our bench took to calling Gary – ‘Hairy’. We took turns trying to top each other’s jokes.

 

 “I heard Hairy McQueen fell asleep on the floor and his mom thought he was a bear-skin rug.”

“I heard that during bear hunting season… his mom won’t let him go outside the house.”

“What did Big Foot say to Hairy McQueen in the woods? Son!” 

“AAAAAAWOOOOO!” One of our kids howled like a werewolf serenading a full moon and we all laughed – too loud as it turned out. Gary looked over and sneered, striking fear in every boy on the bench. As for the jokes, they were told in whispers; the snickering muffled so as to not reach the mound. Even big Ed was scared of Gary ‘Hairy’ McQueen. Anger the bear-boy and he might just put a fastball in you ear.

Hairy was throwing smoke that day; he mowed down almost everyone we sent to the plate. Except for a cheapie hit by Bobby, our shortstop, almost everyone struck out.

 

My superstitions didn’t stop when the game started. I had a strict routine I always followed. It was the best Steve Garvey imitation you ever saw. He had all these wonderful mannerisms that made him look different from all the other major-leaguers. I emulated every one on opening day, so I had to do it now.

When my turn came I walked to the plate calm and confident like I owned the field. Outside the batters box, I took one full practice swing; it was more like a golf swing. I hated golf, but that’s what Steve Garvey did – so I did it too. I asked the ump for time and then I meticulously manicured the dirt in the right hander’s side of the batter’s box – pushing a little here with my left foot, filling in a little hole there with my right – like a well-tended garden. Then I settled in and tapped the plate with my bat – my Steve Garvey model wood bat. Garvey had this little shrug that he did and I did it too, but it was more with just the front shoulder – then I tugged on the jersey at the neck to keep everything loose. But the signature part of his batting stance, therefore of mine, was the bat movement just before the pitch – so mechanical, so deliberate, stiff yet powerful. It was more like the careful measuring swing of an ax-man finding his spot on a tree. I pulled the bat back and did it two more times, each time stopping right over the plate, the point of expected contact, as if I was giving the pitcher a target, daring him to throw it there. Now, I was ready. I wiggled my fingers on the bat handle and rocked back and forth, shifting my weight from foot to foot.

I made eye contact with Hairy on the mound; like boxers in a prefight stare-down, we matched each other’s intensity – both refusing to blink.

It was time:

Hairy McQueen wound up and threw a laser beam in the exact spot I warned him not to: Pop! The catcher’s mitt cracked like a tree limb snapping in a windstorm. The awesome power of the pitch caused me to freeze, just like I did at the sound of Monica’s voice an hour earlier.

“Strike one!” The ump yelled.

Sheeeeze! I thought. That was fast!

As the catcher tossed it back, I resumed my Steve Garvey impersonation with another few half-swings, again daring him to hit my spot, but this time with far less confidence.

Hairy wound up and unleashed a bullet. The pitch veered inside, but I was ready; I whipped my hands through as quick as I could, keeping my head down, my eye on the ball, just like my hero was famous for doing on every swing.

“Crack!”

I felt a weird stinging sensation, like I stuck my hands in a hornet’s nest. The bat flew out of my hands toward the infield. I knew I hit the ball, but I didn’t know where. I ran to first, but I was worried that the wayward bat would hit someone and hurt them.

“Foul ball!” The ump yelled.

When I stopped running I realized the bat handle was still in my left hand – but only the handle. I looked toward the mound and saw the barrel of my bat rolling to a stop on the infield dirt, like the last breath of a dying soldier on the battlefield; reality sunk in.

Big Foot had just sawed my Steve Garvey bat in half. I walked in a daze toward the barrel. I scooped it up while fighting back tears. My trusty cohort was dead. I carried him in my arms back to the dugout and laid him down in the corner.

I was in shock, I don’t remember picking out a new bat, I should have been looking to avenge my fallen friend, but I believed in omens. I was inconsolably depressed about it. I stepped back into the box in some sort of half-trance and I forgot all about my routine. The bat’s rubber grip felt weird in my hands; the metal felt strange on my shoulder – a place it wouldn’t leave the rest of the at bat. I don’t remember much about the next pitch. I know I didn’t swing; I heard the ump yell strike three and then I moped back to the dugout in a daze and began a weeklong pout.

The rest of the game was a blur. I hardly remember my next at bat either. Three straight pitches: Zip – Zip – Zip! I swung through them all. I don’t know if I swung over or under them. I just know I missed. Hairy McQueen threw a two-hit shutout against us. The undefeated season was over and so was my hitting streak.

It would be the only time I ever struck out twice in one game!

Riding home, I thought about how far I went to keep the superstition intact. I destroyed our hall closet; I broke into my friend’s house; I mugged our paperboy’s little brother; I ate half-eaten fish off the sidewalk and a Ding Dong that I ran over with my bike.

Now, my streak was toast; my beloved bat, a Christmas present from my father, was in pieces in my bike basket – murdered by the son of Big Foot.

Pedaling up the hill I wondered: What went wrong? Then a thought occurred to me that made everything make sense. I should have known my twelve-game hitting streak was doomed.

Thirteen was an unlucky number for me. The Jinx got me.

Saturday
Jul022011

The Day The World Changed!

How the remote control changed the world.

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