The Knuckleballer

The Knuckleballer
It’s just baseball. Just quiet yourself, spit some snuff, and throw the damn ball…
Chicago, Illinois
A washed up semi-pro pitcher sees his life spinning out of control. His wife left him and his once vibrant dream of the big time is fading fast. Then a series of serendipitous twinkling stars fall upon his miserable life…

 

Jim Mongrel the manager of the Chicago Cubs looked dismally down his depleted pitcher’s roster. It was a wasteland of injuries, stupidity, and bad luck: Edie Cicotte, starting pitcher with a hot arm, had covered first base on a blooper and broke his ankle. Wilbur Cooper, ace reliever, caught a line drive to the head and sustained a contusion and a laceration to the left ear. Mel Harder, whose fastball scorched the ozone at 99 mph, tore an elbow ligament and needed UCL surgery.

Mongrel spit his Redman wad in the dirt and grimaced. “How the fuck am I supposed to lead this team to a pennant without any goddamn pitchers?” He paced up and down in front of the empty dugout alone. Wrigley Field was nearly deserted. Tonight’s loss to the Red Sox was hard to take. He had promised Jake Sterling, the esteemed owner and grizzled fanatic of the Cubs, a win. The nine to three dubbing was humiliating.

Mongrel knew he was in trouble. In his second year of a two year contract, he had to find a way to win—or else. He shuddered at the ‘or else’. He knew Sterling’s reputation with losing managers. But damn. Look at the pitching roster. Decimated.

One by one the massive stadium torches went black. Mongrel took a final glance at the scoreboard before it too melted into the Chicago evening breeze. Then, with a dark chuckle, Mongrel turned to leave muttering, “the only one wriggling here is me.”


Babe Adams, once ace knuckleballer for the Angels and now last stringer for the AA Tennessee Smokies, sat bleary-eyed and skunk happy on the infield of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Speedway sampling all 55 Tennessee-brewed beers. Sipping slowly from his 14th selection, a foamy Jackalope beer from Nashville, Babe sensed a Key West calmness settle in upon him.

It had been another phantom year on the mound: one win, eight losses, three disasters including the game with the Chattanooga Lookouts when he got beaned with a Schlitz can hurled from the second deck, and one majestic meltdown when he took over with a 10-0 lead in the bottom of the 8th at Birmingham and miraculously managed to lose 14-10. In all fairness, Babe had started drinking early in the shadows of the outfield dugout figuring he would never go in anyway. Shit. Plus he noticed while sitting in the dugout sipping that he had a slight nail tear on his index finger, the one that controlled the release of the knuckleball.

The speedway spun before him like a mystical playground. It was on his 18th beer, the dramatic Black Magic from the Ghost River Brewers that he remembered his wife briefly. Brenda Lee had finally left him somewhere on the road in Birmingham after the loss to the Barons. When he got back to the fleabag hotel room, she was gone. Nothing but a short note with a few tear drops on it.

“Can’t do it anymore, Babe. Gotta find a life. You know this dream died long ago. Love ya but…”

She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t have to. He didn’t hold it against it her. Babe swirled the Black Magic with his pitching finger and burped loudly. No, he didn’t blame her. Twenty-four years of broken dreams and a future as black as this brew left Brenda no air to breathe….

Teatime in Old Havana

Teatime Cover 3-Amazon

 

 

 

 

Field Trip to Fort Monroe VA

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Just strolling with some middle school students into the old fort on a sunny Virginia day in November, 2015.  The history here is amazing.  This location.  Defensive fortifications were built at Old Point comfort in 1609.  The stone walls we are walking toward in the photo were completed in 1834 under the leadership of Robert E. Lee whose house is just out of sight.

 

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The museum has guides and docents who who bring the history of the fort alive.  Here a civil war soldier addresses a few 8th graders with humor and insight.He told us that a skilled soldier could load and reload his rifle three times in a minute.   He then demonstrated with dexterous skill just how it was done.  Everything on the table would fit into the 45 lb back pack the soldier would carry on his back.

 

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Standing atop the casement walls where a gun battery used to rest, we were able to scan the Chesapeake Bay as lookouts did many years ago.  To our good fortune a submarine slithered out of the bay as a cruise ship lolled past in pursuit of dreams and distant shores.  Two disparate ships passing serenely beneath the august stare of the old fort.

Rhapsody of Brooklyn

Ship helmPhoto by Driiscol.

    She broke the surface of the sand gasping occasionally for air, her fingers clawing at the sky.  I stood stock still staring at the impossible.  How could such a vagabond go unnoticed by other strollers on this secluded Casablancan beach?  I heard no calls for help.  The castaway almost seemed to embrace its forlorn destiny embedded deeply in the sands of time.   Looming only a few meters from where I stood in disbelief, I watched as the surf covered and then released it, a sad but eternal dance of nature, dominating the figure and then reconsidering with every watery surge and retreat.

I decided to risk an intervention.  Moving stealthily forward I knelt beside the fallen warrior and offered consolation.  Then with rising urgency I began to claw at the shackles that bound this form to its solitary grave.  Bit by bit I felt the body moving, the long submerged spokes gradually rising from the grip of death.

After several intense moments of excavation I gave a final tug and pulled the helm from the beach. I laid it down on the surface of the sand and washed its face gently with the same surf that had moments earlier gagged it.  And then I stood and carried it far up the beach where I could sit and whisper words of hope.

This beach miracle found its way into the opening chapter of my story entitled Rhapsody of Brooklyn:

He snuggled down in the feather bed and pulled Houda close. “Close your eyes, my love. It was long, long ago when my great grandmother, Maimouna, walked alone on the Casablanca beach hours after a great Atlantic storm. She came across a helm sticking out of the sand. She was so excited. She dropped to her knees and began to dig. And when she finally pulled the great helm from the clutches of the sand, she almost shrieked. For hiding beneath the ship’s wheel was this dragon….

I still have this helm.  It hangs on the wall in my home.  (I let the dragon go).

(Did anybody else ever find a great treasure on a beach)?

P.S.  Read the story in my book Teatime in Old Havana.

Temple Bar, Dublin

The Roadster

Temple Bar, Dublin
Temple Bar, Dublin

     After wandering the streets of Dublin till the wee hours, I stumbled into The Temple Bar and ordered a Guinness.  The place was nearly deserted but the old school wooden bar, double arches overhead and winding staircase to a mysterious upper level hooked me so I lingered.  The Guinness came foaming at the bit and I sipped letting the roasted barley calm my nerves and give me hope.  My fatigue gave me pause to ponder the meaning of my life and the dark stout revived the extinguishing lights of wanderlust dimming within.

It was in these exhausted moments of reflection that a strange character strode in from the dark street.  He wore a heavy Hemingway beard with a cap that had the word Roadster scrawled on the bill.  He took a seat at the bar a few chairs beside mine and ordered a drink.  As he waited, he turned to me.  He sensed my immigrant status and it piqued his interest.  “Where you from?” he asked.

“The States,” I said wondering where this admission might lead.

“Ah, the States,” he said as if he were reading his lines for the big screen.  Then he smiled and drank half the glass of beer without a pause.

“You a local?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.  Local through and through.”

“I like your hat,” I said wondering if there might be a hidden story lurking somewhere beneath the word Roadster.

He smiled at that question and pointed outside the window.  “The roadster is out yonder tethered to a hitching post.  Care to see it?”  He winked and wondered if I understood.

“Sure,” I said having no clue to the meaning of ‘out yonder tethered to the hitching post’.”

With that little encouragement this provocateur led me on a fascinating tour of his wild blue roadster parked down the street, a mean machine fit for any back street racing challenge.  And from that episode in this little bar came the story I wrote called The Roadster (in my book entitled: Teatime in Old Havana.)

(P.S.  Has anyone been to this pub or met an interesting character at a mysterious bar)?

The Ambulance Driver

Jugaads

I was eating some cashew nut macaroons at the Dhanalakshmi Bakkery in Tuticorin India recently.  The afternoon was hot as the passersby flittered here and there on a thousand unknown journeys in this Indian port city.  I gazed with a sense of wonderment from my bakery shop window seat at the complexities of life and the conundrums of daily existence.

I was lost in these musings and the crunchy sugary macaroon tip that hovers with sublime grace over the gooey cashew crumbs when I saw him go by.  He was singularly focused.  He wove through the street traffic like a magician appearing and disappearing behind this truck and then that cart of produce.

He pedaled his ambulance cart, a strange kind of tricycle with a caged space behind him for patients in desperate need of medical care.  They call these mechanical inventions jugaads in this part of the world.  They are real world improvisations, contraptions made of dreams and elbow grease and late night tinkering behind some corner store.

I paused in mid crunch, putting my macaroon down and simply staring.  The driver was intense.  He didn’t sit on the make shift seat; no, he pedaled upright with a sense of urgency as if the gods themselves had commissioned him to hasten to some wounded soul without delay.  He looked straight ahead seeing nothing but the imagined patient lying wounded or bleeding on some distant river bank or factory floor.

If I could have done so, I would have leaped from my seat at the bakery and rushed to follow him.  Where did he go?  What did he find?  I will never know.  But it was this frenetic scene outside the bakery where I sat nibbling a macaroon that I conceived the the story of the pearl diver out on a mission to save the world only to find himself the victim of love’s snares and foibles.

(P. S.:   Has anybody tried an authentic macaroon?  Tell me about it).

(Read the story in Teatime in Old Havana)

Slow Hands on an Athens’ Trolley.

Slow hands on an Athens' trolley.

I was swaying on the trolley car in downtown Athens.  It was a hot day and the locals were pressed in tightly about me as I stood in the aisle holding to the overhead grip.  The trolley rolled merrily onward and I almost seemed to dance a Greek samba as my body adjusted to the stops and starts and the gentle undulations of the city avenues.  A trickle of sweat ran down my arm but a breeze from the open windows whispered of Greek dalliances yet to experience.  I felt a satisfying hum of happiness within my heart.  After all, this was Athens.  I loved it!

I saw ahead that the park I wanted to visit was the next stop.  I prepared to exit waiting for the trolley to stop.  There was a little jostling near the door as people moved here and there adjusting to the flow of passengers.  I was bumped about a bit but I thought nothing of it until I saw the man in front of me drop something.  It fell on my feet.  I bent down and picked it up and to my horror realized it was my wallet. The man had a folded newspaper still in his grasp, the very paper that had held my wallet hostage.  He looked at me somewhat bemused.

I put two and two together and shook my finger at him.  I gave him a little bit of southern rhetoric, choice words that didn’t translate well into Greek, and then stormed out of the trolley, wallet firmly in my grasp.

I didn’t let it ruin my day or my opinion of the Greek people.  It just made me realize that there are thugs everywhere.  But c’mon.  This is Athens!  Land of dreams.  Oh well.  Let’s have an ouzo and laugh about it.

Share your pick pocket story.  Got one?

Sugar Roads

Midnight Train to Athens

Midnight Train to Athens

Athens Odeon
“…She was an actress on her way back to the Odeon….”
     A young Greek actress sits, in anguished solitude, at a bar on a midnight train home to Athens where she performs nightly at a Greek theater. The man is returning on a train from a conference where he was the main speaker. He too is lonely, his home in Athens as empty as his life.

It was a midsummer midnight on a bullet to Athens. The air was sticky. I loosened my tie and sipped slowly from a bottle of ouzo in seat 22 by a double window. Fading lights, like florescent fireflies, flickered past from distant villages as the train whisked through the dark countryside tied to its ribbon of steel.

The conference over, I was heading home, the limelight scattered now, just comet dust on the edge of silence. I could see the barren garden, the empty cottage, my solitary bed. The divorce had sent me spiraling into a maddening chaos that had blinded my heart to life’s joys. I tasted the pending loneliness in the ouzo fumes. I tossed the empty bottle aside lost in a subtle despair. My head spinning, I wished the train would speed on through this nightmare and release me somewhere in a borough of New York City, but I knew better.

It was in the midst of this midnight melodrama, that I saw her. She was moonlight on a Greek barstool. Her ring finger, minus the ring, stirred languorously a pink daiquiri in a shot glass. The Blue Nile three-stone diamond winked a sad tale quarantined beneath a Scotch tumbler 8 inches from her hand. Her eyes, lost in hot contemplation, bore traces of some ancient Greek tragedy yet to be discovered.

She rose and showed the conductor her ticket and then jabbed at the daiquiri with pointless attacks. She saw me staring. She quickly adjusted looking away. A bar clock chided her, the second hand clucking, clucking, clucking.  She looked at me again, this time driving recklessly without brakes, her stare cliff bound.

I trembled, wondering her intentions, then flagged her down and hitched a ride to the barstool beside her. The bartender winked. He slid another daiquiri across the marble top and waved off the cost.

She wore a black lace scoop neck dress that had my number in the lace. She was an actress on her way back to the Odeon where she performed nightly beneath the stare of the Parthenon. She spoke broken English; I spoke broken hearts.

She toyed with her pearl necklace. I leaned in slowly and touched my lips to her cheek. Her hands found me, reading the sorrow in my face I had hidden from the world.

My fingers followed the pearl trail. She sighed in Greek. She leaned forward her knees touching mine. “Se thelo,” she whispered as a tear trickled down her cheek. “I want you.” Pocketing the Blue Nile, she sucked the life out of the daiquiri, took my hand and led me like a lamb down the train’s corridor to her room and into a steamy midnight reverie that was Athens bound.

One of my stories in Teatime in Old Havana: Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places (Vol 1).