Monday, June 15, 2015

Review of The Lions Courtship by A Wendeberg

Ms Wendeberg has used historical and scientific fact to produce an emotionally-charged, perspective-based novel.

It is very powerful in both language and thought.  Once started, it became a love-hate relationship. The horrors of everyday London of the late 1800's pushed me away, but the writing, the colorful, imperfect characters kept me involved in the story. Though not really a mystery, it still provided a surprise ending that left a "what!" In my mind and eager for more of this great writer.

One delightful addition to the novel is that it is well-written in an age when grammar, punctuation, and a model of English use are sorely lacking. No distractions there. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Crash Heard Round the World by Donna Pingry

She had to die and it was my job to do it. Plus it had to look like an accident.

My name is Sam and you'll have to excuse me if I don't fill in all the blanks for you. It's not everyday that I get an assignment to knock off the world's most famous princess, but that's essentially what I get paid for - killing high profile people for major team players. These team players give little consideration to my expenses. They are paying for a job well done. I'm one of the best, if I do say so myself.

So here's this beautiful, sad, recently divorced princess and she's making some of my players very uncomfortable. They fear that she's on the road to making the Jackie Kennedy/Onassis thing look normal, so she's got to go. On top of everything, every reporter and TV crew from several countries is hunting her down to take pictures of her ill-fated romance. She's in Paris with her new billionaire boyfriend, about to get engaged, and it's my job to arrange a little accident. Bye-bye princess.

I picked up the extremely fat envelope from my mail on the way to the airport. In the envelope is my passport, airline tickets and background information on every person assigned to be anywhere around her royal person. The initial deposit has already been transferred to my numbered bank account. I settle into my seat in coach and get ready to work.

Why does someone like me fly coach? It's the rules of the profession. People like me blend in. You've seen people like me walk by you dozens of times, but you probably can't remember my face or what I was wearing. I blend well. This job was just meant to be. I'd venture to guess you can't even pick my picture out of my high school yearbook. The invisible person, that's me.

So, you ask, how do you kill a celebrity? Well, usually with their cooperation. There is always some fault, some little opening, some weakness that I walk into and make the whole thing happen. This princess had it all -- beauty, brains, money, connections -- a real star. She also had a boyfriend that was going to cost her her life. Too bad. But it's not my job to judge. This playboy boyfriend is surrounded by daddy's lackeys -- bodyguards, chauffeurs, servants in every shape and size. This is useful in my line of work. Lots of paid employees mean someone with a grudge or someone with a secret. In the envelope on my lap were lots of grudges and secrets and the names of all the people who had them. Yeah, this was going well.

It was a sunny day as I left the airport. Another trick of the trade is to take only one bag. Nothing to draw attention to you at customs. Just appear to be the casual business traveler, here today, gone tomorrow. My associates had my car waiting, gassed, and ready. Driving into Paris, I made a few calls to verify the information in the envelope. Then I rent a plain black motorcycle just like the newsboys have. Those things really zip in and out of traffic when you're following a story. I make a quick stop at a prearranged drop and pick up one high tech piece of equipment. It looks like a camera, but what's inside is vastly differennt.

I make another call to verify that my associates have followed my instructions to the letter. Someone's loved one is a little out of touch for awhile. Then I contact the man with something to hide. Something he'd rather die than have revealed. It goes just the way I like it. I now have access to the plan, the car, and the driver. You'd think that Junior's dad would have screened his employees better before giving his precious son into their care, but he left me an opening so who am I to complain? That's what makes my job interesting. Devil's in the details, you know.

So this inside guy with the past tells me that the night guy called in and he'll probably have to pull night duty after he takes the charming couple to dinner. No opening there, right. Wrong. The sudden illness on the other drivers part ought to have tipped you off. I leave Mr. Unfortunate in the bar slugging down a few glassfuls while I take care of the vehicle. I don't blame him though. I'm sure he already sees his life flashing in front of his eyes and he wants something to dull the pain. I leave a few well placed people in the lounge to see that he doesn't drown his sorrows too effectively.

The decoy vehicle is out front. How lame. Only a fool would fall for that trick, but I guess there's a few born every minute. I watch some of the reporters take off after the decoy from my vantage point in the alley. By now the chauffeur is in the target vehicle waiting on the happy couple and the bodyguard. The vehicle with the slight modification. I get a quick glimpse of the princess, tall, blonde, gleaming with diamonds. Her bad choice boyfriend looks tired. Must be too many late nights, too much booze, too many women. Too bad, lady. You picked a lemon again. He would't have lasted any longer than the blueblood you married the first time. The one with the taste for women who look like they should be wearing a saddle rather than riding on one.

I'm way behind the pack of reporters as we start off after the vehicle. If they just wait a bit longer, I'll give them the story of a lifetime. But they are sliding in and out of traffic like a pack of sharks after blood. As we get closer to the tunel, I work my way to the left of the car. This is close to the prearranged spot. No one's looking at me. They are after the fox. Maybe they want a picture of the engagement ring, the ring that the princess will never wear again. Mr. Unfortunate is doing just as he was told, pushing the needle to 100 mph and heading to the tunnel. Just inside the tunnel, I push the little gismo in the camera and the front left tire explodes, throwing the vehicle into the middle of the tunnel wall. Kind of like sending a pinball into a bonus point pocket. All hell breaks loose as the reporters begin to realize what happened to their quarry. As they try to figure out the details a vehicle come from the opposite lane and quite conveniently, a doctor, gets out and checks pulses. Two down and two quite near the edge. A quick inspection of the tire and no device. After that impact, there isn't much of anything left. I'm just one of the paparazzi lost in the crowd. My job is done.

There just isn't much more to tell. The princess had a big state funeral. The world mourned. The family accepted the death stoically and with little sign of loss. You could almost see the relief in Her Majesty's eyes.

"What was the secret that the chauffeur took to the grave?" you ask. Well that's another story. Why I told you is another story, too. You see, I just got another envelope in the mail. Evidently you are important enough to cause embarrassment to someone too. I'm sorry, but you won't be sharing this story with anyone else. Yes, I see from your eyes that you understand. It's nothing personal, just a job.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Test by Dennis Perry

A man and his two young sons walked toward a gentle, dusty sunset, passing a cemetery that was generally regarded as the western edge of town. They stopped at a field which pressed the cemetery’s boundary. The field, perhaps a hundred feet across and flowinggently downhill from the road to a narrow creek, was framed by the cemetery’s wrought iron fence and two freshly dug basement cubes on its other side, the fresh mounds spilling into the field.

Pop, as he was called by the boys, Ricky, age seven, and Jimmy, age five, tossed away his stubby cigarette and surveyed the field, hands on hips. His face was a mask of concentration. He noted a steam shovel between the cubes, two workmen securing it for the evening, and he turned to the boys.

Ricky was wild-eyed excited. He wore a toy Army helmet and a web belt – genuine issue – which flapped several inches beyond the clasp, even though it had been trimmed. The web held a toy canteen, and the boy held a facsimile rifle, jigsawed from a piece of white pine. An old pants belt served as the rifle’s sling. He was ready for Pop’s instructions. 

Pop had planned this event for a couple days, indeed had planned it for eight years, since he manned foxholes and snowbanks during the last months of World War II, the defining days of his life. “If I ever have a son he’ll know what this was like,” he’d contemptuously spit to his buddies, and what was worse, this was no idle gripe. 

Pop, given name George, glanced again at the two tired workmen in white tee shirts and jeans – referred to then as dungarees – locking down the steam shovel, their day’s sweat evaporating in the cooling long-shadowed late summer eve. They were nearly silent as they gathered their black metal lunch pails and dropped satisfyingly, wearily, into an old brown Chevy pickup truck while glancing at the trio. The company name, “Christian Brothers” was printed on the pickup’s door. Along the bed was the slogan, “Building Futures One at a Time”. As the Chevy eased on to the sparsely traveled road, George made notof the message and idly thought, well, that’s what we’re doing, giving the boy his future.

George himself had spent the day clearing trees from another tract even further west. He wore green cotton coveralls, work boots, the day’s dirt and stray woodchips. His reddish overgrown crewcut was matted, he wore no cap. He had a blocky, muscular build, just starting to flesh, but his prominent feature, a half-scowl, half-smirk usually was the first aspect people noticed, and it signaled that he was not a person given to idle friendliness. A disgusted glance from his steely blue-grey eyes could wither a circus strongman.

Pop directed Jimmy to play in a small pile of sand- and-clay mix scarcely six feet from the road’s edge. Because he had planned this trip, he’d given Jimmy a small metal bulldozer so the younger boy wouldn’t distract him as he trained the older boy in the tasks of soldiering.

Little round Jimmy happily began bulldozing, complete with sound effects.

Pop turned his attention to Ricky. The older boy was somewhat tall for seven, and had willing, expressive eyes in his thin face. Pop was adjusting the way-too-big web belt around Ricky’s waist as Ricky dropped the pine rifle and adjusted his toy helmet. He wore dungarees and a green tee shirt, the best “Army” style shirt available from the surplus store.

George  had Ricky shoulder the rifle, then went through his various basic training commands – present arms, re-shoulder, drop to a knee and various aiming postures.

George’s memory of his own stateside training was all too vivid, as was his bitter memory of scant into-battle training once he’d arrived in Europe.  His bitterness seemed an outgrowth of his own tough-kid youth. He had been the c-minus, d- kid, the sometime troublemaker, at times a bully. He relished the idea of combat, figuring at minimum he was at least equal in toughness and skills to anyone. When he puffed himself up, he felt he was better.

He convinced himself he had no fear, as fear was a weakness, but that idea, indeed his smirk, was erased upon his arrival at the edge of the glowering Huertgen Forest, where a barely-civil sergeant placed George and his buddies at tenuous intervals with instructions to shoot anything moving ahead, as nothing in the forest was friendly.

For a few days, no enemy was seen, let alone engaged, but the presence was more than felt. That immediacy of danger was confusing and frightful. George, maybe for the first time ever, was scared, causing his imagination to race, causing him shame.

He pushed fear deep into his psyche, so far that he did not admit its existence, and as long as he stayed on the move it did not surface.  He began portraying himself as an unfeeling, unflappable killing machine.  The uncaring, caustic, let’s-get-to-it guy.  He had pride in that portrayal which in time blurred the true man, so that the make-believe became the only George.

And living this lie was effective. Others thought of him as fearless, if somewhat edgy. He had that chip on his shoulder, the unfriendly look, but he was totally reliable. Anyone would consider him a good, dependable soldier.

In his son Ricky, George saw weaknesses, weaknesses which had to be overcome, and George appointed himself as the one to get it done. 

George’s first task was to drive out Ricky’s sense of kindness, because people took advantage of the kind. The kid was not a girl! He also felt Ricky was mentally weak, had to learn that things would seldom go his way. He needed toughness, to be like George, to deal with the inevitability of disappointment.

As the shadows lengthened, the field slowly lost its cheer. George surveyed the slightly downhill overgrown field, its few saplings, the brook at the end, a few large rocks strewn throughout. Ricky was again adjusting the canteen.

“Here’s what you have to do,” Pop barked, and pointed. “Go down there to the creek. When you’re down there, hide, yell out when you’re ready. When I tell you to go, try to make it back up here – crawling, I don’t care how – without being seen. So what we’re doing is, if I see you, you’re dead, you’re not a soldier, just dead, got it?  If you get up here,” and he tapped the ridged ground with his foot, “then I’m dead, you win. I might have to kill you a couple times but we’ll do it till I think you’re getting it. Now be a man and get going!”

Ricky, eyes blazing with confidence and gameness, eager to please, started through the waist-high grasses, weaved past a little fresh spillage from the large mounds, hop-skippedover the uneven terrain and reached the creek. He crouched behind a few saplings which were younger than him, saplings currently surviving the relentless progress “one at a time.”

Hearing Pop’s rules, his mind had raced – he’d not thought of this outing as a task, or even as a game. To him it offered excitement, maybe a chance to gain Pop’s approval, something foreign in his experience. So he accepted Pop’s terms, as if he’d had a choice in the first place, and formed a basic strategy as he bumbled down to the creek. Go to the deep grass. No! The border, up the cemetery side! No! Use the big hills made by the steam shovel – that’s it, I’m small! No, wait!  Pop’ll expect that! It’s where I’d looked the whole time he talked! Think! Think! I have to go to those hills!

This task, like so many other seemingly innocent ones, was overshadowed by the consistent, unshakeable quality Pop had of looking at him with that half-smirk, reinforcing the concept of “Not Quite”. Pop never named his trait, but that’s what it was. Nothing Ricky did was ever enough, it was always, “Not Quite.” I, Pop, am better than you, you cannot win. I win. You cannot earn anything that I am unwilling to give. Indeed, this task was to teach Ricky that he could never be as good as George. The “soldiering” was secondary, or actually just a means of proving George’s superiority.  

Yet Ricky continually, inexorably tried.  He was only seven. He wanted Pop’s approval, if not his affection. He wanted to succeed. He wanted Pop to look at him the way he’d seen other fathers look at their boys, a sort of beaming glance of satisfaction. A tussle of his hair. Was it too much to ask? Till now, for Ricky the answer was “yes”. “Not Quite.” He didn’t understand, but he didn’t get angry, and he never gave up.

Not Quite was not confined to the family. The family was just closest and most easily accessed. No one inside of it, or the continuously expanding circle of inferiors, ever faced what George faced! You couldn’t handle what I handled because I said so. Who could challenge that? 

One of his favorite sayings, indicating disagreement, was “What kind of outfit is this?” Then he’d set the offender straight. For instance, the day at the surplus store when George bought the web belt, he fiercely told the clerk – a combat veteran himself – that he was all wrong about some aspect of a piece of gear, and then he spouted the “real” truth, real because he’d been at the Bulge and all. “I see,” said the clerk, in this case eyeing him politely and with caution as George lectured.

The Bulge was used by George to excuse and explain himself clear of any annoyance, and if others couldn’t accept him, well, too bad.  Ironically, other vets like the store clerk usually gave him slack, while not totally excusing him, at least accepted that combat may have created him. It was the uninitiated, the children, the women, who had difficulties. They tended to move away or at least stay silent and guarded, if uneasy, in his steely presence. George took that as acceptance, respect.

Ricky, unfairly dogged and too young to know, began accumulating snippets of self-doubt. He was too inexperienced to think of self-doubt as abnormal, he couldn’t know that he’d never crack “Not Quite”. 

In his favor, Ricky was developing an embryonic defense to beat Not Quite, to gain a feel-good sense of accomplishment. He pulled himself into a quiet world he called “White Zero”. This brain-stop blanked the experience, told him he was okay even while hearing, but not necessarily listening, as Pop degraded and criticized him or Mother, or life itself. His characteristic aspect during White Zero was distraction, inattentiveness. 

It had begun about a year earlier, as Ricky and Mother watched an appliance store clerk turn off a display television set, indeed, one of the only tv sets in town. As it clicked, Ricky was fascinated by the line-and-dot image on the screen as it faded to murk. 

Shortly after that, Ricky experienced an event that became one of his earliest seminal memories. He was awakened late one night to the sound of Pop bellowing violently. He couldn’t make out the words, but heard the violence, the smacking of hands on the kitchen table, other rough sounds sailing through the walls, maybe a few dishes being broken. So, he pulled a blanket over his head thought of something pleasant, became fetal. The image of the television shutting off flashed into his brain, as if he was trying to turn off the violence. He stopped thinking, and had reached White Zero. It passed as peace.

Now near the creek, he yelled out that he was ready, Pop yelled “Go!” and he crouch-crawled a few feet up the hill, then realized the taller grasses might bend and give him away, so he gently flattened, then folded the foliage with his hands, then by slightly raising his rump and bringing his knees under, he tortuously labored up the gentle slope, the only physical problem being the nagging rub of the canteen in the small of his back.

He imagined Pop’s eyes were somehow burning the weeds and grasses, exposing him, so he gravitated with natural instinct toward the mounds. The hills would hide him, and indeed, he reached the far flank of the most western one fairly quickly, stopped, rolled onto his back, struck by the sudden thought – when does Pop win? – he’s not saying anything so he might be watching all my moves for all I know. So he moved cautiously higher, mindful of preventing a minor avalanche, working silently to the top, checking what he thought was a too-audible sigh, knowing in his heart that he would probably lose when he thought he might win, finally concluding he would win the only way he knew  - in his own mind. 

Right now, he calmly accepted that Pop was somehow going to turn the tables, even when he surprised him by breaching the top of the mound and firing three rapid “shots” into him as the man flinched – too late – in the direction of the popping noise. Ricky yelled, “I won!” then waited. 

George, staring hard, full of surprise, then recovery, his left hand reflexively dusting his white name oval stenciled above the breast pocket of the hunter green coveralls, gave an exasperated sigh, and said quietly with slight disapproval, “No, you didn’t win. The Krauts would’ve covered that flank. I figured myself you were there,” he lied, “and just wanted to see what you’d do. Besides, these dirt hills are out of bounds.” Pop was squinting, Ricky being west of him, and the late summer sun just now slipping past a bronze horizon. “So,” he commanded while exhaling heavily and raising his voice, “get on back down and do it again, I’ll give you a little credit here for what you did, but you have to be better this time.” He turned his head to Jimmy, bulldozing a ridge of sand at the street’s edge. “And by that I mean stay quieter, and I’m not going to give you any slack on that! Yell when you’re ready!”

At least he wasn’t real mad, thought Ricky. Just a little bawling out, no slap, nothing physical, so “White Zero” only had a short life. 

The whole of the field was dappled by the time he reached the creek, the lines of soft sunlight replaced by various shades of darkness contouring the wholeness.  He shouted his readiness and crabbed through tall weeds to the cemetery’s lower boundary, figuring to use small clumps of saplings near the property’s wrought iron fence to cover him right up to Pop’s position on the ridgeline. He thought of the saplings as islands.  A southerly breeze seemed to push him up the slight grade as he felt this time, for sure, he’d win, and Pop couldn’t do anything about it. 

George casually walked from the ridge to the base of the closest mound, flipped a cigarette, and gathered a few large clods of clay, cradling them in his left arm. A few steps later he was back on top of the narrow ridge. He scanned for Ricky, didn’t see him, and yelled, “Eighty-eights coming!” He lobbed a couple of the clods high in the air and far down the meadow. Sensing that he’d stopped Ricky, or at least scared him, he scrambled over to the pile again and filled the crook of his arm with as many more clods as he could carry, then scuttled back to the ridge.

“Eighty-eights! Mortars! Fifty caliber!” George shouted as he threw cods in several directions, one after the other.  He couldn’t see Ricky but it didn’t matter. This was George at George’s best, teaching the lesson of “Nobody experienced what I experienced.” 

The lesson had an immediate impact. Ricky couldn’t see Pop, but he heard him just fine, maybe like Pop had first heard those Germans in the forest, and he twisted in an almost fetal curl, nearly choking on the fine dust which lingered on the tall grass and weeds. When the shouting stopped he crabbed cautiously forward, still hugging the field’s far eastern border near the cemetery fence. 

George reloaded with clods and not a few rocks, as the game had materially changed. He’d induced remembered bitterness, and not an inconsiderable amount of anger to what had been merely an object lesson, a hard one, but still, it had been just a lesson. Now it was in his mind a test of wills and the kid would know how tough the old man could be by the time it was over! After all, the kid had an obligation to learn. 

George resumed shouting and throwing the missiles from the ridge, adding to the “eighty-eights” babble. “Too cold out there? Come on out where I can see you! No deep cover. No trees. No place to hide! Ha! You think you see it now, I bet, you think you see what it was like! And this just the first taste! Child’s play!” And on and on he went, similarly, as he threw, adding curses and epithets as he grew to his task. His face contorted as he released his ordnance. He brought forward his anger against the memories of the splintering trees of the Huertgen, the snowbanks during the Bulge.

Ricky managed his way to the wrought iron fence. A quick glance through some scrub showed Pop standing on the ridge, right in the middle. One of Pop’s random clay bombs unfortunately exploded only a few feet awayspewing grit and stone into his face, stinging and filling his eyes with defensive tears, stopping him cold. He looked into the cemetery, away from the exploding dirtballs and dangerous rocks which seemingly surrounded him, as he’d frozen unwittingly into Pop’s comfortable throwing range. Dust swirled in front of him, reminding him of printed images of ghosts in illustrated story books. Now a rock splashed nearby, then another, Ricky curled again, and was in fear. 

The cemetery’s trees were mostly large sycamores, their shagged bark shimmering an unreal, coppery patchwork in the waning western twilight, and as Ricky eventually uncurled, he cleared his eyes, then felt new tears spilling onto his cheeks, shouting an unwillingness to continue the game. 

He steeled himself against his natural instinct to quit, as a need to rush Pop tempered fear, and after a pensive glance through gaping weeds signaled that Pop was gone from sight,probably reloading, he readied. Determination overcame fear. 

He crouched, zigged his way past a few jagged rocks. A breezy puff of wind, not a gust, seemed to help him up the gentle slope. He was about ten yards from the summit when first Pop’s sweat-oiled head, then his body, crested, and his arm simultaneously launched a heavy clay clod that burst into Ricky’s chest. George was oblivious to the pain he’d caused. Ricky absorbed it, crying softly, doubling over, and dissipating the physical while fearing the terror growing inside Pop. He felt that he was an object now, not a person, as he struggled to breathe

“You’re meat, you’re chewed up! Eigthy-eights! Hah! This one’s from a Tiger. They had those Tigers out there and we didn’t have a damn thing not one damn thing to stop em! A Tiger got you! They wouldna found enough of you to put in a matchbox and send home! Missing! Missing! How do you like it? Do you see what it was like? Do you see?! Can you see?! Your mother with a telegram! Just like that! You better believe it happened to a bunch of ‘em, that’s what you don’t know. None of ‘em know!” He gestured emptily toward the east, toward town. “Most of’ em were dummies, like you, too dumb to get outa there! You see what old George Unger had to go through? Eighty-eights, Tigers! And divisions they threw at us! Divisions!” He made another sweeping gesture and shook his head contemptuously. At last he focused on Ricky and was silent for several moments as he stared. He noticed but never addressed Ricky’s sobbing. He never considered that the boy was hurt. If he was crying it was because he was weak, and he knew it. And this was only the first lesson. George surmised, the kid can’t take it, but he learned to respect me.

Ricky was ordered back down the gentle sloping meadow for two more re-tries. Both ended in predictable failure. On the first one, Pop saw him wriggling through some lain-over grass, and the second time he hit Ricky with a barrage of clods after hearing him approaching near one of the mounds. 

After this fourth failure, and allowing that darkness was then pushing twilight, but mostly because George had satisfied his own needs, he called the game. He called Ricky closer, growled softly, “Okay, that’s it, get over here you useless hunk of Tiger meat,” his face now smoldering in disappointment at the same time his insides swelled satisfied. “Pathetic,” he assessed the boy. “Just plain pathetic. But if you listen to me, maybe we’ll make something out of you yet,” he snorted through a patronizing smile. He examined Ricky with embarrassment, as if Ricky was too stupid to be embarrassed himself, so he’d have to do it for him.

Ricky heard, but did not listen. George thought the kid was a little distracted. Ricky was in White Zero, and he was convinced that he was not so much his father’s son, maybe he never could be his son, maybe he didn’t want to be his son, either.

Pop stepped toward Jimmy who was contentedly pushing talcum-fine dirt with his bulldozer. It was time to go. All seemed to be breathing moist twilight dust. 

George brushed his hands on his coveralls. He looked balefully at Ricky, then down to Jimmy again. Toward Jimmy he said, “He’s no soldier, ah, I don’t know about him. Do you think he’s a soldier? Is he a big tough soldier like he thinks he is?” He flashed Ricky another patented half-smirk, the one look the boy absolutely had grown to fear. 

But this time, Ricky, whose nose was running a little, mixing with the drying tears on his face, felt a new sensation when returning Pop’s stare. White Zero was there, but is was being pushed away, still there but forced more toward some darker space in his brain, and replacing it was a sensation of nascent resistance, not yet defiance. He was not consciously aware but it was there just the same, a need to play protective offense instead of retreating. Fear was being dared.

"What're you staring at?" spat George.

"I think I had you that first time, Pop!" Then he looked right into Pop's face. "You know, someday I might turn out to be better than you." He hastily added, "What with your teaching and all. What do you think?"

That'll be the day, George thought. He looked at Jimmy again. "What do you think about this big tough soldier, Jimmy-boy? Sorry this big dead nothing-but-Tiger-meat we couldn't find. Is he a tough guy or what?"

Jimmy pointed the bulldozer at Ricky and said, "He's my bruvver."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Catch and Release By Sharon Sherman

Measles and Mumps

A Bridal Bouquet

A Drive-In Movie

Coaches and Milanos

An Old Boyfriend

Throwback Thursdays

Sudoku, all except the Evil version


Harry Potter

The BeeGees

Pet Rocks

Our Heart's Desire on a day to day basis

Our Wandering Thoughts

Old Photos

My Husband's Eye in the morning

My Mother's smile

But I could never catch a fish.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Will Makepeace by Sharon Sherman

Wishing and watching and making believe.

Thinking and thanking when hearts are deceived.

Typing and talking, headaches are real.

Speaking and sharing, thoughts are congealed.

Waving and walking, not really there.

Limping and looking, life has gone bare.

Fishing and fasting, hate is relieved.

Feeling and falling, parts are retrieved.

Pacing and praying, hoping to feel.

Loving and living, spirits are healed.

Hyping and hoping, one little prayer.

Laughing and lighting the peace in our care.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Back When I Met Mickie Mantle by Dennis Perry

Well, you already know how I got my name, Busher, from hanging around my father during his minor league career, how all the guys called me “Busher” which means a real minor league guy, like Pop, so they just kept calling me that right along and I loved it. Pop was in the Brooklyn organization. This is back when the Brooklyns were in Brooklyn.

Then I told you how I went right out of high school into pro ball, following Pop’s footsteps, as I was put in to the Red Sox chain after one year of independent ball out in Nebraska where the league was of the same name as the state. After the Red Sox had seen enough of me to get as good an opinion of me as they could,  I went to the Cubs organization.

But then you asked, did I play with, or meet, any of the famous players, so I have to answer you. 

Back when I played in the 60s, I batted off the great Marichal out in the desert, with the Cubs, and of course I knew Banks and Williams and all of them from spring training, and then, right up to ’68 which at that current time I was trying out for the Detroits, and in spring training we happened to meet up with the New York A.L. club, playing them in Lakeland, and I met the great Mantle. New York by-God Yankees. Mickey by-God Mantle.

Now, before that game, I have to tell you I was in the clubhouse  reading a letter from a high school player back in my hometown of Campovilla, Illinois, and he was saying how he wasn’t sure he was going to go out for the high school team this year, on account of he didn’t have much fun the previous season, being mostly on the bench, but he was taking kind of an inspiration from me as he mentioned  I’d been in the minor leagues eight years of  negative successful playing, and he wondered should he go on or was he making a mistake? I was making a note of the address, to maybe send the kid a few words, with a stub of a pencil I kept at the locker, usually which I used it to mark down notes after the game, recalling the pitcher’s name and what I did and all that. 

Now it also occurred that I was going to be at first base that day, against the New Yorks. That’s because of what happened the day before. I had been playing in the outfield against the Washingtons, and I had a little problem with a ball hit way up in the sky – and you know that Florida sky, that particular time of the year – it’s not the right sky. Well, what with not catching the ball successful, and even though I have a cannon out there, this Washington guy just put himself in gear and was able to get to second for a routine double, but then after the game old white-haired Mayo, our manager, pulled me over to the side as a couple of the fellows were walking by, and he said that I had to buckle  down, maybe I had to play my other position, first base, the next day, and then they’d see about St. Petersburg. I asked at that time, “Where is St. Petersburg?” and one of those walking-by fellows, maybe Oyler, says it’s in Russia, which then I think I recalled that from school, maybe so, and I was grateful for his reminder. I also have to explain to you that the ballplayers have their own kind words which are not the regular kind of words.

What they probably meant was that just like Russia, where people get sent away all the time, well, baseball could be like Russia and if something happened to another ball out there wrong, I’d probably be put back into the minors, no chance of making this club, which at the time I was trying to prove I belonged to. So, I didn’t want to go to Russia, meaning St. Petersburg.

But, because every day is a new day in baseball, I had another chance. Now, I also have to say this is my first game at first base that spring, although I was a natural over there, sort of like my outfield work, which was now proved, being a first-rate ballhawk. I guess they needed to see my work at first, just to give them another way they could get my bat, which I called Old Thunder, in the lineup, should the need arise.   

I was thinking about that as I went on out to the field, to warm up, and in the course of doing so, I stuck that little pencil in my back pocket and while the New Yorks were taking batting practice, out of nowhere I was called over to the batting cage by Mayo, him saying, “Here’s a fellow I’d like you to meet”, and of course it’s the great Mantle he was speaking of, who at that particular time was leaning on a bat watching the balls being smacked out by his teammate in the cage.  And of course he leaned on that bat greater than others could lean on a bat.  
My first thought was, there he is, looking a little bigger than he did on the gum cards I had back home, in ashoebox. He had big arm muscles, and blond hair sticking out the back of his cap. His face looked a little rounder than the pictures I’d seen, but he had a nice comfortable smile.

Mayo says, “Mickey, this here is Busher,”  - or some such, I can’t recall exact – “and Busher is one of my minor league guys trying to make the club. He’s got a good stick generally…” and he said some other stuff about my overall abilities.

Now, right here I have to add that I am generally known as a heady player with a lot of savvy. The reason most players don’t stick in the big leagues is because they have a lot of skills in other areas such as hitting and fielding, but they don’t have that brain power. Guy like me, by the time I get the acquired skills, what with my savvy, I’d be the complete guy every team needs. Of course you could say that it helps a team to have a guy or two to blam the ball out of the park, and a quality pitcher or two helps a lot, but you got to have the smarts to bring it all together.  And I’ve always been told that I think about the game different from most of the other guys. A lot of people have said it, and I take pride in it. So, today wouldn’t be any different, from my perspective. 

I told Mick I was pleased to make his acquaintance, but that I had never seen him play, my interests being with the Cubs and the National League mostly, but I had heard of him, I explained.

“That so?” he said, the words dripping out with that familiar-on-the-radio Oklahoma voice. I said, well it was so, and of course I immediately went in to how I thought the league would play out, once league play started up next month, figuring he’d appreciate my general knowledge, such as others have done. I said I thought the New Yorks were a little thin, and wouldn’t figure in the pennant for that go around, and Mick nodded, - I could tell he was registering the way I’d sized things up – looked away a little bit, and said, “Well, Mayo, I guess I should just rest up, my body sure could use it, not even play this season.”  To that, I thought, well, he probably didn’t mean it. I told him he should play, even though it was hopeless for his club. Mayo was smiling, knowing how I could figure things out.

I started to say something else which I now cannot recall, and Mick just jumped in and started talking about how he wasn’t feeling all that good, what with a knee that was balking, a sore wrist, sore back, a couple eyeballs tore up or whatever, stuff out of whack, a sprain here and there on his various fingers and other parts which were generally busted.  Anyone would assume he was not fit for play, but being a big star such as he was, that list of body ailments wouldn’t keep him out of the lineup. He looked fresh, and I said he looked okay, maybe not so hot, but okay to me, should anyone ask. I said also maybe one of the things I noticed was that he might be a little too heavy, and all he had to do was check himself a little bit in that chow line and he’d be back in his playing trim.  Again, Mayo had to smile at my figuring out overall observation powers. 

But, Mickey said was going to play, busted up and not in the greatest shape, but playing all busted up was just one reason he was such a big well-known star. Anybody knew, if you said “New York Yankees” you immediately thought of Mickey Mantle. 

Mickey sort of coughed, and said there was a doctor in Dallas who had come up with a new medicine which if he took it, might allow him to play till he was fifty. This medicine would fix up his general body, but I asked if it would fix that bum knee, or some other part that was really busted which he’d mentioned, but which I couldn’t specify on the spur of the moment, and Mick allowed that it would not fix those things, just sort of make his body feel better as to the energy and what all he might have, such as getting his veins going and other parts lined up the way he wanted, the way I recall it

I had to think for a minute or so, then I said if it wasn’t going to fix those busted things, then I didn’t think he should take it. He asked why, and I said, well, if he couldn’t put up the stats such as he was accustomed to doing, pretty soon the New Yorks would get to thinking of him as being a regular player, and the fans would recall how he used to put up the stats, which would’ve put him in the lore of the game, and if he just bumped along at a low level, pretty soon he wouldn’t be the great Mantle any more, and besides him the fans themselves would be upset. To say nothing of the manager. Old Mayo had to smile again at my savvy,and he told Mick I’d be at first base today, just like Mick was for them.

I took the occasion to mention to him that with his legs shot, and so his speed being shot, it was natural for him to be over at first base, and to not feel bad about being taken out of the outfield which had happened to him last year. This news wasn’t that new, having been in the Sporting News and all, but I figured he’d catch on to how I was on top of things. Mick just shook his head which I knew he was saying how I was right. “Something to think about, for sure,” he drawled that friendly way again, and he was looking at me keenly.In fact, all of it,” he finished up.

Now, right then, Mick had to leave, he said, and he limped on over by the fence, where he started signing scorecards and autograph books for a whole bunch of fans clumped by the New York dugout. 

I was watching those fans, and boy were they happy! Here was the old Mick, that great figure of New York, and he made so many of them happy, what with the smile and autographs and some small talk, and all of them were walking away smiling and all of that. 
 And Mickey had that big old Mickey smile himself.

Pretty soon the game started up, and there I was, stationed at first. I recall it being a warm day, even for Florida at that time of year, which I’ve only been there in spring training, always in March, so I assume I am knowledgeable as to spring training type of weather, which is usually sunny and warmer than other parts of the country which are known for being colder.

A lefthander, Warden, was pitching for us and he got the first two out, then Mick came up, being a switch hitter he was hitting righthanded against our lefty. The crowd sort of had a buzz to it and everyone watched close as he fouled a couple back, took a ball, then Warden gave him a low, slow one, and Mick lunged out and missed it, striking out. This was a great strikeout, all the air seeming to go out of the park

Even striking out, Mick had a special quality about himself. I figured no one could strike out like Mick, and I had seen a lot of people strike out over the years, such as my own self.

I came up in the last of the second, hitting seventh, against a tall righthander, Bahnsen, and he fooled me with a fast one on the outside, which I managed to get the end of the bat on.  The ball went on out to Mick, I think it must’ve been pretty hot, though the next day the paper called it a dribbler, but anyway, Mick came in, seemed to trap it, then couldn’t pick it up clean, then grabbed it, then Bahnsen came over for the toss.

Of course, all this time, I’m blazing my way down there – I think people always knew I had that good speed, back then - so I was going to be safe, most probably, which is likely why Mick was rushing and causing himself to bobble that ball. Once he got it to Bahnsen, he bobbled it too, then picked it up, then fumbled for the bag, then I beat it in there by a hair. That’s one thing about the kind of speed I had, you cannot teach it. Just a gift. 

So as he was getting his breath, hunched over in the holding-on position at first, I says, “Well, Mick, you can’t be blamed for kicking around my hot one, you being not all that familiar around first base and all.” And he says, “Well, it’s the Busher!” and a big smile hit his face. “You sure did get me with that one, he admitted.

The inning soon ended with no further advance by me, then later, Mick came up again, facing a young tall boy we had that year. Name was Patterson and I think he was from California or at least someplace like that. When Mickey stepped in, being the switch-hitter he was, now batting left handed, I called time and told Patterson that Warden had got Mick with a slow one, early on, just as a suggestion, which he didn’t acknowledge right off but I knew he had taken in because he burned in four or five in a row to Mick, just keeping that slow one in his back pocket just in case, so Mick couldn’t get comfortable about it. It’s just one of those normal things of baseball the average fan can’t know right off, but it’s part of the savvy I possess that is natural for me. 

Now I have to interrupt. One of my duties as first baseman of course is to roll out the practice ground balls to the infielders as the pitcher warms up before the inning starts up, and funny thing, that inning, no one seemed to be paying attention in the dugout for me to throw the ball in, as I shuffled around with my glove off and held the ball in my left hand,  so I stuffed it into my back pocket figuring no harm, and I put the glove back on my left hand, on account of we were now ready to play.

Well, right at that time, with Mickey there, I’m thinking Patterson would’ve been successful with that slow one, for sure, but before he had a chance to throw it, Mick lined one of the fast ones out there to right field for a single. The ball just fizzed off his bat, making a strange zzzzng sound. Anyone could see he was a real star by that fizz. 

Mick sort of smiled at me once he got to first, and he must’ve noticed  my back pocket, as he said, “Say, what’ve you got there, going to try a hidden ball trick or something?”  Well, I reached back into my right hand pocket, being as I had the glove on my left hand, so only the right one was available, and I felt thatlittle stub of a pencil, which I at that time recalled I must’ve left it there from the clubhouse

Actually, sort of funny, Mick was pointing out the ball I had in my other pocket, not the pencil.

Oh, sure, I mean, it’s just the old infield ball, Mick!” and then I put two and two together, quick. I took my glove off, pulled the ball out, and the pencil, and I says, “Hey Mick, how about scratching your John Hancock on the old ball here, it would be a big deal to me?” See, I was remembering how he was signing all those scorecards and everything before the game, so I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunityto get his autograph, being as he wouldn’t be about to sign in a regular season game, to say nothing of how I might not actually be on the club once they headed north for the season. 

I thought this was pretty smart but the ump, Honochick, an older guy, bellowed out right away, loud enough to hear in Russia, “Time! Hey, Busher, you can’t do that! Get that ball outa here!” This had the effect of causing embarrassment to me, and pretty much to Mick too, as he had his head down low, and his hands on his knees.

Old Mayo came running out and there was some jabbering going on, and I was instructed to give the ball to Mayo as he returned to the dugout, sort of shaking his head, walking slow, probably figuring Patterson should’ve given Mickey the slow one which he couldn’t do any damage with.

We got out of there with no runs, and I came up again the next inning, this time I hit a ball dead on the nose, nobody could hit a ball harder, right on the best part of the bat, but I didn’t get any liftage so the ball just sort of lined straight out to the leftfielder. So there I was, thinking another one of those odd things about baseball. Hit that one down to Mickey earlier, get on base. Nail this one hard, should’ve been a home run, no liftage, it goes for an out. As you can see, there’s no fairness to the game, mostly. And good pitching will usually beat good hitting, except as the vice versa.

Well, we ended up winning that gameMickey had been taken out about halfway through and me right after that scorcher I hit, probably so I could rest up, and I didn’t think any more about that game till the next day when I was in the clubhouse getting a few things together for the bus ride over to Tampa Saint Pete, where we were going to take on the Mets, and I had been informed by Mr. Mayo to go on ahead and get ready to play first again.  

Just before the clubhouse guy says to get my stuff on the bus, he stops and says, “Hey Busher! The Yankees sent a little package over for you, I forgot to give it to you last night.” And he tosses me a little cardboard box.

Inside that box was a brand new official league ball, with the blue-green writing on the front of it - “Official American League Baseball” and on the other side of the ball, in the narrow space between the two red seams, there was a signature: “Mickey Mantle”.  I noticed right off in the “U” part of the ball, the fatter part, just above his name, he’d written, “The game needs more stars like you”. 

I felt like a million bucks, you can be sure of that! Mickey, taking time out for me!  I figured to hold on to this ball for the rest of my life. 

Then I thought of something else, and wrote a little note on some paper I had in the locker, with that same stub of a pencil. I found another ball box, got a paper bag, wrapped it all up, found the letter from yesterday from the kid back home, put the kid’s address on my package which I’d taped up together, and took it all to the clubhouse man. Without me saying anything, the clubhouse guy said he’d be glad to.  

This is Dennis' second short story fiction to be posted on this site. This story was one of many featuring the character, "Busher." Unfortunately, they were also written prior to mass sale of computers and thus part of someone else's collection somewhere.