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Stymie Magazine

Autumn & Winter ‘10

Stymie Magazine a journal of sport & literature :: volume 3, issue 2 :: autumn & winter ‘10

FICTION K. Wilson‘s ―Birds in the House‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 J. Van Noord‘s ―El Dorado‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 F. Venturini‘s ―Troll‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 A. Vishwanathan‘s ―Because I Am the Daughter‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 G. Gerke‘s ―More Recommended Short Stories by Former Major League Baseball Players‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 M. Cugini‘s ―Our Boys‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 B. Nickol‘s ―Bad Ideas About Golf‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 J. Smith‘s ―Tiger Woods is a Gamer . . .‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 COVER ART M. Falkoff‘s ―The End of Sports (As We Knew Them)‖ . . . . . . . . 56 Aaron Jasinski: ―If You Love Them S. Akalis‘s ―Autograph‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Set Them Free‖ E. Roskos‘s ―Picking Teams‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 C. Marcum‘s ―Just Plain Luck‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79 FEATURE ART R. Slick‘s ―Fly Casting‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82 Jennifer Lewis: ―A Little Drop of Poi- B. O‘Brien‘s ―Eternal and Unnecessary‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83 son,‖ ―Sleuth of Bears,‖ ―Robot,‖ ―To J. DiGioia‘s ―The Count‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 Market,‖ and ―Werewolf Cabernet POETRY Sauvignon‖ J. Nicoletti‘s ―Unheralded‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 J. Nicoletti‘s ―A Box of Old Baseball Cards‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 NOTES J. Nicoletti‘s ―In the Shadow of No Towers‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 All works – art, fiction, nonfiction and B. Clark‘s ―Gallop‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 poetry – contained herein are copyG. Acuff‘s ―Deadlock‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 right of the respective author and/or J. Byar‘s ―Team Captain‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 creator. E.R. Carlin‘s ―Family Racquet‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 E.R. Carlin‘s ―Down Time on a Constant Pull Stringer‖ . . . . . . . . 39 MISCELLANY C. Mulrooney‘s ―A Great Wrestler‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 ―Birds in the House,‖ by Kevin WilN. Vawter‘s ―Ode to conversions‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 son, originally published in T. Cochran‘s ―After Forty-One Straight Victories, the Local Team Deals with Defeat‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 The Greensboro Review, Fall 2005. R. Furey‘s ―Hey, ref, what‘s up with the mercy rule?‖ . . . . . . . . . . . 85 ETCETERA L. Crew‘s ―Growing Up Behind the Cotton Curtain‖ . . . . . . . . . . . 90 Stymie Magazine is published online, NONFICTION bi-annually. Archives, guidelines and A. Beman‘s ―A Diamond Girl‘s Best Friend‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 other related information is available D. Brennan‘s ―Birdcatcher‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 M. Gulezian‘s "Sunfish" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 for review at www.stymiemag.com. C. Conaway‘s ―Across the Middle‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 T. Shores‘s ―A Bird in the Hand‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 J. Hemphill‘s "Born to Climb". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 A. Dreyer‘s ―Bluetime‖ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 FEATURE ISSN 2154-753X The Art of Jennifer Lewis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

STAFF Erik Smetana, founding editor Sara Lippmann, nonfiction editor Julie Webb, fiction editor Amandine Abraham, poetry editor Matthew Ferrence, web editor Casey Clabough, contributing editor

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Stymie Magazine

Autumn & Winter ‘10

Birds in the House Kevin Wilson___________________________________________________________________________________________________

T

he men in my family gather at Oak Hall this morning to make birds. They sit in the dining room at an antique cherry oak table and carefully fold their paper cranes. My father and his three brothers fold tiny pieces of paper, squares of yellows and pinks and whites and blues and greens so thin that light passes through them as if they aren‘t there at all. I watch the brothers‘ hands, callused and big like sledgehammers, as they struggle not to tear the cranes, not to snap a neck or rip a wing. My Uncle Mizell, pressing his oval glasses back onto the bridge of his nose with his thumb, talks about how ―Mama always made us do this horseshit. Fold up birds for sick neighbors. Burned my ass to sit there all day and make these things.‖ My father looks up from his bird and scowls at his brother. ―Show a little respect, jackass. Fold your son of a bitch birds and we can get this over with.‖ He looks over at me, seated at the far end of the table beside the lawyer, and shakes his head. He does not like being here, I can tell. None of the brothers look happy with the situation, uneasy and wary of their close proximity to each other. They have only shown because of the will. Until her death eleven days ago, my grandmother, Nobio Collier, lived at Oak Hall, a dilapidated plantation in middle Tennessee built by my great-great-great-great-grandfather, General Felix Collier of the Confederate Army. The walls are soft from rot and feel like sponge against my fingers. The wood floors have warped slightly, each plank curling up at the ends, like a half smile. It has seen better days, as has the Collier name. After the General died, shot in the back on a failed charge at the Battle of Mill Springs, his five children spent the next forty years fighting over who would get the mansion. The eldest brother was killed, one of the sisters jailed for shooting him, and another sister wandered out into the fields one night and never

returned. Finally, the fourth-born, Dwight Collier, a crooked lawyer who had been living in Mason, Tennessee, took up residence at Oak Hall until his death, at which time the property was passed down to his oldest son, a slightly less crooked county executive. Since then, squabbles have erupted from time to time, siblings arguing over who should get what, the money in the family slowly drying up. Folks in Tennessee now say, ―The Colliers are bad news with four hundred acres.‖ But Oak Hall is all we have left and so it‘s not hard to understand why the brothers are gathered here today, taking silent measurements of the house one of them will win, wondering where the TV and sofas will go. We are all here to settle my grandmother‘s estate, which consists of the property of Oak Hall and some minor stocks and bonds. There is a small amount of money, but nearly all of that will pay legal fees and taxes. The brothers are here as participants in a contest. The lawyer, a thin man with pointy ears who twirls his pocket watch by its chain, is here to oversee the event. I am here because at twelve years old, I am the oldest grandchild, and because my presence was stipulated in her will. The paper cranes and fans are her ideas as well. The brothers don‘t get along. They meet once a year at the mansion for the family reunion, playing lawn darts and eating cured ham and drinking whiskey until one of the brothers mentions some ancient grievance. Then we all form a circle around the combatants and watch them roll around on the grass until the police show. With my grandmother‘s passing, they will no longer keep in touch. They will ―see each other in hell,‖ according to my Uncle Bit. My grandmother, understanding this rift between the brothers, this genetic hatred for family that runs through the Colliers, decided that one brother— only one—will receive the inheritance. There will be a contest, whose outcome I will deter-

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Autumn & Winter ‘10

mine, and the winner will take this house and the other men will return home and live their lives joined in a collective hatred for that one brother. We will circle around the oak table, a table that was big enough to seat over fifty guests in better times, where one thousand paper cranes will be placed—-two hundred and fifty for each brother. These cranes will then be moved around the table by the force of four giant fans, positioned at each corner of the room, until only one paper crane is left on the table. The owner of that single bird will receive the mansion. However, before any of this occurs, the brothers must make their cranes, all one thousand, by hand. It is what my grandmother wanted. It was her desire, her one last hope, for the brothers to gather here in the house they once shared, to make birds out of paper and maybe find something decent in each other that would sustain them. The men in my family are not doing a good job so far. I want to believe that my grandmother could find no other way to make sure that we all came together than to create such an elaborate game, unavoidable hours around a table. Faced with the finality of the decision, the possibility of losing this house, perhaps she hoped they would come to their senses and make one last attempt at reconciling. And yet, it makes me sad to think that maybe my grandmother, tired from years of unhappiness, has given in to whatever runs in the Collier blood that makes us hurt each other. There are four hundred and eighty-seven paper cranes scattered across the table and floor of the dining room. The brothers soak their hands in salt water after twenty birds or so, cracking their knuckles and neck and back and anything else they can get a sound out of. I walk around the room, gathering cranes in a giant wicker basket, checking each bird‘s left wing for the black marker initials of one of the brothers. When I bend over to pick up one of the cranes, my Uncle Bit flicks my ear. This is the extent of our relationship. He flicks my ear at reunions, twenty, thirty times throughout the day. Sometimes, he‘ll hide behind trees, wait be-

hind doors until I come out and he‘ll flick my ear with a sharp thwack and run away, laughing to himself. When I look up, he is concentrating on his crane, trying not to smile. My father says Bit is just plain mean, always unhappy, acting as if God keeps poking him in the back. He is the most well-off of the brothers, working a successful tobacco farm in Robertson County, and though he doesn‘t need any money or plan to live at the mansion if he wins, he sure as hell doesn‘t want anyone else to have it. I watch him fold the paper into itself, trying to get the creases right, and then he sets the bird down and shakes the soreness out of his hands. Working in the sun for so many years has left Bit permanently sunburned. The sun has bled into his skin so that he is stained red. When he shakes his hands, it looks like two cardinals flying. I carry the basket over to the lawyer, seated at the far end of the table, and dump them at his feet. The lawyer, a Mr. Callahan from somewhere up North, has long legs, almost obscenely long, and as he tallies each paper crane in his book, they cross and uncross over each other. He is noticeably excited about the contest. He keeps checking his watch, twirling it for a few seconds and then bringing it back to his face. I sit beside him to rest before I start gathering birds again, and I watch the brothers. My grandmother came to Tennessee from the east. She was not a native Southerner, the first Collier in family history not to hail from below the Mason-Dixon Line. My grandfather, Tom Collier, met her while in the Navy, stationed in Japan just after the Korean War. They hired Japanese teenagers to clean barracks, and he would watch her changing bed sheets, sweeping the floors. She would smile at him as she worked, when he would lift his legs for her to sweep under. Pretty soon he was leaving little gifts for her on his pillow, chocolate and necklaces, a silver lighter. In return, she placed paper objects on the sheets of his bed, origami birds and bears and ships. She liked the way he talked, the slow easy way his words came out, and even

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Stymie Magazine

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though she could hardly understand a word, she knew he said good things, and that was enough. When his time was up, time to go back to Tennessee and Oak Hall, she came with him. The Collier name slipped even further around town to the point where there wasn‘t any reason in trying to bring it back to a respectable level. So, my grandfather bought a couple liquor stores, and she swept the floors and changed bed sheets in the giant house. The four boys were born, and he sat on the front porch and sipped whiskey and she gradually learned to understand what it was he was saying, learned the things he said weren‘t as nice as they had been overseas. And this is how my grandmother spent most of her life, figuring out things at Oak Hall weren‘t as nice as they had been. My Uncle Tetsuya, who will only answer to Soo, though he was named after my grandmother‘s father, finishes his two hundred and fifty cranes first, and spends the rest of the time wandering around the living room, hovering over the other brothers. He is nervous, chewing a plug of Beech-Nut and spitting into a plastic cup. He walks with me for a while, helps me load the basket with birds, but soon grows tired of this and hovers over Uncle Mizell. Mizell is the biggest of the brothers, nearly three hundred pounds, with arms that look like they could uproot things, trees and telephone poles. He is so big he must use a machine to help him breathe at night; his third wife is doing five months for unplugging it late one evening. He keeps a towel around his neck to wipe away sweat that trickles down his face and glasses in steady streams. After a few minutes of Soo beginning to speak and then, thinking better of it, stopping with a quick cough, Mizell spins around and stares him down. ―Fairies finish first, that‘s what I heard.‖ Soo backs up, still coughing words away. Soo runs a near-bankrupt company that makes chocolate shaped like old comic characters, white chocolate Katzenjammer Kids, Li‘l Abners made with crisped rice, a nougat-filled Barney Google. He has no money—people apparently don‘t want to eat beloved comic characters or else don‘t remember them. Now he spends a lot of time

looking over his shoulder, as if another lawyer is hiding behind a door. He shoves another tobacco plug into his mouth and sits far away from the other brothers. Mizell finally turns back to his work, tosses another bird on the floor, and mutters, ―burns my ass, all of this.‖ As the brothers grew older, my grandmother became even more confused, watching these boys of hers run around in the summer months with no shoes or shirts, constantly carrying BB guns and hunting knives. They didn‘t mind her, and she wasn‘t sure how to go about making them listen. People in town called them ―yellow trash,‖ and this only made the boys pellet their houses even more. My grandfather only drank on the porch and said, ―boys shoot things, honey, that‘s what they do.‖ They had sunburned skin and fine black hair with rat-tails. They fought constantly with jeering kids and, when there were no more left to beat up, with each other. I think about my grandmother, sweating in the humid August air and staring out the windows at ragged boys who were half hers kick and bite each other with a ferocity that was nearly joyful. And I think about her staring past the boys, past the mountains on the horizon, and thinking about somewhere else, somewhere far away. I move beside my father as he finishes the last of the cranes. I cannot help him fold birds—my grandmother‘s instructions do not allow me to help—so I sit and watch his face, unblinking and staring hard at the paper. It almost looks like concentration, like he is focused on the birds, but I know he isn‘t; I have seen this look many times in the past year, of staring beyond things in front of him. It reminds me of last year on the cattle farm, of the coolness that should not have been there in late August, the wind coming in from the north. An electric fence was knocked out in a storm, something my father noticed and yet neglected to fix. The cows crossed over into another farmer‘s patch of crimson clover, where they ate and ate for two days before my father and I saw them grazing in the field. They‘d gotten the bloat from the clo-

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ver, swollen up until there wasn‘t anywhere for the skin to go but out. Cows exploded, actually opened up like a popped balloon, and they would fall over on one side, insides scattered around them. We tried to save the rest, walked them around like crazy to work off the pressure in their stomachs. My father grabbed my Sharpfinger blade and slammed it just above the cow‘s front quarter, all the way to the hilt, and then pulled it out, trying to open up air passages, but nothing helped. The crimson clover had settled too far inside of them and we stood around the field for another two days, cows exploding all around us. Finally my father gave up, went into the house for the Colt .45, and put a bullet between the eyes of every cow still standing until he stood in a cloud of redtinged dust. My father used to be a good man, a hard worker. But after the cows, he started to drink more, leased out most of our land to farmers and kept just enough to get by. He spent long afternoons on the front porch, drinking whiskey splashed with sweet tea, and staring out at that field, at the filled-in ditch where we buried the dead cattle. Around the house, he wouldn‘t stay in the same room as us anymore, seemed shocked when he happened upon my mom or me, as if he‘d forgotten that we existed. One morning, I woke to find my mother gone and my father out on the porch, drunk. ―Where‘s mom?‖ I asked, but he didn‘t say anything. I asked again and he put his index finger to his lips to quiet me. I sat down beside him and stared out across the field. After an hour, he finally stirred, leaned towards me, and said, ―Your mom decided that she needed to be away for a while.‖ I wondered why she hadn‘t taken me and then, as if he knew what I had been thinking, he said, ―I told her that she couldn‘t take you. I said I wouldn‘t let you go anywhere. You and me have to stay together, even if neither one of us wants to be here.‖ He started to put his arm around me and then stopped, as if he couldn‘t understand how to proceed, and then finally, awkwardly, let his arm fall across my shoulders.

If my father wins the mansion, he tells me that he‘ll fix it up, and then my mother will come back to us; he says that we will have the chance to start over. He will also build a giant wall to keep my uncles out, protecting us from everyone else with our last name. We will sit in the living room and watch football games on a large-screen TV that fills an entire wall. We will dip the winning crane in bronze and keep it on the mantle, where we will stare at it during commercials. I want my mother to come back, though I feel that she has done what my grandmother could never do, has escaped from the Collier name, and I cannot imagine any amount of hoping that could bring her back to us. There are very few pieces of my grandmother that rubbed off on the brothers. They eat pork rinds wrapped in seaweed. That‘s about it. They know almost nothing of Japan, of my grandmother‘s life before she came to Oak Hall. They do not speak a word of Japanese, save for a few curse words that they coaxed out of her to impress other kids at school. They do not remember what all these cranes mean, that a thousand cranes will bring happiness and a long life to those who make them and those they make them for. They only remember the embarrassment of dragging sacks of paper birds down dirt roads to neighbors who were near-death, of offering all these folded pieces of colored paper to baffled stares. ―I don‘t want anything to do with your mama‘s slant-eyed voodoo. Just get those things away from me,‖ they would hear, and the brothers would carry them down to the creek, watch them float in the current before they ducked under the water, all these paper cranes sinking and washing away. And whether they liked it or not, the brothers were half Japanese rednecks in an unhappy family, and it must have been nice to watch something stay above water even for just a few seconds. When Mizell finishes his last crane, the lawyer and I gather all the cranes, checking the book one last time to make sure we have counted correctly. The brothers mill around the lawyer, jostling each other, watching to see that

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no one grabs someone else‘s crane and pockets it. ―Soo, I swear to god I will rip your arm out like a goddamned weed if you take your hand out of your pocket one more time,‖ and Bit looks ready to do it, no longer caring about the contest, just wanting the chance to hit one of his brothers over the head with their own arm. ―I‘ll place my hands where I damn well please. If you‘ve forgotten last year when you knocked the phone out of my hands and what you got, I‘ll make you remember pretty damn quick.‖ I remember that it was my father who knocked the phone away, but I don‘t say anything, don‘t remind Soo that my dad knocked out one of his teeth, where it stuck deep in the skin of his fist like a splinter. However, before anyone can remind anyone of anything, the lawyer looks up from the book. ―Gentlemen, the tally is correct and we can get on with this contest. Or if you have more important business to take care of, we can wait.‖ The brothers grow quiet, step away from the lawyer as if he has drawn a pistol. When the lawyer stands, uncrosses his legs and lifts himself out of his chair, we all hear the sound of paper crinkling, skiffing across the floor. The lawyer lifts one of his feet and sees a crane stuck to his shoe, under his heel, and he sighs, a deep, long sigh that feels like it will go until he has no more breath left in his body when he finishes. He peels the crane off his shoe and holds it up, examines the MC initials on the wing. ―It seems I have miscalculated, or there is a renegade bird here. I have to do a recount now to ensure that each of you has no more or less than two hundred and fifty birds. It will take a few minutes, a half-hour maybe. You are free to resume your business, eat or drink or take a short nap if you choose. The brothers eye each other, no one wanting to be the first to leave the room, to leave their cranes unguarded, but finally my father places his hands on my shoulders and says, ―Let‘s get us some refreshments, Smokey, a little

pre-celebration drink,‖ and with that, all the brothers scatter throughout the house to wait, to look again at what may soon be theirs. I do not remember much about my grandmother. I saw her only a few times in my life. I remember that even though my father looked different from most of the men in Franklin County, slightly exotic in some way, he still didn‘t look much like her. Her hair was jet-black even in her old age, her skin yellow-brown. To entertain me, she would let me point to objects in the house and then she would fold paper into that shape, placing the finished product in my hand and waiting for me to pick the next thing. She showed me how to make the cranes and told me the story of their collective power as we filled the floor with what we‘d made together, my single crane matching every seven of hers. Once, she took out a photo album and showed me a picture of her and my grandfather in Japan, both wearing kimonos and sitting on a rug. She looked beautiful, her hair pulled into a bun and her face calm and clear. My grandfather looked less comfortable, his kimono puffing at the shoulders, his face twisted to one side, embarrassed like he had been caught trying on panty hose and a dress. I asked her if she was happy that she‘d left, and she told me, ―One place as good as another…but sometime I think some places may be little better.‖ My father sits on a stool in the kitchen, swirling the last bits of whiskey left in his glass. His arm is around my shoulder and he is smiling, but I can see his eyes are still far away. ―You okay, Smokey? A lot to take in ain‘t it? I know it‘s been a tough year for us, but things gonna get better. I promise you that. Now, here is the thing, Smokey. Maybe I win and maybe not. That‘s why it‘s called a contest, but I want you to take this, just to have, just in case.‖ He reaches down and unrolls his left sock, producing two cranes from the hiding spot; the birds are bright yellow with his initials on the left wings, black ink so dark it looks like it has been branded into the birds. ―Where did you get those?‖ I ask, and he smiles. ―I made ‗em,‖

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he says. ―I made ‗em when nobody was looking and now I‘m giving them to you.‖ He hands them to me, but I shake my head. ―We have to play by the rules,‖ I say and the look on my father‘s face, the way his eyes turn to slits, makes me feel ashamed, as if I am going against the true nature of things. ―These are the new rules I‘m giving you,‖ he tells me, the birds now barely touching my chest. ―You take these birds and near the end, when things thin out, you get real close to the table and let these birds onto the table. It‘s not cheating, really. Those birds still have to stay on the table, right?‖ The plan can end in nothing but failure, the brothers yanking me out of the house and into the yard, accusations, more fighting, but he is my father. He is my family, what‘s left of it, and though I don‘t like it, it is what‘s true. I take the birds from him, carefully fold the wings to meet each other, and slip them into the pocket of my jeans. I look to him, but he doesn‘t say anything else, finishes his drink and sits staring out across the kitchen. The lawyer calls us back into the dining room. The count is correct, everything is ready to go. I begin dumping baskets of paper cranes onto the table, watch them scatter across the oak finish. It is hard to keep them all on the table, takes several tries to get them settled, but when it is done, the lawyer takes one last look at his watch and nods. Around the table, there are four fans set up, large metal fans that my father says look a lot like ―those fans they use on chicken farms. Big son bitches that blow trees down.‖ The fans are all rigged to one control box, whose switch I will flip, starting with the low setting before clicking up to medium and then high. The brothers stand together in a line on one side of the table, staring down at their birds, trying to figure out which ones are theirs, but there are so many, so many colors, that it‘s impossible to know. Their faces are frozen in tight grimaces, as if the skin around their mouths and eyes is shrinking. When everyone is ready, the lawyer looks at the brothers, looks to me one last time and says, ―begin.‖

I click the fans on, listen to them slowly hum. It feels like a slight breeze, and the cranes move slowly around the table, vibrating on the surface like plastic players on an electric football game. Several of the cranes already fall to the ground, tap the wood floors with bent beaks and broken wings. Uncle Bit falls to his knees and picks up the birds, checking each one for initials, yelling out either, ―Hell yes, motherfucker!‖ or ―Goddammit all, motherfucker!‖ depending on what letters he sees. I click the setting to medium, and now the birds are really moving, skittering across the table more quickly than before. The floor is filling up with discarded birds. All the brothers are now on hands and knees, crawling around the table in search of initials, elbowing each other out of the way, pulling hair. Soo kicks out behind him and catches Bit neatly between the eyes, a red print of a loafer forming like a stripe down his face. More cranes slip off the edge and hover for a few seconds before touching the ground. My father and Uncle Mizell wrestle for a bird, ripping it into tiny shreds in the process. Bit stands up and runs into the hallway for a chair, returning quickly to break it over Soo‘s back, sending splinters of wood into the air with the paper birds. I click the setting to its final place— on high—and the fans roar, pitch birds around and around the table like things trapped in the center of a tornado. I can hear cursing under the table, the sound of fists smacking against faces and arms and stomachs, yelps of pain. My father is now riding Mizell like a cowboy on a bucking bronc, digging his heels into Mizell‘s kidneys and screaming, ―get along little dogies.‖ Soo has taken his belt off and cracks it like a bull whip across Bit‘s back. The lawyer stands in the frame of the door and twirls his watch, his eyes lit up like a man looking through a peephole. Birds are everywhere, flying to certain death off the edge, hovering two feet over the table or holding fast to the oak finish. Even cranes that have already fallen to the ground have been picked up again by the fans so that it‘s hard to tell where anything is anymore, it‘s just a thick cluster of colored paper birds. The broth-

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ers are still rolling around on the floor, covered in thin, bright red paper cuts. They occasionally stop pummeling each other to look up at the table and shout words of encouragement. Mizell‘s head pops up like a groundhog and he screams, ―hold on you sons of bitches, hold on.‖ And I lean forward, hands almost touching the table, and watch this swirling mist of colors, of delicate paper cranes hovering, hanging, flying in the air. I sometimes have to hold my hands over my face to block cranes crashing into my head. The fans put out so much wind that it feels like a monsoon, like the whole house is going to lift off the ground and touch down somewhere else. The brothers are bleeding and bruised and screaming profanity like holy men speaking in tongues. The birds are flying, if only for a brief moment, and I watch a rainbow of cranes fly around the room, dip and loop and dive in the air. I reach into my pocket, feel the two cranes against my fingertips, but I can‘t release them. I look at my father, his shirt ripped and his back scratched red with jagged lines, and he is crawling across the ground while a swarm of birds shoot past him so quickly that it seems as if they are attacking him. I have seen my father fight with his brothers before, have grown accustomed to the sight of his broken fingers, swollen face, and busted lip, still smiling. But today, in the midst of these cranes, it seems especially ugly, makes me sad that my father cannot share this moment with me. I am afraid of what will happen if we do not win this house, but it is even harder to imagine my father and I alone in all of these rooms, filled with so much unhappiness. The cranes are still flying around the room, and, even though I won‘t cheat, I can‘t deny these birds in my hands the chance to move with the rest. I open my hands and let them take to the air, watch them lift out of my grasp like baby birds flying for the first time, and their yellow shade mixes with the swirl of colored birds above me. And it is beautiful, to watch these things, these tiny creatures move so quickly through the air, to watch them pick up

speed and soar from the table like airplanes lifting off a runway. They take to the air and fly away, out windows, through the hallway, into deep parts of the house where they will never be found. And then it happens—the crane. All the brothers stop in mid-punch, release chokeholds. They still remain on their knees, look up at the table with swollen eyes wide. The final crane, bright red, has been caught perfectly between the four fans, equidistant from each one, and this crane catches the wind and soars into the air, raises off the table, and still climbs higher. The brothers are motionless, cannot even curse in their wonder. There is no way to make out the initials. The crane hovers four feet above the table, caught between the fans so that it hovers, levitates without moving. I think it is amazing, seeing something so beautiful flying inside the walls of Oak Hall. And for one moment it is wonderful to watch this single paper crane hang in the air like a prayer, like hope, like a single breath. But when I look over at the brothers, on hands and knees as if praying, I know that all they can see is the mansion, the house that one of them will have when this bird touches down. They jab elbows into ribs, ball their hands into tight fists, and press the weight of their bodies into each other. They want only one thing, for that bird to fall, to drift beneath the current of wind. They wait for the crane to dive back to the table, where they will rip it open, tear it apart for the answer, while I watch it hover, want only for it to stay up there forever. The brothers are ready, watching it begin to wobble and lose flight. And just before it touches down, before the four brothers slam each into each other to place their hands upon the paper crane, I think about my grandmother and hope that she is somewhere far away, somewhere that even birds cannot reach, and I hope that she is happy.

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adored by the rust, by the mosquitoes and flies who sing their praises by the light of the guitar Joey Nicoletti__________________________________________ moon-pick. hen the wobbly thrown change The flat-footed person who wanted to buy them up is crushed by Marcus Thames‘s bat for the this afternoon rode off on his chopper, eighth time in seven straight games, gasps of shock and dis- and vanished into the sound walls beyond our block. belief pop No one cares about what actually happened. out of my father‘s mouth like gumballs. Honesty is boring. Foam slides down the brown necks People don‘t want honesty. of beer bottles. My brother‘s wolfish laughter They want to hear about what‘s colorful. fills the room. Our callused hands meet It‘s colorful when horns blow in a battle scene. in quick, sweaty high-fives. It‘s colorful when beer cans are opened with huMy father shakes his head. I walk man eyelids. into the kitchen to grab another round It‘s colorful when crocuses rise out of slushy of Bud Light for us. Soap bubbles rise sidewalks. like tiny moons above the sink. Found or retained on the street where used condoms slumber A Box of Old Baseball Cards beside fast-food wrappers and broken glass; Joey Nicoletti__________________________________________ where cars swerve in and out of their driveways, ound on the street, frayed at the edges, stop in front of houses made of fire, creased. Within minutes, memorized, nestled in found at the right price, by the ice cream truck, at two in the afternoon. a closet, smeared with fingerprints. Sold or purchased. To amuse. Common but not ordinary. To have and to hurl. Pristine or ruined. Or stored. Or rescued by Mom; or left behind. Found again on the street, from the ice cream man, “In the Shadow of No Townext to the schoolyard, for pocket change. ers” - Art Spiegelman Smooth, clean, bald. Joey Nicoletti__________________________________________ Packed, sorted, and forgotten. Dignified and thin, World-famous on my block Mo Rivera gathers in the bullpen, for their pavement gymnastics, scrutinized then jogs to the pitcher‘s mound, by Tony Vento, the Warlord of the Post-Dennis Eckersley Cleveland Indians holds the ball in his black mitt as if it were an Easter egg. gang, And then the throw: whose members were adorned his brown fingers releasing in polyester pullover jerseys and sweat-stained

Unheralded

W F

caps, spikes with holes in the toes in their perpetual non-championship summer;

the ball, painting the outside corner of home plate; a pocket in time [9]


Stymie Magazine framed by Jorge Posada‘s catching glove. The batter muttering to himself, shaking his head under the pearly lights of the house that Ruth built. Not an island or a star, Mo is a new sun; a radiant source of light, sustaining his team‘s life. The fans rise from their seats. Some of them clap, others bite their fingernails; the shadow of no towers flowing in their veins.

Autumn & Winter ‘10

El Dorado

T

Joel Van Noord________________________________________

ceased.

he truck wheezed and rolled back. Instructions on how to ask directions to the bank droned out. Craig reached forward and the throaty Arabic

Craig was a writer and photographer, a surfer as well. He said, ―Petrol bro.‖ Jasper was the surfer to be written about and photographed. Jasper was good, great even, perhaps a prodigy. But he was young and not where he needed to be although the trajectory was impressive enough. He did not possess the competency to compete with his skills alone. They needed to go where others wouldn‘t, give the product more dimensions. They drove onto a peninsula and got lost, stranded, and stuck. A momentary lapse of focus gelled the brown hills into a single monotonous unit. They couldn‘t shake this abandoned fishing camp. There was a mangy cat eyeing them from a structure no larger than a shed, fashioned from plywood, fish-bones, and string. The metal frame from a car sat in the dirt. The faded eyes of heavily bearded Muslims stared from the plywood. Dust was everywhere, the paint flecked; this decay was redeeming, a statement of remorse. Craig turned his camera and the shutter cleared its throat. ―I‘m ready to go home,‖ Jasper said. There was too much sun. They looked to the blue and green water. ―Are we serious?‖ Jasper asked without intonation. ―Is this real life?‖ he reissued a standard joke from their days in Casablanca when money could get them out of most unpleasant situations. ―We‘ll push it,‖ Craig said, ―use the truck for shelter and supplies. It‘s ok dude,‖ Craig replied. ―I don‘t want to be here with you.‖ Craig raised his camera. ―Don‘t.‖ There had been a storm. Light desert turned dark and everything slid from where it [ 10 ]


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was, washing the roads and gashing mountains. They cowered in the truck. The road changed around them. The vehicle swallowed fuel as they crisscrossed the terrain, the small truck moaning over boulders and scree. Craig patched tires and tightened socks as tourniquets for severed fuel lines. Jasper lost faith. He was no longer dotted for landing air-reverses. ―It‘s an adventure, Jazz, this story‘s gonna be worth it.‖ With a slight rocking, they unearthed the truck and pushed it down hills and jogged alongside like a sled in the Olympics. A day spread, a canvas of blue and brown. The next day was the same. An enormous sun only eclipsed by the silhouettes of vultures. The desert swallowed the heat and at night they shivered in the corpse of the truck, jerking at every murmur of wind. The truck was light. A moderate climb led to a haunting decline. They looked in disbelief. ―We‘ll just brake, no different than driving,‖ Craig said. So they leaned against the thin doors and pushed. Soon they were walking and then jogging alongside, ―Hop in,‖ Craig commanded and they shut the doors as the truck accelerated. The wheel shook. Craig buckled and looked to Jasper, who gripped the dashboard. He was conservative for the first turn and on the second they skidded over loose stone. Craig gauged the incline and tapped the breaks once on the third turn as they slid around a cliff over the ocean, then settled in for the decline. The small truck gained speed and smashed over potholes, bouncing Jasper to the ceiling. The wheel was furious, Craig held it and his frame jostled along. He leaned forward as the bottom raced; letting out a low, steady cheer. Jasper joined and it was a climaxing chorus timed with the trucks maximum speed as it swooped to the bottom, crouched with its shocks, and shot into the incline. They yelled and smiled but it was obvious the momentum was not enough to make it up the modest hill

ahead. ―We gotta push!‖ Craig unclipped himself as the truck quickly lost speed. They dug in. But began to roll back. ―Push! PUSH‖ Craig yelled as Jasper fell off to the side. The door swung out and snapped like a bear trap just beyond reach. Craig‘s feet slid and he slung himself back in the cab, pumping the brake as the vehicle skidded with locked, smoking tires. He yanked the emergency brake and pushed his foot to the floor, steering over his shoulder. The vehicle caught its wheels as metal shrieked and the truck flipped on its side and slid to a rest. Craig was crumpled on his back against the passenger door. His foot caught on the steering column. Jasper came down the hill. With effort Craig extracted himself and found Jasper staring at him with an accusatory look. ―This sucks, man.‖ Jasper said. Craig looked himself over and brushed his hands against his pants. Three of the four water containers had smashed and exploded. The gate to the bed was busted and crooked. Craig yanked the handle several times before the window popped open. One of his surfboards lay splintered, fiberglass sheathing out like ice crystals. The video and camera equipment were well packaged in hard plastic containers with plush foam interiors. The cooler had exploded and it smelled like a tailgate at a USC football game. Craig grabbed a beer and popped it. ―You‘re killing me,‖ Jasper said. ―We‘ll load up. Walk to Naasha‘ rent a driver and be on a plane tomorrow.‖ Jasper slowly said, ―How did I end up here with you?‖ Craig held the beer above his head and didn‘t stop until it was gone. He crushed the can and threw it back, exhaling loudly and gulping air. He looked at Jasper and got another and did the same thing. ―Went down a belt size,‖ Craig said after he finished the second and felt his head get lighter.

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―What are you doing?‖ Jasper answered as Craig rummaged. A third snap of aluminum clenched Jasper‘s teeth. Craig drank slower. ―Can we push the truck right side?‖ ―To push it into the ocean? No way we‘re getting it up there kid.‖ ―You said gas! We get gas and drive out.‖ ―If we make it to a gas station I‘m paying some beard to drive us to the airport. I‘m ove‘s.‖ He shook his head, ―Fucking way ove‘s.‖ ―You suck man, I hate this.‖ Craig drank eyeing his companion. ―You better watch yourself brat, I‘m getting pretty tired of your attitude.‖ ―Me? ‘Hey Jasper, you‘re such a good suffer and I‘m a shit travel writer, wanna go to Morocco and drive for days into the wilderness and honk the horn at camel herders and holler at Muslim women dressed in robes all so I can get Surfers Journal to pay attention to me?‘‖ ―I‘m telling you brat,‖ Craig slowly drank again. ―Don‘t call me that you talentless old fuck.‖ ―Keep telling yourself that, brat.‖ ―Whatever old man, you got nothing, don‘t be mad at me cause you can‘t surf and need to write gay stories about it instead.‖ ―Sure thing baby brat, you can‘t throw more water than a Japanese woman in a helmet at a 2 foot beach break. You‘re a barrel virgin and don‘t paddle out when it‘s more than head high.‖ ―Well, at least I have my whole life to work on shit, unlike you, you washed up old fuck, drinking your ass off claiming shit you did 10 years ago.‖ ―Yeah, I know you miss your mama‘s tit you little brat.‖ ―I hate you Craig.‖ ―I know,‖ Craig smiled, ―Cause you‘re a baby, you‘re a little brat who can‘t take care of himself. Who can‘t even-‖ Craig began but Jasper lunged. His arms outstretched, knocking Craig‘s beer to the ground. Jasper fell against the bigger, thicker, and older man and stumbled to

his side, holding his arms against him and trying to twist. Craig easily maneuvered the kid into a head-lock and twisted, laughing and calling him a brat. Jasper began to punch Craig in the side of the knee and he cried out, ―Dude man, stop. That‘s my bad knee!‖ Jasper hit harder and Craig tightened his hold and cranked the boy. They spun and fell, Jasper landing on Craig, who hit a rock and moaned. Animals emerged from caves and burrows. They scampered across the sparse brush that night. Craig set up his tripod and fussed with exposure times that night. Jasper sat Indianstyle, slowing chewing granola, the new white board to his side. They ignored each other. After loading gear, Jasper took his surfboard while Craig took his camera; they hiked until dark, then simply sat down on the road and stared in different directions. Stars bled through the sky and a few tumbled loose. It was speechless night. They fell asleep with ambiguous thoughts. The next day became biblical. The word Muslim rested on Craig‘s tongue and he periodically said it like it was the answer to a question. They looked for omens and became a prayer. Their bodies were emaciated and wild, their clothes, brown and torn. Dust adulterated every pore. Their skin burned and peeled and blackened. They tied rags across their heads and mouths. Mirages crept from the horizon and mutated before their sunburned eyes. They followed those messages of moisture and heat. The sunset brought relief from the heat but also dread. The earth was porous and they flinched and jumped with every loose thought, shaking off imaginary scorpions and spiders. ―I‘m going to kill you,‖ Jasper slowly said. It was the first words spoken since the fight. ―People think I‘m dumb,‖ Craig replied. ―I can see myself doing it,‖ he continued.

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―I heard Bobby once. I heard him say, ‗Craig‘s dumb‘, it hurt. I want to be a writer. I think I can do it,‖ Craig said. ―I want to kill you,‖ Jasper looked to Craig. The moon had been growing their entire adventure. It seemed to be half the sky. ―There‘s a TV in my head. It‘s playing images of me stabbing you in the neck with a knife.‖ ―You don‘t think I‘m dumb, do you? I‘m just shy,‖ Craig said. ―I‘m dumb,‖ Jasper replied. ―I‘ve killed us.‖ ―I think so. We‘re gonna die,‖ Jasper said. ―I don‘t get it. I don‘t understand what is happening. It doesn‘t make sense. Is this real life?‖ Craig smiled for the first time in days, ―Is this real life?‖ he repeated in the child‘s voice they had used excessively in the first days when they were stocked with water, candy, liquor, meat, cheese, and eggs. ―I can‘t kill you,‖ Jasper said. ―I do want my mom,‖ he said and he wiped at his eyes. ―It‘s ok.‖ ―Mom?‖ he said softly. Then he yelled it: ―MOM!‖ the sound carried into the wilderness. It was quiet. ―Mom,‖ he said one final time under his breath. That night they leaned against each other‘s back and drifted off to thin, disturbed sleep. Every so often losing balance and jerking awake, jostling the other and resting their head on their knees again. They couldn‘t be positive they were moving. Sand had blurred and torn their eyes and the landscape was unchanged. Another day passed and fear of snakes led them to babble out secrets. There was another day. There were no thoughts. There was momentum and mechanical movement, like waves against a point, energy slowing dissipating, a pattern kept them going. Long flats stretched into mirages until stark hills interrupted. Finally mirages faded to structures. Three earthen huts clustered below a craggy out-

crop. Adjacent to that were small dirt fields, evident by the geometry of rocks. A starving goat eyed them, its skin stretched between protruding ribs. They knocked on one structure and then another. Craig pushed into a third. Jasper leaned his colorful board against a wall and Craig lowered the camera case. They uncovered tall baskets, found nuts, and gorged themselves. Jugs of water sat on the floor. It tasted earthy but they drank at length, spilling and panting. There was dried fruit and fish. They ate until their stomachs hurt and then sat on a cot, leaning against each other, instantly drifting off. As the sun fell it slanted through a small window and Craig woke. He turned to his right. Jasper breathed audibly and he rose, holding his shoulder and slowly lowering him. The canvas creaked. Craig walked into the other room and looked out the window at the ocean first, then at the stones, they all seemed different now. They had personalities. He wasn‘t sure if he could trust what he was seeing. There was a crumpled figure in a dark robes and a headscarf wrapped over her neck and across her shoulder. She staggered up the path near the bluff, heading toward the hut. He watched her creak and shuffle, step by step with a basket slung behind her back. Craig leaned against the doorframe, in a shadow, waiting. Jasper rose and stood behind Crag. With difficulty the woman slouched over and released the basket. Craig smelled the rich sea life and remembered summers in Monterrey. The old woman sighed and began to remove her headscarf, then straightened her back and stretched. She was less than ten feet away. She moved up the incline to the hut. They backed away, her eyes adjusting to the dark earthen hut. She turned to her left and carefully placed the scarf on the corner of a complex rug. She moved her hands through her hair and then jerked. Jasper had moved from shadow to the light stretching through the small doorframe. He

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leaned in with his mouth open, awed. She jumped back and cried out. The two American‘s remained motionless, staring. She called out again in sharp words and turned. Jasper reached for her. Craig stared; he wasn‘t sure if it was real, he rubbed his eyes and watched them. She took a step away and cried out more urgently. Jasper reached for her and she squirmed. He wrapped his arms around her. He was hugging her, pulling her tight and rocking back and forth, ―Hey, hey, hey, it‘s ok, come on,‖ he said. Craig watched his younger friend and turned from the shadows in the hut to the setting sun outside. ―It‘s ok,‖ he heard him say.

A Diamond Girl’s Best Friend

―I

Ann Beman____________________________________________

magine the ball is a doorknob.‖ In the dugout, shaded from Tucson‘s blast of mid-morning sun, a ponytailed blonde with ice-blue eyes huddles with one of her teammates. ―With a slider, grip the knob thumb-down, as if you‘re facing the door. But with the curveball, it‘s as if you‘re coming at the door from the side. The thumb rotates up. Here, let me show you.‖ Stephanie Derouin is a thumber—she likes to throw a curveball. Not only do her thumbs launch curves, they help her when she switches positions: The slender 33-year-old player can strap on a catcher‘s helmet or move out onto the field, covering shortstop and second base. Signaling to her teammates, her thumbs assist her in managing the Washington Stars women‘s baseball team. White letters and numerals fan across the back of her green jersey: DEROUIN 11. She has lived in a typical diehard ballplayer‘s orbit. A shorthand résumé might read: -Grew up in baseball family— Grandfather drafted by NY Yankees. Uncle played major-league ball. -Photographed as a baby, sitting in walker, wearing baseball hat, holding huge glove. -Learned to throw before able to walk. -Started playing baseball at age 5. -Tore ulnar collateral ligament of left (catching) thumb, summer 2007; played rest of 2007 season with thumb taped forward. -Underwent ulnar collateral reconstructive surgery, February 2008. -Put together nine-woman team for Women‘s Baseball National Championships, October 2008. The Washington Stars team captain sustained her 2007 injury catching with a glove that was too big. The pitcher for that game threw high and inside. Derouin caught the pitch, but it twisted her glove. Pain lightning-bolted across her palm. Unwilling to sit on the bench, she played the rest of the season with her thumb taped—immobile.

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In February ‗08, a hand surgeon took a useless tendon from Derouin‘s wrist and inserted it into her thumb. He sewed it in with a metal pin that stuck out half an inch from the bottom of the outside of her thumb. She wore a hand cast with the pin in her thumb for six weeks. After that, she wore a plastic brace that held her hand forward. A hand therapist supervised her rehabilitation. ―It‘s back to 75 percent (of its original range of motion),‖ she says. ―It still hurts when I catch, but the typical ballplayer will play through injury, suck up any amount of pain. All that matters is on the field …‖ * Derouin‘s team, the Washington Stars, shoot out onto Tucson‘s field No. 4 at the Kino Sports Complex, home to the 2008 Roy Hobbs Women‘s National Championships. A 90-degree breeze exhales earthy scents of mown turf, watered dirt, creosote bush, and Cleveland sage. Ferny guajillo, sweet acacia trees, and desert willow perfume the air, and spidery ocotillo shrubs wag their red-tongued tips. In the distance, violet mountains jag into wide, thirsty blue sky. The seventh and final inning of the tournament‘s semifinal has begun. Derouin‘s Washington Stars are pitted against the California Sabers, a team that defeated them in earlier tournament play. Derouin will not be thumbing curveballs in this game. Instead, she will cover second. Only nine Stars have shown up healthy for this tournament. Nine players—no spares, no leeway, no room for injury or illness. If someone tears a muscle, sprains an ankle, or so much as sneezes hard enough to be pulled out of play, the whole team is done—with a big, fat FORFEIT next to Washington Stars on the roster. But the Stars can‘t afford to play like powder puffs either. They don‘t want to hold back. These women love baseball too much, but not just the game, playing the game, this game, nothing soft about it. They want to feel the solid thwock of a 9-inch-diameter ball meeting their gloves every time. At bat, they imagine their swings taking toothy chomps out of the ball. They want to lead off when they land on base,

each of them envisioning, I’m gonna steal this base without getting tagged. I’m gonna sashay one base closer to a scoring run. No tags, no tags, no tags. Moo-ah-hahaa! And they sure as hell want to prevent the other team from doing the same. Suzann Lankford, from Everett, Washington, stands on the pitcher‘s mound, SUZANN 21 on her Stars jersey. Runners on first and second step away from their bases, and Derouin, at second, sways side to side, punching her glove with her fist. With one out, the California team can easily come from behind and win. The count is 2 -1. Lankford knows that, one way or another, she needs to earn this out. But the 27-year-old Stars pitcher cannot afford to walk another runner and load the bases. Or throw an easy-to-hit pitch. This Sabers‘ batter hit well in previous innings, and no way did Lankford want to hand this slugger a meatball. She flashed back for a moment to this same field No. 4, two days earlier, to a similar situation in a game versus the San Diego Bandits. The Bandits had started the psych-out tactics immediately, by arriving in their own intimidation factor on wheels, a chartered bus. It was the final inning of the game. With bases loaded, 3 balls, 2 strikes, and just 1 out, Lankford was having trouble, again. The trouble was, she was walking lots of Bandit batters. Looking like Peter Pan when Peter Pan was played by women, Lankford pitches, catches, plays shortstop, third, and first. She also bowls—perfect 300-point games—regularly. Each time she bowls, just as she sends her custom Hammer Black Widow Pearl growling down the lane—just as she releases the ball—her thumb clicks. She can feel and hear the digit snap as it exits the hole in the ball. The women‘s baseball equivalent to bowling a 300 would be a pitcher throwing a complete game of at least seven innings without allowing a player from the other team to reach first base. But out on that mound, in the 90-degree Tucson sun, SUZANN 21 was not in that 300 zone. Her thumb was not clicking. Worried because she had just loaded the

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bases by walking two batters in a row, Coach Rick Park called timeout and bee lined to the mound. ―It‘s just like bowling,‖ he said to her. ―Just hit the spots on the floor consistently like you did in your 300 game.‖ Smiling a confident smile, she thought, Why didn’t he put it in terms I would understand before? And she proceeded to strike out two batters in a row, leaving the bases empty with no runners scoring. Coming from behind, the Stars won 9-7 versus the Bandits in six innings. Chartered bus, pshaw! As she remembers how the San Diego Bandits skulked away in their shiny, chartered bus, Lankford shakes off some of her fear that the California Sabers‘ batter, with two on base, will put one out of the park. Game face on, she glares toward the plate. Alvarez the catcher flashes two fingers; she wants a curveball. She wants to see a thumber. Lankford nods to Alvarez. Still she worries. I can’t leave it over the plate, she thinks, or else this batter will hit it hard! As if approaching a doorknob from the side, Lankford grips the baseball, keeping her forefinger and middle finger together. With her middle finger along the bottom seam of the baseball, she places her thumb on the back seam. Pressure centers on the seams. When she throws, her thumb rotates upward, while her middle finger snaps downward. She pulls down as she releases with her index finger. Second base. From behind the pitcher‘s mound, Derouin can see SUZANN 21 on the back of the pitcher‘s green Washington Stars jersey. Derouin watches as Lankford turns her head with slow deliberation to glance over her shoulder at second base. The Sabers‘ runner is leading off, three steps toward third. But Derouin does not force her back. As Lankford winds up for the pitch, the runner takes off. ―She‘s going to third,‖ Derouin hollers. ―She‘s going to third.‖ ―third. Third. THIRD,‖ the infielders echo. Lankford makes it through the wind-up

and throws the ball slightly outside. The Sabers‘ batter grips the bat. She lines up her knuckles – not the big pow-to-the-kisser knuckles, but the ones she might use to rap on a door. An anthropology professor from, say, nearby University of Arizona would refer to the hitter‘s hold on the bat as a power grip. The hypothetical professor might say that a batter executes a power grip between the surface of her fingers and her palm, with her thumb acting as a buttress. Fwonk! The routine grounder goes straight to Lankford. Since the runner on second has already gone to third, there is no way to get her out. All focus reverts to second. second. Second. SECOND. Derouin is on her way. As she scoops up the ball with her glove, Lankford makes a quick move to go to second. Derouin is not at the bag, but she is rocketing toward it. Lankford throws it hard right to the base. When it arrives Derouin will be there. Might be there … It was a Suzann Lankford throw that tore Derouin‘s ulnar collateral ligament back in 2007. But the team captain doesn‘t think about that now. Plap! Derouin‘s glove meets the ball; her right foot kisses the bag almost in unison. One out. first. First. FIRST. She grips the ball with her glove, and moves it into her bare hand. As she does, she feels a little twinge in the thumb of her glove, a little reminder of the ulnar collateral tear. Yet the transfer happens so fast a spectator in the stands can barely see her do it. She fires a textbook chest-high throw to first with her strong arm and her strong thumb. Double play. Batter out. Game over. ―Good game, good game, good game ….‖ With their run over, the California Sabers are left with handshakes, the echoing enthusiasm of the Stars, and a bat bag full of better luck next time.

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Birdcatcher David Brennan_________________________________________________________________________________________________

O

ne: The Trap. The bird never had a chance. As it pecked at the sunflower seeds scattered on the asphalt, the string tied to the base of the twig propping up the cardboard box took a swift tug and the box fell, trapping the hapless bird in a sudden incomplete darkness that propelled its wings into a fearful flapping, pummeling its tiny body against hollow, ungiving walls, its pulse, already drum-roll quick, now a spastic time bomb, ticking towards a detonation of inner-terror. After a few minutes a flat piece of cardboard was slid gingerly beneath the box, and the entire contraption lifted and carried into the garage, where a small hole was cut in the box and then fitted against the open door of a cage; by a stick inserted through a thin slit in the cardboard the bird was carefully encouraged into the bright delight of its new prison. My mother—when young, a girl—was a birdcatcher. A surprisingly good birdcatcher. She had the cunning and patience of a born hunter. A cardboard box, a slingshot twig, a bit of string and some seed were the only tools she needed. It was the kind of trap one would find in a Beverly Cleary book: simple, innocent, and utterly effective. It looked like this:

the bird) position. She had no malicious intentions in trapping birds, didn‘t glue any beaks shut or pluck any feathers. Like countless other kids who grew up fascinated with nature, my mother just wanted to get a better look. I have never liked the look of a bird in a cage. Some animals seem more suited to captivity—monkeys, or fish, salamanders—but a bird, a creature meant to soar, that image of a life lived above the earth, of walls erased, those wings that have flown the imagination such distances, to say nothing of heights, a bird in a cage is a sad construct. But a bird in nature won‘t sit still. How else is one to get a close, truly thorough and uninterrupted look, if not through entrapment? The cage and the trap are both structures designed to ensnare, to contain a life for a period of time. My desires and curiosities have never led me to pursue the entrapment of other creatures, to examine them secretless, like Nabokov with his butterflies. I am perplexed, then, what to do with this recent urge to chronicle in writing a certain period of time in the lives of my parents, to better look at them as they were when I did not know them, or they me. If the book is the structure, the cage, in which they will be contained during examination, was the question Can I write about you? the trap, the box falling around them, covering them in an anxious darkness? Mom‘s bird catching efforts were, unfortunately, not entirely successful. On occasion the bird pecking at seed would catch a glimpse of motion, the tug of the string, and make a break for freedom as the box fell. More than one bird found itself caught or clipped by the box‘s weight and velocity, wounded in a wing, maimed No blind or disguise was constructed for in a leg. So I wonder which motions I make will this endeavor. She just sat very still, ten or fifcause a stirring—as I plot out the pieces of this teen feet away, until a bird discovered the seed story, if the analogy holds true, who will try to and found itself in the right (or wrong, if you are break free? What wounds can we expect? [ 19 ]


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Two: Rough Draft While reading an early draft of this Mom popped me this question: ―If this gets published, if it becomes print, is this how we will be remembered? Is this what Dad and I will, eventually, become?‖ I gave a padded answer: ―in part,‖ ―for some people,‖ ―in relation to these points in your life‖ while my body was itching to call out what felt the more truthful ―absolutely!‖ or ―of course your life will etched forever in the stone of my word!‖ Typical author‘s-ego type responses I had the sense not to give. Her question stuck with me, though, particularly as it was prompted by the above ―The Trap‖ section, which questions the role my parents have as characters in this telling, and the difficulties inherent in ―caging‖ them within the necessarily limited confines of a book‘s structure. It caused me to wonder if my rather haphazard methodology for recreating their Harlem experience would end with my depiction of them being similar to the book/world divide that Don Quixote experiences, namely that ―the written word and thing [would] no longer resemble one another.‖ It is a division any still-living subject of a text must to some degree experience; even the most complexly depicted character is still but a brief sketch when held beside the physical, respirating person. Maybe this is the fate that I should have told my parents would be theirs: ―[Your] whole being [will be] nothing but language, text, printed pages, stories that have already been written down. [You will be] made up of interwoven words; [you will be] writing itself, wandering through the world among the resemblances of things.‖ While Foucault‘s description of Don Quixote nicely fits any biography, I‘m becoming more comfortable with my initial answer to my mother‘s question, due largely to a short story and an animated television show. It happened that on the same day I read Borges‘ ―The Garden of Forking Paths‖ I also ended up watching an episode of Family Guy that featured Brian and Stewie taking a journey through the ―multiverse,‖ the alternate parallel

universes that have been proposed to coexist alongside our own. Brian, it should be mentioned, is a dog, and Stewie a genius homosexual baby. Bouncing through the parallels of their possible existences, the pair encounter a world of fire hydrants, of semi-nude well-ripped men lounging in endless leisure, a world of genetically advanced species that includes a hulking pig with hands, a blank white world inhabited by a solitary fellow who shouts compliments from a distance, a low-resolution world in which their pixilated family barks monotone commands at one another, an ice age, and, finally, an existence where humans are the pets and dogs the masters, where Brian and Stewie meet their likenesses (in the form of opposite species) who, following a brief adventure rescuing human Stewie from the pound, assist them in getting back to their own universe. Cloying and clever, still the episode caused me to consider the futility of detailing my parents tale in writing, of claiming its importance; if, of all the stories of love found in the world, theirs is but one in a universe where untold number of similar worlds ―might‖ exist, and that universe is just one of countless simultaneous universes in which all possible scenarios are played out, what‘s the point? It is almost enough to make a guy believe in God, if only to simplify that matter.2 It is almost enough to make one condemn writing to the realm of the futile. Brian and Stewie‘s comedic escapades also sent me back to Jorge Luis Borges‘ story ―The Garden of Forking Paths‖ that I was teaching the following day. Built on a similar 1 Michel

Foucault, from The Order of Things. we can really call that a simplification, especially in the light of how quantum physics, with its string theories and multiverses and atoms existing in two places at once, seems to be moving ever closer to the realm of religious faith; and while, conversely, religion appears to be edging (slowly) ever closer to mainstreaming the laws of the scientific world. Evolution, certainly one of Christianity‘s most formidable opponents, could even be said to have won the war. I have met very, very few Christians who denounce the idea of evolution entirely, and refuse to believe it had at the very least a minor role in human development. I have also found these people very difficult to converse with, in the way it is difficult to look at a dinosaur skeleton and conceive of that creature strolling through the local Wal-Mart parking lot. 2 If

3

That is, this.

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premise, that of multiple existences in which all possible scenarios for any given situation play themselves out, this tale of wartime espionage was shown to me in a new light by the ―Family‖ in Family Guy, especially in the line ―The author of an atrocious undertaking ought to imagine that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.‖ The story‘s protagonist imagines just such an atrocity, and is wearily comforted into committing it by his encounter with a text written by an ancestor, a novel that attempts to reveal the multiple ways any given scenario could unfold. Knowing there is a timeline in which he avoids committing the atrocity frees him to commit it. His authorship becomes easier in the face of a text that abandons authorial choice. So my parents, perhaps at that early point in their relationship when true choice seemed less and less an option, in their one irrevocable decision to chose each other became the authors of their lives, imagined into existence an act that would in many ways define them, in terms of both the lives they had lived to that point as well as the faith-searching family-centric decades that followed. Their marriage was written by no one but them, and will remain their creation, no matter how joyful, or melancholy, or atrocious it becomes in word. I guess, Mom, my answer to your question is that I really had very little to do with the entire enterprise.3 If this small part of you someday becomes the way you are remembered, it wasn‘t I who did the choosing, but you. You made the choice, the one that for you changed everything.

Gallop

I

Ben Clark_____________________________________________

n third grade, my body was still without shape and I ached to carry a ball the way he did, tossing sixth-graders off his haunches like loose earth, galloping for touchdown after touchdown, neighing loud. He shot hoops every other day in fifth grade at the abandoned gym. Even sweeping first, we would return home with dust matted in our manes, stuck to our skin, our spit dark-brown. His fingers ferocious, always snapping at me, so I never took a shot or spoke, instead spent the night feeding him the ball, tallying my assists. Each basket the rim swallowed like a sugar cube. Shot after shot, finally he named me friend, and all evening I shivered when we brushed bodies, when he pressed me on his way to the rim, when he placed the bridle gently in my mouth. I thought I broke free from him in tenth grade, shooting across the middle of the field, following the spiral splitting the sky, arching towards me, but when my feet lifted from the ground, the ball grazed my palms, he approached abruptly from behind, dove through my knees, and tossed me like a hay bale onto my collarbone which popped, an unexpected gun shot. Twelfth grade I quit team sports, choosing instead to run long-distance. My dad grounded me indefinitely, and called out to him to tackle me, to save me once again, but when he approached, my voice was fully formed, my haunches thick and toned, my curling mane long. When he came close I did not flinch. When he moved to saddle me, when we touched this time I tossed him trembling from my limbs like earth and galloped.

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Deadlock

I

Gale Acuff ________________________________________

can't wake Father. He must be dead. So this is what death is. It doesn't look so bad, not from my side, anyway. He looks asleep. I guess he is. A really deep one, the kind only God could wake him from. But he doesn't like to be bothered when he's sleeping. I hope that God is ready --Father can get awfully righteous: What the Hell! he yelled at me the last time. Don't you know better than to wake me up? I'm sorry, I say. I start to cry. Well, stop that crying--you're eight years old, you know --and let me get some rest. How can he rest

Autumn & Winter ‘10

Troll

T

Fred Venturini ________________________________________

his guy at work loves the Dallas Cowboys, but he isn‘t from Dallas, and he walks around on victory Mondays asking everyone, ―How bout ‗em?‖ I want to kill this person. He lacks the humble paranoia required of real fans. Real fans are afraid all victories are flukes and disaster lurks around the corner. Real fans are relieved by victory, not emboldened by it. Yet here he walks, Brent Utah, five foot six, bald, a thirty-six year old man acting like a fifth grader, asking me, ―How bout em?‖ And what to say? They‘re decent this year. They won‘t win it all, and they have lost games, but on those gleeful Mondays when they do lose, he will with The Game of the Week on and the score shrug and say, ―Injuries. Barring injury, they are tied and the winning run at third and two the best team in the league.‖ Some Mondays it‘s outs and two strikes on Hank Aaron with the the referees. Or coaching. Or they are bases loaded and nowhere to put him? ―feathering the throttle,‖ saving a little effort for I just don't want him to miss the action, the Super Bowl. He is a denier of losses, a denier what happens, what might happen, what doesn't. of imperfections. Each victory, even over the Who really wants to sleep through the finish? ragged and shitty Redskins, turns into a parade in the hallways between cubicles. ―How bout But now I can't rouse him at all. If he's em?‖ dead then I'm alone, except for Mother, He sends out mass-emails to a group of and she hates sports--she's not crazy about guys he knows love sports, with subject headings Father, either. Maybe if I wait long such as ―The Stars at Night‖ or ―Sour Grapes,‖ enough he'll come back to life, I mean, if because anyone who corners him with logic has he's dead. And if he's asleep he'll just wake sour grapes, such as the time at lunch I quizzed up. How will I know which one is which? If him on Dallas‘s defensive starters and the city in which the Cowboys actually play, neither of he says he's been asleep, I'll ask him So how which he knew, and to this he shrugged and said do you know you weren't dead and came back sour grapes, a total miscalculation of the meanto life? If he says he's been dead I'll ask ing and intention of sour grapes. How do you know that you weren't just dreaming? Mike from marketing likes the Colts, If he doesn't wake soon, he'll never know they have a fresh Super Bowl title and are so far who won the game. He won't even be close. undefeated, but this doesn‘t faze Brent, who taunts, ―They‘ll get what‘s coming to them.‖ When my team, the Bears, lose, a near-weekly event that makes me ache in that cavity that men have reserved for the pain of sports losses, he will send out an email taunt full of statistical and factual inaccuracies. He says things like ―I own [ 22 ]


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you, I have your pride,‖ as if these teams we cannot control make him better than me. This group of sports loving guys from work gathers monthly in the winter for pickup football games, full contact tackling allowed, played in the snow, men wearing overalls trying to catch a pigskin with rawhide work gloves, which lasts until we‘re all too tired and sore to continue, and ends with handshakes, beers, and stories that last until the next football game. Brent is never there. He always has plans with his girlfriend of the week, or the commute is too far to the football field, or he‘s nursing an injury, or family is in town. Over a pitcher of beer, Mike from marketing, who is now Mike the defensive back from the red team, congratulates me on the sack and forced fumble that turned the game around, and Ryan from accounting says, ―It‘s a tall order to block this motherfucker!‖ while pointing at me. And I think of Brent Utah, the owner of my pride, sitting at home, petrified of failure, and he can have his God-damned Cowboys.

like slow heat in first rain. I turn to my legs and see lonely toes, splayed, dry, pale, ten bodies their faces shrouded, those opaque nails shrouds. I cannot close my eyes. Sleep is not an option. I hear the newspaper - another, then another - drop through the door. Yesterday's paper flaps in the wind, the same message, the sound unbearable. They're ravens around my ears, cawing: "Didn't she know? Caw. Caw. She was also a Mom. Caw Caw. A Mom. Caw Caw." * My eyes settle on Mom's picture. 1990. Ten years ago. The dead whitetail. Her proud eyes, one hand holding the antlers, one around the rifle. Strange. I feel calmer staring at the barrel. Imagining her with the pistol now, that pistol she carried two days ago in her jacket, into the building, to the meeting. Her anger doused in a smokescreen, amidst screams. "You get straight back home from school." Her last words to me that morning. I wonder what her real last words were when she pulled that trigger on them. On herself. Maybe she didn't utter them. Maybe she left me a note, hidden somewhere, where I could it. Only me. She has not left me alone beBecause I Am the Daughter find fore, not for this long, not without telling me Ajay Vishwanathan ___________________________________ where I could find her. our mom's a bitch.” The whitetail in the picture, she seems to Those eyes open when I be staring. Maybe she didn't have the time to close mine. They snap open shut her eyes. like a rusted hinge. So, I fear closing mine. Imagine being afraid of blinking, eyelids heavy, dew-laden leaves, droopy. I flick them wide open. Sleep is not an option. I don't want to see those eyes again, bloodshot, pained, every muscle on her teenage face wrinkling around them, shooting poison darts that don't kill, just numb. Her mouth moving in slow motion, her spittle flying around her face, floating shards of glass that land on my face. “How could she? How dare she? Bitch.” * I don't know where to look. I stare at the sky, I see heaven where Mom might not go. Stare at grass blades but see them nodding around stones, every one a tombstone. I gawk at the empty road but see ghosts of emptiness rise

“Y

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Sunfish Marc Gulezian _________________________________________________________________________________________________

A

s a young boy I took the Eucharist, played little league, and was taken fishing. On the inside of my tackle box‘s cover was a sticker that mapped out the phases of the moon. The most important words are felt before they‘re spoken. (―Eucharist‖ proved the contrary, having been pounded into our heads months before the actual ritual.) Anticipation began on the banks of a pond that sat between a corn field and my future high school‘s baseball diamond - with the moon, the fingering of lures, the organizing of sinkers and bobbers, the expectancy of pulling something unseen from the depths and into the world. Between my first fish (a compact, bony, energetic bluegill) and my most recent fish (last week‘s passive, patient, six-inch rainbow), there have been a thousand others; and as much as I would like to say that each fish had its own personality, was caught under a different set of internal, adventure-seeking, nature-felt circumstances, I can‘t. It would be closer to the truth to admit as time brings me toward the debt owed to nature I‘ve spent far too many idle hours on the banks between land and water, anticipating without reflecting. Metaphors that aren‘t accidents are a waste of time. The problem is usually in a set-up (two lines or two chapters or twelve one-hour classes) which exposes a literalness that wants to believe the world is constantly repeating itself in a myriad of mysterious ways that somehow we all understand. But the set-up, and the usually unspectacular metaphor, reveals a personality that deep down believes everything has already happened, and will probably not happen again. Most of us think like this whether we deal with metaphors or not. We do remember our lives (and sometimes even the fish we caught), but only in respect to those particular moments that strike us as the most important. From this we come to an understanding of our

Selves, and perhaps never have to deal with the junk clogging up our insides. Are the forgotten moments molding us even if we don‘t remember them? Or does the fact that we don‘t bring these moments forth somehow erase them, and therefore these lost moments have nothing to do with who we are? Are the lost moments so fragile that to take possession of them would mean we ourselves would become fragile, overloaded with too much otherwise hidden stuff better left unearthed? Do we secretly fear this weakness, this vulnerability? Does the universe need to possess our secret moments so it can continue to eternally repeat itself? Is this why an accidental wellturned metaphor can be recognized by anyone, and ultimately transcends time and writing? The pond I pulled my first fish from and in subsequent years scores more - was limnologically misnamed Boat House Lake. Although nobody could prove it, the mangled and half-roofed shack that bestowed a name upon the pond had apparently at one time been a privately owned piece of property that I suspect judging from how small the pond was - held nothing more than a couple canoes. Now ramshackle and littered with all sorts of things like broken glass of more colors than one realized glass came in, non-stop cushion foam seeping from a moldy beige-colored sofa, used rubbers, and the faded blue of pop-top RC Cola cans1, it was, for those of us who repeatedly escaped into the chaotic arrangements of Neil Peart drum solos, enjoyed math on a level we weren‘t supposed to, and felt a deep animosity toward our 1 Time

has led me to believe there‘s little distinction between Boat House Lake‘s boat house and the setting from REM‘s breakthrough video ―It‘s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)‖ At one point during the video (app. 2:50 on any of the several YouTube clips), a young boy stands among a mess of memories, holding a B&W photo of a man from another time. Behind the boy cows passively fill the background. Of all the images in the frame, it‘s the cows that most represent me as young fisherboy. And possibly fishing in general. Anticipating, passive, un-reflective cows. Although I do have a hard time separating the cows from the boy.

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parents, a place where a lot of first things happened. Initiation into a group requires alienation as a prerequisite.2 At the age of twelve I touched Laurie Goldberg‘s warm and welcoming bush while The Beastie Boy‘s ―No Sleep Till Brooklyn‖ pounded simply and rawly from what now seems like a humungous radio; for the first time puked as a result of drinking too much; and began a love affair with marijuana that to this day I still can‘t shake. I guess this was an initiation; we did what we could. The moon, in its various stages, was always visible from inside the squalid, not- quite-roofed boat house. But years before and not more than fifty feet from the boat house, I had stood, Zebco in hand, friend by my side, pulling sunfish after sunfish from the pond. We had unearthed a zillion night crawlers the evening before, rummaging under big wet leaves and the general detritus and disaster of the patch of woods‘ floor behind my house. We caught so many fish that day I think we became bored. Eventually we began to heave the small fish over our shoulders and into the dense mass of green and brown that surrounded the pond. The sound of small animals moving in upon prey could be heard in between our laughter and fiddling with the contents of the tackle box. One fish met with an even worse fate: we stuck small sticks into its eyeballs and placed it back into the lake. It swam around in circles, with a murky red sky streaming upwards from the corners of its eyes. What died with that fish? One thing? A million things? A million things that might have been? Does the universe have a memory? If the universe can‘t remember then there is only stick, fish, blood, and an insurmountable amount of initiations into a world that we are alienated from over and over again. I never stopped fishing. I can‘t not live within the proximity of fresh water. I‘ve fished big and small lakes and rivers in Maine, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, and Alabama. I‘ve owned a dingy with a small trolling motor and

have pulled 4lb., 6lb., 8lb. largemouth bass out from their depths on days that other fisherman have gone home empty handed. I have forsaken spin casting in favor of the more ―pure‖ fly fishing. I dry fly fish only, that being the purest of the pure. I release everything I catch. That passive, patient, six-inch rainbow that gulped my barbless caddis last week, I deftly released without even touching her and thereby disrupting the thin film of grease that covers her body and is important to the natural symmetry, the oneness, which is her rightful fate within her surroundings. Yet, the dream always returns, the bludgeoned and blinded fish that I witnessed as a young boy, the fish that had let me witness it. Reality should cure dreams as much as dreams cure reality, but the dream, the spiked fish, never slips away in the morning. It‘s the memory of the universe, and as important of a reason as any other that I write.

2 How

can one feel alienated from anything without having first been connected to something?

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More Recommended Short Stories by Former Major League Baseball Players Greg Gerke _________________________________________________________________________________________________

B

uddy Biancalana ―The Mysteries of Bacon Bits‖ Good Stories Summer 2007 — A man with no arms sits at his work desk in Twisp, Washington while examining bacon bits with a microscope.

they return to the East River the safe is gone. Bake McBride ―That‘s Awesome‖ Banjo Vol. 2 No. 8 — Two college friends climb to the top of a Holiday Inn while discussing Spinoza.

Herb Winningham ―My Country‖ Artz Vol. 1 No. 2 — A former rugby player steals four pounds of kielbasa to feed his family. His wife, a former Grammy winner, eventually finds a large field to shoot the moon with a shotgun.

Mike Flanagan ―Out of Time‖ Cudgelsmith Spring 2007 — Rocky times at a piano school. The ghost of a former teacher starts putting the big piano out of tune before recitals, while two living teachers fall in love but soon discover they are brother and sister. On top of this China atDwight Bernard ―Halitosis‖ Dock Light Vol. 48 tacks the United States. No. 69 — A man with plaque gets into a fight with two men. The two men die. Doc Medich ―I‘m Not Your Sister and Where‘s My Frying Pan‖ Blandishment Fall 2007 — Lord Bruce Kison ―Burgundy Dreams‖ Porsche Annual Fountain needs a new court jester. Queen Lydia 2007 — A middle-aged couple flies to Oslo after develops a rash and searches the forests around some mistaken advice from the woman‘s co- Quinxdorf in vain for St. John‘s Wort. The new worker at Walgreens that they make good Bur- jester brings a frog who sings Elvis songs. The gundy wine there. rash miraculously disappears. Onix Concepcion ―Leaving Ellen‖ New Cool Mag Spring 2007 — Fourteen years after the Challenger explosion a boy wakes up and yells for his mother to unplug her curling iron before she goes to taco night at the Irish pub.

Sparky Lyle ―Tonight‘s Dish‖ Smokestack Quarterly No. 22 — A lonely dog meets the man who created the Betamax. They walk by the river. Amos Otis ―Go to Sleep‖ Avocado Review March 2007 — A teenage girl unleashes a powerful virus she makes in chemistry class. She once obsessed about toothpaste but now she can have it all she wants because everyone‘s teeth fall out and the market sinks.

Jamie Cocanower ―Pancakes‖ Formica No. 9 — The troubled history of Jessica Bowser, a jazz singer. She goes to Cuba and falls in love but gains weight. Who gains weight as they fall in love? No can explain it. People stop going to her concerts. Whitey Herzog ―We Don‘t Need No Badges‖ Angel Dust Vol. 67 — Don, an ugly former major Dane Iorg ―Enter Trouble‖ Atlantic Ocean Review league umpire, spends a year in Mexico trying to Winter 2006 — Two former football players find Picasso‘s hometown. steal the Mona Lisa from New York City. Taking the names Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, the duo hide the painting in a water proof safe in the East River and go out to pick up chicks. When [ 26 ]


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Our Boys Mark Cugini___________________________________________________________________________________________________

T

wo weeks after Mom left, my father put a sizable handle on an underdog in the tournament. This was March, 1987; I was eight, with pigtails and a pair of brown hand-me-down school shoes. ―Providence,‖ he told me in the kitchen of our one bedroom apartment on Moultrie Street, stuffing bright-green tickets into the pocket of his worker‘s shirt. His beard was still a bright red back then, his arms muscular. ―Billy Donovan can do it all. He‘s an Irish Bob Cousy.‖ Looking back, we shouldn‘t have been too surprised when she left. My few memories from the previous year are sensory: the phone ringing in the 9th inning of game six; James Brooks and Stanley Wilson each scoring on 50yard rushes on a cold night in Foxboro, two weeks before Christmas; my father pointing at a player in a red jersey nicknamed Knuckles and whispering ―he‘s trouble, always has been‖; my grandfather lighting his cigar as the Rockets pulled their starters and sent them to the locker room; The Canadians rushing towards the hallway and The Garden erupting; a bottle of whiskey shattering in front of the television when Marty Barrett struck out; the sound of my mother sniffling when they wheeled Len Bias‘s lifeless body out of the hospital, his Nikes hanging off the gurney; the fighting; the engine of Mother‘s Chevette crushing mounds of snow beneath its wheels as I tried to sleep. She left on a Tuesday, before I got back from school. I came home to a shell of a living room—empty boxes on the plastic-covered loveseat, photo books piled next to the console television, the crocheted throws left in a pile on the upturned shag rug. Atop of the OTB odds sheets and box scores pulled from the Herald and that covered the kitchen table sat a small envelope addressed to James (not Jimmy or Jim, but James). Instead of prying, I made a peanutbutter sandwich and saved a half of it for my

father, cutting the stale crust off and dunking it in milk. She left a yellow legal pad on my bed, next to the stuffed brown bear my father bought me after he swept the Wales Conference Semis: ―princess, when I come back I‘ll be riding that pony you‘ve always wanted and. And. And.‖ She said other things, in long-run on sentences, but I can‘t remember the particulars. I never wanted a pony. Nothing about my father‘s demeanor had changed: after all, March brought the end of shoveling and the promise of Cinderella sweeps. Without her interference, the kitchen began to look like a war room on draft day: old issues of Sports Illustrated and Baseball Digest piled on the drying rack, Eddie Andelman yelling about the 5th man in the rotation on the radio. My father paced around the table and I would watch him, tasting the whiskey on his breath and staring at the overtime in the crows of his eyes from across the room. I heard the words my father spoke into the phone and imagined them as desserts in fancy restaurants we‘d never go to-- parlay, a mango-and-strawberry dish served with pound cake and marshmallows; a teaser, a dollop of whip cream with rainbow jimmies on goldlaced porcelain, to be consumed before two scoops of mint ice cream. Since we didn‘t have the car, my father held my hand on the walk down Dorchester Street. He‘d hold me up by the wrist when I slipped on the sheets of black ice, and pulled my winter hat off by the ball when we walked into Billy Goodmans. The men with thick mustaches and Red Sox hats nodded at us, then returned to their beverages and the grainy television at the end of the bar, almost in unison. I sat at a table by myself for the first two games, drawing zoo animals with a red crayon and drinking a Cherry soda. Father brought me over some stale pub mix, patting my head with his palm. The bar smelt like Grampa‘s, the men‘s room like urine

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and lemons. A week after beating ‗Bama by 20, The Friars were the princes of New England sports. They were our boys, products of working-class families from Ashland and Pawtucket. In the schoolyard, the boys imitated Donovan‘s crossover and one-handed-pull-up with an imaginary basketball, the same boys who, years later, I tasted and touched in backseats, their studded belts at their ankles, The Bruisers playing on their radios. My father, having covered his hedges, gloated on the phone and replaced his empty bottle of Bushmills with Tullamore. He bought me a tiny pair of green rubber boots. More was coming, though, when Providence finished of the Hoyas. Only now do I wonder where my mother went that March, if she took the long ride down 495 towards her sister‘s house in Franconia, dropping her bags at the foot of the door and weeping. The most appealing theory I‘ve concocted places her in a run-down hotel in Worcester with another man, a thinner one who smelt of something besides motor oil and washer fluid; the most absurd, she turned tricks for coke in Springfield alleyways. These are the things you think of at 30, stuck in your own loveless marriage, with your own intolerable child. Goodmans was packed the evening of the Elite Eight game, with both regulars and friends my father used as beards when he‘d ran up a large debt with his bookie. I watched the game from a bar stool, dangling my feet off it, fascinated that I was so far from the floor. Pints slammed when Donovan stole the ball at half court and threw a no-look pass to one of the two black guys on Providence‘s squad. When they took a 7-point lead into the half, my father high-fived everyone around him and lit their cigarettes. The bartender brought me a basket of French fries, my father a plate of flounder. I don‘t think we had to pay for them. I think not about the Final Four game, nor do I remember details from them. I assume, though, that something was broken on the walk home—most likely a car window, or maybe a

mailbox. While I try not to picture his liver, blackened and swollen and porous, failing him while he stood in line at the DMV, or the bounced rent checks and the two jobs I held in high school to supplement his habits. When I try to remember my father I think of the clapping, the shots being poured, the fists being pounded on the bar when the buzzer went off. I remember my father holding his bearded cheek in his palm, smirking and shaking his head when folks put their arm around him and patted his shoulder—then, I remember watching him push through the crowd, his hands underneath my armpits and lifting me, his face red and tired, and I remember squealing as he pressed his lips to my forehead and kiss me, long and hard, and his bear-sized arms squeezing my body tightly. When my father passed last year, I returned to our old home to rid it of the mess of almanacs and newspapers that had been hoarded in the kitchen. My son sat on the plastic couch in the living room, playing his Game Boy. At the bottom of the pile on top of a bright green table cloth sat an old Herald cover, the colors running into one another and the inner pages discarded years before. It showed Donovan leaping into one of his teammate‘s arms, his shorts hiked up his tone, tender thighs. I placed it in my pocket and tossed my father‘s printed biography into the steel trash can at my side.

Team Captain

H

Jeremy Byars ________________________________________

e wipes dust from the glass trophy case And tells himself it‘s from the steady traffic Of students passing through the high school lobby. He reads the names engraved on the gold plated Base of the trophy from the Clinic Bowl In 1989; he can‘t drive To town without thinking of that year, his friends, Helmets raised in the air as he body slammed The quarterback from DCA on fourth down. And every game he now attends he‘s launched

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Back to his playing days by men his age, And older, boasting All-State awards, Remembering games won, forgetting those lost. The team photo leans behind the trophy— Three dozen names, faces he can‘t force himself To forget, recalling days spent playing games On the Atari with teammates, smoking joints Behind the girls softball field, and his steady Girlfriend, cheerleading captain, who greeted him With beer and backseat sex after each win. His grip tightens on the vacuum cleaner hose As his boss flips the light switch and orders him To start with the front office. He steps away But looks back once more and sees himself Clad in football pads, Tiger blue and white, Ignoring his reflection in the glass.

Across the Middle

W

Cameron Conaway_____________________________________

ith pistol‘s point pressed into my temple they led me halfway down the staircase. With boot in the small of my back they sent me tumbling down the rest. All for what? Because I was an eight year old who walked in on their orgy. A woman‘s tanned, sweat-glistened right thigh, several naked torsos and a Paul McCartney poster. My father brought me to Lordknowswhere, Pennsylvania for a Super Bowl XXVIII party. Cowboys vs. Bills. January 30, 1994. I liked Emmitt Smith #22. He liked alcohol whatever proof. I stood only to walk to the kitchen to get a bowl of deer bologna – the kind with the cheddar cheese in it. Standing kept me eye-level with genitals and asses, made me feel awkward, guilty even when the drunks turned and stumbled over me. Even now I feel uncomfortable standing amongst those much shorter or taller. Sitting seems to generally level people out so presence doesn‘t take precedence over conversation. Words. Smells: Beer on cat hair laced carpet. Yes, with the kickoff to start the second half I accidentally kicked my father‘s beer over as I made my way from bologna chips and dip

station to the floor in front of the television. ―Jesus Christ O‘mighty Cameron. Why don‘t you go play with the other kids upstairs?‖ This came after he said, ―I oughta fan your ass for this,‖ which he proceeded to do in front of the ten or so other adults in the room. It hurt a little, but he didn‘t embarrass me by pulling my jeans down. So I felt grateful, and like a complete fucking idiot for spilling his beer. What is wrong with me? Why do I do stuff I don’t mean to do – stuff I obsess over not doing – like dropping snow cones or knocking over drinks? I must be retarded like he says. I‘d make ―retard faces‖ in bathroom mirrors because it made me feel better knowing and seeing than not knowing and not seeing and getting beat regardless. Two reasons I wasn‘t with the other kids: (1) They weren‘t other kids. They all seemed to be at least 18. (2) I liked Emmitt, that ―smooth nigger‖ as the party people said. After he fanned my ass I sat down on a big circular plush red rug. It was halfway between the staircase (where the ―other kids‖ were) and the couch where my father sat watching the game. Cross-legged, with a bowl of deer bologna in my lap, I felt safely dangerously alone. Safely because my father was just right there. Dangerously because the ―other kids‖ were just right upstairs and my father was just right there. What if they saw me sitting here like an idiot? Would they call me retarded? What if he saw me sitting here like an idiot – would I again get my ass fanned? From couch: ―Son of a bitch there goes that Emmitt nigger,‖ said the fat bearded man sitting beside my father. They rooted for the Bills because this was their fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance and they lost the previous three. Plus Steelers fans hate the Cowboys. From upstairs: ―Go Emmitt go! Touchdown!‖ I butt-scooted closer to the staircase, further from the couch. From upstairs: ―Best fuckin back in the league baby!‖ I full-out sprinted to the staircase before

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nerves settled in. They like Emmitt too, I thought. I want to go tell them how the barber carved # 22 in the back of my hair for last year’s Super Bowl. Slowly, and clutching the right handrail to stabilize my nerves, I made it to the top of the steps. From room: ―Yes! Yes! Fuck yes!‖ Emmitt fans. From me, while poking the door open: ―Hey my mom let me get Em…‖ ―Get the fuck out of here. Someone get him the fuck out of here!‖ There were hands on each of my shoulders. They spun me away to face the stairs before I felt the hard cold slide up past my cheekbone. I couldn‘t speak or think. All I saw: the heavy flash of a black metal pistol in hand – my father had these. All I heard: the loud highpitched piercing hum of silence. My knees were brush-burned and bleeding when I finally reached the bottom. From kitchen: ―Cam, your son just fell down the steps.‖ While walking towards me from the couch: ―Christ Cameron, what is wrong with you? That‘s it, we‘re leaving as soon as this game‘s over!‖ He went back to the couch. I sat down across the middle of the red rug. Then I adjusted myself so I was exactly halfway between them and him. What is wrong with me? I was obsessed with getting in the middle. I had no deer bologna bowl to occupy me. Middles can be invisible, I thought. Like if I am directly exactly precisely between two things I can go invisible if I want. Everybody was in the living room so I stood for awhile adjusting my feet by millimeters to find the direct exact precise center. Then I sat. Then I combed the carpet fibers with my fingers so they all faced away.

A Bird in the Hand

T

Tamara Shores _____________________________________

hat afternoon I slogged down B Street to the gym. It was early spring and warm, and the front door was open with a big floor fan blowing gym air into the street. The Farm & Feed across the street had the same setup and Lincoln Avenue smelled of oats and b.o. and lilac. The gym was two long rooms, a former store front paneled in rough pine boards. Along one wall were mirrors, and on the other were taxidermy animals–moose, elk, deer, antelope, buffalo–wearing Christmas ball ornaments for earrings. An open bag of Cornuts sat on the front counter. There was cologne, too, and perfume, chlorine and Lysol. There were people working out that I would not recognize because Kara and I had been coming in the mornings, when the gym was dim and sleepy, when the Farm Report played over the radio as taciturn men lifted weights, plump Mormon housewives tucked inside the Nautilus equipment, and us, two high school girls, pedaled aimlessly on the LifeCycles toward a future which neither of us ever really believed would be ours. Now the afternoon sun was cutting squares of light on the brown carpet, and that's where I first saw him, toward the back of the gym, framed inside his own bright square. Wide chest, thick legs, spiky bleached hair the color of lemons, narrow eyes, thick jaw, a tan that was almost orange. He wore a tank top cut open down the sides, tiny pink nipples like buds popping out each side of the shirt. I lowered my head and went through the gym to the LifeCycles in the back. I cranked away at the bike, trying not to think about him, but that was all I could do, so I thought about thinking about him, wondering why I would be thinking about him at all. Up until this point I had only ever thought about wan boys who listened to mix tapes or rode skateboards. Boys who weighed less than me and had dark hair that fell over their broody eyes. My father was a doctor and my mother was a failed artist. We skied. Beyond the doorway the Meathead extended his

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leg on a weight bench and reached for his toes. His back rose in thick cords, his red-spotted skin glittering wet. Then he went around the squat rack, added several round plates, tightened his gloves, got under the bar and lifted off again. His thighs strained inside his sweatpants, became bulging ovals. He went down and up, expelling a big burst of air with each squat. On the third squat he farted, a little squeaky fart, something like a small bird. * The last thing Kara said to me was, ―Models work out in the morning. When their metabolisms are low. To rid the body of extra calories. To burn real fat. Fat people work out in the afternoon.‖ My mother said Kara was too fragile for me, that we were not meant to be friends. ―Cute girls are a waste of time,‖ she said. My sister, who did want to be a model, agreed. ―Kara‘s mother was a beauty pageant model,‖ she said. ―Not a real model. Not like Mrs. Bacon.‖ Mrs. Bacon taught college prep English and had once been a model in New York City, had even appeared in Vogue. She was thin but had a dumpy butt, eyes like Christmas lights, and a bobbing round head. My sister adored Mrs. Bacon and I feared her because she was a real person, had been to New York City, and I always sensed she could see right through me, to the wish—at once deep and shallow—to be seen, to matter, as we all do at that age, where upon awakening from our natural solipsism, we encounter the terrifying anonymity of adulthood. Every afternoon at four the Meathead pulled up in a chopped red pickup with tinted black windows and bright silver mag wheels. Once I figured out what time he came in, I started going to the gym later and later until I discovered what time he left. For three hours he worked mostly in silence, leaving at seven. One afternoon I was riding the LifeCycle, my arms pumping the articulated handle bars, when Buddy came to the back room and after making small talk, I nodded toward the Meathead and said, ―Does that guy have a life?‖

―Frank? Oh, he's training. Powerlifting.‖ On the walls there were pictures of Buddy. He was much younger and tanner in the pictures, but the muscles were almost the same, just softer looking now, like the difference between pretzels from the mall and pretzels in the bag. Then Buddy said, ―I've been thinking, Spencer. You want to give powerlifting a try? I could put together a workout for you, if you're interested.‖ I envisioned myself with ponderous muscles, struggling to navigate the high school's crowded halls, saying ―Excuse me,‖ with a deep voice. The most butch thing a girl could yet do in 1988 was play on the volleyball team, maybe throw a shot-put. I was hopeless in all social settings, but lifting weights would be beyond the pale, so I said, ―Oh yeah, right,‖ and snorted sarcastically and Buddy shrugged. No harm in asking. The next day I appeared in the front room and asked Buddy to show me how to do calf building exercises on a sit-down machine: just building a little muscle tone, nothing more, but mostly so that I could watch Frank in the mirror. The next week I added a few hammer curls with dumbbells to give my arms a little shape. Then came lunges, a set of squats on the squat rack, triceps extensions. With each new exercise, Buddy coached me on proper form. The more free weights I added, the more I enjoyed the way they felt, the heat in my limbs, the graceful precision of moving the weight through space. It was not simply the weight, but the way you moved the weight, isolating a single muscle or a group of muscles, and it reminded me of ballet in its repetition of precision, a kind of pointed meditation. The next time Buddy offered to put together a workout for me I faked indifference at first, but then I told him yes, I'd like that, and then added, ―I mean, whatever.‖ Buddy weighed me and wrote my weight on a card: one hundred twenty three pounds. He warned me that I‘d gain ten pounds in the first year. I turned sixteen that summer and permed

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my hair, began wearing peach-colored gym shorts and miniature barbell earrings. I studied the map of the body beside the squat rack, learning the names of all the muscles. When school started my gastrocnemius formed two heart-shaped lumps, my quadriceps wobbled heavily over my knees, and two soft plums for traps stood up on either side of my neck. In October a poster went up in the locker room, announcing the next regional Powerlifting competition would be in March and in our town. Six other guys at the gym began training, adding Saturday mornings to the routine when everyone could lift together. Vaughn had graduated a couple years earlier but still hung around town, working for his family's dairy. Ugly Perry, a thirty-something bachelor who was built like a water tower: a round body on stilts. Jim, Reese, Lonnie, and Gary were local guys who worked in all the small places that kept a small town going, the places that no one thinks of when they think of jobs. None of them were as big as Frank even though they all took steroids. I learned to look at Frank indirectly, to check him in my peripheral vision, hoping to catch him looking at me, and to turn away as he came toward me, feeling the movement of air pushing ahead of his body, finding obstacle against my own. One day Buddy came in carrying lumber and told us he'd read about a new calf exercise. He put a couple of 2x4s in the squat rack and then had Frank stand on the boards and lower his heels off the boards and then lift up on his toes. Then he called me over. ―Climb up on his back,‖ Buddy said. Frank grimaced. He dropped to one knee and I climbed on, smelling the juniper scent of his thread-bare tank top and seeing up close the red welts of acne on his back. My thighs squeezed his hips as he began doing calf lifts while Buddy counted reps. I thought I saw Buddy chuckling as I tried not to feel the heat of Frank between my legs. But I was on his back. Some things the mind cannot ignore. For a week calf lifts were a regular part of Frank‘s routine, and for a week I rode Frank's

back, perfecting the art of clearing one's mind, somehow resisting the urge to lay my cheek against his glossy greater rhomboid. At the end of the week Frank told Buddy I wasn't heavy enough. Then it was Vaughn‘s turn and then Buddy himself climbed on Frank‘s back, and one time I got on Buddy‘s back as he got on Frank‘s and in the mirrors we looked like African bed beetles humping in time to Buddy's counting. I continued using the calf machine, but even loaded with four forty-five-pound plates, it was like tapping my feet under a school desk. One day I asked Buddy if one of the guys could get up on me. We started with Gary, the smallest, and then worked up through Reese and Vaughn. Vaughn was just over two hundred pounds, mostly because he was tall, and was still easy to do. I started to add a little flourish to my lift and then someone said, ―Get her to lift Frank.‖ Then they were all saying, ―Yeah,‖ and ―Do it.‖ Frank shook his head, like he couldn't believe his life had come to this: some high school girl was about to lift him on her back. He was two-forty and so I braced myself to let him on. His massive thigh was hot against my hips, and when the other leg went up I swerved a little, not so much because of the weight but because I could feel his nuts against the small of my back. * Kara showed up one afternoon while I was doing warm-up crunches in the back room. We hadn't been on speaking terms since I quit our morning workouts and she acted surprised to see me. ―I thought you were coming in here for the hot tub and the tanning bed,‖ she said, standing over me. She had short blond hair, pale brown freckles speckling her nose, and a wicked camel‘s toe that actually looked sort of cool on her in that it made her look hot and brazen, which somehow seemed innocent and cheerful on her. ―You‘re doing those all wrong,‖ she said. ―My mom says you should breathe out when you go up and inhale when you go down.‖ As I came up I inhaled and discovered it was easier. She sat down on the floor and did

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crunches beside me, doing one for every three of mine. Frank went through the room to the locker room in the back. She giggled and said, ―Check out the Meathead.‖ There was a fifteen pound plate on the floor next to me and I put it on my belly, folding my arms over it. Kara sat up and said, ―What are you doing?‖ ―Resistance.‖ ―Why?‖ ―Because.‖ Frank came out and as he went by, he said, ―Keep it loose, Spencer.‖ Kara watched him go out and then she said, ―He knows you?‖ ―That's just Frank.‖ She lay back down, crunched once or twice, and then turned on her side while I finished. After crunches I did squats, lunges, and low-weight/high-rep leg extensions. Kara went to the LifeCycle but ten minutes later she came back and watched while we did high-weight squats. The guys acted goofy with her in the room, talking loudly, slapping each other. No one farted. The next day Kara came back. Again she rode the LifeCycles and then sat on one of the benches while we did dead-lifts. Competition was two months away and our weights were getting bigger by the day. The sequence in the last weeks involved progressively higher weights and fewer lifts, culminating in a pre-competition week of strictly heavy lifts. Kara hung around until it was time to go and then offered me a ride home. When she asked what I was doing, I told her, and I could see her thinking. It made me want to tell her to go back to her model‘s morning workout, skinny butts and dieting, but instead I suggested she try training too. ―You won‘t be ready for competition,‖ I said. ―But you‘d be able to spend a lot of time in the gym. With the guys or whatever.‖ ―I could give you a ride every day. We could go together.‖

car.‖

―That‘s alright,‖ I said. ―My dad got me a ―Oh yeah? What kind?‖ I took me a long moment to come up with an answer. ―A Valiant,‖ I said, wondering if that was even a car. ―It‘s a car. It‘s green. It has wheels. My dad's doing some work on it. It needs an oil shaft or something.‖ ―That‘s cool.‖ * Every day for a week Kara sauntered in late, sparkling in some new outfit. With Kara around, the guys were always wrestling and hitting each other. They hung around and talked a lot, too, though Frank stuck to his routine and so did I. We worked quietly side-by-side while the guys followed Kara around, showing her how to do everything. She had to use five pound weights for curls and triceps, an empty bar for squats, even an empty bar for dead-lifts. The next week as Kara wobbled in the squat rack, Frank watched her in the mirrors while he set a pin in the other squat rack. Finally he went over to her, offering to show her how to squat properly. I was lying on a bench, doing flys with twenty-five pound weights. He got behind her and held her hips as she dropped slowly into a squat. She didn't even have a bar. They went up and down, slow and steady, her rear-end pushing back between his legs. She giggled and his head dropped shyly. My chest flared with little pockets of heat. His smile was astonishing. Kara started showing up on time and though her lifting improved, there was still something about her that I had no confidence in until one night, when she and I were in the women‘s locker room. She got out of the shower and flexed in the mirror. Gorgeous round biceps stood up on her arms She turned to the side and flexed in a body builder‘s pose: one arm straight down, a curled fist, the other hand holding her wrist. She grimaced and then V‘s popped out on her triceps, little wing shapes on her delts and pecs. ―If my arms look like this,‖ she said. ―You must look amazing.‖ ―I don't think so.‖

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―Let‘s see them.‖ I pushed the sleeves up on my T-shirt and flexed. My biceps sort of pushed against my arm fat. I flexed harder and they drooped. I flexed again and got them up but then they sort of collapsed. I turned and quickly flexed my triceps, and a faint upside down U appeared on the back of my arms. Kara looked confused and then she said, ―That‘s alright. At least you have great legs.‖ She flexed her spindle legs next and these, too, unfolded into a vivid display of musculature. Soon after Frank noticed and he began talking in the gym, telling us what talent Kara had. A natural. He modified her workouts to coincide with his own. By the end of January, when our Saturday workouts were lasting four hours, she was lifting almost as much as me. * Several women in the gym were also training for competition. Most were in their thirties and forties, with kids and careers. Half used steroids and half didn't, and a bitter battle waged among them. Tracy Charboneau's boyfriend got her started and shortly after she went from petite blonde to thick woman with back acne and a blistered face. Kim Holly, a mother of four who worked at the Tupperware plant, trained in the morning and sometimes she stopped by the gym in the afternoons just to say hi. She asked about school, our current bests, our cars (I kept with the story about the Valiant and Kim seemed impressed that I drove a classic car), and one day she said something about ―big fat Tracy and her bonehead boyfriend‖ not being able to have sex anymore because his junk had shriveled up and hers had dried shut. Kara and I tittered even though ―shriveled up‖ was an image as mysterious as healthy, but the lecture was unnecessary. We didn't want big muscles and back acne, not on our own bodies at least. * Saturday morning workouts were slow and social, everyone rolling in a kind of quiet, waiting for the winter sun to rise over the roof of Shepherd's Drive-In across C Street. The first hour was an extended period of warming up—

slow rides on the LifeCycles, free weights, stretching. By nine o'clock someone would go and turn the music up, and there would be an hour of noise: weights clanking, machines banging away, the radio blasting Iron Maiden or AC/ DC. Faces would start to open and smile, brief conversations floating below the noise until the tape ended and we started in on the big lifts. What was impossible the Saturday before was suddenly possible after the week's practice. Frustrated or thrilled voices rose, backs were slapped, bodies grew hot and depleted until everyone was laying around on benches or the floor, leaning on stacks of weights or bars. As noon approached, the quiet settled in again and one at a time we drifted out the front door until it was only Buddy left and he would leave, too, locking the doors for the weekend. One Saturday I was sitting on the floor, doing leg stretches while Ugly Perry sat under the window, stroking his smooth round belly as winter sun glowed white around him. He was ugly in that way that I would one day think was cute, like a toad was cute, or a lobster. He was older than most the guys and was laughing as I chattered, telling spastic stories about school, my father being an unrepentant asshole, fighting with my older sister (she'd broken my nose the year before with a cast-iron ladle; I put her in a cast for a hairline fracture in her forearm). I would not have been able to know or say it then, but our family was a fairly conventional disaster, and I was only beginning to gather up the stars that would one day form the constellation of our particular misery. I was looking out the window behind him, trying to tell him what it was like being sixteen in a Idaho dairy town, when he interrupted me and said, ―Did you know you have pretty eyes? The way the color changes in the light.‖ While one part of me flinched at the compliment, thinking this was kind of pervy, a thirty-year-old man admiring my eyes, my eyes! Flat, dull, gray: these were not by any stretch my best asset, and this was the most transparent of all compliments, any dope likes being told she has pretty eyes. But then this other part of me knew he was being sincere, and that he guessed

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at my need to hear something encouraging. He never spoke to me like that again but in some ways he saved me, offering a strange token, not the compliment so much as the gesture of being seen and understood. It was a generous confirmation of existence. Over the years I have since met men who would remind me of Perry, and I would come to understand this deeply: that he knew what he was saying that day and why it was necessary. ―Give me a break,‖ I said and told him I wanted to try bodybuilding. He laughed. ―No way, Spencer. You‘re not built for that. For one thing you‘re too short. Your legs and arms aren‘t long enough. You‘d look ridiculous.‖ I dropped my head and reached for my foot, pretending to stretch but really trying to hide the tears that had sprung up. Bodybuilding, it turned out, was not just work, lots of lifting, posing and dieting. It had never occurred to me that I'd have to be anything more special than crazy. ―Besides, why would you want to go and mess your body up like that anyway?‖ ―I just thought it would be cool,‖ I said, looking up. ―Hey, don‘t feel bad,‖ he said. ―There are worse things than being short. Look what I have to live with.‖ He shook his hard, round belly and stood up, tightened his gloves, and went off to do free weights. * For the later parts of training and competition you wear a specially-designed suit to support your joints. Buddy helped me order one, offering to pay for it in exchange for cleaning the locker rooms every night for a month. The suit arrived one Saturday. I held it up and told Buddy they sent the wrong size. The black suit was smaller than a pair of children‘s lederhosen. Buddy said it had to fit tight to hold your hips and back firmly in place when you lifted. He sent me into the locker room with a bottle of baby powder. I struggled with the suit for fifteen minutes, unable to get it past mid-thigh. After a

while I went to the door and called out. Buddy and Frank came to the locker room. Kara was in Salt Lake with her family for the weekend and I was relieved she wasn't here for the spectacle of my white thighs spilling over the leg openings of the suit. I peeked past the door and told them I couldn't get it on. ―Let‘s take a look,‖ Buddy said. I tugged the bottom of my T-shirt down over my underwear and opened the door. Buddy got behind me and started tugging the suit by one of its shoulder straps, and it inched painfully up my leg. ―You okay?‖ he asked. I said yes and then Frank took the other strap. Together they lifted me off the ground and shook me, pausing now and then to catch their breath. Finally, they shook me into the suit and pulled the straps up over my shoulders. My thighs bulged out the leg holes and my boobs hung over the top like two fists underneath a bunched-up sheet. Buddy and Frank swore the suit would loosen up with time, but they also said it was made with reinforced steel threads, so it was hard to believe them. When I tried a squat that morning, the suit resisted the force of my body trying to bend and literally forced me back to standing, and instantly I added forty-five pounds to my lift card. As soon as we were done I retreated to the women‘s locker room and began the slow process of easing small sections of my skin out of the suit. My hips and thighs were crisscrossed with little cuts, like lashes from a hairthin whip. My skin stung in the open air and I sat, feeling sick but happy. The wounds were souvenirs, of what? Greatness, I suppose, or vulnerability. I traced the lines and imagined Frank's big hands applying healing balms. * At the four-week mark, we started our workout by weighing ourselves. Just as Buddy predicted, I‘d gained almost ten pounds. Kara had lost a couple pounds and announced she was dieting so she could segue into a bodybuilding competition that summer. I rolled my eyes, thinking, how stupid, bodybuilding, why mess your

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body up like that? But the guys were into it. Just before Frank was set to do a big dead-lift that afternoon, Vaughn came over and grabbed him by the shoulders and started yelling at him, saying what a worthless shit bag he was. ―You pussy,‖ he shouted, spit spraying Frank‘s face. ―You‘re nothing but a weak little girl. Can‘t do fucking shit.‖ Frank growled. He stamped his feet and shifted side to side. ―Come on, man. Come on, you pussy,‖ Vaughn slapped Frank‘s shoulders and chest. Frank ripped away and Vaughn kept shouting as Frank stomped around the room. Then he went to the barbell, grabbed the bar with angry fists, and let his hips plunge almost to the floor. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was over six hundred pounds. His head turned deep red, and he roared as he came up. Then he had it against his thighs and Vaughn shouted, ―Set,‖ and Frank let the bar drop. The whole room shook. The shouting had started a week or two earlier and had been a rare thing, but now they were all doing it, all the time. Getting angry was supposed to help you lift more. In the back room there were a couple of chunky ladies on the LifeCycles and they stared at each other, wide-eyed and concerned. ―Spencer, you‘re up.‖ Buddy waved me over as Perry and Vaughn stripped the bar down to two-fifty. ―You want some?‖ Vaughn asked me. Kara stepped forward and said, ―Let me do it.‖ Kara was wearing a bright yellow suit she‘d gotten in Salt Lake City. It was some newer, better kind that slipped on and off easily and made her look beautiful. She came over, grabbed my shoulders, crinkled her nose and started shouting in a weird low voice, ―Come on, pussy! Pussy! You want some, pussy?‖ The guys busted up and I had to wave her away as my body went limp laughing. Vaughn came over then and started from scratch, saying simply, ―Make it strong. Make it big, Spencer.‖

I went to the bar focused and ready. The weight was big. I got the bar up to my knees and then my vision went splotchy. Tears came to my eyes. Blood shot out to my hands and feet and my face throbbed. For the lift to count, the bar had to go above my knees, until I was upright and my knees locked. The bar was just at my shins. I strained harder. Usually I could get through this moment by narrowing my thoughts, making myself feel available for the strength and then it would just sort of flow through me, this strange power, almost relaxing. Even for all the yelling there was quiet. I knew the strength was there. My ears popped and then the will left me. Just gone. I let the bar drop. Then it was Kara‘s turn. They stripped another forty pounds off the bar and Frank got Kara going, shouting things at her that almost sounded dirty for real, and she lifted the weight easily, and afterwards she convinced them to let her try for more. That night Kara waited out front while I cleaned the locker rooms. It wasn't such a big deal, just wiping down the toilets and sinks. The urinal sort of freaked me out. I couldn't ever quite get how that was more useful than a toilet. I peeked inside the lockers which were just tall cupboards, like in a kitchen, and didn‘t have locks. I found Frank‘s T-shirt and put it to my face, inhaling his scent. Juniper bushes or garlic, something like that. It had been a couple months since I‘d last gotten to ride him during calf lifts. His jock was there, too, and I put it briefly to my nose. I had heard of men sniffing girl‘s panties and I wondered what they were looking for in a scent—a distant memory, maybe, something full and vivid that felt like it was right there, like you could touch it and have it. As Kara drove me home, she gushed about breaking two-fifty. I had to tell her how awesome she was and she asked if I really thought so, and I said, ―No reason not to.‖ Then she asked if we could just drive around a little. She talked about how great powerlifting was. How glad she was that we were friends. It felt strange, her telling me these things. There was no reason for her to hang out

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with me. Everyone liked her. She was going to run for Varsity Cheerleader, she said, and I told her she‘d totally make it. She could do back flips. We were a few miles out of town, near the abandoned bird farm, where rare and exotic birds had gone wild and sometimes flushed out of the kosha along the road, when she told me she had always admired me. I laughed. ―You‘re your own person,‖ she said. I laughed again. ―You don‘t care what anyone thinks of you.‖ ―What good does that do?‖ I said. ―How has that helped me? Look at me.‖ She looked over. What she saw was a girl with too-big features–big nose, big eyes, big forehead–a hooded-sweatshirt, a perm that was wilted and flat. A girl who sniffed men‘s underwear. ―You‘re cool,‖ she said. ―You march to a different drummer.‖ ―You‘re high.‖ * As the competition drew closer Kara caught up to me in our lifts, and no matter how hard I worked, I barely stayed ahead of her. One night as we were all complaining of sore muscles, Buddy suggested a soak in the hot tub. Kara and I stripped down to our underwear and sports bras, and the guys wore boxers. It was a big hot tub but we couldn't all fit and the water flowed over the edges onto the floor. Once in the water I didn't dare get out and sit on the side, but Kara did. Her bra and underpants were matching pink and white striped and made of some kind of spandex that looked like a bathing suit. She leaned back on one arm and started telling hilarious stories about growing up on her parent‘s Charloais ranch, tipping cows with her older brothers, driving a three-wheeler into a ditch, that sort of thing. As she leaned back, her stomach flexed. Each square of her abs popped and Vaughn was the first to comment on them, and Frank finally reached forward with his giant hand and traced their contours. Kara guided his fingers over the ridges of each muscle. We were

all silent. * Buddy said that in a competition you can lift ten percent more than your best lift in training. The strategy is to do an easy first lift– guarantee yourself at least that much–your best on your second lift, and a long-shot on your third. The meet was being held in our high school gym on a Saturday and Kara was toddling around, her arms arched stiffly over her sides. Someone was running their tape collection over the P.A. System, mostly playing Poison and a bunch of other music that could make my skin crawl but under the circumstances kept making me feel excited and pumped. ―I want to try 325,‖ I told Buddy. We were filling out my final lift card. He studied my face and I guessed he was trying to decide whether to encourage or discourage me, wondering which would be the more important lesson for a sixteen-year-old. Kara and Frank were underneath the backboard and she was slapping the foam wall behind him. Frank was shouting at her. We were down to our last lifts of the competition. I had made 275 on my second dead lift, but Kara made 285. She beat me in the squats: 235 to my 225. Our benches were about the same and we were in the same weight bracket, but 325 was an inconceivable dead lift for either of us. The steroid women were also at the meet, but only two were in our weight class, so it was a fight for the third-place trophy. ―A bird in the hand,‖ Buddy said, and nudged me gently. I took the pencil and wrote down my final lift. Buddy pulled me to his side and gave me a hearty squeeze. Nearby Kara growled and Frank shook her by the shoulders. I was pretty sure I wouldn't win and that meant I wouldn't have to hang around for the awards ceremony. A goth Mormon kid was expecting me in Twin Falls after the meet. A part of me wanted the trophy so that I could make fun of it, and another part just wanted to win. Powerlifting is a mind game–you can really blow out your ass lifting more than you think you can. You‘ll wreck

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your ass and your knees, but the three-foot-tall trophy is yours to keep. At the mats big guys and little guys were all lined up on metal folding chairs, their thighs and knees smeared in chalk. Someone said the meet was being run by morons. The set-up crew wasn't sequencing right and were loading or unloading the bar on almost every lift. Lifters were getting cold while they waited. I had no idea when they'd have Kara and me lift, but it was supposed to be soon, so I sat in that way everyone sits in those suits: on my tailbone, my legs splayed out straight in front of me. I halfexpected to be discovered by some classmate passing in the hall outside the gym, and I wondered how I would explain what we were doing here with all these middle-aged men and freakish women, the loud grunting and shouting. Recently I'd dyed my hair black and was now wearing a Peter Murphy concert t-shirt and new Docs. In Twin Falls Kenneth was waiting. He had black hair, too, a Galaxy 500, and a giant eyeball painted on his bedroom wall. I was sliding into the next thing and this place had started to feel weird and surreal, and then Frank lumbered over, and seeing me he smiled, taking the chair next to mine. I looked around for Kara but I couldn't see her anywhere. ―You gonna rock this thing or what?‖ I couldn't speak, so I nodded and smiled. His hand landed softly on my back and it was as though it went right through me, each finger expanding and filling my limbs, my head, my body. Then his name was called and he smiled back at me as he went over to the checkin table, handing the judge his card. He'd already won, this lift was just to show his mind-blowing strength, but I gave him the thumbs up anyway. My heart raced. Sweetly was how it felt; not the same as the crazy longing that had preceded it all that year, ending abruptly at the moment that he touched my back. Because I was almost beyond this moment, was sliding into the next thing, I was already aware of the strangeness of love. My love was enormous and yet contained, an ungainly artifact of ten minutes earlier. I loved my love, because feeling love at all can sometimes be

as wonderful as being loved in return. When Kara and I were finally called to lift, she went first with 295. I stood off to the side, and Frank and Buddy and the other guys went right up to the mats and shouted and cheered. She lifted the weight off the ground quickly, and then she stalled. Her neck turned deep red as the bar inched slowly over her chalked knees. I might have shouted encouragement, I don't know, but eventually the bar stopped below her knees. Some kind of highpitch screech exploded out of her, and then there was a moment where the guys all stepped forward as Kara let the bar drop. The weight clanked as it hit the floor and she stayed bent over it, not rising. Frank went to her and led her off the mats, and all I could think was that it didn't matter because she already had me beat. Her best lift was still better than mine, and there was basically no chance I was getting threehundred-twenty-five pounds off the ground. ―Spencer,‖ shouted the judge. I walked over and handed him my lift card. He looked at it and then told the guys loading the bars to put fifteen pounds on either side. They might have looked at me skeptically, and in a way, I wanted them to. I wanted to be scoffed at, so that there was no doubt that what I was doing wouldn't happen. I wiped my hands clean on a damp, dirty towel at the main judge's table. The three judges took their places around the mat, their job to confirm if the lift was complete. Frank and Kara had gone off somewhere, but the other guys were there, Ugly Perry shouting, ―Do it shorty!‖ I stood in front of the bar but I couldn't find the quiet, the moment that said I was ready, that clear space in which to work, but then, deciding it would never come, and in a kind of distracted hurry to get the lift over with so I could drive down to Twin Falls, I dropped down, turned my hands around the bar, and noticed, strangely, how the criss-crossed texture of the bar was caked with yellowed chalk from maybe a hundred lifters' thighs and palms, and it filled me with wonder. How was I a part of this? All these hands and legs and bodies and I was one of

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them. The suit crushed the air from my lungs. My butt dropped and instantly I strained upwards, raising my chin to the rafters, seeing the enormous pendant lights up there, their golden florescence making the room ripple. I kept going up, the pressure in my head humming. My legs felt heavy and remote. My chest kept pushing forward, my back straightening, and the weight with me. I did not tremble, there was no room for superfluous movement, and finally I felt my knees lock, and that I was fully upright, and I opened my eyes, which at some point had closed. Buddy and the other guys were freaking out. Kara and Frank had come back and were shouting, ecstatic, incredulous. The main judge waved his hand, telling me to lower the weight, but I held it there, just a little, somehow knowing with blazing clarity that this would never happen again, that my body would only do this once, and I would never really believe it, and I couldn't let go, not quite yet.

Family Racquet

I

E.R. Carlin ________________________________________

t cracked well, somewhere between shooting stones over the fence and my best post -McEnroe impression. The thing is it sat in the garage, dry-rotted at the head, but dad seemed proud that it was a Wilson Stan Smith signed by Stan Smith, a redundancy to a ten year old. There it was one morning when I stole it to glide along the dead azaleas to the iced school court. I think my goal was to bring ice hockey to tennis, zigzagging and sliding into the post, balls positioned across service box like a defensive line, avoided, only needed jump puck over net to score. The wood scuffed a little more then, splintered grain where gloss had scraped down to soul. This, too, reminded me of my grandfather‘s banjo, he would fingerpick with Robert Johnson late at night. I remember my dad one spring, cleaning out the garage, Black Sabbath and air guitar on that dusted Wilson racquet.

Sometimes it‘s an impossibility to use something to spec. This wood was designed for flex to tennis not memory. Broken then, all seams seemed functionless, but when I cut the cross strings out, the mains sounded almost ragtime.

Down Time on a Constant Pull Stringer

S

E.R. Carlin ________________________________________

tart with mild tendonitis. Something to keep you off the courts for a week. Bend over the mounted racquet as the light fades, a pit of discarded strings coiled beneath. Pull the string through center mains. Notice the whisker of time needling to each hole. You raise the clamp, neaten the thriftless kinks, and balance the weight like silent syllables. There is a mechanical feel to the world. A secondhand stringer aligning the tension of muscle. Bend down eye-level to tie the knot, an invisible decrease as awl slides into dusk. Now the mediation cannot be untied. Start a fish knot, to pull crosses bobbined on retention. You rise and fall, weave the string until moon widens, each cross frilled with waves until tightened. You think for a moment, how it will be. To crack the ball again. To swing body out, reel in. Notice now, someone bending over a mounted racquet in the corner as the light fades to an instant. You are eye-level to holed grommet. You are not able to hide these corners from the angles. Someone is there on the other side, blinking back. Begin another racquet.

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Bad Ideas About Golf Ben Nickol ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

I

t amuses me probably more than it amuses you that your husband continues to give you golf lessons. For one thing, your husband cannot golf. Too much of his life has been spent in a soft leather chair in an office with soft lighting, and too much of his diet has been starches. When he addresses the ball, he overflows himself—his tongue pushes out of his mouth, his face gets red. Some of this can be blamed on the tremendous amount of effort required to compress his body into something rotatable—the blood in his heart just squeegees up into his cheeks, out comes the tongue—but most of it can be blamed on the man‘s bad ideas. He believes that swinging a golf club like he swings a golf club should cause the ball to fly away impressively. It does not, his face gets red. You yourself are such a gifted golfer. You understand what only a few golfers ever understand: a powerful swing is not a natural motion. It is not about letting the body do what it would ordinarily do, but rather about applying high tension to the body, and then releasing that tension at the right time. Your husband, who lifts his left heel when he swings, and whose knees, hips, and shoulders rotate on the same tensionless plane, does not understand this. He thinks he is doing everything right. Then to support his assumption, he buys products he sees on The Golf Channel and modifies them to encourage the swing he was going to make anyway. These products are on hand whenever he gives you a lesson. If he catches you not using the products, then you are either hitting the ball poorly or you are cheating. You asked me, at the beginning of the summer, whether I give lessons. Do you remember this? You thought I was an assistant professional instead of just the help. I told you I knew about golf, and could give you a lesson, but said you couldn‘t tell Ron because he would fire me

for something like that. And you said that sounds good, but told me not to say anything to your husband because he thought giving you lessons was his department. It seemed to me like a fair arrangement. When you are on the driving range and your husband is giving you lessons, it is obvious to everyone who can see you (except your husband) that you are desperately annoyed. The way he lays all variety of clubs at your feet to reference all variety of angles and alignments, the towel he stuffs in your armpit to keep your elbow from roving, the contraptions from The Golf Channel. You hate this, Rebecca. And then when he has given you enough drills to work through he moves down the range and starts in on your daughter. Your daughter doesn‘t like his lessons any more than you do, but she‘s not annoyed because she just ignores him. He sticks a towel in her armpit; she lifts her arm and out falls the towel. He lays a club at her feet; she uses her toe to roll the club aside. Then she settles into that haunchy stance no one has ever taught her and swings her cave lady swing. The lesson we had wasn‘t like this at all. I didn‘t use contraptions. I didn‘t make speeches. But it wasn‘t really a lesson in the first place, was it? All we did was one afternoon at three o‘clock I stopped renting carts, so that by seven-thirty or eight all the carts were in. I locked up the shop and sent the caddies home. Pretty soon your headlights were coming up over the bridge. It was a quiet time to be on the course. Small noises—sprinklers hissing to life, chairs scraping across the patio—were how a person noticed the lack of big noises. I brought a cart out into the parking lot and you strapped your bag next to mine. You sat beside me and arranged your legs. Could you tell I was nervous? I was nervous. Never in my life have I been so aware of my right hip as I was right then when it

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was so barely touching your left hip. The instinct was to scoot away, but I checked that instinct. From the tee on Hole One, we looked out over the fairway and saw the sprinklers and decided we‘d skip it. We coasted down the hill, the electric motor whining to slow us, and then sped out into the side of the fairway where there were no sprinklers. When we got to Hole Two, I stopped the cart and you got out and got your driver. You walked out between the markers and arranged your tee. You sighted, applied your grip, stepped into address. When you brought the club into motion, it was by rotating your shoulders against the fixed base of your hips and knees. At the full draw of your backswing, the tension in your body was palpable. It was like a rubber band stretched twenty inches back from a thumb. Until you fired your hips and brought the club through impact, I had almost forgotten there was a ball. You walked past me on your way back to the cart, but I caught you around the waist and pulled you in front of me. You laughed, and returned my arm to the side of my body. You said if I wanted to do that already then I probably didn‘t know a thing about how to swing a golf club. But Rebecca I do know how to swing a golf club. So when I called off the lesson right then and drove you back to your car, you had to have known what I was doing. We sell, in the pro shop, these aerosol cans of Scotchgard. It promises to make liquids bead up and roll off fabrics. Forgive me if I say your daughter Megan is a Scotchgarded individual, but things do not affect her. Her father sticks a towel under her armpit to train the wobble out of her elbow; she simply removes the towel before continuing her swing. Her mother is late picking her up in the afternoon; she sits in a chair on the patio and waits for her. She smokes cigarettes. All the members know she is only fifteen, and more than a few will walk right up to her and tell her she is doing something illegal. But your daughter isn‘t smoking cigarettes because she thinks it‘s

legal. When there is a junior tournament, she is the favorite to win. It isn‘t that she is talented— she has that awkward, cave lady stance, and uses the baseball grip—but she is the favorite to win because she is the only player in the girls‘ division who doesn‘t get nervous to play in tournaments. She doesn‘t get ruffled. A bad shot is the same as a good shot to her, and if she prefers a good shot it is only because good shots are easier to go find. She was the favorite to win the last tournament of the summer, just as she had been the favorite to win the first, second, and third. The morning of that last tournament was grey and damp. Do you remember how miserable it was? It had rained overnight and the girls coming in off the driving range had wet grass clippings plastered onto their shoes and up their pant legs. Everybody wore knit caps or earmuffs. The restaurant had that five-gallon thermos of hot chocolate out in the breezeway, but by nine o‘clock one girl was having to tip it forward while another girl filled her cup. You worked the scorer‘s tent. The first groups were just teeing off and you were huddled low over those Titleist score sheets with that sharpie marker writing out each name if not in calligraphy then at least in some real good cursive. Each name you wrote took thirty seconds or longer. Your husband had also volunteered to help with the tournament, but since arriving that morning he had done nothing but herd Megan around the practice green whispering things like, ―Yes, that‘s right, straight and easy,‖ and ―Low and smooth through impact.‖ Nobody reminded him of his obligation. We sent out the girls in groups of four. Your daughter does not maintain a handicap, but we put her in the last group because she was the favorite to win. By the time she teed off, it was threatening to rain again. Ron was all over the phones with the National Weather Service asking about lightning. He eventually got on the P.A. and announced there was nothing on Doppler that should make any of us concerned about thunderheads coming into the area. But all the

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kids had already teed off by then, and nobody but Ron had ever been worried about lightning in the first place. But it did rain. It started coming down about an hour after Megan teed off and the parents who had been milling around the driving range or the practice green collected under the scorer‘s tent instead. You had all the score sheets finished by then, stapled neatly and evenly on the corkboard behind your table. Your husband was in there, too. He stood in a group of parents next to the parted flaps of the tent. Rain fell in great sheets. One of the other parents said to your husband, ―That daughter of yours is the most composed young lady.‖ Another parent added, ―She doesn‘t blink, that girl.‖ Your husband said to the parents, ―It‘s one of the things we‘ve worked on with Megan. She‘s to that point now, a sort of trance sets in.‖ Everybody was nodding. I do not know how much of this conversation you heard, but I think you heard most of it because right about then you started tearing the score sheets down off the corkboard and starting over on new ones. Each name, with that fat sharpie marker, one by one. Your husband took a golf ball out of his pocket and held it in front of a parent‘s nose. ―This. She sees this.‖ The rain came harder. The girls were finishing their rounds. When they came in off the Eighteenth green, they sat in the four chairs across from you and traded cards and went over their numbers. When they finished, they handed you the cards and you went to the score sheets with your sharpie. You wrote out each of the numbers each of the girls had carded—wrote these out with small flourishes, like little tails on the nines—then went back and recorded the totals. It was taking you no small amount of time to do this. I decided your husband must have been doing something embarrassing, and as it turned out he was still showing people the golf ball from his pocket.

He said to one of the parents, ―It‘s a question of zeroing in.‖ He said to another one of the parents, ―It‘s a matter of simultaneous engagement and detachment.‖ Then only your daughter‘s group remained on the course. I got up from my chair and crossed to the open flaps of the tent where I could breathe some of the rain draft. From that position, standing behind that wall of falling water, I looked out onto the Eighteenth green and realized this was going to be a hard day for your family. Because three girls were putting out and replacing the flag, but the fourth girl in the group was not with them. And now the girls were walking towards the tent, just the three of them, while your husband stood behind me explaining to his audience the psychology he had designed for your daughter. The three girls came into the tent and sat in the chairs across from you, leaving the chair on the right empty. Because this was the last group, the parents crowded behind the table, rocking back on their heels and gazing up at your score sheets. But a murmur started through the crowd because there were only three girls at the table. Your husband stepped forward and sat in the chair he thought his daughter should have been sitting in. ―Where‘s Megan?‖ he said to the girls. ―Hold on!‖ said the girl in the chair next to him. She was calling out her numbers and did not want to start over. When she finished, your husband said, ―Why isn‘t Megan with you?‖ But another one of the girls had already started with her numbers. ―Stop,‖ your husband said. You had your back to us, writing out the scores from the previous group. ―Where is Megan? You,‖ he nodded at the girl in the middle. ―Where is Megan?‖ Without looking up from her scorecard, the girl said, ―Megan left.‖ ―Megan left?‖ ―She said she wasn‘t going to play if it was raining like this. She went to Jenny Shaw‘s

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from doing that. I walked into the tent. There you were, sitting at a round table with your husband and Ron. To look busy, I moved through the tent stacking chairs in piles of six, then moved back through the tent unstacking the chairs and putting them where I had found them. Your husband said, ―But she saw lightning. She saw lightning in the sky. Tell me she‘s not supposed to go inside when she sees lightning.‖ Ron ran his tongue under his lip. ―Sorry, Mike. No lightning today.‖ Your husband screwed up one of his eyes. ―No lightning today? No lightning today?‖ Ron stared at your husband until he was sure he had finished talking. Then he turned to you. ―Rebecca, tell him to give up.‖ Your husband said, ―These girls need to think about their safety,‖ but Ron was still looking at you. Then you said, ―The girls do need to think about their safety, Ron.‖ Ron continued to look at you. Then pretty soon your husband started saying something more, and Ron interrupted, ―Alright, alright, alright, I‘m out of here. Mike, you‘re unbelievable. Rebecca, I don‘t know. I don‘t know how you do it.‖ He stood and left the tent. I stacked some chairs in a pile of six, then left those chairs stacked and moved over to What you understand about golf, and some different chairs on the other side of the what your husband will never understand, is that corkboard. When I came back, your husband you start with no energy at all. You stand over and you had left. The tent was empty. Puddles the ball and lower the clubface behind it, and sagged on the canvas top, and were it not for a that‘s where you start, with no energy. The work system of poles I do believe the whole thing is to fall away from that position, to draw back would have fallen down. from it, and then return with energy you have gathered from someplace else. You went upstairs first. I stayed back, and reorganized the stacks of merchandise. When I did go upstairs, the rain had stopped. I walked across the wet patio, and across the grass to the tent. Your daughter was standing outside the tent, smoking a cigarette. Afterwards, I was told your husband had stolen one of our carts and driven to the Shaws‘ house to pick her up. No one had been in the pro shop to stop him house.‖

The girls started calling out numbers again. You had finished with the previous group‘s scores, but were still facing the score sheets. Then your husband sat forward in the chair and said, ―Did you girls see the lightning?‖ In one motion, you handed the sharpie to another volunteer, stepped out from behind the scorer‘s table, and walked off through the crowd of parents. You walked out into the rain. When nobody was looking, I followed you. I followed you across the spongy grass, then across the patio with the raindrops pocking down. We reached the pro shop at the same time. Once inside, you raced down the stairs to the basement. At the bottom step, you grabbed the banister and whipped yourself around into the dark, little slope-ceilinged area on the underside of the stairwell. I caught you in a pile of overstocked shirts, the new cotton folding around us, and you breathed that you hated that fat arrogant man. You fumbled with my buckles and buttons. Something about all this urgency gave me the idea I should wrap my hand full of your thick hair and pull it down your back. Of course I restrained myself, I checked that urge. But then you pushed your hand under my shirt and scratched me, and that seemed like kind of an invitation.

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The Art of Jennifer Lewis Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

A Little Drop of Poison [ 44 ]


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The Art of Jennifer Lewis Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

Sleuth of Bears [ 45 ]


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The Art of Jennifer Lewis Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

Robot [ 46 ]


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The Art of Jennifer Lewis Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

To Market [ 47 ]


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The Art of Jennifer Lewis Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

Werewolf Cabernet Sauvignon [ 48 ]


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The Art of Jennifer Lewis Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION Jennifer Lewis is a freelance illustrator and painter residing in Boston. She spent the majority of her childhood in Maine spending endless days playing with the animals in the woods and drawing on her walls. As a child, Jennifer was fascinated with all the inner workings of things. She rooted through libraries captivated by old natural history books, the works of Beatrix Potter, Edward Gorey, as well as illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger and Richard Scarry. Jennifer attended the Rhode Island School of Design where she graduated in 2000 with a BFA in Illustration. After college Jennifer moved to Boston, where she now resides in a wonderful artist studio surrounded by stacks of paintings and old storybooks. Jennifer‘s work can be found at galleries throughout the country including Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and the U.K. ARTIST STATEMENT After making her way from Germany to Hawaii and all throughout New England, Jennifer Lewis‘ work displays her world wide influences, from her use of old German text to Japanese pop iconography. Most of Jennifer‘s pieces focus strongly on a detailed narrative, an animal-inhabited fairytale world. The subjects of her paintings are often derived from childhood stories, myths and dreams. Her work embodies a strong duality, a mix between whimsical and playful with darker undertones and a dry sense of humor. Lewis, her portfolio and more can be found online at www.jenny-lewis.com. Jennifer Lewis‘s painting Underwere-wolf will be featured as the cover of the Autumn & Winter 2011 issue of Stymie Magazine.

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Tiger Woods is a Gamer, Or a Brief Lesson on How to Beat the Spread During the Collapse of Reaganomics Janey Smith___________________________________________________________________________________________________ _

— For Sean Lovelace

T

he baby bunny held Grace Biegle‘s face between two furry little paws for a long time. Then he said: ―Grace Biegle, I want you to be my puppy.‖ Grace Biegle looked at the baby bunny in an almost happy way and said: ―Ruff.‖ The baby bunny used both his furry little paws to hand Grace Biegle a black leather dog collar. Grace Biegle fastened the black leather dog collar around her neck. The baby bunny held the end of the leash. ―Let‘s walk,‖ said the baby bunny. Grace Biegle got onto her hands, knees. She wore a Burger King t-shirt, knee high socks and cotton underwear. Grace Biegle walked like a puppy down a long dark hall. The hall lead to a room, which opened out to another room full of racks of discounted women‘s clothes. They turned a corner and confronted a drinking fountain on the wall next to an elevator. ―Drink,‖ the baby bunny said. Grace Biegle let the water bubble up, meet her lips, feel cold on her tongue. Some of the water sprinkled her forehead and, fizzing like a sparkler, stained her t-shirt with little marks. The baby bunny tugged the leash and Grace Biegle got down on her hands and knees and walked, all clumsy, like a puppy again. Down a food aisle, the baby bunny kind of jerked the leash a little bit to make Grace Biegle sit. The baby bunny held out a little furry paw with a Ritz cracker on it. Grace Biegle ate the cracker. The baby bunny fed Grace Biegle Ritz crackers and all these Pringles and some Twinkies from a box. ―Up,‖ the baby bunny said. Grace Biegle got up on her hands and knees. The baby bunny walked Grace Biegle like she was a puppy, very carefully, into the sporting

goods section of the Kmart. ―Sit,‖ the baby bunny said. Grace Biegle sat her little butt on the floor against a chair in the sporting goods section of the Kmart. The baby bunny tied the leash in a knot, then looped it around the legs of the chair. The baby bunny yanked the leash. Everything was tight. The baby bunny walked over to a lifesized cardboard cut-out of Tiger Woods. ―Tiger Woods wants you to spread your legs,‖ the baby bunny said. ―What?‖ asked Grace Biegle. ―Tiger Woods wants to you to spread your legs.‖ Grace Biegle smiled, spread her legs. The baby bunny lined up his putter from about ten feet away and he putted a golf ball at Grace Biegle‘s spread legs. The ball hit Grace Biegle‘s pussy and Grace Biegle flinched. The baby bunny lined up to putt again. Another golf ball made contact with Grace Biegle‘s spread pussy. Grace Biegle said: ―Fuck.‖ But she said it in way that sounded as if maybe she liked it. The baby bunny putted again, and again the bunny hit the mark. ―I hate golf,‖ the baby bunny said. Grace Biegle dropped her head, mumbled something almost inaudible. The baby bunny hit again, a bit harder, wilder than the previous one, and the golf ball glanced off Grace Biegle‘s thigh. ―Oh my god,‖ Grace Biegle said. The baby bunny hit again, and again the ball smacked Grace Biegle on the pussy. ―I‘m going to cum,‖ Grace Biegle said, then mumbled something almost indefinable, slipped into unconsciousness, head bobbled, amenably, in an extremely rapid way. The baby bunny stopped putting. Grace Biegle looked up slightly, didn‘t see the baby bunny in the silvery darkness of the sporting goods department, adjusted her legs

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because they hurt, saw nothing but lots of prizes sparkle along a wall. She waited, excited, nervous. The baby bunny appeared. ―Spread your legs,‖ the bunny said, ―wider.‖ Grace Biegle spread her legs, which were shaking, wider. The baby bunny nuzzled a heavy ball, then nudged it with his round furry little back until the heavy ball started to roll. Across a smooth floor, it rolled faster. There was a scream. ―Are you okay?‖ asked the baby bunny. ―Yes,‖ Grace Biegle said breathing funny, shaken. The baby bunny hopped off the heavy ball that rested between Grace Biegle‘s legs. He untied the leash from the chair and said: ―Let‘s walk.‖ Grace Biegle got on her hands and knees—all wobbly—and walked like a baby puppy back to the patio furniture area, a campsite with a fire-pit blowing flames of warm red and yellow tissue. The baby bunny nursed Grace Biegle with Nestle Crunch bars, buttered popcorn, and milk. Grace Biegle became sleepy, eyes halfclosed, got into her sleeping bag, but didn‘t appear to hear the baby bunny, who then beat one little paw very softly, very quickly on Grace Biegle‘s shoulder. Grace Biegle woke up. Attached to the baby bunny‘s one paw was a toothbrush, attached to the other paw, a thing of floss. He paused, ―Do you hear that? I think I hear someone passing through the garden and opening the wicket gate.‖ Grace Biegle sat up, pulled the sleeping bag down, crossed her legs a bit and opened her mouth in a docile way. Some drool came out. ―Oh, well.‖ The baby bunny got to work right away. Then the insects suddenly stopped chirping. Startled, Grace Biegle straightened herself attentively, awakened by the sudden silence and the baby bunny‘s refusal to work. Their eyes met—as if nimbly they sat in a flowerpot—and they turned their heads almost murderously to face the life-sized cardboard cut-out of Tiger Woods, smiling at them, gaily, through the dark. ―He‘s come!‖ They said in an almost oblique

way, but cleverly, intensely, almost hypnotically, together, at the same time. Not far away a sporting goods section gleamed with the warmth of prizes, was nothing more than a falling leaf, each one falling swiftly without fluttering. An autumn sky with a cheerful moon hid behind the clouds.

Born to Climb Jenifer Hemphill ___________________________________

C

I. limbing rocks is like ascending a ladder, just not as obvious. Stop in between every move. Look up. Listen to your boyfriend, who brought you climbing, when he says to look for white chalk marks, that those will be holds for your hands. See a white mark on the rock above you. Decide that that is where to go. Hands up. Look down. Listen to your boyfriend when he says that foot holds may be smeared with black rubber from other climbers‘ shoes. See little edges marked with black. Think that there is no way your big toes will stay on those tiny scratches in the rock. Find something bigger. Feet up. When rock climbing is new to you, you think, The bigger the holds, the better. Some holds are so big that your whole hand can wrap around them. You hear your boyfriend call them jugs. Jugs don‘t always face a uniform direction, like the rungs of a ladder. Pockets and ledges you might pull on straight down, but then there are side pull and under clings. Hear your boyfriend naming the holds. Realize how obvious they are, while you had been worried about being able to grasp complex climbing concepts. Be relieved that all the while it had been so simple. Grope the holds at first, eventually touching the most positive part of it. Then feel your body respond and automatically adjust its position so that balance is maintained. Don‘t forget your feet. When you are a beginner at rock climbing, you think, the bigger the holds, the better. Jugs, pockets, ledges are features that you crave to put your feet on. Hand holds become bomber footholds. You hear other climbers saying this, bomber. Understand that what they mean is something you won‘t, or shouldn‘t

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slip from. Think, Bomber means foolproof. Practice this new vocabulary by saying, This foothold is bomber! Feel like a surfer instead of a climber and decide not to say that again. Hear your boyfriend telling you to trust your feet, that climbing is all in your legs since they are much stronger than your arms. Listen to climbers who tell you that women figure this out faster than men and therefore can be better at climbing. Feel smug for a moment, if you‘re a woman. Feel graceful and dancer-like. Find holds to stand on that can take all of your weight so you can look around without your weak arms getting tired. Again, at first, tap your toe here and there on a hold until it eventually feels good and solid. Be aware as your body adjusts its position to find balance, as if it knew instinctively what to do all along. Consider that you may have been born to climb. Sometimes you aren‘t strong enough to hold on even though your legs have most of your weight. Wonder if your legs are weak too. Fall off. Stop feeling smug while you watch your boyfriend pull up higher than you on the rock without falling, and notice that he is rather graceful himself. Tell yourself that it‘s just because he‘s been climbing for a few years already. Recognize the fact that climbing makes you feel strong and weak simultaneously. Feel like screaming and throwing a rock at the rock. Calm down and decide that you would rather feel strong more of the time, that you want be able to hang on as long as your boyfriend. Pull back onto the rock and keep climbing. Get tired. Fall. Repeat. II. A year or two go by, and you and your boyfriend climb regularly. In the spring and the fall, you spend many weekends outside climbing. Sometimes you even go climbing outside when it is raining. Now when you go, you no longer follow your boyfriend up whatever route he is doing. Now you figure out how to climb all by yourself without asking him where to go. In fact, you think your way has become the better way— for you.

Look in the guidebook and find a route to do all by yourself. Look for 5.9s and 5.10s that no longer have only jugs for hand holds. Instead, some of these holds may be small, very small—a fold, ridge or wrinkle, a shallow dish— and there is only enough room for fingertips—a whole pad, a half a pad, a quarter pad. Sometimes less. Crimp your fingers on them and pull. You know that to crimp is something you do to your fingers in order to hold on to a small feature—a fold or ridge or wrinkle—in the face of the rock. Holds that you typically crimp are called crimpers. Find that you now can also use holds called slopers, cracks, flakes. Realize how obvious these terms are, while you had worried about being able to grasp complex climbing concepts. Feel relief that it is so simple, that you understood what these words meant without having to ask your boyfriend or read a book. It suddenly dawns on you that you know how to grab a hold that you have never touched before just by the look of it, the shadow that it casts. Look less and climb faster. Think, you were born to climb. Don‘t forget your feet. Because they are encased in sticky climbing rubber, you have learned that they can use subtler features of the rock than your hands and fingers. Now you can stand on that elusive slice in the rock with just the inside of the toe of your climbing shoe, called edging. They can even boost you up on nothing but the sheer rock face using friction— smearing. Or when there is a tiny hint of a ridge— smedging. Think about all the other terms for what climbers do with their feet—high-step, backstep, drop-knee, toe-in. Be aware that (as far as you can remember) no one had to tell you what to do with your feet. You have figured this out entirely on your own. You even know how to use your heel to pull like a hand by placing it on a rock feature at shoulder level, or even above your head. Humbly acknowledge though that your boyfriend showed you that move and called it heel-hooking. Listen to people tell you how well you use your feet, how nice it is to watch you climb. Listen to them compare your lovely climbing to

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the brutish movements of the stereotypical, beginner-male-climber nearby, who only uses his arms and not his legs. Feel smug. Feel graceful and dancer-like. Consider for a moment that you could be part of Cirque de Soleil with your body -contortionist talents. Be grateful that they haven‘t yet seen your boyfriend climb because he is still better at it than you are. Notice that you are now able to climb a face that requires more use of your arm muscles. Now you can rest even if you are not standing with all of your weight on your feet. Feel how your hips pivot in close to the wall while you hang from stronger arms. Decide that it‘s time to try harder routes. Pick a 5.11 that your boyfriend says is just your style. Fall off. A lot. Stop feeling smug because you‘re so scared that you can‘t even climb anymore. Cry and ask your boyfriend to finish the climb for you. Recognize the fact that climbing makes you feel strong and weak at the same time. Feel like screaming and throwing a rock at the rock, but cry about it instead. Later when you stop crying, decide that you would rather feel strong more of the time, that you‘d like to be able to climb without the tears. Pull back onto the rock and keep climbing. Get tired. Fall. Cry. Repeat. III. After about five years, become aware of the fact that you are no longer a beginner or even an intermediate climber. When you sign up for the occasional climbing comp, people tell you to mark the advanced category on your score card. As an advanced climber, you no longer just go climbing; you live and breathe climbing. You dream climbing. You climb every weekend no matter what, in the rain, in the heat, in the snow even. Every Friday night, you are already in the car heading down to the closest outdoor rock climbing area. This is your only social life, but you don‘t feel bad about it. Feel special that you are involved in such an extreme activity. (Ignore that fact that you see more and more people at the crag on the weekends, giving the impression that rock climbing has entered its trendy phase and is not considered so extreme anymore.)

You‘d even like your job to be focused on climbing so you can become a rock-climbing superstar like the lithe kids in the climbing videos you watch instead of regular television programming. At least your husband, who used to be your boyfriend, is the manager of the local climbing gym. Feel a little bit like a superstar because you are the strongest female climber (sometimes you are the only one) when you go there. Go into the climbing gym three nights a week because you are dedicated, and it gives you really big muscles. Now when you climb on the weekends, meet up with ladies from other cities whom you have met while climbing and are also dedicated and muscular. Finally, you have found women (though you may have nothing else in common them) who can climb the same routes with you. Wonder if it‘s okay that you would rather be climbing with them than with your husband, and that you are relieved when you can climb separately from him every once in a while. Hope that he feels the same way. Find that climbing takes on a whole new feel when you get together with these women, that there is a new kind of energy and confidence in your approach to it. Feel self reliant, that you don‘t need a guy to be there in case you need help. You won‘t need help. At some point, some weekend, you and your friends are approached by a couple of younger male climbers not wearing their shirts. They ask if you need them to put up a rope on an easy climb for you. Smile kindly, if not with a little bit of condescension and say, No thanks, this is our warm up climb. Later take off your own shirt and proceed to climb a route that many climbers consider difficult. Climb it easily, without falling. Afterwards when you walk by the boys who had tried to help you, they say, Wow, nice climbing. You’re really strong. Feel superior, but only slightly. Smile and say, Thanks. Your strong girlfriends give you the motivation and confidence to try new and harder routes. Now you are eyeballing your first 5.12. Its name: Narcissus. You have watched the boys do it again and again, and now you are the one standing in the dirt beneath it, contemplating its

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holds and how you, a girl, would use them. Now you are the one tying into the sharp end, quickdraws clinking heavily from your harness. You are pulling onto the holds of the vertical face, the small flakes, edges and ripples. As the route progresses toward the roof of the cave, the angle of the rock becomes increasingly steep, the moves increasingly long, the holds increasingly large. By the time you get to the finish, your body is in an almost-horizontal position, hanging from a left heel-hook and a right hand jug and you are clipping the anchors, or the chains as it is on this route, over your head. While you are working out the moves on Narcissus, be okay with falling. A lot. Stop feeling superior when you see the younger male climbers quickly send these harder climbs and when you have to ask them how to do some of the moves. Hate that climbing makes you feel weak sometimes when you only want to feel strong. Get angry. Pound your fists on the rock and then stop because it hurts. But don‘t you dare cry. Calm down and decide that you would rather feel strong more of the time, that you will never have the testosterone it takes to send climbs as quickly as the young male climbers, and that that is okay because you will always look better doing it. Wonder briefly if Narcissus has brought vanity to your climbing (but don‘t dwell on that thought for very long). Feel graceful and dancer-like. Pull back onto the rock and keep climbing. Get tired. Fall. Repeat. IV. After a couple more years, realize that you are getting sick of climbing. You are mostly sick of the four-hour drive to the closest outdoor rock climbing area where you have gone, in all possibility, a thousand times. You can do the drive with your eyes closed, you know it so well. But in reality you can‘t close your eyes to do the drive. If you could do the drive with your eyes closed, then it might not be so bad. Then at least you could imagine you were going somewhere or doing something else. Your motivation to climb has also been flagging. Your muscular and dedicated climber

girlfriends have either moved away to a new state like Colorado or moved on to a new recreational activity like karate. Wonder how long it has been since you have been able to find the motivation to climb within yourself instead of in someone else. Even the idea of being muscular and strong is becoming an annoyance to you. Realize that you are getting older and your body, no matter how fit, is starting to sag. Wish that you could stop climbing, but worry that if you do, you will lose your muscles and turn into a blob. Recognize that this seems to be the only reason you continue to climb. Get sick to your stomach. Wonder if there is something out there that is better for you to be doing with your time and your muscles. Start fantasizing about staying home on the weekends. Daydream about cleaning your apartment on a regular basis. Imagine going out with friends for a drink at the local bar instead of getting in the car on a Friday night. Think about going to church sometimes. Start to make a list of ways to change your life and have reasons to stay home. Come up with two: 1) Go back to school. 2) Have a baby. Get scared. Both seem too big. Talk to your husband. Tell him that going back to school isn‘t much of an option since you have no idea what you would go back for. Tell him that, even though you always talked about never having kids, you think that that is your only option. Tell him you can‘t imagine your life continuing the way that it is, that climbing has become forced and you‘re tired. Scare your husband, but tell him just to think about it. In your head, begin to make a Having Kids Pros and Cons List. Pros: 1) you and your body will be immersed in one of life‘s great mysteries; 2) you will have a reason to put climbing aside; 3) it will give meaning to your life that climbing has not; 4) it will give you a reason to quit your job. Cons: 1) you and your body may never recover from being immersed in one of life‘s great mysteries; 2) you may have to put climbing aside; 3) it may bog down the rest of your life with too much meaning; 4) it may make you want your job back; 5) you‘re not sure where

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one baby will lead—two, three? Be confused and unsure whether any of your reasoning is sound. Begin to comprehend that reason may have nothing to do with it, that it‘s hormonal. Be very afraid. Fear motivates you to watch a bunch of videos of young, lithe muscular people climbing with techno music dubbed in. Be motivated to throw yourself into climbing again with the thought that you can climb hard like these children, who now seem so much younger than you. Think that if techno music played for you, you could climb more like them. Try the hardest climbs you have ever tried. Fall off more than you can hang on. Realize that climbing makes you feel weak most of the time. This time you don‘t really care, you can‘t get angry at the rock anymore. You are officially ambivalent. Wonder why every hold can‘t be a jug. Pull back onto the rock and keep climbing half-heartedly. All that matters is getting to the top so it can be over. Get tired. Fall. Decide that you‘re not sure you want to keep repeating this anymore. V. It‘s been nine years since you started climbing. Almost a decade. It dawns on you that you have never been involved in anything for that length of time. School, you think, but even that was broken up into elementary, middle, high school, and college. The need for change has become a more concrete thought. You have almost concluded that having a baby is the next chapter of your life. Now you know of several reputable climbers who have become mothers. Think of what motherhood can do for you without getting so scared. Imagine climbing going out of your life, at least for a little while, and be okay with it. Imagine the little baby growing into a child whom you will be able to teach to climb. Think that this seems more meaningful, passing climbing on to the next generation. Think, legacy. Your husband has warmed to the idea of having a kid too. You have talked it over at least one time at length. Feel like you are on the same page with your husband, that now you both

want the same thing. The two of you agree that you will try to get pregnant by not trying not to. It‘s a way for you to make a decision without really making one. Think about saying this to people after you tell them you are pregnant when they ask you the inevitable question, Were you guys trying? Well, you‘ll say, we weren’t trying NOT to… While you still go through the motions of climbing, the imaginary child is all you think about. Gravitate toward the routes that you know by heart so that, if you want, you can think about the baby while you climb. Shy away from hard routes that make your head hurt. When you, for a moment, stop thinking about the child, and think about climbing, notice that you have been enjoying it more again. Now that you aren‘t so focused on the numbers and your muscles, climbing doesn‘t seem like such a drag. You find that you love to climb routes that only have jugs for hand holds. Since you don‘t go climbing every weekend like you used to, think that climbing seems like less of an addiction. It‘s fun. Be relieved but slightly confused about what this means. Does it mean that you can find a way to love climbing again? Does this mean that you might regret having a child? Feel some of that fear creeping into your mind again. Feel sick to your stomach. It dawns on you that fear isn‘t the only thing that made you nauseous when you take a pregnancy test a week later. Hold the proof of your condition in your hand while standing alone in the bathroom and have a panic attack. Now you‘ve done it. Want to puke more now than you have in the past week. Try running to clear your head, but end up walking because you feel so horrible, so sick, so diseased. Panic that you may never feel good again, you may never feel normal again. Breathe deeply. Calm down. Eat a piece of dry toast. Decide that you will just go with the flow, and what happens happens. This is the new direction you wanted your life to go, and you will make the best of it. Climbing may take a back seat to motherhood, but that is what you had wanted all along. Isn‘t it?

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VI. Continue to climb while you‘re pregnant. Your tendons and muscles adapt gradually to your growing belly. The bigger the holds, the better, you say to yourself. Adjust your definition about what looking good while climbing means. Feel graceful and dancer-like—in a small elephant sort of way. Be happy about the layer of softness that has smoothed out your body‘s sharp edges. Tell yourself that motherhood is exactly what you needed to rejuvenate your relationship with climbing. Remind yourself of this when you are recovering from childbirth and can‘t climb. Remind yourself of this when your baby needs to nurse every two hours all day long for two days straight even though he‘s four months old and you can‘t get away to climb. Or when you have mastitis because your baby didn‘t nurse often enough for two days straight and you are too sick to climb. Or when your little boy is sick with a fever of 103 degrees and may be dying of a rare lung disease and you are too worried to climb. You really were born to climb. You only needed a little adjustment to your attitude. Motherhood has brought distance between you and climbing, and you know what distance does. There are other benefits that motherhood brings to climbing: 1) it‘s okay that you only climb easy or moderate routes; 2) it‘s okay that your body sags in some (many) spots; 3) it‘s okay if you only go climbing outside once a month when the weather is good; 4) it‘s okay if you climb at the gym all the time like the school kids who don‘t have anything better to do. Likewise, there are benefits that climbing brings to motherhood: 1) climbing while pregnant is super -edgy; 2) climbing automatically classifies you as a cool mom even if you really aren‘t; 3) climbing makes it seem like you can handle all the complicated problems that motherhood brings to you even though in reality it doesn‘t; 4) climbing makes you feel special at those moments when motherhood feels like the most mundane and boring and common walk of life that there is. Motherhood and climbing make you think outside the box. When you think you have found a comfortable place to be with both

climbing and being a mom, get antsy and try climbing a hard route again. Fall all over it. Smile though because you‘re a mom now, and you‘re climbing 5.12. Be elated that you can approach climbing this way. Have fun falling off. Your kids like watching you pitch off and swing more than watching you hang on anyway. Feel graceful and dancer-like just being up there. Realize that nothing climbing throws your way is harder than what you have experienced as a mom. Feel relief that all the while it had been so simple. Be content. Get tired. Fall. Repeat.

The End of Sports (As We Knew Them)

B

Michelle Falkoff ___________________________________

aseball ended with a bang. The bang was from a gun, a shot from the crowd that landed in the temporal lobe of the pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Hale Webster. The papers called it the Shot Heard Round the World, as if the event were as momentous as the beginning of a war, or as if they‘d forgotten that the baseball press had already usurped the phrase for Bobby Thompson‘s homer back in 1951, and the name stuck. It was, of course, inaccurate. Some places heard—Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic. England didn‘t hear. Baseball wasn‘t cricket, England said. Baseball ended quickly for Webster. One minute he had just released a sweet slider, one that would perfectly drop just under the swinging bat of Bobby Martino, the Yankees‘ best hitter, for the third strike and the second out of the bottom of the ninth inning. The Red Sox were ahead, 10-9, in one of those all-too-frequent Sox/Yankees matchups that seemed destined to break the hearts of Red Sox fans, an early ten run lead slipping away, inning by inning, chipped away by two home runs from Martino, by a pop fly that just barely scraped over the outstretched glove of Chuck Hollis, the Red Sox‘s second baseman, allowing two runners to come home. Webster had been sent in at the bottom of the seventh to ensure the maintenance of the lead.

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He knew as soon as the ball left his hand that it was good, that Martino wouldn‘t be able to touch it. He knew it with the certainty of someone who has been in the game for fifteen years, who was no longer a rookie, who (when he was on, when he was really on) could place a ball exactly where he wanted to, two inches from a hitter‘s hip or parallel to his eyes. He felt the increasing tightness in his rotator cuff, reminiscent of the last time he‘d torn it, even though this was only his third inning and he‘d been striking those damn Yankees out, one after another. He felt a wash of happiness when he saw the swing fail to connect and his perfect pitch dropped neatly in the pocket of the catcher‘s worn glove. He felt the stinging in his chest of hope and excitement, the jumping-the-gun feeling of impending victory. He knew he would have to calm down before the next batter approached the plate. And then he felt the impact of a baseball bat, swung at full force against his temple. And then he felt nothing. It was a contentious game, even more so than usual. For the past ten years, the Yankees had taken the pennant easily and swooped in just as readily to take the World Series. The game had, for a time, become tedious, unexciting, at least in the American League. Everyone began to wonder what it was about the Yankees, why they couldn‘t be defeated. Rules were changed, compensation structures altered, numerous concessions made so that other teams would at least have a fighting chance. The Yankees‘ manager retired and another one came to take his place, and the championships kept coming. People started losing interest. And then, one fall, something happened. It was hard to say what, precisely. Perhaps it was that the Yankees lost their first five games and hadn‘t managed to get their record above .300 all season. Perhaps it was that new and exciting players started shining in some of the other American League teams. Perhaps it was that the Yankees‘ old manager came out of retirement to work with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, saying he‘d always wanted to retire to Florida. Perhaps it was that the Red Sox‘s owner had gone, under

dead of night, under cover of darkness, under pain of being caught in Boston‘s infamous Combat Zone, to a famous medium, Madame de Tuscany, who claimed to be able to speak to Babe Ruth beyond the grave and, for a sum of money the owner‘s various ex-wives never knew he had, a sum that he had contemplated using to buy a small island in the Bahamas, she swore to convince the Babe to lift the curse that had haunted Fenway Park all these years. Whatever it was, it was enough. The fans started emerging from their hiding places. They came from the cities and bought season tickets. They came from the suburbs and brought their children and started teaching them to love baseball, as they had: baseball, the most American of American sports, a piece of apple pie with cheddar cheese melting on top of the flag. They crawled out of their little holes and bought hot dogs and popcorn and beer and large foam fingers with their team‘s name and insignia stenciled with spray-paint. They brought umbrellas when it rained and sun block when it got hot. They developed and reestablished fierce geographical loyalties that they swore they would carry with them, even as they moved themselves around the country for school, for work, for love. The stadiums were sold out, television stations preempted popular Thursday night shows, the newspapers added pages and pages to the sports section. It was beautiful. But somewhere deep in the borough of Queens, there was a man who had a son who loved baseball with a passion and a vengeance his father had never expected. The father had taken his son to a few games over the years but the son had never really seemed to enjoy himself. The father and the son drifted apart, as fathers and sons often do when the son approaches that precipice of manhood, when he first feels part of his body rising at night and something shifts within him. And then, to the father‘s happy surprise, one day in the spring the son suggested that they go to a game together, like they used to when he was young. It was nearly a perfect day. The son reminisced happily with his father about the

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games they‘d attended when he was a child, and they ate hot dogs covered in mustard and relish and ketchup and sauerkraut and drank Pepsi from large paper cups that got soggy when the ice started to melt. The sun was shining on a true spring afternoon in April; the sky was blue and the clouds were puffy and there may have even been birds chirping and the Yankees were up by two and all was well with the world. The son had been keeping up with the team, he told his dad, and even though the Yankees had lost six of their last eight games they were still playing well and at least it was a challenging season for them, right? And maybe this was the game where they‘d turn it around. The father nodded his agreement and reminded his son of that perennial father-to-son lesson, that sometimes it takes losing to build character. The son smiled and said he knew his father would say that but just the same, it was time for the Yankees to win, wasn‘t it? And they turned their attention back to the field and watched the game, and it would have been a perfect day if the Orioles hadn‘t squeaked out a few runs in the last two innings and beat the Yankees, 4-3. The father was worried, for the son seemed distressed by the loss. He didn‘t talk as they maneuvered through the crowd to get to the bus that would take them to the subway, and he didn‘t talk on the bus or the subway, despite his father‘s efforts to cheer him. He finally spoke on the long walk from the subway station to their small apartment, asking his father if they could go again. The father was relieved, said Of course, made a mental note to get tickets to as many games as he could afford. It became a ritual: one that always started well and ended grimly. Father and son would walk to the subway station, take the subway to the bus to the stadium, eat hot dogs and drink Pepsis, talk excitedly about the game, about the possibilities, watch the Yankees lose (for, somehow, they always lost the games the father and son went to see), take the bus to the subway, and walk home from the subway in silence. The father was concerned at how unhappy the son always seemed, telling him that it was the experi-

ence of being at the game rather than the outcome that was important, but he was so grateful for the time they were spending together that he didn‘t investigate further the origins of his son‘s interest or his despair. This was something that would cause him much guilt, later, though he would be assured over and over again that there was nothing he could have done. The fateful game took place during the last weekend for which the father had managed to obtain tickets, on a New York rarity: a crisp, dry August day. There was the faintest smell of flowers in the air and it was the first day since June where they didn‘t feel like getting on the subway would make them melt. They had the best seats they‘d had yet—just a few rows up from the left-field foul line, nearly at eye-level with the game. The father was already growing nostalgic. He had tried to get more tickets but, in a strange reversal of the normal order, with every game the Yankees lost (and still there were many) tickets became harder to come by. He wondered if the son would still talk to him if he wasn‘t able to get any more tickets for the rest of the season. He wondered if there was anything else they could do together to maintain the fragile structure of their relationship. On their way to the stadium he asked his son if there were other sports he was interested in—maybe they could start going to football or hockey games together, or maybe they could start watching the New Sports on television. The son was quiet, even quieter than usual. He seemed distracted. He didn‘t want to talk about other sports. He just wanted to focus on this game, he said, as if his focus would have some impact on the performance of the players. And the son did seem unusually focused. He was upset, initially, by the stunning opening performance of the Red Sox hitters, ten runs in just three innings. He concentrated harder and appeared to be relieved when the Yankees started coming back, whittling away at the Sox‘s lead as they‘d done so many times in the past. We can do this, the father heard him muttering. We can come back. This is our last chance. It‘s not, the father said. There are lots of

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games left in the season. Try not to take it so hard, son. But the son was staring intently at Webster as he was sent in to spell the middle reliever. His hands were stuffed into the pockets of his baggy jeans and he jerked his arm away when the father tried to pat it. The Yankees had managed nine runs since the third inning, and both the father and son were starting to hope that maybe they could pull it out, could win their first big game of the year in an astonishing upset over the Red Sox. And then Webster started striking the hitters out. One by one, they walked up to the plate—some confident, some casual, some arrogant, some almost timid—and he struck them out. He threw fastballs that no one could see, that steadily reached over 95 mph, one that even reached 102 mph, beating Nolan Ryan‘s fastest. He threw curveballs that seemed to be straight as an arrow, veering off to the side just as the batters had started to swing. And he threw perfect sliders that dropped sharply at the plate, as if the balls suddenly remembered gravity once they reached the strike zone. The father appreciated the beauty of Webster‘s game, surprising as it was from a player just a few years away from retirement, but the son‘s face tightened with every pitch. His fists clenched in his pockets as Martino came up to bat and he bounced his legs up and down, toes planted firmly on the ground. Martino better get something going here, the father said. Berger‘s at bat next, and you know what that means. They both knew what that meant. Berger was the worst hitter in the lineup and there was no one left on the bench who could pinch hit. The way Webster was pitching, he was sure to strike Berger out, and the game would be over. The son didn‘t say anything, just watched as Martino swung a few warm-up swings and waited for Webster‘s first pitch, bobbing slightly in his squat stance. The first pitch was wide and Martino let it go. The crowd screamed. The second was one of the fastballs, not the one clocked at 102 but close enough, and though Martino may not have realized it, the ball was already in

the catcher‘s mitt by the time he thought to swing. The crowd quieted, hissing. The third pitch was wide again, another ball, as was the fourth. The count was 3 and 1, and the stands were wild. They didn‘t want Martino walked, but everyone knew what it meant if he were struck out. The next pitch came, looking wide but curving gently over the plate before Martino realized he should swing. Full count. Martino backed away from the plate. The son‘s breathing came sharp and shallow, almost like panting, and his face was pale and dotted with sweat. The father was nervous and wondered whether these weekend trips to the stadium had really been such a good idea. He found himself wishing that Martino would whiff and Webster would make short work of Berger so they could go home and put the season behind them. Maybe they could watch the rest of the games on television, he thought. Maybe that wouldn‘t be so bad. Martino took a few practice swings and headed back to the plate. He and Webster stared at each other for a moment before Webster wound up for the pitch. Martino would swear, later, that it looked like a fastball, that there was no way a ball thrown with that kind of speed could possibly have dropped with that kind of accuracy, but it didn‘t matter. What mattered was that Webster threw a sweet slider, which perfectly dropped under Martino‘s swinging bat. The crowd was furious. The hissing and booing muffled, but didn‘t entirely cover, the sound of the shot. People who heard looked around to see what had happened—it had taken Webster longer than one might have expected to crumple to the ground. People who hadn‘t heard inserted the sound of the shot into their memories when they saw Webster hit the mound. The father, entranced by the perfection of the pitch, hadn‘t noticed the son‘s movements and didn‘t turn to his son until he saw Webster fall. The son‘s hand, the hand still holding out the gun, was shaking, and tears were streaming down his face. The father didn‘t know what to do. He stared blankly at his son, his only child, for that brief moment before other people around them

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realized that the shot had come from where they were sitting and started screaming. The police were there before the son had a chance to answer the father‘s question, but he kept asking it anyway, screaming it as they took his son away. Why? Why? An ambulance came to take Webster to the hospital but he was already dead. The game was suspended and everyone went home. The Times and the Post both ran headline editorials the next day calling for the cancellation of the rest of the season, in a rare occurrence of solidarity. They cited the various examples of escalating violence at baseball games in past years before the boredom had set in, stating that it was beginning again and would only get worse. No one wanted to think that the shooting had been anything but an isolated incident, and yet no one wanted to risk going back to a stadium where such a thing could happen. The debate raged on nationally but in the interim the remaining games in the season were postponed pending institution of appropriate security measures. The players went on strike over what security measures should be implemented by the owners and who should pay for them, and in the meantime the public grew accustomed to living without baseball, to thinking of baseball as a dangerous pastime. Accommodations were reached but stadiums needed rebuilding and polls of the public indicated that no one was interested in buying tickets anymore so the owners decided not to put the money into renovations and again the players threatened to strike, even though they hadn‘t yet resumed the season. A commission was formed to investigate means of rejuvenating public interest, but nothing ever came of it.

tall—seven foot three—one of the tallest men to play the game in years. He had Larry Bird‘s accuracy, Michael Jordan‘s all-around game, David Robinson‘s intellect, Grant Hill‘s quiet good looks, and Bill Bradley‘s goodwill. He refused to participate in the draft out of high school, telling the press that it was about time basketball players started setting an educational example for the children. He played for the University of Pennsylvania in college, though he could have either played for a better college team based on his athletic prowess or gone to a better university based on his academic record. He wanted to stay in Philadelphia, he said, near his parents. He led Penn in a record-setting season, the first Ivy League team ever to go undefeated. He didn‘t miss a single game. He set records in points-pergame, season scoring, rebounds and assists. He graduated with a 4.0 GPA in the competitive BBB major, Biological Bases of Behavior. If he was ever injured, he said, he was going to medical school to become a specialist in sports medicine. He made it perfectly clear that he didn‘t want to leave Philadelphia to play professionally, either, except for away games. He wanted to play for the 76ers. The team, in turn, was thrilled to have him, and traded away years and years of draft picks (and made a substantial cash payment) so he would be ensured a spot. He was the starting center from the first game of the season and missed only one game in the fourteen years he played, to attend his mother‘s funeral. He broke records that had been previously deemed unbreakable: Wilt Chamberlain‘s record for single-game season scoring, John Stockton‘s record for steals, Jordan‘s record for most scoring titles. He led the team to eight consecutive asketball ended with a whimper. The championships and was voted MVP every time. whimper was from Johnothon ―Little He refused all endorsements but one, working Johnny‖ Mitchell, the greatest ever to with New Balance to create an affordable line of play the game. It was the only sound basketball sneakers and clothing, all made in the that came out of his mouth as he lay on the United States in properly-inspected and reguground with a blown out knee. He would never lated factories, the proceeds of which were diplay again. He would never walk without a cane vided between various charities and a trust for again. his parents and seven siblings and their families. Little Johnny was eighty-seven inches He refused to do all commercials but one, a pub-

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lic service announcement for the Philadelphia public school system modeled on Charles Barkley‘s 1993 Nike commercial: I AM a role model, he told the cameras, the school system, the kids. I will lead by example, but you must follow me. He accepted no movie roles, no offers to start a music career, no cameos in music videos. He made going to school regularly cool, and there was an increase in attendance and literacy rates that educators attributed directly to him. He made getting good grades cool, and secondary schools and colleges started increasing the GPA requirements for athletes and found them easily met. He made the Ivy League cool, and some of the new education-minded athletes brought their games to Harvard and Yale and Dartmouth instead of more traditionally athletefriendly schools. He made Philadelphia cool, and tourism increased exponentially. He made New Balance cool, and sales outstripped Nike for the first time. And while basketball was always cool, he made it legendary. The papers said he had rejuvenated the sport, brought it back to its elements, restored its purity. People started watching basketball again for the game, focusing on the skills of the players rather than their quirks or personalities or love lives. The NBA was reporting record crowds, and not just at the games in which the 76ers were playing. Many players were motivated to play better than ever; most spoke about Little Johnny in reverent tones, inspired rather than jealous, emulating rather than denigrating. Of course, not all the players felt that way. There were a few players, maybe one per team or so, who didn‘t feel that way at all. They had enjoyed the spectacle that basketball had been before Little Johnny. They liked creating elaborate personalities that they gave to the public, like gifts, that kept people coming to games to watch them, in particular, rather than their teams. They liked being part of the larger entertainment world, meeting movie stars, being celebrities off the court for things other than their games. They liked the opportunities given to them to do all the other things they‘d put aside

in devotion to their basketball skills—acting, singing, rapping, dancing. They liked opening restaurants. They liked dating supermodels. They liked controversy. They didn‘t like Little Johnny. They assumed, at first, each of them, that they were alone. Almost everyone had rallied around Little Johnny, following his example, proclaiming his excellence: owners, managers, coaches, referees, teammates, fans. There were a few fans who complained about missing the spectacle basketball had been, but they were regularly shouted down by the other fans, by the mainstream media. It seemed like it wasn‘t okay to disagree with the changes to the game that his presence had brought. These few players remained silent, seething as time went on and the things they found fun slipped away. They grew angrier and more resentful until, eventually, they found each other. It might have happened when they watched each other‘s games on TV and noticed certain players looking at Little Johnny with hostility when they thought the cameras weren‘t on them. Maybe LaVerle Smith saw Andy Bowman intentionally foul Little Johnny in one of those televised games and read something into it. Maybe when the Knicks played the Celtics Smith managed to mutter a few choice comments about Little Johnny to Bowman and got in return the shock of recognition of a kindred spirit. Soon there was a network. They learned to recognize each other and shared information about others during their games. In quick whispered shorthand they would talk about who was with them and what was being done—little things, mostly, intentional fouls here and there, the occasional rumor spread to try and undermine the aura of perfection surrounding Little Johnny. None of the rumors ever stuck, and no major harm was done, but the networkers felt better knowing they weren‘t alone, that it wasn‘t just a dirty little secret but a wider concern. Smith became the de facto leader and often instructed the men in the ways of minor sabotage. They started trying to unsettle Little Johnny, making prank calls to his house, sending threatening letters to his family, his parents, his sib-

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lings. They weren‘t sure what their purpose was, other than to annoy and unsettle him. And that would have been all, if they hadn‘t found out about Jimmy Spencer. Spencer was a Sixer guard, Little Johnny‘s wingman. No one knew how he and Smith had found each other. Spencer hated Little Johnny with such fervor that the networkers, once they found out, couldn‘t imagine how they hadn‘t known before. He had been the shining star of the Sixers before Little Johnny came, with a fat five-year contract that had made him filthy rich. His contract was up for renewal in six months and he had been counting on getting more money— Philadelphia‘s proximity to Atlantic City had not served him well. Little Johnny had renewed his contract as well, accepting less than he was worth in exchange for a provision that ensured he would not be traded, and Spencer was hearing that Little Johnny‘s willingness to take the pay cut was having an impact on other ongoing contract negotiations. He was afraid he wouldn‘t be able to get the deal he had been expecting, and something needed to be done about it. Spencer wasn‘t satisfied with pranks and covertly hostile missives. More immediate and effective action was necessary. He commiserated with Smith wherever and whenever possible and, eventually, they came up with a plan. They needed to take Little Johnny out of commission, at least for a while. They settled upon a KnicksSixers game that was to be played at Madison Square Garden in a few weeks. Smith would foul Little Johnny on a rebound and would make sure to get Little Johnny on the ground. Spencer would come over to help Little Johnny up, but would actually be blocking him while Smith, unseen, took out his knee and knocked him out so his memory of the events would be subject to question. It was a risky plan, but they thought it could work. Can‘t tell anyone, though, Spencer said to Smith. The rest of those guys are happy fouling him once in a while. Smith nodded his agreement but couldn‘t resist telling Bowman, his first confidante. He felt it was the least he could do. He mentioned it

in passing, during a game. Bowman didn‘t say anything. The Knicks-Sixers game would have made it into the record books even if Spencer and Smith hadn‘t gone through with it. Little Johnny scored 62 points in the first half and the team as a whole scored 93, the most ever in the first half of a game. It seemed inevitable that multiple scoring records would be broken by the time the game ended. The crowd was going crazy every time Little Johnny even came near the ball—Sixers fans who‘d taken the train into New York rose in their seats for a standing ovation at the half; Knicks fans booed every time Little Johnny‘s name was mentioned over the loudspeaker. The second half started out a bit more slowly. Little Johnny, always generous and unconcerned about his own personal records, started passing more to give his teammates more chances to shoot, since it was a foregone conclusion that the Sixers were going to win the game—it was just a question of by how much. This made Spencer even angrier. He signaled to Smith—next time Little Johnny caught a rebound, they were good to go. They didn‘t have long to wait. One of Smith‘s teammates went in for a hook shot that bounced off the backboard, and Little Johnny jumped up to catch it. Smith was guarding him and managed to take him down, hard. There was a jumble of activity—other players had gotten caught in the tangle—and Spencer was able to shield Little Johnny‘s lower body from view while Smith brought his full body weight down and stomped on Little Johnny‘s left knee. Just as Smith was about to turn to get Little Johnny in the head he saw Spencer bring down his elbow sharply in Little Johnny‘s right eye, pushing his head down to the floor with a cracking sound. Little Johnny let out a whimper before he passed out. The room buzzed while the Sixers‘ coach came over to see how Little Johnny was doing. When it became clear that he was out cold, he signaled for the stretcher and the medics came to take Little Johnny off the court. The Knicks

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fans cheered while everyone tried to figure out what had gone on. The cameras were replaying the foul on the screens high above the center circle but there was so much activity it was hard to tell what had actually happened. Once Little Johnny had been taken away, the game started up again. The Sixers‘ hearts weren‘t in it, though, and with the exception of Spencer, who played extremely well, few players scored. They won easily, but they didn‘t live up to the promise of the first half. The Sixers fans didn‘t know whether to be happy about the victory or disappointed about the lost opportunity, so they left quietly, heads down, listening to the squeak of their shoes on the sticky concrete floor. The papers the next day were filled with reports on Little Johnny‘s medical condition. Hundreds of bouquets of flowers were delivered to the hospital where the doctors were operating on his knee and his eye. The doctors called a press conference at 5 p.m. and announced that Little Johnny‘s basketball career was over. Bowman was watching from a hotel room in Indiana. He called Smith from his cell phone. I just saw the news, he said. And I saw the replay of the foul. Pretty good, wasn‘t it? said Smith. Can‘t see a thing. Actually, you can, if you know what to look for, Bowman said. I didn‘t like it. It‘s got nothing to do with you. Forget about it. It‘s over now. Things will get better. I didn‘t like it, Bowman said again. What are you going to do about it? Smith asked. Don‘t know. We‘ll see. Smith got nervous. He wanted to talk to Spencer about it but they had agreed to stay away from each other, just in case. He only had to sweat it out for about a day, though. In the locker room after his game the next night, Bowman told a reporter what he knew. The story was all over the tabloids by morning. The headlines screamed JEALOUS CONSPIRATORS DOWN GENTLE GIANT!!! The tapes of the foul were reviewed and

re-reviewed by panels of coaches and referees, and then by the police, who determined after a couple of days that they had enough to book Smith and Spencer on battery and conspiracy charges. Stories came out about the other pranks the network members had pulled on Little Johnny, followed shortly thereafter by the first of the stories identifying the players involved. The owners, the managers, the coaches and the other players were furious. They couldn‘t believe what had been done to one of their own. The players were so outraged they refused to continue the season until all the members of the network had been identified and kicked off their respective teams. Management fought it, hoping to keep things moving, to keep ticket sales up, but gave in when it became clear that the players were serious. The fans were furious, too. Basketball had put them through the wringer, they thought. They‘d had it. It took months before all the network members were identified, and even then no one could be sure it was really over. The season started back up but hardly anyone came to the games. The bouncing of the basketballs echoed louder than anything the players had ever heard. They stopped wanting to play, and eventually they did stop. Some took early retirement; some took the New Sports route and started playing SlammerBall. Little Johnny was devastated. He hadn‘t wanted his accident to be the cause of something so monumental as the end of the sport he loved. He started doing more public service announcements to talk about how many things people can do even when they have disabilities. He coached the basketball team for the Special Olympics. He even did a commercial for the NBA to try to get the public interested in the game again. In the commercial he talked about what basketball had done for him, how it had given him more than he‘d ever managed to give back. Tears streamed down his face as he begged the fans to come back, but it was too late.

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ockey ended with a scream. The scream came from the throat of the goalie for the Detroit Red Wings, just before it was cut by the edge of Jerry Nimitz‘s skate during the first playoff game between the Red Wings and the L.A. Kings. The goalie barely saw Nimitz flying sideways at him and didn‘t have time to move. If he‘d had time to think about what he should have done he would have thought that moving would be beneficial but perhaps unnecessary, since the safety blades should have prevented serious injury. He didn‘t have time, of course, and it wouldn‘t have mattered, anyway, since Nimitz had removed the safety blades from his skates and hadn‘t yet been caught. He‘d also just had the blades sharpened. That was why the blade slid through the skin of the goalie‘s neck so easily. The line left by the skate was perfect and looked, for just a moment, like it was drawn by a thick maroon marker, the kind all the kindergarten kids had, the kind that smelled like fruit. It was only for a moment because the line soon turned into a flow of blood, a wash of thick liquid that fell onto the ice and bounced. Bounced! The fans didn‘t know what to do. Normally when they saw beads of blood bouncing on the ice it meant there was a fight, and that was exciting. They loved fights. The fights were why hockey had survived, even after the end of baseball and basketball and the increasing popularity of the New Sports, like SlammerBall and Hands-On Hard-Core Rugby. They were uncomfortable cheering now, when it seemed clear that someone could be seriously hurt. Once the other players started throwing punches, however, they roared with abandon, yelling out the names of their favorite players and encouraging them to kick the other team‘s collective ass. Hands and sticks and helmets were flying in the worst hockey brawl in recorded history. The game was eventually called off when it became clear that the fight could not be contained or stopped. No one in the stands realized until the next day that the goalie was dead.

His death could have been prevented. Before the playoffs started, Nimitz‘s coach had called him aside in the locker room and told him to get a new pair of skates without safety blades. The coach was acting on the recommendation of the team‘s owner, who in turn was relaying the decision of a secret meeting of all the team owners. They needed to do something, they felt, to save the game from dropping attendance and ratings because of the New Sports. The New Sports were all played indoors in studio arenas. There was no stadium, no studio audience. There was no safety equipment and few rules. They had all started out small, with cult followings and petitions from fans to stay on the air, but had grown in light of the decreased national sport options. Now they were taking over. The ratings were through the roof, fans were developing intense team loyalties, and sales of peripheral products were astronomical. The action figure of Hands-On Hard-Core Rugby‘s star center, Brett ―Bruiser‖ McCoy, sold out of every toy store in the country in less than an hour. Hockey was suffering. Ticket sales were down, merchandising sales had dropped sharply, and there were hardly any people even checking out the NHL website anymore. The sports pages paid hockey little attention, despite the fact that it was one of the only live sporting events independent of network television. Everyone was worried, but the team owners were terrified. The season had not been going well, and they needed to boost ratings and public interest for the playoffs, which were about to start. They decided to hold a meeting, in violation of a number of the laws of both the United States and Canada, to discuss the problem. The problem, they decided, stemmed from viewer boredom. Hockey had always been popular because it was the most violent sport, with the most potential for bloody altercations, and that was what the fans wanted to see. The New Sports had changed all that—SlammerBall had former basketball players using trampolines to reach baskets of progressively increasing height, and often the players fell or landed badly

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or pushed each other in midair. The potential for injury was very high and there was an average of one concussion per game. Hands-On Hard-Core Rugby was played with no helmets or protective gear and no refs—injury was guaranteed with every play. The level of violence in any given hockey game was nothing compared to the New Sports. Something needed to be done. And while there may have been better solutions, ones with less dramatic a long-term effect, or with more concern for the well-being of the players, the owners were short-sighted men who had expected to be making a lot of money, who had wanted to be making a lot of money, and weren‘t, so they went for what they felt was the most immediate and effective way of resolving the problem. They each returned to their cities and towns and had quiet, confidential meetings with the coaches. They told the coaches about the dilemma: if hockey couldn‘t begin to compete with the New Sports, the owners would have to shut down the teams. They told the coaches what they felt was the major contributing factor to the success of the New Sports. They told the coaches to come up with things to make hockey more viable. They had suggestions. The coaches were scared. They didn‘t dare talk to each other about what the owners had told them to do. They weren‘t sure if what they were being asked to do was illegal; they knew that they would be, at a minimum, breaking the rules and exposing themselves to liability in the event of serious injury. And yet the owners had a point—if they didn‘t take action, the sport would die and they would lose their jobs. And all the coaches loved their jobs. There were certain suggestions the owners had made that all the coaches adopted. They gave inspired speeches before the games telling the players about how the sport was in jeopardy, how they needed to make things more exciting—fancier skating tricks, more aerodynamics on the ice, more creative stick-play. They implemented aggressive game plans that resulted in a greater likelihood of penalties and instigated more fights between the players. They started

ordering cheaper protective gear—it saved the team money and was more likely to fail in ways that were dramatic but not excessively dangerous (although who was to be the final arbiter of what was excessively dangerous?). They allowed the players to wear gloves that were old and cracked and could scratch through skin during fights. Those were the easy things. Some of the coaches took the owners‘ instructions more seriously than others. They identified players they felt were cooperative and potentially unscrupulous and took them aside, told them to go after certain players, to start fights, trip people up. The Kings‘ coach was the worst. Not only did he have Nimitz get new skates, he had other players change their sticks for older sticks, splintered and ready to crack and become dangerous, or newer sticks, specially ordered with metal cores that could be used effectively in ice-fights. He didn‘t want anyone seriously hurt, he told them; it was just that everyone knew that blood sold tickets. They just needed a little more blood, that was all. The players were afraid. They were afraid that the owners would give up and that hockey would go the way of baseball and basketball. They were equally afraid that the things the coaches were telling them to do could cause serious harm. They didn‘t know what to do. Some of them listened to what the coaches said but decided to ignore it; others listened to what the coaches said and took it very, very seriously. Nimitz, naturally, was a member of the latter group. During practices he tried to test the limits of his new blades, which were lighter than the safety blades even though they looked the same. He found that he was able to jump higher and land more easily and that it was easier to stop when skating really fast. He started practicing special jumps that made him feel like he was flying, if only for a short time—he would skate as fast as he could, then use his stick to propel himself forward through the air. At first he fell a lot, his upper body traveling faster and further than his lower body, and he would land nearly face-down. He discovered that the solution was to get his legs out in front of him, so that he was

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flying blades-first. He could then try to hipcheck opposing players on the landing, which made them hit the ice harder. He loved the feeling. He thought perhaps this could become a trademark move for him, something that would make him famous. He didn‘t know how right he was. The first playoff game was held in Detroit. Whenever the Red Wings made it to the playoffs they released an enormous purple stuffed octopus onto the ice before the beginning of the first home game, symbolizing the eight games a team would have had to win to win the Stanley Cup years ago, back when there were only six teams. Sometimes, during the season, the fans would throw little octopi on the ice, and in between periods someone would take them and place them on the Zamboni and drive them around the stadium. The Red Wings‘ coach had decided that this year the team-sanctioned stuffed octopus would be replaced with a giant, live squid. That was sure to get some media attention, he thought. Unfortunately, the squid didn‘t like being on the ice and resisted efforts to remove it. They were forced to try to nudge it with the Zamboni, which caused the squid to become angry and release sprays of ink. The Zamboni eventually, inadvertently, ran it over and the game was delayed by an hour while the ice was cleaned and the squid‘s remnants removed. The Kings‘ coach pulled Nimitz aside. This is not a good start, he said. Half the reporters have gone home. We need to get some publicity here. Do whatever you need to do. Nimitz nodded. He wasn‘t sure exactly what the coach was looking for but he could at least try to pull some dramatic moves. He waited for his opportunity and finally saw his chance. There was a crush of players speeding toward the Red Wings‘ goal, and there were two wingers that needed to be taken down so the Kings could score. He tried to gather as much speed as he could before he planted his stick and soared through the air. The wingers tried to charge him and knock him down mid-flight but the Kings‘ defensemen were ready and knocked them all

out of the way. Nimitz hadn‘t anticipated this, hadn‘t anticipated that there would be nothing but clean white space between him and the goalie. There wasn‘t time to stop. Over the next few weeks, the papers editorialized to no end about the increasing level of violence in sports, including the New Sports. The owners thought they had succeeded, that they were getting the publicity they needed, but they hadn‘t counted on a startling admission from the producers of the New Sports programs: the violence was faked. Everyone had known that the old wrestling programs were staged, but no one had suspected that the New Sports were as well. The owners and coaches realized that they had been duped. A couple of them were horrified at their own actions and confessed in interviews what they had planned. Nimitz and the Kings‘ coach were arrested. The players were horrified and refused to play. Many of them signed on with a new New Sports team, a variation on hockey with no protective equipment and no rules, but with safety blades. The fans were horrified and refused to come to real hockey games. They preferred the fake violence, the security of knowing that no one was really going to be hurt. There was something comforting about it.

F

ootball ended with silence. The silence was the silence of the crowd. It would have been described as being just like a scene from a movie if anyone had lived to describe it, but no one did. The bomb squad found evidence of at least 200 pipe bombs in the rubble, indicating that apparently one was set for each section of the Network Associates Coliseum, where the Oakland Raiders were playing the Dallas Cowboys. They were on timers. They went off simultaneously. Only one malfunctioned but it didn‘t matter; the people in that section were all killed by the bombs detonating in the surrounding areas. There was a bigger one planted on the side of the field. It took care of the players, the coaches, the cheerleaders and the referees.

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Here are some other things the bomb squad found in the rubble: hundreds of pieces of exploded footballs. Shreds of fabric from children‘s scarves and hats in bright colors, pink, purple, green, blue, red, orange, covered in dust. Football and motorcycle helmets, intact, some with heads still in them. Melted pieces of portable electronics equipment—MP3 players, Walkmans, cell phones. Car keys. Jewelry. Fillings. Five terrorist cells claimed responsibility for the bombing but none provided conclusive evidence of their involvement. The President decided the best course of action was to take action against all of them. All the athletes from all the remaining teams volunteered for active duty. They were sent to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the newly-established state of Palestine. A moratorium was declared on football, the only real team sport left, while the players were away. No one complained. They watched the wars on television, and when they were tired of watching the wars, they watched the New Sports, which were like the wars, violent and free of the constraints of elaborate rules, but also unlike the wars, staged and ultimately not very dangerous. They watched the New Sports and, eventually, convinced themselves that nothing had ever been different.

Autograph

H Scott Akalis

___________________________________

is eyes pace back and forth like a zoo animal, confined between the fan in front of him and the line behind. You wait patiently but anxiously in that line, almost certain that he just looked at you. He lifts his left hand above the table for the first time and glances at the face of his phone. You ignore what‘s in his hand and see what‘s on it: last season‘s World Series ring. You wonder how this moment will affect the two of you after you part: how impressed your friends will be when they see the signed ball on the top of your bedroom dresser; how he will think of you and your words of support after a strikeout, when the deep boos enter his ears and echo inside his chest; how you will share the

credit when he shakes it off and crushes a homer in his next at bat; and how he will trot around third and look up into the stands, searching for you with thanks on his tongue. A kid behind you inches up at your side. You give him a nasty look so he won‘t cut. You shift the slick, new Spaulding between your hands, fooling around with grips for different pitches: four-seam fastball, curve, circle-change, and knuckler. Your hand is not big enough for a split-finger. You pull the Sharpie out of your pocket, signing your own name on the palm of your hand to make sure it still works. The cap back on, you twirl it to calm your nerves. Ten more before it‘s you up there. Time to rehearse your lines. You will start with one that is trite but true: I‘m a huge fan of yours. He will thank you. Then you will tell him you were there when he hit that walk-off against the White Sox. Next, you will make him laugh; this will be the hardest part, but you still have time to think about it. Finally, you will let him know when he will see you next: the first weekend series after Opening Day, against the Royals. The guy sitting next to him, wearing the suit and operating the cash box, whispers something as the next boy approaches. They laugh. You want to say what that guy said, but whatever it was, it‘s taken now. Jokes eluding you, physical humor comes to mind. You consider making a funny face, but it wouldn‘t fit in with your lines. Then you have the brilliant idea of mimicking his batting stance. The Sharpie would make a funny bat. You could exaggerate his wag and bend your knees extra low. You can just see him laughing, pointing, and telling the man in the suit to check it out. Only five more to go. You perspire now: armpits, forehead, and hands. You hold the Spalding by the seams, fearing his signature will mix with your sweat and smear. You go through your lines again, visualizing the batting stance too. After you tell him when you will see him next, he invites you to the other side of the table and whispers the joke that the man in the suit told him. You to-

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tally crack up as the long, envious line stares at the two of you. One kid away. You slide your cash to the guy in the suit, who says nothing in return. You‘re so close now that you can see stubble, smell cologne. You pin the Sharpie against the ball and hold them both in your right hand. You go over your opening line again. Your left foot taps restlessly on the floor, as does your heart against your ribs. The kid in front of you takes forever. You hope he won‘t be too tired from this kid to spend enough time with you. You shuffle closer to the boy, looming right beside his shoulder to remind him there‘s a whole line waiting. He keeps on yapping, oblivious. Sweat streaming, your lines racing through your head, you can‘t take it any longer. You nudge the kid to the side with your elbow. From just across the table, not even two feet away, he looks up at you and makes indisputable eye contact. You feel warm and yet frozen. You realize this moment will forever be a part of his memory and yours. What was that line? You can‘t believe you‘ve forgotten it. You‘re surprised and thankful when he opens his mouth to speak first. ―Sir,‖ he says, ―you need to wait your turn.‖

Bluetime

W Ariel Dreyer

___________________________________

hile the rest of the world sleeps, I am out here again, my bare feet turning pink from the cold, dewsoaked grass. It's blue-time--the time between five and six a.m. when the night sky races to meet morning, when the sparrows ruffle their chilly feathers and begin to chirp their famished songs. The hour is so still it sends prickles throughout my skin. It lays its stark blue quietude upon the hills and the houses and the bark-weary patterns on the trees. Against the monochrome, I am rife with color. Against the hush, I am teeming with noise. Against this limbo, this lacuna, this strange state of suspension, I reclaim a rhythm

that has been lost in the rush of the waking world. There is something about the stillness of this hour that numbs an incessant need to chase after memories--that weightless feeling as you careen through the air on a swing set, the shining green collars of the lilies on the lawn, the crusted, worn leather seats of your dad's pick-up --and the nearly impossible task of trapping them on paper with pen to instill the future with the same grandeur that time has stamped onto the past. There is something about this blue-time that rubs nostalgia and anticipation away so that the present moment may shine, and all I can feel is the blurry triumph of a night spent without sleep, the glorious exhaustion in my muscles, the icy shock of wet grass on my feet. But it's just a moment like any other. Soon time sets itself into motion as alarm clocks ring and the busy people of the world start their cars or walk to work, the patter of their patentleather shoes a record of each second that passes by. There is something about the speed of the waking world that runs me off the tracks. I was born deaf to rhythm, dumb to numbers, and blind to all things quantifiable. I clap on the up, confuse five and six, and mistake daydreams for things that have happened in the past. My fiancé says I have an erratic heartbeat. When I'm lying down, he says, the thumps in my chest are totally unpredictable: they speed up then slow down, go legato then staccato and flutter away at hummingbird-speed. Perhaps some would say I am overanalyzing, but I think I have an abnormal resistance to the progression of time. If you were to access my entire Google-search history, you would find, among Toll House cookie recipes and links to free movie downloads, the map points on my vain net-quest for immortality. You would find the quasi-scientific health benefits of spirulina (an edible plant said to grant the consumer eternal life), articles on Aubrey de Grey (a geneticist racing to offer humankind biological immortality), and a Wikipedia page on various views of the afterlife. Somewhere along the way I stum-

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bled across a book called The Selfish Gene, by British geneticist Richard Dawkins. Genes, says Dawkins, must be selfish in order to replicate, and thus to continue to exist; and we are mere ―survival machines‖ for our genes, the vehicles by which they launch themselves into the future. Individuals, he points out, are transient, but genes, if successful, can last forever. In his book, Dawkins coined the term ―meme‖–a cultural transmission passed on from person to person. Memes, like genes, are passed on through natural selection, they are immortal, and they can mutate. They are ideas, information, trends, religions, languages, stories, vestiges of a fundamental desire to propagate, to perpetuate; traces of our legacies. So there it is. A scientific explanation as to why I must write; as to why we all must write or make art or love or children. But where is the time to pin down all these tokens of immortality? That time speeds as we get older is a fact of relativity, and a cold one at that. The first ten years are the longest ten years we will experience, ever, and the subsequent decades will be mere flashes in the relativistic pan, becoming blips on the radar towards the end of our lives. So a few years ago, with the feeling that the years were accelerating to a speed that was faster than I could handle, I began a stubborn protest on sleep. For two years, I slept as little as I could manage. Eight hours of twenty-four was too much time to spend curled in a fetal position cutting up pieces from my day and rearranging them into dreams I probably wouldn‘t remember in the morning. Sleep, I thought, while pleasant, was nothing but a ravenous consumer of hour upon hour; sleep was the devil and I wanted to be good. So I spent my hours deliberately, taking speed and caffeine and hot showers to jolt me back into states of wakefulness. All the things one can do while the world sleeps. I read books. I organized my closet. I typed up stories and essays, scribbled small bursts of narrative. I shaved my legs with Raspberry Rain shaving gel. I experimented with the little I had in my kitchen: whole wheat pasta, cherry tomatoes, tamari, and other condiments like chipotle sauce and ginger-

soy dressing. And as the infomercials played in the background of my own personal hustle and bustle, I resisted the urge to pick up the phone and order the knife that could slice deli-thin shavings from a nickel, or the vacuum-like product that could shrink-wrap clothes like beef jerky so the moths wouldn‘t make tiny holes in the homecoming dress shoved into a dusty corner of the attic that would never fit again. The speed I took was prescribed to me, a medication to aid in concentration. It has always had the effect of slowing time so that I could catch up. When I am on the medication, I am closed off, not hungry, bubbling inside myself. Pulses of heat prickle my skin. I come alive through fluttering palpitations, mini heartattacks. I confuse nausea for hunger. I am dismissive, jittery, quick to anger. When I lie down in my bed and shut off the lights, three or four hours after the medication is supposed to wear off, I am attacked again with an inner electric charge. I am a buzzing network, but I am content. Death and time are passing thoughts that quickly pop in and out of existence, and even then they are only philosophical, theoretical, not felt. I do not feel like an animal with a death sentence; I feel like a machine that can only grasp death as a hypothetical concept. I feel invincible. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that disorder, known scientifically as entropy, can only increase with time. Stephen Hawking once illustrated this law by letting a cup drop to the ground and shatter into shards. The shards, he said, would never gather themselves back to form a cup; they would only break down into tinier pieces and resume their existence as grains of sand or specks of dust. It is said that this asymmetry of disorder, this imbalance of chaos and order, is what allows us to distinguish the past from the future. And like the shards, this disorder can never retreat back into coherence; it can only continue on, dispersing molecules out into the universe to mix and mingle with other molecules that they had not been acquainted with in their original state. And memes and genes grow and evolve and stick to other memes or genes like sticky rice because they‘re

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selfish. How is it that the universe is not ripping at the seams, with ideas and stories and memories and strands of DNA all coming undone, genes and memes floating through the world like bits of broken china, so worn from time you begin to question whether they came from china at all. I‘m not sure when exactly it happened, but sometime in my early childhood, I became accustomed to graveyards–not because they had become for me a place to mourn dead relatives, to send my final goodbyes as some great aunt or distant cousin was lowered into the fresh soil– but because they had become a place of recreation and repose. Every Saturday, my father would take me to see the puppet shows that were held at the Unitarian Universalist church in our town. After the show, we would visit the adjacent cemetery and play Hide and Seek or read a chapter of Alice Through the Looking Glass. I have these little bits of memory smeared along the periphery of my brain: fragments of sun-bleached grass, hard gray headstones, and a feeling of security as I sat atop those headstones, the warmth of morning heating my body and stinging my eyes, reminding me of my own existence. These memories are mostly implicit– physical memories that still linger in corners of my body and fabricate specific scenarios for my brain. Here I am, I would think, I am here and not there, my eyes resting on a grassless patch of ground. I thought myself magic in a way; I was one of the only living people in the cemetery. I liked being among the dead. It made me feel that much more alive. It opened up the world and isolated time itself. Even now, in some corridor of my mind, a part of me is forever perched upon a sunny headstone. I look back on my time in the cemetery as a constant, a thing that is always there, though intangible. But even in the seemingly-immortal bank of memory, time eats away at exactitude. Details blur, disappear, mutate. Details are forged, counterfeited, accidentally filed into the wrong memory. We collage memories from stories heard, pictures seen, movies watched–and could swear they were constructed from our own raw materi-

als: from our eyes, our ears, our gut. We can never be sure whether or not we have remembered the past accurately. But consider for a moment this: I know someone who has frequent fits of déjà-vu, and they aren‘t your typical episodes. They come like orgasms of the amygdala, and for about thirty seconds he is a prophet: he predicts, out loud, the next song to come on the radio, the breed of dog that will dash across the street, the sputtering out of a streetlight, the sentence on the tip of my tongue. He intuits the immediate future, a time thought to be even less accessible than the distant, dormant past. Einstein saw time as a constant, blocklike dimension in which the past, present, and future are all happening simultaneously, so that we are the ones moving in a linear direction through time. So if the future is already here, playing out in tandem with Then and Now, why can‘t we siphon memories from it? I‘ve had flashes of what feels to be my future. Perhaps they are merely fictions made from dreams, déjà-vus, lapses in the synapses of my brain. But this is what they say: I will live in a montage of Ivory soap and old architecture, drugstore commercials and bright sunny lawns, alongside the ghost of a child with dark hair and a politician‘s smile. I will wrap myself in tattered blankets and pull turnips out from under the earth. I will visit the sea on weekends and wear aprons while baking cookies. A man will bring me dandelions at night and make love to me on the edge of the bed and go back to his wife before the sun rises. I will hold hour-long conversations with telemarketers while peeling carrots. I will wear dresses with flowers and ruffles and touches of white eyelet, and I will tell the ghost child I’m sorry. And we will play patty-cake and sing do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man? I will sit down before an old typewriter and try to recreate my day with ABCs, with commas and quotation marks and periods. I will avoid ? and ! and try not to think too long and hard about why I‘m here and what it all means. When I was four I asked my mother for a little sister. I imagined her as a gymnast named

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Nicole with straight black hair. She would be bigger than me, and she would have my mother‘s face, but fair and freckled rather than tanned. A few months later, my mother was pregnant. My sister came out as Marina NevilleNicole. She was a plump, slothful baby with curly blonde hair and a cherubic face that looked nothing like Nicole‘s. We are looking through an old photo album with a copper-colored leaf print. In it lie proofs of our past, blueprints for moments of our childhood, or before. Our mother with the Indian-like gap between her two front teeth in a teal sweater and a white beret; Dad and the bright peacock tattoo on his arm whose myriad colors have since faded from years of working in the sun; my three-year-old self on the floor of our grandmother‘s kitchen in a red Little Miss Muffet hat and a Scooby-Doo life-jacket. I tell Marina the stories tied to the photos, but she dismisses them, too impatient to listen. For her, the photographs do not conjure the past like the memories inside our heads; the photos are their own objects, belonging to the present. They have a beauty and a story that is all their own, a story that has nothing to do with our illremembered past. She has been taking a photography class, and she has been looking at Diane Arbus‘ work, whose name, as she frequently reminds me, is pronounced DEE-Ann, not DIE-Ann. ―It looks like there‘s light coming out from beneath the table in this one,‖ she says, inspecting a picture taken when I was six years old. It was Christmastime, I know, because I am wearing a blue velvet dress and a gold locket, and I am kneeling before the glass-top coffee table, arms rested on it, looking downward because it had come to my attention that the tags on my gifts that said ―To Ariel, Love Santa Claus‖ were in my mother‘s bubbly script. And indeed, there does appear to be some source of light coming from beneath the table and illuminating my face. The last photograph in the book: At 16, she stands at five foot six, three inches taller than I am at twenty, and boasts a 36 D cup-size

under an Enties sweatshirt, probably borrowed from a boy at school who has a crush on her. Freckles spill like grains of sand across her nose, and her thick, once black hair is ruined with streaks of bleach that halo her head in the sunlight. She smiles, eyes half-open, as she holds out a dandelion, bright yellow, which seems to her to be the most important thing in the world right now; she holds it like a scepter, a trophy, a relic of power, a relic she wants you to look at long enough to notice that yes, it is the most important thing in the world right now. It is a thing to see right now, it is a thing for her to hand to her French teacher after sauntering into the classroom ten minutes late while exclaiming ―Je regrette, Madame, but everyone knows that time is an illusion anyway.‖ It is a thing she can hold in her hand and pluck bright slivers of petal from, something she can rub against her palm and smell the peppery pollen paint it leaves behind. Only it isn‘t, not for you, the viewer, because it remains trapped in the stillness of the photograph. And the petals and the pollen remain pure in your mind, untainted by specific experience, sitting quietly in an archetypal memory that is tied only to the senses; it is a timeless memory, a timeless relic, an idea called dandelion. Before I learned any better, I had no idea that one could remember only the past and not the future. I didn‘t know that real memories couldn‘t be composed of things that haven‘t happened. This is one of my most vivid early memories: I am in a small, safety-orange tent. I am four years old and I am clicking my tongue with the babysitter: clu, cla, clu, cla, tick, tock, tick, tock. When I am done clicking, I run out of the tent, up the hill to my swing set, but a scaly, olive-green triceratops is blocking my way. She looks at me past her huge, tarnished horn. I look up to the sky, where a big bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup hovers among the painted clouds, ready to flip over and drench me. This personal story, which logically equates to a dream, to me registers as a true memory. I do not remember this story as I remember dreams I‘ve had. My dream-memories are in third person, on a bleary little T.V. screen with no sound. They come to

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me in five-second flashes, tainted with verdigris, wholly chimerical in their handling of time. This memory bursts with color: the quivering orange of the tent, the blue shock of electric sky, the glowing brown of the syrup in the bottle. This memory has a sound and a taste and a feel, a feeling of having actually happened. I find myself retreating to faded memories of having great hope for the future. Well here I am. Where is the future? Where is my great hope? All I have are these memories of great hope. I remember being small, looking at adult women and thinking, God. Someday I‘m going to have their life. Someday I‘m going to stand out on someone‘s beautiful back deck and lean over the wood railing, sparkling cocktail in hand, and look out at the inky humid July sky. Someday I‘m going to live in France and write novels and have children and maybe own the world, or at least think I do. I could feel the weight, the significance of the life that stretched out before me. But here is the future, and I feel no weight, no significance. No child-like contentment. I have traveled at light-speed along with time and memory and I am travelling further and further away from a hope I keep trying to regain, like all those china-shards of memes and genes floating further and further away from their pretty little teacups. The cemetery, 1991: I try to see what the world looks like if I close one eye and keep the other open. What it looks like if I let my eyelids droop halfway down my eyes: a sleepy, underwater world of fluctuating light, a world built from the slippery stones of memory. I return from this world worn and weathered, breathless and sea-beaten, wasted remains washed up on the darkened shore. Where is my time? Where is my timelessness? I am chasing after certain moments, after fragments of light and hard gray headstones; after teal fabric and the faded tails of peacocks; after white lilies and inky humid skies, swing sets and triceratops, ghost-children and men that fuck me on the bed‘s edge. Will we ever stop building our future on the unreliable holiness of our memories? Our entire society is either paralyzed by

perpetual nostalgia or preoccupied by the future. Too often we have found ourselves splashing in the wake of time among our memories or making too many lists, too many dreams. Maybe the trouble is that we don‘t quite know how to fill the space that spans the present moment and our inevitable death. Because it is just a space, and death is inevitable, we don‘t want to delve too deep. We don‘t want to become so entwined in that space that when death comes, we are unprepared. No, that‘s not what I mean. It‘s not that we don‘t want to, it‘s that we can‘t. We‘re so terrified that we‘ll get so involved with life and fall in love with the world that we‘ll lose track of time and it will all be gone in an instant. To live from moment to moment means to free-fall with no parachute above nor cushion below. When you live, you charge forward. You begin to die. And I am told that when you die, you start to dissolve. Your body disseminates into molecules, into atoms and quarks and leptons and gluons and then to neutrinos, billions of neutrinos. And those neutrinos become particles of light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second out in every direction. And you-- you turn to sound: to verbs and adjectives, to fragments and run-ons, to the breath between the phrases of sentences that strive to be whole, complete, but can end only in ellipses; to single words, to vowels, to morphemes and phonemes, to the irrevocable heat of entropy. To scattered, splayed disorder.

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t

A Great Wrestler Christopher Mulrooney_________________________________

he story of Guy Thing would they have come out of the way and give me hearing I saw his last match against Montezuma's Revenge whose idiot screaming had threatened all our sanity though if truth be told 'twas just a ruse to drive us all out of the arena if not our minds he spun the midget around and bounced him off the ropes like a ham the Whore of Babylon was another wrestler she went down around the underskirts of the ring and fished out her magic wand a bamboo pole and she was formidable I'll grant you that but she went flying up the ramp likewise

Picking Teams

I

Evan James Roskos _________________________________

couldn‘t stop thinking about Danny Scutaro‘s sons. The cocky little athletes. Pop Warner football wizards (one a QB, one a receiver); point guard and center in basketball; like Hamels and Utley in Little League. Not only were his sons the town all-stars, Danny Scutaro was a saintly war-hero now. He‘d spent over a year working in Iraq as a contractor, came back loaded, and now everyone in town talked about him like he‘d single-handedly captured Saddam Hussein and dragged him home by his bunker-beard. Even without all the invisible medals people wanted to give him, he had the prestige of being the president of the Little League and a coach; a defensive coach for Pop Warner football; The Paving King (with a cartoonish version of his face on a fleet of new trucks and steamrollers); the host of massive summer barbecues the entire town knew about; and celebrated father of two strong sons that adolescence had embraced easily. How did a guy like Danny deserve all that? I wasn‘t a bad buy, but I didn‘t get to go to

Iraq to get paid a thousand times my normal rate. How come I got one son and he was not only a fucking disaster on the baseball diamond but also a biological, emotional, psychological disaster? Even the way his body responded to clothes was terrible. My son Matt had endured the misery of being terrible at baseball from fourth until sixth grade. This year he told Cheryl to tell me that he didn‘t want to play anymore. She told me he was afraid I‘d be mad. So was she. Little did they both realize that I couldn‘t have been happier. There was nothing worse than wasting a pick in the draft on Matt only to have him ride the bench and occasionally strike out, much to the irritation of the entire team. The night before the draft, as I studied my essentially useless draft notes, she urged me to ask him to play one last time. But I couldn‘t see a reason. ―He told you and you told me that he didn‘t want to play anymore,‖ I said. ―Why should I make him play?‖ I shouldn‘t make him because it would mean my team would stink, again, and I wanted this year to be great. I even went through a whole thing to get lights installed on the major league field. Night games, a chance at a good team. It would feel like fun for once. It would be fun! ―He just needs a growth spurt and he‘ll fill out,‖ Cheryl said. ―If he puts on a little weight he‘ll be more dangerous to those around him. His brain can‘t control his body now. Do you know the kids call him ‗Scrawny‘? That‘s his nickname. Scrawny.‖ ―Everyone goes through an awkward phase.‖ ―I didn‘t.‖ This was a lie. In fact, I was a bad baseball player in little league, too. Coaches put me at second base because I was a lefty, but groundballs kept going through my legs or over my mitt. I couldn‘t hit, either, so the coaches tried to make me a pitcher. I couldn‘t get the ball over the plate and beaned one kid in the face so bad that I refused to keep pitching. I knew how to hit

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and how to pitch; I just couldn‘t get my body to respond to the commands I read in various books about baseball. The words in my head meant nothing to my muscles. In high school, despite my father grumbling about the cost, I got glasses. Then I could hit and field really good. There was talk of scholarships to North Carolina and Cal State. Nothing happened, but there was talk. My coaches and parents and friends constantly assured me of all the talking. I ended up at Rutgers in Camden, where essays and multiple choice tests got the best of me and the baseball team left much to be desired. I never got a degree, but I had some loans to pay off. ―Maybe he‘s more of a soccer player,‖ Cheryl said. ―He can‘t do all that running.‖ And his feet were too big; and he was scared of getting hit by the ball or kicked by the players; and his reactions were so goddamn slow. I asked Matt a question at dinner last week—something about a permission slip—and he stared at the salt shaker for at least eight seconds before replying: ―I‘m not sure.‖ ―If he‘s not going to play, I think we should send him to that dinosaur camp he‘s been asking about,‖ Cheryl said. I‘d already tapped into our family vacation money to pay for the lights. There was no way I was going to finish that and pay for Matt to go dig up dinosaur bones somewhere out in Montana or wherever. Danny Scutaro came home and threw down thousands to get a scoreboard installed at the fields and here I was installing the lights myself, buying the supplies myself, calling in favors and buying beer for my buddies to help, promising my boss (who didn‘t get called to Iraq and get his employees rich) that I wouldn‘t damage his equipment while installing the lights. Now Cheryl wanted me to pay for some camp with money I didn‘t really have. ―Isn‘t he too old for dinosaurs?‖ I asked. ―Apparently not. Besides, we saved money by not buying him new shoes and a uniform and for the registration fee.‖ ―Baseball would have been way cheaper

than camp.‖ I listened to Cheryl briskly flip through her People magazine. The pages sounded like they were being viscously torn. Last year, I thought about getting Cheryl pregnant again, to see if we could make a new boy that was better than Matt. But the whole process would take too long and who‘s to say we were capable of even creating a good kid? I put my draft notes on the nightstand, pulled the warm pillow from behind my back, and laid down. ―Do all the guys pick their own sons in the draft?‖ she asked. ―Or do you get them automatically?‖ ―Everyone picks their son.‖ It was easy for the other coaches. Their sons were good at sports. They weren‘t amazing, not across the board, but they tried. They liked to try. But even trying seemed too hard for my son. As I fell asleep, though, I got an idea. My first pick didn‘t have to be wasted. I could pick anyone I wanted. I got very little sleep once I realized what to do. * The truth is that I love baseball more than anything else. Other sports are too frenetic. Baseball has the pace of a lazy afternoon, watching and even playing allows one‘s attention span to intensify and then soften. Every pitch stops the breath, the heart. Between each pitch are twenty seconds of nothing. It‘s like constantly stretching a rubber band. Eventually it‘ll snap. But when? My love affair with baseball mirrored my love affair with Summer Sitwell in high school. I dreamed of seeing her naked. I was like that rubber band—stretching myself to extreme points of lust and love only to give up when she failed to acknowledge my awesomeness. I told my friends how badly I wanted to fuck her. I told her friends how much I liked her, how beautiful and funny she was. At a 9th grade teen center, I asked her to dance. She said she‘d only dance with me to ―November Rain‖ by Guns N‘ Roses, which the DJ was bound to play. When I heard the little twinkle of Axl Rose‘s piano, I

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rushed to find Summer but only found Cheryl, her best friend, who said Summer had left with a senior. Even when I started dating Cheryl, Summer barely paid attention to me, which was kind of rude. Cheryl would always say that Summer was a bad friend, and I‘d respond that Summer was probably really lonely because she was so beautiful and popular. On our wedding day, I secretly hoped that Summer would stop the ceremony by revealing her foolishly slow-todevelop realization that she and I belonged together. Instead, Cheryl‘s ―I do‖ was unencumbered. Instead, Summer got drunk and slept with my ugliest brother. Instead, I got a job working construction. Instead, I had a son that inherited all of our garbage genes. * The draft was taking place in Danny Scutaro‘s McMansion game room. Pot-lights in the ceiling threw white light over everything. He even had stereo speakers in the wall. There were foosball and air hockey tables and not the cheap kind from Target or Wal-Mart, either. Probably made by a company that solely focused on top quality gaming tables. I looked for glimmering ―Made in the USA‖ stickers that would confirm their expensiveness and Danny‘s patriotism. Danny and Summer lived happily in the part of town that caused all our taxes to soar and provided five and six bedroom houses for couples who planned to have kids. Someday. Most of Danny‘s neighbors were reportedly internet millionaires. ―Nice game tables,‖ I said. ―Did Iraq pay for this?‖ ―No, pure state paving contract money paid for those.‖ Danny laughed. Before he went to the Middle East, Danny lived on the side of town Cheryl and I had settled in, close to the highway and the Stubborn Mule apartments, where pizza delivery guys got no tips or worse, robbed. ―I‘m surprised you still have to work.

That Iraq money will go a long way.‖ ―We‘re set for a while. My old boss got the real deal. If the boys don‘t get college scholarships, they won‘t have to worry about loans or anything like we did.‖ ―You ever think of going back over there?‖ This phony stone stare came onto Danny‘s face. I bet this is what he looked like any time someone asked him what it was like. ―It was a strange place.‖ I spun the handle on the foosball table and accidentally sent one of the balls clattering off. The rest of the coaches had already gathered around a huge wooden table that looked like it belonged in a whites-only hunting lodge. The kind that‘s manufactured to look old but people still want you to use coasters on. In our backyard, Cheryl and I had a red table that had been overexposed to the elements. I got splinters in my ass every summer. ―You gonna have the lights up for the first game this Saturday night?‖ Danny asked me. ―The lights will be up and ready to go. But technically your game is number three.‖ Me and Danny had butted heads over the installation of the two towering lights that would light the little league field. Games weren‘t often called because of darkness, but I thought it would be a cool thing for the kids. Plus, I thought if games could go a bit later, then two games could be played on the field reserved for the major league teams, instead of relegating a game to the lesser-quality minor league field that lacked a fence and a scoreboard and had aluminum benches instead of full-blown dugouts. My team played a ton of games on the minor league field and I hated it. ―It‘s the first big game. Under the lights.‖ Danny had a way of kidding people that didn‘t feel like kidding, but whenever the subject of the lights came up, I took things personally. When he first came back, Danny had a scoreboard installed on the field. The township even named the field after him. When I pro-

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posed to install the lights a few weeks later, he immediately objected. He tried to say that the glow would bother him and his neighbors. I got the parks department to do a survey and found out that most of the people didn‘t care as long as the lights were out by eleven. But then Danny said he didn‘t see the added value, didn‘t think the parents would want to be out at the field until nine or even ten at night, didn‘t think the league could afford the lights, didn‘t think the town could afford the lights, didn‘t think the kids would really care, didn‘t know if only two light poles would cover the whole field. He finally tried to argue that it was against the rules of little league and threatened the integrity of the game. But I won. ―I still can‘t believe we‘re gonna have night games,‖ Rich asked from the other end of the table. ―How did you get the town to pay for it, Jerry?‖ I thought everyone already knew the deal. Our town was small enough to have no secrets yet big enough to have a weekly town newspaper run by four people with a combined fifteen college credits in journalism and very gossipy spouses. ―I‘m footing the bill. Some supplies and some beer for the guys I work with. I‘m gonna see about writing it off as a donation to the town since it‘s technically for the park and not specifically for the league.‖ Danny scratched his face in a way that suggested it wasn‘t just his skin that was irritated. I made it sound easy, even though half the costs had already ended up on my credit card. We got down to business. Danny recounted last week‘s t-ball and minor league drafts before updating us on the new uniform printing costs. He went over the draft order, the rules about trades, and stressed that he didn‘t want this to take all night. I was nervous about my first round pick. I usually picked Matt in the first round because that‘s when everyone picked their own sons. This meant instead of a truly talented kid, I got

Matt, resulting in a crippled team that lacked a key position player. After the first two coaches picked their sons, I hesitated. I showed up tonight promising myself that I‘d pick Danny Scutaro‘s oldest son in the first round. But I couldn‘t do it with everyone waiting and staring and Danny himself ready to pick right after me. ―I‘ll take Simon Gatwick.‖ Best hitter in the league and probably twice the size of half the kids in his grade, so not a bad choice at all. ―Must feel pretty good not to have to waste a pick on Matt this year,‖ Danny said. It was one of those things that you were afraid you had said out loud before realizing someone else had just read your mind and said it for you. I looked up and tilted my head like I wasn‘t sure what I‘d heard. A few of the coaches chuckled in the way that assholes perfect in their childhood, at the back of the classroom, in movie theaters, in malls, in the dugouts, on the sidelines. It was the kind of laugh that Matt probably heard all the time and here the kid had decided not to play and he was still the butt of a joke. But I was the one that had to hear it. ―I guess it‘s nice,‖ I wanted to say more. ―I‘m not trying to be a dick. I just know Matt wasn‘t really that great on your team.‖ ―Yeah.‖ It wasn‘t worth fighting about, but I was surprised how defensive I got. Matt drove me crazy on a daily basis. Hourly, sometimes. These guys only saw him riding the bench, striking out, dragging the sac of aluminum bats through the orangey dirt because his scrawny frame couldn‘t shoulder the weight. They had no idea what it meant to have your only son turn out to be a complete retard. Compared to Matt, my two daughters were exactly what I expected. Dolls and princess storybooks. Reasonable tantrums about wanting to wear makeup like mommy. But, out of all the sperm my body produced and all the eggs my wife produced, how was it that the one retarded sperm had met the one retarded egg to create Matt? And even calling him retarded was unfair because a retarded kid would be thrilled to play baseball. Thrilled to be outside with other kids,

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thrilled to run around the bases. I think most of the kids in the league would be okay with Matt if he were retarded because at least they could point to that as the reason he wasn‘t very coordinated. At least Retarded Matt would show some enthusiasm instead of slumbering through the games and dragging his feet up to the plate before taking weak, crooked armed swings. God, I wish my son were retarded. When my second pick came around I blurted out a name without really thinking too much. ―Paul Scutaro.‖ Danny‘s younger son and most likely Danny‘s next pick. A guy down the table laughed out loud. ―You serious?‖ Danny asked. ―Yeah.‖ I sarcastically referred to my notes. ―Says here he‘s one of the best second baseman this year.‖ I was actually looking at a drawing of two misshaped boobs I‘d doodled while Danny went through the draft rules. ―Jerry, I think we all know that the fathers get the sons,‖ Rich said. ―Is that in the rules?‖ I asked. Everyone waited for Danny to confirm or deny this. ―I‘m pretty sure that‘s just the way things have worked,‖ he finally said. ―But it‘s not a rule.‖ Danny pulled out his official Little League rulebook, but I got the sense that he didn‘t know where to look. We waited. I didn‘t feel as uncomfortable as I probably should‘ve. The other coaches were judging me and laughing at me, but I‘m sure they would do the same thing if their sons were terrible. ―Look. I‘m not picking Paul to be a jerk or nothing,‖ I said. ―My son isn‘t playing this year. Who am I supposed to pick? Why not the best second baseman I can get?‖ I was hedging my bets a little. There were other players I could pick. A pitcher, a great left fielder. But I said Paul Scutaro and when I saw how irritated Danny got and thought about his crack about Matt, I stood firm. Danny looked up from the book. He had nothing. Causal rules, ones that weren‘t written down, wouldn‘t hold up. I could imagine Danny

putting it to a vote or something, but he just grunted that he‘d have to look into further. The draft continued. We all referred to uninformative notes we took during tryouts, deciphering codes and pencil scratchings to remember how well someone fielded grounders. None of the minor league coaches kept stats, so there wasn‘t even a real stat history to use for some of the kids who were freshly eligible to play in the major league. Most of our picks were based on second-hand reports from wives and our sons‘ friends. At one point Rich laughed and said, ―Hey Danny, my note about that Washington kid you just picked says, ‗Son says he‘s a putz; good at dodgeball.‖ Laughter fluttered all around the table. I liked these guys. They were realistic. They saw how bad some of these kids were. It wasn‘t insulting to acknowledge that some kids couldn‘t throw or run or swing a bat without hitting himself on the back of the head. I felt retroactively stupid for picking Matt in the first round every year. ―Hutch, how many kids you think Foreman will bean this year? Twenty?‖ ―Eh. It‘s faster than throwing four straight balls.‖ Danny didn‘t partake in the jokes. He was thrown off by my pick. At one point he made a mistake, asking, ―The Big Adams is the one that pissed his pants back in t-ball, right?‖ ―That was his little brother,‖ Rich said. ―Does bad bladder control run in families?‖ Hutch joked. ―Shit! I picked the pisser Adams?‖ Danny yelled. ―I thought I was getting the good one!‖ I watched him scrawl something vicious and angry on his sheet. It could have said anything, but I smiled, happy to think that he was cursing my name. * The next night, a couple of my buddies from work poured concrete for the second light pole and stabilized it with 2x4s and strong rope, while I finalized the electric. All day I thought about the lights, how beautiful they would be simply because I put them up. The hairs on

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Danny‘s neck probably stood when I tapped my lighting wires into the precious electrical work that he‘d paid someone to do. As I screwed the cover plate to the switchbox back on, I thought maybe I should have brought Matt along to see the lights. I never asked him to help me with anything. I didn‘t even want him watching because he asked strange questions and looked bored when I tried to explain the details of a particular job, like changing a light switch or properly using a Cclamp. These were things a father should teach his son, but Matt made it tedious just by standing there, mouth-breathing and reeking of milk. By the time we were ready to try the lights it was close to ten o‘clock. The guys gathered at home plate. ―I really appreciate all the help!‖ I yelled from by the scoreboard. With my finger on the switch, I suddenly feared that the lights wouldn‘t go on or that the fuse would immediately blow. I‘d have to figure out where along the wiring the short might be or where the loose connection might be or whether the light bulbs were bad or the fixtures themselves or perhaps a mole had already chewed through the wires or water got in or I screwed the whole thing up because I was a goddamn moron. Even in a simple setup, the diagnosis would take forever and even then I might not know how to fix it without scrapping everything and starting over. ―Let there be light, motherfucker!‖ one of my buddies yelled. I flipped the switch and nothing noticeable happened. I heard the guys groan. ―What happened, Jerry?‖ one of them yelled. I leaned out to look at the bulbs. Dim points of light glowed in the center of the silver fixtures. ―Takes fifteen minutes for them to warm up!‖ ―What a goddamn downer!‖ I laughed, then hopped over the fence in a fluid motion I‘d mastered as a kid. I trotted back to home plate and drank a beer while the

glow of the lights strengthened. In fifteen minutes the field was lit perfectly. ―I think we did pretty good,‖ I said knocking my half-finished beer can against the others‘. I helped the guys get the crane back on the trailer and, once they‘d left, I started gathering up the stray tools and piling them in the back of his pickup. A voice came from the trees by the first base bleachers. ―Hey! Shut out those lights!‖ I squinted towards the sound. On the other side of the trees were the McMansions that the Danny Scutaros of town lived in. When Danny appeared, I waved. I wanted him to be impressed. ―My sons and I cut a trail so we could get to the park without driving all the way around.‖ Danny pointed at the slightly visible path in the trees behind us. ―Can you see the lights from the house?‖ I hoped. ―Just a glow through the trees. It‘s not as bad as I thought it would be.‖ Too fucking bad. ―Field looks great, though!‖ He admired my work, holding his palm over his eyes like he was shielding out the sun or something. ―Thanks.‖ ―Might be your greatest accomplishment!‖ I couldn‘t think of something to say and thought punching him in the throat would be too aggressive a gesture. ―Listen, I wanted to come out here and see if you‘d be interested in something.‖ ―Like what?‖ I asked. ―I talked to Paul last night about you picking him. He really wanted to play one last time with his brother. Pete is going to high school next year and I think the boys would really like to play together one last time.‖ I grinned. ―Danny, look, I picked Paul. I don‘t have anyone else who‘s as good. He‘s my only lefty.‖ ―I‘ve got a decent second baseman. That Hicks kid.‖ ―It‘s his first year in the league. And I

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heard he‘s got some kind of hearing problem.‖ Danny wiped his palm against his t-shirt three times then reached into his pocket. ―How about this. How about I pay you for the light installation. You take Hicks and a check for this whole thing. I‘ll even pay you for labor.‖ I considered Danny. This was shrewd. I didn‘t expect he‘d keep quiet about this deal. He‘d want people to think the lights and scoreboard went in together. That the stadium and scoreboard and lights were all named after him. ―The Danny Scutaro memorial light posts.‖ What a dick. ―So, you give me a check and a half-deaf second baseman and you get to keep Paul?‖ ―Let‘s say that the money isn‘t part of that. Let‘s say that the money is a side deal that just happens at the same time.‖ I didn‘t like this at all. It seemed deliberately shady. ―Why didn‘t you just offer to pay for the lights from the beginning?‖ I asked. ―I mean, my company put in the scoreboard. It‘s not like it would have been any different if you paid for the lights from the get-go.‖ Danny and I were the same height, but I suddenly felt like he was looking down on me. ―Jerry. I have plans. I have plans to update this whole park. But I didn‘t want to come right out and do this all in one swoop, you know? Not everyone in town appreciates it when someone comes in and throws money around. I was going to pay for lights next year. And then redo the minor league field.‖ His mouth was grim and tense. ―I had plans.‖ Shit. What a stupid fucking thing to think. Why not just swoop in and drop thousands of dollars on the fields? ―If your sons aren‘t going to get a chance to use it all, what difference does it make?‖ ―Even after my sons grow up and leave town, people will think about how cool it is that someone put lights and a scoreboard up; that the fields and the park got better for everyone. Even if they don‘t remember my name, they‘d appreciate something I did.‖ Danny rolled some stones

under his shoes. ―Going overseas made me think about things like that.‖ ―Jesus Christ.‖ I spit. ―Do you think in twenty years some kid is gonna hit a home run and say, ‗Thank god for Danny Scutaro!‘‖ ―Look, Jerry. I know you could use the money. This isn‘t cheap. And your son isn‘t even going to play to appreciate it, either. So. Let‘s just do this, okay?‖ ―Danny, I don‘t know what to tell you. I want my team to be good for once. I want bigger trophies, not those little plastic last place ones where the gold paint flakes off.‖ I thought about Matt going off to dinosaur camp. He‘d come back with stories and confidence and friends. Or he‘d come back bruised and cut because he fell in a pit, destroying rare bones and pissing off some resentful archaeologist. I thought about explaining to Cheryl why we couldn‘t go to Hershey Park this year. I thought about how I still hadn‘t saved much money to pay for college for even one of my kids and how Danny‘s sons just had to pick where they wanted to go. ―You can keep the check,‖ I said. Because I fucking loved coaching little league.

Just Plain Luck

S

Clay D. Marcum

_________________________________

hivel Carter was about the luckiest sonof-a-bitch in the whole damn world. If he‘d play the Powerball like Sonny kept telling him to, he‘d be rich by now. When they first met, Sonny had invited him to come arrow head hunting on his farm. He had just disked the lower half. He collected arrow heads there his whole life, there wasn‘t much left, so he told Shivel he could keep whatever he found. Sonny found two small ones, nothing to call home to Mom about. Shivel found a spear head. The only one ever to come off of that farm. To make it worse, he didn‘t even keep the damn thing. Gave it to a state funded museum. It didn‘t stop there. They went up to catch a Reds game and Shivel got not one, but two foul balls. They put him on SportsCenter, his goofy mug smiling at the camera, waving the

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two balls around in the air, the crowd cheering. Shivel gave the foul balls to two young boys and wouldn‘t let their father buy him a beer. At the Chamber of Commerce golf scramble he hit a hole-in-one on the sixteenth and won a thousand dollar shopping spree in the pro-shop. He bought a bunch of expensive golf shirts, Nike, Izod, TaylorMade. He even bought twenty of those big round straw golf hats and gave it all to Goodwill. Sonny didn‘t hesitate to pick Shivel as his partner for the two-man bass tournament down on Lake Cumberland. Shivel said he didn‘t know much about fishing, but what‘d it really matter? With his luck, he was bound to catch something big. Sonny figured they were a shoo-in. It was just after dark and they were idling at the end of the no wake zone at Conley Bottom. The sky was clear and the moonlight reflected off of the string of tires, the fiberglass boats and the water. Red and green lights blinked around them, bobbing up and down in the darkness. Sonny guessed there to be about a hundred boats. He loved the smell of the gasoline and the sound of the engines. The fog horn blew and the boats roared to life, noses rising in the air, the water churning and boiling behind. The boats raced past them, heading east and west. Sonny just sat there, his boat in neutral, the engine garbling, the boat rocking back and forth, the sound of the waves slapping the fiberglass. ―Well, ain‘t you gonna go?‖ Shivel said. Sonny took a long drag off his cigarette, the orange tip glowing in the night. He let it fall into the water with a hiss. ―We ain‘t in no hurry,‖ he said. Sonny headed east, but with no real thought, he didn‘t think it‘d matter. He wasn‘t pushing it, just cruising along at forty miles per hour, feeling the wind on his face. He liked turning his head into the wind, so that he lost his breath, and then turning it back again and breathing in the cool air. He didn‘t see the thick piece of black driftwood floating just beneath the surface and when they hit it the boat leaped into the air, Sonny‘s stomach floating, the out-

board whining. The boat landed with a smack, tackle boxes crunching, and a wave of water rushed over the back deck. The motor was vibrating the boat, their teeth chattering. Sonny pulled the kill switch. The motor coughed once and died. ―What the heck was that?‖ Shivel said. ―Must‘ve hit some driftwood. Didn‘t see a damn thing,‖ Sonny said. ―With this much moonlight you‘d thought I‘d seen it.‖ He hit the bilge pump and a stream of lake water poured out the back. He dug in the rear compartment, all of his equipment thrown together. He found his flashlight. Sonny trimmed the motor and shone the light on it. The prop was broken, one of the propeller blades missing, a jagged strip of stainless steel in its place. Sonny‘s mind worked the numbers. About two hundred for a new prop. His half of the prize money would more than cover for that and the trouble. ―Well, we ain‘t going far like this,‖ Sonny said. He bent around from the motor and scanned the lake. ―We can idle over to White Oak Creek. It get‘s fished a bunch by the buckeyes, but we ain‘t got much choice. At least we‘ll be the only ones there.‖ They idled across the lake and into the creek about a quarter mile. Sonny set up the black light, and got the rods ready. He spent the first hour or so teaching Shivel how to fish a plastic worm. ―You want to cast it as close to the bank as you can get it,‖ Sonny said. ―I can‘t hardly see the bank,‖ Shivel said. ―Well, it‘s kind of a feel thing.‖ Shivel cast the worm straight into a tree. He tugged on the rod, the leaves shaking. The line broke, sounded like a mosquito. ―That‘s all right, we‘ll tie another one on,‖ Sonny said. ―It takes a while to get the hang of it.‖ And that‘s how it went for the next several hours. Sonny teaching, Shivel breaking the line. Sonny kept a mental note of the number of lead heads and worms he‘d lost. Still way below the prize money. Sonny looked at his watch, half

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past midnight. ―I‘d thought we‘d be into them by now,‖ Sonny said. ―We‘ll hit a run of luck after 'while,‖ Shivel said. By two in the morning Shivel was really getting the hang of it, but still no fish in the boat. Sonny broke out the Pringle‘s and Little Debbie‘s. He chewed on a Swiss Cake Roll and drank coffee from his thermos. Used the trolling motor to cross to the other side. They‘d fish up that bank, toward the main lake. They had to be back at the dock by seven. Since they could only idle, they‘d have to leave by five thirty at the latest. It would take some kind of luck to have any chance of winning now. Funny thing was, Sonny never considered himself lucky. He never even really believed in luck until he met Shivel Carter. After that, anybody‘d be a believer. And when Sonny compared his life to Shivel‘s, truth was, he didn‘t have no damn luck at all. He was just hoping some of Shivel‘s luck would rub off on him this once. Shivel unscrewed his Diet Mt. Dew real slow, took a drink. ―Well, I‘d thought we‘d had a little better luck by now,‖ he said. ―Yeah, it‘d take a miracle now. A few will already have ten pounds in the boat,‖ Sonny said. He took another sip of coffee. ―Well I‘d like to catch one, anyway,‖ Shivel said. ―I ain‘t ever caught one out in a boat like this. Me and daddy used to fish an old pond with worms we dug up.‖ They were quiet after that, only the sound of the trolling motor humming. An Owl hooted. Sonny found the Big Dipper. He tapped a cigarette free from the pack, pulled it out with his teeth. He tucked his chin and cupped the cigarette and lighter with his hands, his face flickering in the light. ―There‘s still the big fish prize,‖ Sonny said, smoke funneling from his nose. ―Yeah, it don‘t take but one to win that,‖ Shivel said. They fished the next two hours with hardly a word spoke between them. Casting out,

teasing the worm along the bottom. Concentrating, feeling every little bump on the line. Nothing. Reeling in and casting out again. The sounds of the rods whipping and the reels spinning made a kind of rhythm and the hours slipped by unnoticed. ―Well, I‘m gonna have me another cup of coffee,‖ Sonny said. Shivel kept fishing. Sonny poured the coffee, ran the trolling motor with his foot. The eastern sky was turning a light blue, the stars fading. ―Shivel, I‘ll get you a bit closer and you try a sidearm cast up under that brush. See that stump? Bound to be a big one laid up in there.‖ Sonny moved them in closer. Shivel made a few practice casts out to the side. When they got about twenty feet out, he side armed it, the worm flying underneath the brush, smacking against the stump and plunking in the water. ―Perfect cast,‖ Sonny said. ―Never seen one better.‖ Shivel held the rod close to his body. He bumped the worm along the bottom. They could hear a few outboards on the main lake, making their way back in, calling it a night. Shivel bent toward his rod, like it was whispering something. He turned the reel one turn. Raised the tip just barely. Sonny picked up his rod, careful not to make a sound. Shivel turned the reel one more time, slower than before. Sonny eased his rod above and behind Shivel‘s head. He released the reel, holding the line with his thumb, letting the red plastic worm drop down inch by inch from the tip. He dangled the worm just around Shivel‘s ear. Down his neck. ―God a mighty!‖ Shivel yelled, smacking at his neck and face. Sonny laughed, slow at first, then louder. Shivel joined in, the boat rocking, their laughter echoing across the lake. Finally, Sonny managed to say, ―You just looked so damn serious.‖ ―I ain‘t jumped like that in fifteen years,‖ Shivel said.

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They were laughing again, louder than before. Sonny wrapped his hands around the thermos, felt the warmth through his palms. He decided to stay until Shivel caught a fish. They weren‘t in any kind of hurry.

Fly Casting

H Robin Slick

_________________________________

e sits with her on the back steps sipping wine and eating chocolate chip cookies. But when he refills his glass and reaches over to top off hers, she puts her hand over the opening. ―Sorry, I have to leave soon,‖ she says. ―On my birthday? That‘s the worst thing you‘ve ever done to me." He makes a face at her. ―You wish it was the worst.‖ ―I can imagine.‖ ―Yeah, you don‘t want to know.‖ ―Nah, I‘ll bite.‖ ―You‘re sure you can take it?‖ ―I‘m sure.‖ ―Oh hell, I shouldn‘t have said anything. I don‘t know why I did. Guilt, probably. Me feeling guilty. Who‘d have ever thought that?‖ ―Just tell me already.‖ ―Okay, then,‖ she sighs. ―Here it is. My husband baked your birthday cookies.‖ ―Jesus Christ. You're kidding me.‖ ―Sadly, I'm not,‖ she shrugs. ―That‘s really low.‖ ―True. But I have an explanation.‖ ―Right. Of course you do.‖ ―No, seriously. I had all the ingredients sitting on the countertop; I had the butter out softening, and all of a sudden, I got hit with the headache from hell. I thought I was going to throw up. So I went into the living room and sat down on the sofa, feeling like death. He saw all the stuff in the kitchen and asked me what I was up to and I told him I had to bake cookies for a baby shower at work but I didn‘t think I could do it because I felt so sick.‖ ―And so he offered to do it for you?‖ ―Exactly. What could I say? I tried to tell him no, but he wouldn‘t listen and he‘s a really great chef…in fact, it‘s his recipe I use.‖

He looks at the offending cookie tin, which tells him more than he wants to know, and then drains his glass of wine and pours another. She stares over his shoulder toward his open garage. ―Hey, are those fly fishing rods I see?‖ ―Yeah.‖ ―You never told me you were a fly fisherman!‖ ―Well, I guess it‘s not the topic of our usual conversations.‖ ―You won‘t believe it, but I‘m pretty good at that myself.‖ ―I‘ll bet.‖ ―No, really, I am. Want to see me cast?‖ He doesn‘t but he isn‘t in the mood to talk let alone argue. She hops off the step a little unsteadily. He hopes she doesn‘t fuck up his rods. He fills his glass again and watches her through wary eyes. She chooses one and walks to the middle of the yard. ―Get ready to experience a pro in action,‖ she says, and then she turns her back to him and casts. The hook lands harmlessly in the grass. ―Oh man, how did that happen? Let me try again. You know the old saying, right? When you‘re fly casting, you have 80% of your problems behind you.‖ ―Ha. You actually know about back casting?‖ ―Of course. Great metaphor, huh. That first cast was a fake out. Watch this. When viewed from all angles, this one will be 180 degrees away from my intended forward cast.‖ He doesn‘t bother to ask her just what her intended target is but oh, she‘s smooth. She‘s got 1-2-3 waltz time. Timing is the key here and with good timing, distance comes. But she can‘t avoid the temptation to add something extra and she ends up snagging the hook in his apple tree. ―Look, I caught a tree fish,‖ she says, giggling nervously. ―I can see that.‖ ―Wonder how it‘ll taste grilled…‖

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He considers telling her he knows a good chef. She struggles to free the line and then, not having any luck, stamps her feet in frustration. She turns around and looks at him expectantly but he leans back on his elbows and takes deep breaths of the cool night air. ―You‘re not going to come over here and help me?‖ He sips his wine and shakes his head no. ―You‘re going to have to cut the line,‖ she says. Yeah, he can see that, too, but for now he stays where he is and helps himself to another cookie.

Eternal and Unnecessary

I

Brendan O’Brien

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t was early December when mom brought in an armful of junk mail and found dad‘s picture in the Say Cheese section of his company newsletter. It was fuzzy and grey the way newspaper pictures usually are, but there was no doubt it was him. He was sitting on the edge of his desk, the Windsor around his neck loosened after a long day, and he was smiling as he accepted plastic forkfuls of cake from a young woman that was God‘s gift to miniskirts. Although mom had never uncovered any prior evidence of infidelity on dad‘s part, their marriage had long sat atop a dangerously expanding fault line. Now, she was a woman scorned and this picture was the only motivation she needed to go all Lou Piniella on dad‘s most important possessions. She started with suits and sweaters but soon realized the real way to cripple the bastard (her words) was his memorabilia. Soon, dad‘s baseball collection, once rated number three in North America by The Sporting News, was flying out my parents‘ bedroom window and being scattered across our snow-covered lawn. I cupped my hands in tiny arcs at the sides of my eyes and peered out into the early-evening haze. Intertwined inside mom‘s thorny rose bushes were the black knee-highs Lou Gehrig wore during ―the speech‖ on the Fourth of July, 1939.

Smashed atop the wet concrete of our front porch was a glass-enclosed poster of an armwaving Carleton Fisk. Beneath the maple was the glove Jim Abbot wore during the only no-no ever hurled by a one-handed man. When dad pulled into the neighborhood the majority of his collection was already smoldering inside the barrel fire mom started after she‘d gotten everything outside. He left the station wagon puffing exhaust in the middle of the street and flew up the lawn faster than George Brett after the pine tar incident. Mom was using a kitchen broom to stoke the flames, her hands protected by the neon green Mizuno batting gloves Ricky Henderson wore to steal number 939. ―Lydia what have you done,‖ dad said crumbling to his knees, picking up a barely recognizable pair of pants once worn by the acrobatic Ozzie Smith on Opening Day. ―No,‖ mom said undoing the Velcro on Henderson‘s gloves and tossing them into the fire. ―More like who have you done?‖ She handed dad the newsletter and he just stared at it in motionless disbelief, the way a drunk driver stares at a storefront they‘ve just driven through. Dad spent an hour stumbling around the yard collecting what he could as the fire‘s final embers slowly turned to ash. As he bent over, his rumpled trousers crept up skinny calves and his thin bangs fell into his sullen face. His shoulders slumped from the overwhelming weight of the way life can chew you bloody in no time flat. Over the coming weeks the bolts that once held our family‘s infrastructure firm continued to bend. Mom, rather uncharacteristically, accepted an invitation to appear in her company‘s annual employee calendar. When I accompanied her to the photo shoot I discovered she was the only employee planning to appear in a bikini and heels. She was also the only one that sat spread eagle on a rented Harley Davidson. Dad stopped coming home upon seeing the proofs and found a temporary apartment in the city. I visited him soon after the move. His walls were bare save for a single pennant autographed by the integral members of the Big Red

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Machine. He had already started to rebuild his collection and for some reason this offered me reassurance. The giant, baseball-headed Reds logo of the 1970s smiled oddly as if everything would work itself right. One Saturday in January, while playing catch on a patch of frostbitten grass between the buildings of his apartment complex, dad told me things would blow over soon. ―Like when?‖ I asked, looking to the heavens like Fernando before firing a strike to his mitt. ―You already missed Christmas.‖ Impressive plumes of breath shot out from behind the scarves we‘d wound tight around our chins. ―Like soon,‖ he said, taking off his glove and shaking his hand as if I was throwing smoke nastier than Nolan Ryan in the last inning of his final no-hitter. ―Like this spring. Before pitchers and catchers report.‖ When I got home that afternoon Mom was in her nightgown, hair jumping off her head like Medusa. This was her preferred appearance since the separation. She stood at the stove using a spoon to whisk yellow egg batter. She‘d started smoking again and the piece of pottery I gave her last Christmas as a jewelry dish now doubled as an ashtray. ―Dad said he‘d be home by spring training,‖ I said, thumbing through a shoebox full of rubber-banded baseball cards I‘d salvaged from the pillage. At this mom stopped pushing eggs around her black-bottomed skillet and took a tiny glance over her right shoulder, slits for eyes. What happened next was surprising, like an early -inning squeeze or an inside-the-park home run. ―Your father is never coming back,‖ mom said, using her yolk-covered spatula to emphasize the sentence‘s most critical word. Sticky strands of yellow residue flew through the air spattering the kitchen table and catching me just below the eye. As I wiped the egg off my face mom turned back to the stove. The burner where she worked was electric orange and hummed almost indeterminably. Mom took a final suck on her

cigarette and dropped it into the skillet. As it hissed inside the bubbling batter I realized then that people interpret life a lot like how they interpret puffy clouds from the bleachers on perfect summer afternoons. They will always see exactly what they want to see.

Ode to conversions (and the boy who threw out my bad halftime bands so he could show me what love is)

T

Norah Vawter

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hou art-a-sensational-saint-and-I‘mblessed---to-be-married-to-thee because, because, we rush off sides for the strategic buzz (the huddle, holding, out of bounds good sex) if good in sack points seem incomplete to pass husband test, don‘t fret – snap, word play punts and interceptions every day, thou art offense, defense and thou still sweet

yet, at first, I clipped, tackled, felt awkward ‗round word, boyfriend. But thou made me review face mask, helmet I wore for world‘s team. Thou told me to fumble, let down my guard kick the line, block the clock, forget yards, score no penalty, no referee, love inside doors

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After Forty-One Straight Victories, the Local Team Deals with Defeat

T

Thomas Cochran

Hey, ref, what’s up with the mercy rule?

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his is the first time any of these boys ever played for real then had to walk off without having won, and they don‘t

know how to conduct themselves, where to look. A few of the players cry without shame, unable to reconcile their fierce effort with the final numbers on the board, an upset deep in the playoffs on home grass. Across the way their opponents celebrate like freed hostages for having done the impossible thing, fully understanding the good fortune of the given night. The defeated seniors watch in silence, already struggling to redefine themselves now that their streak and season have ended, now that they are no longer football players. The days to come will take care of them in this, their memory of it softening until finally very little of what they feel so deeply at this moment will remain. Tonight, however, people who love them and their accomplishment will try to put the loss into an acceptable perspective by saying that it was only a game, and the boys will stare at them dead-eyed, remembering in a kaleidoscopic rush the collisions and the blood, the speed and the fear, the desire—all of it, everything. Later, unable to sleep, they‘ll toss and, still remembering, wonder how anybody could ever believe such a lie about what happens on a football field.

E Rachel Furey

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ven when I was in seventh grade, baby fat still on, braces clinging to my teeth, running form of a baby bird making a futile attempt at flight, and always paces behind the others, the track officials had the decency to allow me and my asthmatic lungs to wheeze our way across the finish line. No one ever stopped me in the middle of my poorly prepared French presentations, my throat croaking out Je m’appelle in a failed accent, and said: really, you’re so awful we’d rather you quit now. I had to stand at the front of that classroom, my throat closing up, sweat beading on my back, wishing there was an Epee pen for stage fright. Haven‘t you heard: physicianassisted suicide is out. We are a country without mercy. Besides, if you really want to take mercy, handicap the other team. Beat ‗em, bag ‗em, bruise ‗em. Tie weights to their ankles, blindfolds over their eyes, or string them together in one long chain. Just let us play. My mother always said you learn more from losing than winning and I bet she‘d say you‘re encroaching on a learning experience. Have you met my mother? She‘s a chemist who does yoga, and I suspect she knows a little kung fu she‘s never told me about. Maybe you and she should meet, maybe she would look at you and nod and say: yeah, my kid’s game isn’t the greatest and she never really grew, but that’s my fault, you know, the genes. If she knew anything about basketball, she might say my zone defense is lackluster and I‘m not quick enough to shoot, and then she‘d set a hand, a very heavy hand, on your shoulder and say all that really matters is that her kid gets to play. Because even fat kids get to finish their Fudgesicles, because in the New York City marathon people get as long as they want to finish the race, because five more minutes in an intramural basketball game makes her daughter smile so hard she can see it through the phone. I once saw a car wait seven minutes for a two-legged dog to cross the street, once held the hand of a camper who I let

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cry for forty minutes straight, and once sat through an entire three-hour lecture on amoeba reproduction. All I‘m asking for is that last five minutes of the game. Five minutes. The equivalent of two television commercial breaks, the time it takes to eat an apple, and miraculously the time it took a woman to deliver octuplets via a c-section. Hey, ref, what‘s five minutes to you? You have somewhere to be? Should I call my mother? I‘ve put in my dues water bottle filling, stat keeping, shoes tapping on the sidelines in the hopes of playing, so how about ignoring those numbers on the scoreboard and tossing me the ball for a dribble drive.

The Count

M Jason DiGioia

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artin has some balls putting a kid like me in. They‘ve been talking manager of the year maybe, but who knows what they‘ll say about him after this move. I got lucky: Randolph cramped up during the rain delay, started hobbling around like a drunken gimp at jig practice. Martin told me he needed my good eye and fresh legs. Told me not to think about the news coverage, patted me on the knee. My fresh legs don‘t matter. I know that much. He wants me to work the count, wait for my pitches, give the team a chance. There‘s a baseball guy who says the most important thing a player can do is give his team a chance to win. But I‘m feeling selfish. I‘ve played a few times this season, pinch situations, picked up a handful of innings in right and center. Martin says I might be the only one in the league who ever learned to lay down a bunt. But I‘ve never played this kind of heat. Never a crowd like this. Somewhere around 45,000 still have those stupid garbage bag ponchos on even though it‘s cleared up. The other ten thousand are wet and happy about it. The whole lot is geeked up on adrenaline and shit beer. They‘ve been waiting for this matchup. Nobody figured it would actually happen. Not one gambler in the city would put money down on me walking up to the plate with him on the

mound. Every game is a pressure cooker for a rookie. Doesn‘t matter if you‘re up ten against the Poughkeepsie Putzes or tied with the defending champs. The game doesn‘t give too many second chances, and there‘s replay to remind you just what got botched, like a home movie of a bad Christmas. I have a big chance here, a chance I don‘t think anyone‘s ever had. Yeah, a tie game isn‘t that uncommon. Maybe two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded isn‘t so special either. Reggie Martin, working on a playoff run, telling a rookie like me a few weeks out of a decent triple-A stint to go drive one in? Maybe that‘s something special. Reggie Martin. My manager. Tells me to drive one in against one of the greatest closers of all time. Tells me to drive one in against my old man. I see him out on the mound looking icy like always. I‘ve seen him on TV giving interviews, acting like it‘s personal between him and the reporters even though most of the time they‘re just kissing his ass, or lobbing questions a t-baller could handle. I stare straight into his eyes, get nothing back. He‘s not responsible for the runners on base. They went through a couple relievers before dragging him in. He hasn‘t had an off night in a while, but they‘re still counting on him to clean up everyone‘s mess even though his arm should be resting. He looks in my direction because he has to. He knows it‘s his kid of course, but only because the sports shows and the internet made an event of it: Cannon Murphy’s Estranged Son Called up from AAA. ESPN had the headline up before I got my gear inside the stadium. We haven‘t played ball in fourteen years. He wasn‘t around much when he and mom were married, but when he was around we were down in the field with our gear. I threw it over his head the last time, into a clump of trees. He‘s tall anyway, so I was really off the mark. He gave me that icy look, pointed to where it went. Humiliating for a kid to chase after a ball like that. He walked inside as I fetched, glove dangling off one of his long fingers. He went on a road trip

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with the team the next day. Never came back. Mom and I had microwave dinners that night because that‘s what was in the freezer, she kept saying. He paid her over the years, so we lived fine. I did well in school. I had great coaches because we had a great baseball community, and that‘s really where a good career starts nine times out of ten. I always told her that when I got bigger I‘d play ball like dad and send her money like dad. I didn‘t know then that she laughs when she‘s upset. She‘s probably watching on TV right now. She‘s not much for the sport, but she always went to all of my games right up through high school. I‘d like to say I‘m out here for her. I‘d like to say I‘m out here to make her proud, to break him for her. But I‘m feeling too selfish for that. I knock the wood against my spikes because the dirt‘s still sloppy from the downpour and my feet feel like they weigh more than they should. Just the trot from dugout to the circle caked them full of mud. Wade goes down looking, and I‘m up. He stops me as we‘re crossing paths and tells me that the old man‘s curve was really biting as if I didn‘t see him whiff on an 0-2 count. ―Head to toes,‖ Wade says to my helmet. I nod. He won‘t look me in the eyes either. The old man‘s pacing around the mound now, like he does every game. He‘s getting ready to throw harder than he has all season, even though he‘s risking injury just being out there. He‘s forty-four now, but he still gets up into the low nineties when he‘s on. But with his control you don‘t need speed. He‘s Hall of Fame, first ballot. Any question about that went down the drain years ago. They say he‘s one of the most intimidating players in the game. That look, his size, his arm. If it were anyone else out there, I would be intimidated. He‘d throw hard back then, too. Sometimes I could barely see the ball coming at me. Just a vague idea of where to hold my glove, and then the thwack of ball and leather. I‘d take the

glove off and look at my red palm and he‘d point with his long finger to the spots where I needed calluses. He showed me his calluses, yellow and dry. He flicked them with a black, busted up fingernail to make a tapping sound. ―That‘s the sound you want,‖ he‘d said. His handlebar is gray now, and I remember for Halloween one year mom drew a handlebar on my face with her eyeliner pencil. She kept saying how handsome I was. I threw on one of his jerseys he had at home, which hung on me like an evening gown. I won runner up for best costume in grade one. He was gone by then. I grip the bat barehanded. Even through the crowd‘s screams I can hear my skin creaking on the maple. Callused. I spit, dig my spikes in, bend both knees low how I‘ve always liked. Grit. Spit. Metal. I‘ve got speed, he‘s got power. He looks like he‘s eight feet tall out there on the mound. I feel little. Campanella‘s down in the dirt calling throws. He‘s got a reputation for having the biggest mouth in the league. His team‘s gotten in more bench clearers than SportsCenter‘s top ten can handle, and usually it‘s the old man charging out from the pen at the head of the pack. Campanella‘s keeping his mouth shut though, and I don‘t like it. I don‘t want special privileges up here. I want the gauntlet run on me. The old man shakes off a call from Campanella, and then throws one up and in; I don‘t budge. It‘s a game of what pitch and where. My guess versus his choice. He‘s got to outsmart me, and that one didn‘t do it. ―Guess that one didn‘t bite,‖ Campanella says. I step out of the box, tap some tar onto my palms. I see Martin standing on the steps of the dugout. He points to his eyes and nods. In triple-A, I had twelve consecutive games with a ten pitch or more at bat. Each one turned into a base hit. They told me it was a minor league franchise record, if that counts for anything. Martin likes my eye, told me there aren‘t too many guys in the bigs who are willing to fight at the plate like I do. Told me wearing out pitchers

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is a fine art. ―Don‘t lose that fight you got, kid,‖ he said one time. He didn‘t figure on me being selfish. ―That one bit,‖ Campanella says, chucking the ball back to the old man. I laid off another high one which ended up just above my knees. Conroy let out his ―Riiiiiiiiiike!” which I used to like hearing on TV. Not so much now. The old man steps off the rubber, tosses the bag a few times in his hand, adjusts his cup. I watch him eye every base as he roams the mound. He‘d like a pickoff right about now, a quick ending. I don‘t blame him. My guys are playing too tight to the bags to warrant a toss. They‘re playing things safe. Besides, I don‘t want the game ending on a tag or a throw away. It‘s got to be me. ―You might want to take a shot at this one,‖ Campanella says right before the old man releases the ball. The bat cracks just after he finishes his sentence, the ball skitters off down the right field line, foul. ―Down, but not out, kid.‖ We were out in the field once, me and the old man. He had a piece of plywood leaned up against an old plastic milk crate. It was my job to nail the spray painted red circle in the middle of the board. He‘d tell me he expected fifty strikes before I could come inside. Then he‘d go up to the house and him and mom would fight or screw or whatever, and I was left down there hurling fastballs at a red splotch. I‘ve never had a great arm. But I can hit my targets alright. I hit that spot seventy-three times that day. It took me four hours. The old man came out after a while, studied my form. He counted all the throws that were off the mark. Each time I missed, he‘d ask me where I wanted the last one to hit. ―Where do you want the ball to go?‖ he‘d said. I told him I wanted to hit the red mark. When I missed, he‘d always say some version of the same thing: ―Those are the ones that get you in trouble. You forgot where you were supposed to throw it. Who‘s in control? You, or the ball? You, or the batter? Walks will lose a

game. Walks will hurt your team and your career. Walks are humiliating. Don‘t let the count control you.‖ I never became a pitcher. Campanella calls time, trots out to the mound to talk things over with the old man. They‘re switching up signs. They don‘t want Raye stealing signs from second base, which he isn‘t. If he is, I‘m not picking anything up from him. I knock some more mud off my spikes, take a couple swings to stay loose. Martin‘s still on the steps, leaning against the rail. His expression‘s always the same. Just an old white face refusing to give anything away. Hard and gritty. He couldn‘t be anything but a baseball manager. I feel bad, because I know what he wants and I know what I want. But he gave me the biggest break I‘ve ever gotten, the luckiest break. And I‘m taking it. I think about all the ways this could end. I can‘t help it. I know the crowd wants a win, but chances are they‘d like blood, too. And that will never happen. The old man has too much control. Hasn‘t hit a batter all season. And why would he? Blow the game just to nail his boy? Maybe they‘re fantasizing about me charging the mound, having it out with him in front of millions. They know he refuses to talk about his first family. They‘ve read the rags and know he abandoned a boy and a wife back when his career was just taking off. They wouldn‘t mind seeing me hit one out, but I‘ll be lucky if I hit fifty out in my entire career. I‘m not that kind of batter. A base hit I can probably manage, and they‘d be fine with that. A bloop-single just over the second baseman‘s head. My guys will launch out from the dugout, pig pile wherever they can get me. The crowd would like to see something out of a movie. They won‘t get it. The old man‘s changeup is way inside. I have to jump off the plate, and the crowd lets him have it. Seventy-two sounds fast, but when you‘re used to seeing ninety, it‘s a crawl. If it hadn‘t been hugging my ribs it might have gotten me. The boos go on for a while. They‘ve got

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my back. I appreciate it, but I don‘t need them. I wish I was at his ballpark, in front of his crowd. But this scenario would do just fine. I never thought I‘d get this lucky, and I‘m not about to start complaining. Every pitcher was a batter at some point. When you‘re young you play anywhere, because that‘s part of the game. The old man was no different. He batted his way through college, even when he was pitching once every five days. Out there in the field, he‘d ask me questions. ―What‘s the most important thing a batter can do?‖ I said all the obvious things: hit a homer, get a base hit, bunt. ―Sometimes,‖ he‘d said. ―But most of the time the most important thing a batter can do is stay alive.‖ He was down on one knee and still had to slouch down to look me in the eyes. He towered over me. He looked right in my eyes and told me all I needed to know: ―A pitcher‘s worst nightmare is a batter that he can‘t get rid of,‖ he said. So now he throws one screaming down the middle, a little bit over the knees and out, but too close for Conroy not to ring me up. Campanella says something funny but I don‘t hear it. I think about the old man throwing me balls in the field, how he taught me to fight off pitches just the same as he showed me how to poke one between defenders. It‘s a damn good pitch. I could easily pop it into the gap between first and second. But I‘m feeling selfish. I pull the ball to the opposite side, give the fans a souvenir. Campanella calls time, goes out the mound. He leaves his mask on and the old man puts the glove over his face so no one can read his lips. They have a nice long chat. Conroy has to walk out and remind them there‘s a baseball game going on. The infield is looking stiff. They want this to end. Campanella takes his spot behind the plate, tells me to stop being so fussy. I answer him by sending a nasty breaking

ball down the left field line, foul. That one almost had me. They look like they‘re going to land on the top of your head, and before you know it they‘re in the dirt just behind the plate. They break down through the zone like a bird diving for meat, and best-case scenario means that you can handle the drop or spot a hanger. The next one doesn‘t dive, and I lay off. The old man finally looks me in the eyes. I stare back. It lasts for a long half-a-second. He hasn‘t looked me in the eyes since that last day in the field. The count is up now, and he knows what‘s going on. He‘s got a nightmare on his hands. Maybe he‘s proud in a way. Proud that whatever it was that he taught me out in the field stuck with me. Maybe that‘s true in part. But he knows my skills came because of other men. Other coaches. Other players. Yeah, he started me out. He got the whole thing rolling. And I‘m ending it. ―I think his arm‘s worn out,‖ Campanella says, just before a fastball wails towards my knees. I fight it off down the left field line. A fan jumps the divider to grab it, and security has some fun escorting him out. The next one leaves the old man‘s hand in a hurry too, and I play it down the right field foul line this time. He‘s strolling around the mound now, eyeing the runners, tossing the bag a few times. He takes off his hat, uses his sleeve to wipe his forehead. I call time, step out of the box, stare out at him. He does his waltz around the mound again and I think there‘s a chance he‘s finally getting tired of it. Three pitches later, and I know he is. ―Can‘t figure it out,‖ Campanella says. ―You‘re fighting off bad ones, and you‘re fighting off good ones. What exactly are you waiting for? Underhand toss?‖ The old man fires two more over the plate. One‘s a nasty slider that I almost lose. The fastball I can handle well enough. The fans are having a field day chasing after balls. Every pitch turns into a slow walk around the mound. I can see the dark blue on his arm, from where he‘s been blotting his sweaty forehead. This is his

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fourth consecutive game, and I‘m not going away. Sooner or later he‘ll crack. Soon enough his arm will quit. It‘s three more tosses before it does. Two hard breaking balls are the setup. He‘s going back to where he started. Way up, and straight down. My timing is perfect. Just for fun I go left, and then right, to show that I‘m in control. The third pitch is the tricky one. He wants me to bite at something high. This doesn‘t feel like a curve. Maybe it got away from him, but I doubt it. He takes a chance chasing me up in the zone. He‘s counting on me anticipating the drop, which never comes. Campanella‘s mitt shoots up to around my shoulders. The crowd does its thing. I lay down the bat and start to walk. If I were still a kid, I‘d look in his direction, maybe smile. But I‘m no kid anymore. I stop midway to first, watch Scooter trot home to score the winning run. My walk scores the winning run. The old man‘s already on his way to the dugout, doesn‘t give me a look. I‘m not expecting one. I did what I wanted. I was selfish. I won. And look at him now: he‘s got his head low, his glove dangling off his long finger.

Growing Up Behind the Cotton Curtain

W Louie Crew

______________________________

__

hen Jackie Robinson played in the All-Star game at Detroit in 1951, I went to his room in our hotel and knocked. Anyone could ask for a guest's room number then, even I, at 14. In a towel, dripping from the shower, he stood in the doorway. "Where you from, freckled carrot top?" "Alabama," I said. He laughed. "I'll gladly sign your ball, carrot top." My Dad's delegation to the hardware convention teased him unmercifully because I had sought "that man's" autograph. They thought it was queer for a boy from Alabama, but I was proud. Robinson was the handsomest man I had ever seen. The boys on our block said to me, "You throw like a girl." Mother threw out the ball when winter came.

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Contributors Autumn & Winter 2010 _______________________________________________________________________________________

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Florida Review, Poem, South Carolina Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Adirondack Review, Aethlon, Spitball, Worcester Review, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

plays. His poems and reviews have appeared in many journals, most recently storySouth, Ariel, Furnace Review, and Heartland Review.

Ann Beman earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts's Whidbey Writers Workshop. She is nonfiction editor for The Los Angeles Review. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Literary Review, Canoe Journal, and Stone's Throw. A Duke grad, Beman now lives (and kayaks) on California‘s Kern River with her husband and two whatchamaterriers.

Thomas Cochran was raised in Haynesville, Louisiana. His work includes the novels Roughnecks (Harcourt) and Running the Dogs (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Poetry and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming under his name in such publications as Oxford American, Gray's Sporting Journal, and Rattle. A schoolteacher by trade, he currently lives with his wife in rural northwest Arkansas.

E.R. Carlin grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. Was educated at Youngstown State U. and received a M.F.A. from Pacific Lutheran U. Carlin‘s poems have appeared in a number of journals, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Hunger, Minnesota Review, Rattle, and Whiskey Island. Carlin recently placed third in Quarter After Eight‘s 2008 Robert J. DeMott Short Scott Akalis owns a psychology PhD from Har- Prose Contest. vard University and a Cecil Fielder bat from eBay. Although he no longer conducts psychol- Benjamin C. Clark lived the majority of his ogy experiments, he still takes the occasional formative years in Nebraska, but now lives in swing. Scott‘s work has appeared in research Chicago with his cat named Apple Juice. He atjournals, newspapers, and literary magazines. On tends on a regular basis the wonderful Vox deck is a novel about baseball, capitalism, and Ferus writing workshops, and the Uptown Polove. See more at: ScottAkalis.com. etry Slam at the legendary Green Mill.

David Brennan is the author of the poetry collection The White Visitation (BlazeVox Books). His work has appeared in journals like Action Yes, Beeswax, Parthenon West Review and others, and has been featured on Verse Daily. He lives and teaches in Harrisonburg, VA.

Cameron Conaway‘s book of poems, "Until You Make the Shore," is forthcoming (January 2012) from Salmon Poetry. He was the 20072009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona's MFA Creative Writing program. He teaches "The Process of Writing" and "Crafting the Essay" for Johns Hopkins Center for TalJeremy Byars‘s first poetry collection, Eyes Open ented Youth. to the Flash, was published in 2008, and he‘s currently working on his next collection, as well as Mark Cugini still believes in the curse of Mo an annotated bibliography of the Towneley Lewis. The founding editor of Big Lucks, his [ 91 ]


Stymie Magazine

Autumn & Winter ‘10

work has appeared in Compass Rose and DeINK, and The Angler. And online at Thieves Jargon, vice: Exquisite Corpse. He lives in DC, where he is Pindeldyboz, Slow Trains, Unlikely Stories, and some working towards his MFA at American Univer- other nifty places. sity. Jenifer Hemphill, along with her husband and Louie Crew, 73, an Alabama native, is an emeri- two sons, is a resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsyltus professor at Rutgers. He and his husband vania, where she recently received her Masters of Ernest Clay, have lived as an interracial couple Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Chatham for 26+ years. They met in Georgia. Now they University. Her final thesis, titled Mommy’s Doing live in East Orange, NJ. Editors have published Pull-Ups in the Basement Again, won Chatham‘s 1,969 of Crew's poems and essays. Best Thesis Award in Creative Nonfiction, of which ―Born to Climb‖ is a part. Jenifer is a Jason DiGioia is a few credits shy of finishing mom who homeschools and occasionally finds his M.A. in English at the University of Maine, moments to write and rock climb. where he also teaches college composition. Jason's biggest regret in life is not playing baseball Clay D. Marcum resides in Berea, KY where he in high school. He plans to move to a warmer spends most of his time reading and writing. He climate as soon as he can, where he'll continue currently serves as fiction editor and editor in to teach, write, and voraciously follow the New chief for Jelly Bucket, the literary journal of York Yankees. EKU's MFA program. Clay wishes to dedicate this story to his Father. Ariel Dreyer was born on Cape Cod, MA in 1986. She holds a B.A. in literature from BenBen Nickol is the recipient of several awards nington College and her work has appeared in and fellowships, including a 2010 Individual Artvarious independent and international publicaist Fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council. tions. She is currently living in Boston with her Before coming to Arkansas, he was a walk-on laptop, oil-paints, and 99-cent Jesus candles. basketball player at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently at work on a novel about Michelle Falkoff lives in Iowa City but grew up a college basketball coach. outside of Boston, which has helped her relate to the ongoing struggles of Cubs fans. Christopher Mulrooney has written poems in Drunken Boat, The Broadkill Review, Caesura, MoRachel Furey is currently a PhD student at loch, and The Delinquent. Texas Tech. Her work has appeared in Women's Basketball Magazine, Sycamore Review, Freight Stories, Joey Nicoletti is the author of Borrowed Dust Waccamaw Journal, and elsewhere. (Finishing Line Press, forthcoming in March of 2011). His poems and reviews have appeared in Greg Gerke lives in Brooklyn. His work has or many journals, including Valparaiso Poetry Review, will appear in Mississippi Review, Gargoyle, Rosebud, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Puerto del Sol, Italian Fourteen Hills, and others. There’s Something Wrong Americana, and Tulane Review. A graduate of the With Sven, a book of short fiction has been pub- University of Iowa, New Mexico State Univerlished by Blaze Vox Books. His website is sity, and the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence www.greggerke.com College, he currently teaches poetry writing and literature at Niagara University in Lewiston, New Marc Gulezian lives and writes in Barcelona. York. His work has appeared in print at Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, Literary Chaos, Barcelona Brendan O'Brien is a writer living in southeast[ 92 ]


Stymie Magazine

Autumn & Winter ‘10

ern Wisconsin. He became a baseball fanatic in the usual way - by living 18 years under the roof of a father obsessed with opposite field hitting and earned run averages. He still harbors a deep resentment towards Bud Selig for refusing to sign Paul Molitor after the '92 season. He will try to refrain from egging the Selig statue the Brewers are dedicating outside Miller Park this summer. His fiction has appeared in a number of fine places including Dogzplot and Storyglossia. He blogs irregularly at http:// huntnpeckhero.blogspot.com/.

Norah Vawter is a third-year MFA candidate in fiction at George Mason University. She lives in Arlington, VA with her husband. She is the current fiction editor of So to Speak and the former fiction editor of The William and Mary Review. Had her mother not forced her to attend a creative writing workshop in the summer after ninth grade, she would probably be a computer programmer or a mathematician today. However, despite the fact that the workshop met every day from 9 am until 3 pm in the summer, Norah learned that writing stories and poems was more fun than being on the math team. Norah's fiction has appeared in SNReview and her poetry in Iris. Her book reviews and author interviews have appeared in The Washington Spark and allAfrica.com.

Evan James Roskos has been published by Narrative and StoryQuarterly. Granta.com featured his story "Conspiracy of Males" on their New Voices webpage. A graduate of Rutgers University Newark's MFA program, Roskos has just completed work on a satirical novel about a Ma- Fred Venturini received a MFA from Lindenyan Doomsday cult. He and his wife live in New wood University in 2009. His fiction, most of it Jersey with their dog and their newborn, Dean. horrific in nature, has appeared in The Death Panel from Comet Press, Necrotic Tissue, River Tamara Shores' stories have appeared or are Styx, Polluto, Twisted Dreams, Susurrus, Sinister forthcoming in Fiction International, PANK, specs, Tales, CC&D, Morpheus Tales, Writer's Post Journal and Orange Coast Review. She is a 2004 recipient and others. of an Idaho Commission on the Arts Literature Fellowship. She lives in Boise, Idaho. Ajay Vishwanathan wishes he shared his birthday with folks more exciting than Donald Robin Slick is a raging liberal, published novel- Trump. Twoist, editor, rock music fanatic, and groupie time Best of The Net Anthology nominee, Ajay mother of two-thirds of the Adrian Belew Power has work published or forthcoming in over sixty Trio and one-fifth of Dr. Dog. She resides in literary journals, including elimae, The Potomac, downtown Philadelphia, at www.robinslick.com, DecomP, Drunken Boat, and LITnIMAGE. and keeps a running diary of her strange, unconventional life at Kevin Wilson is the author of the story collecwww.inherownwrite.blogspot.com. While her tion Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Ecco/ books are available at Amazon, Barnes and No- Harper Perennial, 2009), which received an Alex ble, and all of the other evil corporate empires, Award from the American Library Association she prefers that you purchase her stuff at and a Shirley Jackson Award. His stories have www.indiebound.org. appeared in Tin House, Ploughshares, One Story, and elsewhere. Ecco will publish his novel, The FamJaney Smith lives in San Francisco, California. ily Fang, in 2011. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, Her collection of stories Very Ape, will be pub- with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and lished by Ink Publishing & Design, March 2011. his son, Griff. Joel Van Noord lives in California. [ 93 ]


Stymie Magazine - Autumn & Winter 2010  

The Autumn & Winter 2010 issue of Stymie featuring work from Kevin Wilson, Tamara Shores, Greg Gerke, Joey Nicoletti, Thomas Cochran and mor...

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