The Baked Potato, Part 2: The Gulf Cartel

The morning after Miguel told Cristina about Carlos and the heroina he woke up in their bed to find her staring at him in the dark. The baby lay quiet in his grandmother’s bassinet in the corner of the bedroom. It was early, with only a hint of the sunrise beginning to glow through the crack in the old counterpane (also his grandmother’s) which Cristina had cut into two parts and stitched into curtains to cover their bedroom window.

“Where did he get it?” Cristina asked in a soft voice, so as not to wake the baby. “Who gave it to him?” Miguel stiffened on his side of the bed. Cristina was wide awake. She had been awake for a long time. This was not going to be one of the mornings when she would giggle and tickle him until he took her in his arms. His wife was making plans.

“I don’t know,” Migueal answered. “I didn’t ask. He wouldn’t tell me anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cristina sighed. “They won’t let him go.”

“I know,” Miguel agreed. He stared hard at the ceiling.

“I think we should leave here,” Cristina told him.

Miguel felt his heart hammer in his chest. “What do you mean, leave here?” They had always lived in Matamoros. He had grown up in Matamoros, met Cristina in Matamoros, married her in the back yard of his grandmother’s house. His parents lived down the street. Her parents lived three blocks away.

“They won’t let us go, either,” Cristina told him.

“You don’t know that,” Miguel replied. Cristina did not answer him. She wrapped her hand around the gold cross hanging on her neck, and rolled over in the bed, so that she faced the bassinet standing on its folding legs in the corner.

Miguel asked, “Where would we go?” He knew that there was nowhere to hide from them in Tamaulipas, maybe nowhere to hide in all of Mexico.

“I am thinking of Gregorio,” Cristina answered.

Miguel bit his lip. “Gregorio? Your brother Gregorio, the one who lives in Reno, Nevada?”

“He will help us,” Cristina told her husband. She rolled back to face him, and he felt her put her arms around him. He hugged her back, and they lay together, holding on to one another, waiting for the rest of the morning to come through the crack in the curtain and wake the baby.

Together they decided that they would not pay for the services of a pollero. It was too dangerous. Instead Miguel suggested they contact a coyote, not as a guide, but to help expedite the process and tell them the steps they would need to take to cross forever from Tamaulipas to Texas. Cristina, who was wiser than he, and whose sole overriding purpose was the safety of her children, refused his plan. Her reasons were simple. The coyotes worked hand in hand with the cartels, and Cristina wanted, above all, to stay out of their grasp. Instead, she told Miguel that he must go to the immigration office and collect the necessary paperwork. They would take their time, as much as necessary. They would keep their plans to themselves, not telling their friends, not even telling their parents. They would save their money, and when they moved, they would cross the border legally, in their own vehicle, with no handlers to betray them.

So began a long year, in which Cristina’s nightly question to Miguel, once the children were asleep in their own bedroom, was “What have you done today to continue the plan?” The baby outgrew the bassinet and Miguel had to spend some of their savings to purchase a crib they would be unable to take with them.

One day they received a letter in the mail from Gregorio. It was a thick manila envelope. Inside was a short note wishing them good luck, and then “to help with your trip.” Miguel poured the envelope out on the table.

“Cristina, come look at this,” Miguel called. Inside the envelope were all sorts of plastic gift cards. Some were for gasoline. Some were for groceries. One was even for a restaurant. It said $100 on its plastic front.

“Do you see?” Cristina was laughing. “I told you Gregorio would help us. You must remember to call and activate all of these cards. Before we leave, not now. Make sure they all are bueno. Oh, Miguel, it’s going to happen! We’re going to escape, to start a new life!”

“Shh,” Miguel told her. “The children will hear you.”

Carlos visited often. Cristina did not welcome him, and did not let him hold the baby, but Miguel convinced her that shutting his brother out of their lives would only arouse the suspicions of those around them, and by association the suspicions of the other drug dealers. On his visits Laura and Raul were fascinated by Carlos’ new gold watch, and by his fancy stitched leather wallet. One evening he arrived wearing a beautiful pair of white ostrich-leather boots. After Carlos finished their meal of posole with pork and corn tortillas and left to go out for the evening, Laura, who wanted a new dress for school, asked her father, “Why does Uncle Carlos have so much money to buy nice things, when we have so little?”

Miguel felt his heart wrench. He couldn’t tell her about United States Customs and Immigration Services Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative that Gregorio had to file through the Dallas Lockbox to try to get Cristina citizenship under F4-1 status, and that cost $420. He couldn’t tell her about USCIS Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker that Gregorio’s employer had to file, that cost $585, plus another $345 for EB-3 status that might within six to nine years grant Miguel a path to lawful permanent resident status as an “other worker” with no special skills but a willingness to do a job at a wage that no other US Citizen would be willing to accept. He couldn’t tell her about USCIS Form I-131 Application for Travel that they had to have to cross the border legally and drive in the United States, that cost $135 to file, or USCIS Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization that cost $380. He couldn’t tell her about the pitiful few US dollars and the ZapTel prepaid telephone cards that he had stashed in the tequila box behind her mother’s wedding dress in the closet with the gift cards Gregorio had sent. He couldn’t tell her why he refused the cash that Carlos offered them every time his brother came for supper. He wanted to tell her how proud he was that he had just finished payment for her mother’s passport, and that when he had asked her for one of her school pictures it was for her own passport photo, not to keep in his threadbare wallet.

It was even harder to keep the secret as the time to leave approached, and they began to sell the possessions they could not take with them. When Miguel told Laura that a man was coming to take her bed and that she and Raul would have to sleep on the floor until they could buy another one, Laura finally exploded.

“Why can’t you get a good job like Uncle Carlos?” she yelled. “You always say that he is the foolish one, but I think it’s you who’s the foolish one. What am I supposed to tell my friends when they come over? It’s bad enough that I have to share a room with my brother. What am I supposed to say to them when they see that I sleep on a pallet on the floor? Why can’t you get a better job?” Laura burst into tears.

There was nothing Miguel could say. All he could do was stare down at the food on his plate.

“Laura,” Cristina snapped. “Come here right now.” She took Laura back to their bedroom while Raul sat stunned at the supper table, which was already sold and would be taken away the next day. When Laura came back she still had tear stains on her cheeks, but she was no longer angry with her father. Instead she threw her arms around him and hugged him as hard as she could, and whispered “Me’m siento papi” in his ear. Miguel patted her on the head and thought that maybe, just maybe it would be okay.

The next day it was not okay. The next day Carlos disappeared. The word came first from Miguel’s mother, calling him from home to see if he knew where his brother was.

Miguel asked, “Why would I know where he is?”

“He said that he had an important meeting yesterday. He seemed frightened,” Miguel’s mother told him. Miguel knew that she had her suspicions about what her other son was doing to earn money. It was hard not to have suspicions, with all the fancy clothes and the new car Carlos had purchased, a bright yellow Camaro.

“Don’t worry, Mama,” Miguel told her. “I’ll try to find him. I’m sure nothing has happened.” Miguel hung up the telephone, praying that the cartel would leave his parents alone. He called Cristina. “It’s time for us to have the garage sale,” he told her. “We must pack up the van.”

Cristina’s fingers flew to her mouth. “What’s happened?”

“Carlos is missing,” Miguel told her.

That day they pulled the children out of school. Cristina put their remaining possessions out on the lawn for the neighbors to poke through. Because it was  a weekday there were few shoppers. “Get whatever you can,” Miguel told her. “We can’t take any of it with us.” He was busy packing the minivan, collecting their paperwork, calling to activate the gift cards. As they ate their hurried supper that night, Laura pointed with a shaking finger at the small left-behind television on the kitchen counter. It was showing the news. A news truck near General Servando Canales Airport panned its cameras across a freeway overpass. Miguel jumped across the table to switch off the television, but it was too late. They all saw the headless bodies dangling from the bridge. Most of them were barefoot, but one wore a single bloodied white ostrich leather boot.

“Get into the Windstar,” Miguel ordered. As he was fastening the baby into the carseat, he saw a figure running up the street towards their house, a tall, skinny man wearing embroidered jeans, a red silk snap-button shirt and a cowboy hat. Miguel backed out of the driveway so fast that the left rear bumper of the Windstar struck the bricked-in mailbox. He had to pull foward and adjust the wheel. Then they were off, driving towards the New Bridge in the dark.

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The Baked Potato, Part One: The Windst-r

This is a short story written in blog form. I have not lent my hand to short story writing in a long time, and I have never tried to write one as a blog. There will have to be some revising made as I go through the process. Kim gave me an idea, and it’s churning around in my head, churning enough to make butter. I think it’s one of those that can keep me going to the finish. It shouldn’t take me away from Malvada for too long, and I can justify it by saying that any creation is good creation. Let’s see how it turns out. It should be fun.

Without further ado: The Baked Potato

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Miguel learned to read English from copies of The Brownsville Herald his father brought with him when he returned to their home in Matamoros every morning, another pedestrian crossing from Texas to Mexico on the New Bridge from his position as a night janitor at the newspaper. Miguel especially liked the comic-strips, and of these, Peanuts and Garfield were his favorites. So it was that the evocative phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” stuck with him for his entire life.

Tonight it was true. They sat, the whole family together, in a dark parking lot in the beige Ford minivan with the “a” missing from Windstar, the dent in the left rear bumper, and the license plate that said Tamaulipas, Mexico, incongruous identification in Sacramento, California. There was Miguel, his wife Cristina, their daughter Laura, their son Raul, and the baby in the car seat. There was only one more diaper for the baby. Miguel knew they had towels in amongst the personal belongings filling the back of the Windst-r. Cristina had insisted they bring a whole stack of towels, knowing they would come in handy. When Miguel argued that, between the towels and Raul’s toys, they were taking up too much space with things they could buy in their new home, Cristina refused to budge, giving him one of her famous scathing, dark-eyed looks at the thought that he would make his son leave his friends and not even allow him the comfort of his Transformers.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, Miguel smelled the baby’s uncleanliness in his nose and tried to think whether it would be better to use the last diaper or the towels. Finding a laundromat at night-the digital clock on the Windst-r’s dashboard said 9:12-was not a possibility. In the United States, even finding a dumpster had proven difficult. The generic trash bags they had filled with the other diapers, the plastic refuse of peanut butter crackers and Lunchables and the rest of the awful food they had been surviving on for the past three days, had begun to press up against the back seats and now even stretched out past the headrests into the small spaces his children had become accustomed to having as their own. Miguel worried that the thin bags might break and make the minivan even more acidic than it already was, make the tears run from the corners of Cristina’s exhausted dark-circled eyes, make the children begin to fight again. Anything that caused upset voices to rise inside the tiny world of the Windst-r had the potential to send all of them over the edge. Miguel knew the portable toilet the rest of them used for relief while holding a sheet up for privacy was full too.

There was nothing Miguel could do about the trash bags, the diapers, or the port-a-jane. The climate had turned to winter as they drove North. Outside the air was cold enough to bite, and Miguel’s primary goal was to keep as much warmth inside the Windst-r as he could, no matter how bad it smelled, because they had less than a quarter tank of gas and he couldn’t keep the engine running all night. Miguel turned now and asked Laura to find the towels. They could use them as blankets. He noticed that outside the minivan it had begun to snow. The big, wet flakes splatted on the windows, occupying Raul for a moment. The boy looked at the spots where the snowflakes landed, haloed by the dim yellow lights of the parking lot, then reached a chubby finger out to touch one, as though trying to capture the crystal shape that splatted down from the sky. The glass was too cold and Raul pulled his finger back. Miguel realized that his son had never seen snow before. Beside him Cristina slept, or pretended to sleep, and Miguel did not want to disturb her.

They had planned the journey for over a year. It began one afternoon in a garage just down the street from their home in Matamoros, where Miguel and his brother Carlos were being paid to make a garage door opener. Carlos took bicycle sprockets and 1-3/4 amp motors from old clothes dryers at the junkyard. Miguel welded the two pieces together and wired them to a three-position switch to change the polarity and the direction of the motor. Miguel had just finished oiling the chain on the “new” automatic garage door when Carlos pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket and showed it to his brother.

Miguel asked, “What is that?”

Carlos looked around the garage to make sure they were alone, grinned, and shuffled his feet. “Dinero,” he replied. Miguel peered at his brother as though Carlos was crazy. “Mucho dinero,” Carlos insisted, “Way better than making garage doors open and close.”

Miguel insisted. “What is it?” He needed to hear Carlos say the words, so he could chastise him. Carlos had always been the more impulsive of the brothers. He was better at finding ways to make money, and with three children Miguel was grateful to their uncle for any extra, legal income, but Miguel also knew that Carlos was impulsive, and incredibly stupid.

“Alquintran negro,” Carlos hissed, pushing the plastic package into Miguel’s hands.

Miguel felt the gummy, oily outside, the contents like sand, and threw the packet onto the garage floor. That evening he told Cristina.

 

 

Labor Day 2016

The Silent and Brave revision page #257

No matter how much Kim wants to insist that summer is not over, Labor Day is here. She has turned the heat on on the morning the last two days. The dogs spend more time in bed, cuddling under the covers. The flowers have not succumbed to the crisp morning chill, but they are stiff rather than August limp; they can feel the coming end. (Except for the morning glories, which I planted in earth that was too rich–they just shot vines rather than flowers all season. There’s a metaphor there, somewhere.)

Another Labor Day that we will be working. Reno will repopulate again now. The Rib Cookoff has called them all back from the lake and their other summer haunts. Softball season is over half done. My ankle is healing from last week’s beating at shortstop. We know how our team will fare, not well, but good fun, good teammates. It will rise again, a little different perhaps, but ready to take the field fresh next year. In one week the Vikings will kick off against the Titans and we will be there in Harvey’s sportsbook to watch, our one annual trip to the casino. It was going to be The Season, but now Teddy Bridgewater is gone, leaving what-might-have-beens replaced by Sam Bradford and what-might-bes. Of course we will watch it all.

Another rejection letter.

Kim is doing so well with her voice overs. Her career is coming.

My characters stand outside the wall of Birrigat, ready for their first great battle against the Teilarata.

Life is good. We continue to revolve around the sun, to live our lives and chase our dreams. Labor Day is the day we came to Lake Tahoe, 17 years ago. It’s a good time to slow down and breathe, even if we do have to go to work.

 

 

In Defense of the Coupe

Kim’s birthday was this week, and she got paid for a big V.O. job she did. While I was shopping for her gift, I stopped in Williams and Sonoma to browse. They had a whole section of Reidel stemware, which I love, and we were planning on opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate Kim’s hard work and good fortune. It was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot that a guest brought her when she got her first agent. We also enjoy a good bottle of champagne to celebrate New Year’s. Last year we got Krug. We’ve been using flutes, but I’ve been wanting something better. On the shelf at Williams and Sonoma were something I haven’t seen in a long time: champagne coupes. You know, the big-bowled, sloshy, traditional champagne glasses your parents used to have. I was smitten. I came home to do some research.

After all these were Reidels, labeled “grape specific”, but when I interneted champagne Reidels the web directed me to something more in a tulip. It did say that they were determined to do away with flutes as being insufficient for fine champagne, but most advised using chardonnay glasses. Now, when I want champagne, I want a special glass, not a wine glass, no matter if it’s crystal or not. The glasses I was eyeballing seemed to be designed for martinis(?) or desserts. The reviews said coupes let the bubbles out too quick, that they were too hard to drink out of, that they were too big for a good nose, that sort of stuff.

But then there were the romantic stories: of coupes being designed around the shape of Marie Antoinetre’s breasts, the photos of Sophia Loren pouring champagne into them, the images of the Roaring Twenties. Clearly there is a reason for coupes. So, dammit, I went and bought them anyway. On Tuesday morning, we cracked the champagne and raised a toast . . .

And I love them. I am a sucker for the finer things in life, especially where food and drink (and my wife) are concerned, and these glasses are a thing of beauty. I don’t care what anyone says, they are THE way to drink champagne, and I’m glad they’re back. Everything old becomes new again, and I think I know why, where the coupe is concerned. Here is my theory:

Flutes became popular because they look classy. At a restaurant, the table next to you can look over, see champagne flutes, and know you’re celebrating. The bubbles rise up in long strings, they’re a dream to clink together in toast, and they’re easy to walk around a party with. If the flavor suffers somewhat, who cares? To me, that is a metaphor for society in the new milleneum. It’s not how anything tastes, or the substance it has: it’s all about how it looks to other people. How many likes will your Instagram get?

Well, I have a problem with that. I don’t give much of a shit what other people think about anything, and man, when I dipped my nose down into that coupe, guess what I saw? A golden swimming pool of delicious grapes, bubbles rising up ro meet ME. No Snapchat necessary. It was like stepping off the tile into a hot tub of deliciousness.

Give me the experience of the coupe over the flute any day. It may not taste quite as good as a wine glass, but it tasted pretty good. The bubbles might come out quicker, but I still finished my glass before they were gone. It might be easier to spill over the edge, but, hey, sometimes in life you should spill a little champagne.

It’s all about me and my beautiful wife enjoying ourselves. It’s about our experience, our moment, our love. And I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Give me a coupe for my champagne, any day of the week, and hopefully we’ll be celebrating every day of the year!

Kim Got Another Job!

My wonderful wife woke me up with the news that she got another V. O.  job today. This is the third one, and it comes on the heels of yesterday’s news that she is (finally) going to be paid for the last job she did. I know it’s just a few jobs, but I am really starting to get the feeling that her career is beginning to snowball in a really good way. It also makes her really happy.

It makes me feel good too, because it’s a working demonstration of how chasing your dreams and using the resources that are available to you can result in success. Of course she has talent, and she works really hard at it. Those are the requirements for creative pursuits, along with the number one requirement, which is the enthusiasm to keep on keeping on, in spite of frustrations and the ignorance of the rest of the world.

Kim has gone through what we all do in our creative pursuits, and she’s not just finding success because of dumb luck. She’s finding success because of her dedication, her support group, her skills, and her willingness to put herself out there. It makes me happy for many reasons, because she’s working her way out of the service industry, because she’s using her talents, because she’s achieving her dreams. Last but not least, because she’s demonstrating that the requirements for success I talk about all the time aren’t just hot air.

Great job, Kim! We can all learn from you and be proud of you at the same time!

The Soul Muscle

The Silent and Brave revision page # 245

Really killed it in writing today-figured out a lot of things. That is a good feeling!

I am reading “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. He was one of Gertrude Stein’s hangers-on, the expatriate set that included Hemingway, and at first I was not too impressed, but the book is growing on me. It is about three Americans, a married couple and their male friend, who travel to Africa after World War II has temporarily destroyed all available European niceties. Romantic memories of their leader, Port, convince them to travel deeper into the continent (the horror) where they have misadventures that end up finishing them off. It’s a  triumph-of-nature over folly-of-man sort of novel, with sex and booze and stuff. There’s a great quote in it that made me sit up and take notice. The quote is this:

“The soul is the weariest part of the body.”

This works with my  God-within-man theory, as our souls, the unconscious part of our body that understand right and wrong better than our conscious minds, are put through extreme trials and tribulations as we try to live our lives, doing right or wrong, trusting our intuition and being misled by it.

As a bartender, I might say that the liver is the weariest part of the body, but it is true that the soul gets a lot of work. Shouldn’t that work make it stronger, like a pectoral muscle applied to a bench press? Or do our constant failures weaken us to the point where we just don’t care anymore, where our whole world of shared experiences is flat and uninteresting? This seems to be true of Port and Kit, characters searching for meaning and excitment and eventually overwhelmed by events beyond their control. In the end they are simply out of their league, travelers with money and security who never realized that their “privileged existence” might not be enough to save them. Port dies of typhoid, Kit rides off into the Sahara on a camel. I can’t help thinking of the stockbroker and the opioid addict.

Do we all suffer from that syndrome? Needing to press the limits, thinking we’ve got it all figured out, then realizing that the world is stronger than we are? In that case, is it better to pull back, not explore our limits, allow that we are not strong enough to take on the world and succeed? Is it just blind luck when people do live at peace with their souls? Or have they been through more lives, and thus possess muscles made of stronger stuff?  Both Kit and Port desperately want to fall in love again and find their idyll, so much so that at points in the story I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, and say, “just kiss her, you fool,” or “just tell him how you feel, you ninny.” But they just-can’t-do-it. And then it’s too late.

If the soul as muscle analogy is continued, it would be logical to think that some souls are born weak, some strong. Some would be like the muscles of marathon runners, capable of doing their work repeatedly, over the couse of the race, after the rest of the body has shut down in misery, and others would be quick twitch, capable of super-human feats of power but then in need of relegation to the cold tub for recovery or, worse, consigned to the P. U. P. list. Certainly some souls would be born wary, while others would be willing to flex without thought, and figure out the consequences later.

I hear the phrase “old soul” a lot, often denoting a young person who just seems to “get it”.  I think the phrase in meant to connotate unusual wisdom or the appearance of experience, but again I think it might go back to that Port and Kit problem, the exhaustion of dealing with life and the inability to find excitement. Because there has to be a willingness to live, to seek out life and enlightmenment, in these soul muscles of ours, otherwise we are just walking around with flaccid, used-up organs, past the cares of life, and that is not being a good human being, or closer to God, it’s just being bored and ready for death.

Can you build a soul out of disappointments and moral infidelities, or is it necessary to have the proper pieces in place, and use them to make the correct interpretations of right and wrong? None of us are going to make the correct decisions all the time, and it is imperative that we learn from our mistakes. There has to be some willingness to take chances, and strengthen our souls, sometimes in painful ways.

We would do well to remember that we only get one soul in life, like we only get one body. We must nourish it with love and understanding, feed it with experience, and flex it with care.

 

Searching for Reno-Area Fiction Writers

The Silent and Brave revision page #232

I remember when Kim and I did our first trip to the Colorado Rockies. It was 1997 and we stayed at a timeshare at Keystone. I was struck by the beauty, especially of the forests, and by the high altitude climate. And that was where we both tried snowboarding for the first time. Eventually, of course, I moved to Breckenridge, and Kim followed me, and the rest is history. Anyway, my point is there was a time in my dream of moving to Colorado when I had this whole fantasy of putting together an inspired writing group. As time passed, and we actually lived there, I slipped back into my usual feeling that writers are a solitary, jealous lot, a group not given to helping one another out. This could just be my own insecurities, but now I find myself longing for the same thing again, a community, a group that can help with the difficulties of keeping motivated, judging work impartially, and meeting others in the writing and publishing field, which seems to be a must for publishing success.

This is what I think now: Why not? And why not me? I am good at organizing, gathering, getting people together, and getting them to see my vision. I am good at encouraging, good at reading, and good at writing. I am sure there are people in this area who are interested in the same thing. I want to find them. I know that I can google Reno writing groups, but I don’t know that I want to join someone else’s already established group. I think I want to start my own. So if you ever read this, and you’re interested in reading or writing new fiction, please drop a line in the comments section. I would love to meet you. We can talk beer and books. What could be better than that?

(finally) Proud to Be an American

When Khzir Khan asked Republican nominee Donald Trump if he had ever walked amongst the grave markers at Arlington National Cemetary and considered the sacrifices made by those who lie there, it was a profoundly moving moment. By pointing out that his son, a decorated Army Captain who was killed in Iraq, deserved Trump’s recognition despite the fact that he was a Muslim, Khan did more than make the Donald look like the racist he is, and more than doom Trump’s bid to become the next President of the United States of America.

When Khzir Khan pulled a copy of the Constitution from his breast pocket and suggested that Donald Trump has never read it, he was only speaking the truth. Because the Constitution does not make distinctions between race, creed, or color when it speaks about the people of the United States of America. That is a lesson that Donald Trump, with his race-baiting and slandering of everyone from Muslims to Mexicans is unwilling to learn. Let us not blame him too much, for he is only following a pattern that countless candidates have used before him to earn votes, namely, sowing hatred and fear and then claiming to be the only one who can save us. And, until Khzir Khan’s brave words, no one really seemed to be willing to stand up in front of the world and call him out on it.

None of that is the reason why I say I am finally proud to be an American. As a people, we have spent the better part of three centuries as racists, as haters, willing to justify everything from a draft that sent young men who didn’t conform to white American ideals to die in Vietnam to an incarceration system that targets inner city black kids to the indiscretions of  Catholic priests and coaches. And it’s always just kind of been okay. For every editorial about tolerance, there’s a buddy pulling you to the side to tell you the latest N- joke or homophobic slur. Putting other people down to make ourselves feel better has always seemed to be the American way.

But today, it’s not. There’s a new generation out there, Donald. (And all the rest of you politicians, priests, and people of power.) They’re not going to let you get away with hate. They’re not going to let you get away with intolerance, or with telling women to do with their bodies. That shit doesn’t mean anything to them. They believe in a world where people who’ve died for our freedoms have earned the greatest respect, regardless of their race, creed, color, or sexual orientation. They believe that goodness is defined by taking care of your family, your neighbor, and the fellow you just met. It’s scary, I know. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it, or don’t like it. It’s the way it is now, and it’s the reason I can finally say that I’m proud to be an American.

 

I Feel Like Balls Deep Just Went Balls Deep In Me

I am reluctant to write this, mainly because it smacks of whining, or sour grapes. But I also think it’s important to give you feedback, otherwise you may not understand what’s going on. We had our first softball game last night. In the first inning, we went down 12 to nothing on our way to a 23-6 defeat. That would make any coach salty, but my problem is a little bigger than that.

You can say that we sucked (we didn’t) or that they’re really good (they are). My problem is that the team we played won every game in our division during the spring season. Kudos to them, and that’s a great achievement.

But why are they still in our division? Seriously. We paid the same as they did. We worked really hard for three months to get ready. And then, in our first game, we get a team that completely overmatches us. Every ball was hit to the fence. When they were up 17-3 they hit one OVER the fence.

That’s not competition. It’s just ego stroking. For them. I totally get that teams don’t like to get moved up in divisions. I totally get that some people just can’t stand the chance that they might ever lose. I don’t like losing either. But I think sandbagging to make sure you win every game is bush league.

And we shouldn’t have to play mat ball to be matched up against teams that give us fair competition. There are four perfectly good divisions. Why is everyone so scared to go into division II? It seems like III should be for teams that have figured it out but aren’t ready for top half competition. I hope we get to meet some of those sorts of teams before the season is over and all my players never want to play softball again.

I’m not blaming you. I know your job is hard. I know what teams do to win. But do the right thing. Move Balls Deep up to division II. Because we deserve to have fun too.

Battle

The Silent and Brave revision page #194

The boy sits on a rock, waist high, wide enough to prop him up, flat enough that he can concentrate on the object in his hands. He’s about ten. Whiz, whir, click, he changes it, spinning its individual facets, red, blue, green, yellow, white, purple, six sides, nine smaller squares on each, spinning and mixing to the pattern he understands, whiz whir click. His hands are a blur. He doesn’t notice the cars next to him in the Wal-mart parking lot, or the people walking by. The sun is out. Whiz whir click. As I, one of the passers-by, watch, he finishes the pattern, that fast, making all the colors match up so that every side is the same. It seems effortless, boring. He pats the cube on his knee. Then he scrambles it again. Whiz whir click. His black hair is messy on his head.

A group approaches. Maybe they are not a group. Maybe they are not together. They come from different directions, converging on the rock where the boy sits. They don’t seem to know one another. In fact, they don’t notice each other, or the boy. They are looking at something each of them holds in their hands, a flat screen, their phones. They hold them up, as though scanning the parking lot. They inch forward, from every side, moving in the direction of the rock. One by one, they look up and notice the boy with his cube. Whiz whir click. He spins the colors, completes the puzzle, looks up at the gathering around him. Tableau.

Whiz whir click. He scrambles it again. He holds it out to one of the group around the rock, a short girl, of similar age, with her brown hair in braids and glasses with colorful frames. She squints at the cube, at the mixed colors. It is meaningless to her. They do not speak. Instead she holds out her phone, as if to show him the screen. His eyes drop. He is not interested. His hands go back to work, spinning, whiz whir click, putting the colors back together. The group with their phones stand in a circle around him, staring at their screens, unspeaking, intent on what they have come to find.

I get what they’re all doing, but I can’t participate. I don’t know how.