Call Me Cleatus

There was a time, long ago, when I was physically active. I wrote this back then.

I like playing softball.  The only problem is that I’m not that good at it.  I’m a better observer than player.  This is not a good thing, especially on the field.  Grounders go through my legs and strikes loft into the catcher’s glove undisturbed.
I heard that our church had a coed softball team in a local city league, and was looking for participants.  “You’ve been excellent at warming the bench for years at the little league”, my mother told me.  “Why don’t you go warm the bench for the church team?” 
            It seemed a good idea, but I’ll admit I was a little skeptical at first.  Our team would be defending the city league championship for the second time.  We would be playing many challenging teams from large corporations around town.  What if they were too overbearing and talented for us?  What if I messed up?  Would I be ostracized and humiliated by my fellow Lutherans?  Could I play up to par?  The city’s deputy police chief was on the team.  He was a brute.  He had muscles in places that I haven’t even got places for.  When he hit the ball, the ground shook.  We should have nicknamed him Casey.
            Regardless of the obvious pressure, I signed up, knowing that I would thoroughly enjoy it and that it would provide an obvious opportunity for me to go buy a new pair of cleats.  New cleats are vital to the success of a ball player.  If the shortstop misses a sharply hit ground ball, take a look at his shoes.  If they’re old and worn, that shortstop has no excuse for not stopping that ball because he’s a veteran.  He’s been marked and doomed by his cleats for all to see.  If, however, the second baseman misses a slow dribble, and he’s wearing new cleats, no one holds it against him.  He’s obviously new at this.  Boy, did I ever need those cleats.
            My troubles began right with the first practice.  Softballs carry differently than baseballs.  This was a lesson I learned the hard way…as I ran…long distances…after the balls I missed.  Softballs are also harder to throw in a straight line.  When I throw them, they tend to float down like snowflakes.  This gives the opposing team plenty of time to calmly waltz around the bases and score many runs against us while the catcher has a nap waiting for the ball I’ve thrown to land.
            Hitting was only slightly better.  You’d think that after having baseballs whipped at me by gorillas on the pitching mound in little league, slow-pitch softball would be a breeze.  It was.  I could feel several breezes each pitch.  First came the breeze made by the ball floating by me.  Then came the breeze made by my bat hitting air.  Then came the breeze from the coach as he exhaled deeply in an effort to remain calm.  The balls came in at an angle I’d never had to deal with before when hitting: straight down.  It was as if it was hailing softballs the size of…softballs.
            To top it all off, they told me I had to learn a whole new set of rules.  Some, such as the ten run, sixth inning mercy rule, were meant to shorten the game to its strict timeframe of an hour.  Another was the pitching count.  You went up to bat with a ball and a strike already on you.  I thought they were joking.  Then I heard “Striiiiike two-yerrrrr out!”  Seeing as how this was a coed team, other rules had been changed to “even the playing field” (everything but the pitcher’s mound).  The batting order had to alternate between the sexes.  Women got to hit a smaller softball.  It carried farther and was easier to throw.  Men got the regulation-sized one with dimensions roughly the same as an Oldsmobile.  If a man got walked, he advanced directly to second, and the woman batter behind him got the choice of taking her chances at the plate or taking the easy way out and going straight to first.  Other rules simply were made to throw a loop in things.  For instance, if you hit a ball out of the park, it wasn’t a home run.  It was an automatic out.  Luckily, I never had that happen to me.  I was worried, though, and tried my best not to hit the ball hard.  It’s the only reason my season batting average was 2.75, honest.

            Despite my best efforts, we still won the championship that season.  In a weird turn of events, I even came off the bench to hit in the winning run, which happened to be our deputy police chief.  He landed on home plate with only a minor earthquake.  I had tapped a little dribbler to the left side of the shortstop, and the second baseman bobbled the ball off her chin.  I made sure to thank her afterwards.

What do you not excel at?
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Home Delivery

I recently came across this bit I wrote in college. Made me laugh, so here you go.

No, I’m not talking about giving birth.  I’m talking about The Wall Street Journal.  I recently began receiving this wonderful publication when a subscription to it was strongly recommended to me by my marketing professor in exchange for a passing grade in his class.  I immediately agreed to these terms and gave the bill to my dad.
The Wall Street Journal comes once every business day.  Really, really early every business day.  Sometimes it is so early that it gets here yesterday.  Punctuality for this organization does not seem to be a problem.
The impressive thing about The Wall Street Journal is the customer service.  If you think a retail store lacks customer service, be thankful The Wall Street Journal doesn’t run the place.  They take the concept to a whole new level.
The first day I received The Wall Street Journal, it came folded in my mailbox.  The next day it was waiting for me in the driveway.  On the third day, it was also in the driveway, but encased in a bag.  Where it got crazy was the fourth day.  I woke up and discovered a mint on my pillow.  Startled, I sat up…to find the paper on a tray next to my bed…with a steaming cup of doctored coffee…and a Danish…all accompanied by a handwritten note that read, “Enjoy!”
While convenient, the polite intrusion was still very unsettling.  However, this perk was easy to grow accustomed to.  The nice invisible people of The Wall Street Journal were doing their best to make sure that I got the most out of my subscription.
One night after class, I was heading to my car to go home after a long day.  As I put the keys in the door lock, I felt a sharp jab in the small of my back.  While inexperienced in such matters, it did not take a genius to conclude that this was the business end of a handgun.  I froze as a gruff voice commanded, “Give me the keys and be quick about it.”
What happened next is hard to describe.  There was the sound of a painful grunt and an aborted cry.  Then there was a soft thud and a quick flurry of movement.  I still had not moved, and was very frightened, to say the least.  After the movement subsided, there was silence for a moment, and then a piece of paper came fluttering down onto the hood of my car.  I picked it up and read, “It’s safe.  Have a nice night and sleep well!”  I slowly turned around and saw my would-be assailant on the ground about ten feet away, hog-tied and gagged.  Not that it mattered, because he was out cold.  Until then, I didn’t know that The Wall Street Journal included tae kwan do in the training for delivery people.
After a couple more weeks, another unexpected event occurred.  It was a cold November morning, and I was getting ready to head to work.  As I approached my car, I noticed that the windows were scraped and the engine was running.  I slowed my stride and took a cautious glance around the neighborhood as I opened my car door.  The heater had already done its job.  I cleared the seat of the packed lunch (!) and took my seat behind the wheel.  I noticed the note, timidly picked it up, and read, “Have a wonderful day.”

I guess you could say that I’m really enjoying my mysterious subscription to The Wall Street Journal.  The birthday presents (a La-Z-Boy and bigger coffee mug, for a more enjoyable Wall Street Journal reading) were a nice touch.  The oil changes don’t go unnoticed.  It doesn’t even bother me anymore that I still have yet to meet the delivery person.  What bothers me is how this nice, caring and thoughtful stalk- uh, person (and his employer!) is going to take the news.  You see, I’m finally canceling my subscription to The Wall Street Journal…due to the fact that I’ve never sat down and read it.

What's the best/creepiest customer service you've ever received?
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Packin’ It

“Food?”

“Check.”

“Water?”

“Check.”

“Hiking boots and extra socks?”

“Check…unless you want clean ones.”

“Ben-Gay and other assorted pain-relieving medicines?”

“Check.”

We were about to embark on a dangerous and exciting mission.  One that would change our lives forever.  One that would make us men.

“But I don’t want to be a man,” whined my sister.  She was always whining about things like that.  My mom, who looked forward to our yearly trip with great anticipation, said, “Enjoy your back-packing trip.  HA!  I don’t have to go traipsing through the mud and muck!  My brain is functioning just fine!  I get the house all to myself for two whole days!”

“What, dear?” asked my dad.

“I said to enjoy your backpacking trip with our kids, honey.  I hope you have a fun time!”

“Oh.  I thought you said something else.  Was that a snicker?”

“You must be hearing things.  Off you go now!  Bye!  Suckers!”

The five of us – one Dad, one sister, two brothers and one Yours Truly – piled into our bright orange Volkswagon van.  (My friends and I would later come up with a song for our beloved van:
“Ora-nge jalopy, orange-orange jalopy.  Jalopy!”)

We were off for the boonies; also known as the Sandia Mountains (Sandia means “the place of hot uphill travel and softball-sized mosquitoes”).  Here we would brave the elements and my dad’s crunchy green macaroni for two days of backpacking.

Yes, I said backpacking, not camping.

I do not go camping.  Lazy, smart people go camping.  I, being neither lazy nor smart, go backpacking.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Pipe down, I’m getting there.

Camping is when you city pansies decide to “harmonize with God’s gift of Nature” and “get away from it all”.  Which you promptly do by taking it all with you in your SUV’s as you head for the hills.  Showers, TV’s, La-Z-Boys, butlers.  All these comforts of home are as easily available as a portable hotel room.  There are flocks of families reclining in the mountains ordering catered room service while watching HBO.

Backpacking is when you park your beat-up VW van at the base of the mountain and hike your jug of water and box of macaroni and cheese up the face of your local Mt. Everest.  Backpacking is trying to find a flat, treeless plot of ground on which to pitch your tent before it gets dark.  Backpacking is when you fail to get it up in time and tempers grow short as you miss the tent stakes and hit your thumbs with the rock you’re using because you don’t have a hammer with you because you left it in the orange jalopy.

Campers wake up in the early hours of the afternoon to hot coffee and pastries served in bed.  Then they read the paper for the stock market report and then move on to a hot shower.  They make sure to share their lovely rap music and beer cans with the rest of us.  No one ever said they weren’t nice!

Backpackers wake up in the dead of night with a bladder problem that needs direct attention.  We muster our courage and make a run for the nearest tree.  We don’t find it; it finds us – right in the nose.  After picking our whimpering, bare-foot, frozen selves off the icy tundra, we fix the problem at hand and follow the skunk tracks back to the tent.  We then stand at frozen attention until sunrise when the skunk gets out of our sleeping bag, stretches, and wanders off to find better accommodations.   My sister says, “Next time we’re bringing the hotel room.  Boy, was it c-cold last night!  What’s for b-breakfast?”


Then we eat cold oatmeal, pack up our two items (tent and pack, no hammer), wave goodbye to the skunk, and stagger back down the mountain to our orange jalopy, which, if we’re lucky, will run long enough to take us back to Mom.


What were your outdoor family traditions?
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The Investigators

We were on the lookout.  There was a job to be done, and we were setting out to do it.  We had to go undercover, you see, because there were criminals on the loose.  A gang of the ‘bad ones’ had busted loose and had yet to be recaptured.  What was unfortunate for those on the lam was the fact the local paper had printed mug shots of each on the front page and now we were on the case.  We were bounty hunters, so to speak, minus the bounty.  Our community needed us and we were happy to oblige.  We were both armed to the teeth and had clever disguises designed to make us look innocent enough.
There was no discussion about what needed doing.  Each knew what the other thought and agreed, so we hit the streets at an early hour.  As we rode through the dry summer heat of the desert, our spirits waned from the initial excitement and eagerness of the hunt.  Sightings were few and far between.  There were fruitlessly searched miles behind us, and an inexhaustible supply of fresh ones ahead. 
Our pace slowed to a crawl.  Our throats were parched and our muscles cramped.  Without warning, one of our tires blew.  Our failure seemed secured.  That’s when we saw your place, ma’am.  At first, we were certain it was a mirage.  The heat waves distorted our view.  You were no mirage, though, ma’am. 
You were a Godsend.  As we pushed our crippled ride into your driveway, you met us halfway with iced lemonade.  With sweat dripping off our youthful faces, we drank your refreshments and sat on your weeds.  We filled you in on the days’ events.  And now here we are, ma’am.  We appreciate your kindness and hospitality, ma’am.  What was that?  Why, yes, I can fix the flat on my bicycle.  I’ve been doing it since I was six, ma’am.  Pardon me, ma’am?  Yes, I’ll be seven this fall.  My friend here is seven and he lives next door to me and he has a pet turtle and a big brother. Are we far from home, ma’am?  Why, no, we’re not.  See down the street where that red house is with the swing hanging from the tree?  That’s my place, ma’am.  It’s where my mother lives, too.  Yes, ma’am, I’ll tell my mother where we were and that you said hello.
Well, I guess we’ll be on our way, now, ma’am.  Thank you very much for the lemonade.  I think the bad guys got a lucky break today.  What’s that, ma’am?  You say the bad guys turned themselves in this afternoon?  Those scoundrels must have known we were on their trail, huh?  Well, you know what they say, ma’am - the truth always comes out in the end.

Were you a child superhero too?
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Song Lyrics That Annoy the Snot Out of Me

Ever find yourself singing along to some catchy tune, and then you stop to think about how dumb the lyrics are? When that happens to me, I can no longer sing the song. The song becomes something to avoid at all costs. Here's a few of my non-favorites:

Gwen Stefani, "Rich Girl" - "See, I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl".

I should be a song writer.
No, no you would not. Well, maybe for a little while. Until you bought something. Math is hard, Gwen.



Meatloaf, "Anything For Love" - "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."

Anything but fight flying motorcycles with a skyscraper dragon.

I don't mind that there's some lines you won't cross, but could you do me a favor and change the title of your stupid song, please?



Coldplay, "42" - "You didn't get to heaven but you made it close."

I wonder which smiley rich friend didn't make it?

Such a friendly way to tell someone they're going to hell.




What lyrics bother you?

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Changeup, Chapter 28

Joe leaned on the padded fence off the third base line. It was usually his favorite part of game night, but tonight Joe stared listlessly as the kids ran the bases, shouting exuberantly.

What was he thinking?

He wasn't trying to buck the system, he was just doing things his way. He didn't want the other owners to fail. He had simply been given the chance of a lifetime and took it.

Dummy.

He was the youngest owner in major league history, and he was afraid that fact was about to bite him in the butt.

"I'm still not happy about this."

He didn't even turn his head. He just sighed.

"Hi, Annette."

"Ms. Primrose."

She leaned against the fence next to him, staring at the same empty spot. Screams of laughter punctuated their silence.

"I'm not happy about it, but they are. And that's all that matters to you, isn't it?"

For the first time, he watched. Kids of all ages and sizes were running, skipping and even waddling. Every last one had a smile on their face.

"This is how it's supposed to be, Annette."

"Ms. Primrose. I know this is how it should be, but things are different here than they were in little league, Joe."

"They shouldn't have to be. It's still baseball, right?"

A boy in a blue Royals shirt, around 8 years old, ran through third base and jumped on the top of the fence next to them. He was grinning ear to ear.

"Hi, Mom! Come run the bases with me!"

Joe stared in shock at Ms. Primrose for a moment. She was beet red.

"Better get out there, Mom. That's an order!"

After another moment, Ms. Primrose laughed.

"That's Annette to you, Joe. And when I get back, remind me to tell you how you can fix your ownership problem."

"Oh, really? Care to give me a sneak preview?"

Annette only smiled as she hopped the fence and took off around the bases with her son, laughing the entire way.