Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Happy Trails

Well, Lyle, if you’re not at the final round-up already, I’m guessing it won’t be long.  When I look at the pictures from more than thirty years ago, I hope you are at peace, even if you don’t remember your name anymore.  Despite my somewhat intimate knowledge of your life, I have no idea where or how you are.  Did you ever meet Felicia?

Someone tossed out your old photo album.  That’s how we met.  I’m guessing you have entered some sort of assisted living or…you know.  Whether it was a relative or just someone that was clearing your house, I found the album in a trash can.  It must have been a popular volume.  It has clearly been thumbed through a number of times.  Because of the captions you wrote, I’m guessing you liked to show this one around.

It’s got a lot of detail about that trip out west in ’85, when you met up with your brother and sister in Vegas and motored on to California.  It looks like you three took the measure of the Sundance Hotel and Casino!  You did your share of gambling, visited the steakhouse and even played some canasta when you got back to the room.  From the grins on your faces, you all had a great time.  I will respect your wishes and NOT ask how much you lost…but from the way you wrote it, it sure looked like you WANTED someone to ask.  You and your siblings all looked to be about fifty at the time…I hope you had more opportunities to get together.

Did you know that Sundance became the Fitzgerald Hotel in the nineties and is now known as ‘The D’, a Detroit-themed casino?  It’s one of the more popular spots on Fremont Street, Lyle.  Of course, you probably preferred the western motif from the era when you visited.  I wonder if you saw any cocktail waitresses that reminded you of Felicia.

It was nice of you to buy flowers before you went to see your Mom’s grave site.  One of them is   
still pressed between the pages.  There is a certain symmetry to buying Mums for Moms.  Who took the picture by the gravestone?  Was it your nephew?

I’m assuming it was, because he probably would have done anything for you after you came to see him in the school play.  And then afterward, how you posed for a picture with your arm around him?  He looks like he’s going to pop the buttons on his vest…and you do, too.  I wonder if your nephew knew that you saved the program.  You sure are a good uncle, Lyle.

The family reunion looked like a blast.  Everybody crowded into the group shots but they’ve got you right in the middle, so surely you were one of the honored guests.  The barbeque looks delicious.  I’m guessing it was a hot day…you’re a little red-faced, though whether that’s from the heat or the twelve-ounce cans is impossible for me to know.  Did you see the guy that sent you that snapshot of Felicia?  And don’t play dumb with me, Lyle, I know you remember the one.  Someone wrote on the back: 

I was in my apartment three days before I met my neighbor.  We share the same back yard.  I teach her English and she teaches me French.  Eat your heart out!

The front of the photo is a posed shot of a very beautiful, scantily-clad woman in a garden.  The hairstyle tells me it was taken in the early seventies.  That you had this stashed in the back of your photo album tells me something as well…I just can’t puzzle it out.  Felicia is probably someone’s Grandma now.  She probably wears a lot more clothing to do the gardening now, too.

I never saw anyone give their dog a party for graduating from obedience school.  I had never seen a dog eating at the table with his owner either, but I have now.  The smile on your face said you were good with it.

I wonder if you ever regret not marrying or becoming a father.  And Lyle, I have to think of you as a lifelong bachelor because, you see, I can’t bear the idea of someone throwing your photo album in the garbage.  I had nearly reached the last page of the album and was consumed with sadness over someone tossing your carefully collected memories away.  But you had one more surprise for me, didn’t you?

Inside the back cover, a larger page torn out of an album of formal portraits was stashed. It contained a professionally photographed 8 x 10, with “Lyle, 2nd Birthday” penciled on the reverse.  The photo is of you, my friend, dressed in a cowboy outfit complete with hat, vest, chaps and boots, atop a Shetland pony that wore a dress saddle.  This was clearly a much-loved boy.  You were someone’s little man, someone’s cherished child.

I had to keep it, Lyle, and I hope you would approve.  Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but I believe old cowboys never die…they just ride off into the sunset.  So if you are still with us, I wish you another day on the range.  If you have left us, I wish you sweet dreams of open prairies, an untamed wilderness and a gal back home named Felicia.

Happy Trails to you…’til we meet again.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A 'Flood' of Words About Kaepernick

Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.  I suppose there’s a chance I’m getting a little smarter.  It sure seems like I’ve been here before.  I pick up the newspaper and it’s like I’m reading old headlines.  When I look at stories about Colin Kaepernick, it’s like Curt Flood all over again.  Does anyone remember this fleet-footed St. Louis Cardinal outfielder?  While he was no better than a borderline Hall of Famer (though if he’d been a Yankee or Brooklyn Dodger, he’d be in Cooperstown…but that’s another blog), Flood was a superb defensive player, earning seven Gold Glove awards, to go with six seasons with a .300 or better batting average and three all-star appearances.  In other words, no slouch in the field or at the plate.

In the aftermath of the 1968 World Series (which St. Louis lost in seven games to the Detroit Tigers), despite having statistically his finest year, many blamed Flood for losing track of Jim Northrup’s fly ball, resulting in a momentum change in the decisive game seven.  Management offered Flood a token $5,000 raise and took it personally when Flood held out for what he felt he had earned.  When his batting average dipped to .285 and the Cardinals finished out of the money in the first year of divisional playoffs, Flood was traded to the moribund Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season.  When he balked at making the move, the Phillies, thinking it was a money issue, offered Flood $100,000 for the 1970 season, a raise of ten grand.  But it wasn’t about the money.  Flood was keenly aware of what was going on in communities like Detroit and Watts.  He’d seen civil rights leaders abused and murdered.  Keep in mind, Flood was eleven years old before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball.  In 1959 (Flood’s second year in St. Louis after a cup of coffee with Cincinnati), the Red Sox became the last major league team to have a black player on their roster.

Flood decided to sue, challenging the ‘reserve clause’, a contract codicil that allowed the team that drafted a player to keep him indefinitely, pay a salary that was (within boundaries) entirely their decision, while maintaining the freedom to drop you or trade you with no recourse.  Flood sat out the 1970 season before he accepted a trade to the Washington Senators.  The inactivity and advancing age limited Flood to a handful of unproductive games for the Senators.  In a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood wrote:  After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States. Curt Flood lost his case.  Knowing fully well that he would be blackballed from baseball (Flood did not receive so much as a coaching offer from any baseball entity), he bought a bar in Majorca.  After a brief run as a radio color man for the Oakland A’s in 1978, he dabbled in baseball start-ups before succumbing to throat cancer at the age of 59.  Though the reserve clause still exists in a modified form, Flood kicked down a door that lead to a number of protections for ballplayers who have accrued service time and the advent of free agency, allowing a player to sell his services to the highest bidder.

So it is with this background in mind that I watch Colin Kaepernick remain ‘on the sidelines’ after making the decision last season that he needed to make a stand about police brutality…by kneeling.  Again, it’s not about the money.  The former 49ers quarterback sits unemployed while one NFL team overpaid a guy in the broadcast booth to make a comeback…a guy that no one wanted at the end of last season (hence his migration to television).  It is impossible to imagine Kaepernick not being better than several of the back-up QB’s that are on active rosters.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see other NFL players, black and white, join his effort.  It saddens me to think that Kaepernick may never work in the NFL again, though I believe he knew the risks going in.  It disappoints me more that we seem to learn nothing from history.

I believe Curt Flood would have gladly taken a knee with Colin Kaepernick.  While nearly fifty years have gone by since Flood’s courageous stand, African-Americans are still dying in the streets.  They are still more likely to be imprisoned by our justice system for crimes that are punished with probation for white offenders.  They are still marginalized by a society that has co-opted their culture for profit.  But when it’s two outs in the bottom of the ninth, we cheer like crazy for that guy…OUR guy.  We’ll watch these men destroy their bodies on a sports field and scream, ‘Go, Team!’, though that’s not the chant we use when a dark-skinned family moves into the neighborhood.  Whites aren’t liking it when we hear we aren’t team players.  Like the realities America didn’t want to face with Flood and Kaepernick, the truth hurts.  When whites accuse the athletes of being against America, they fail to recognize that America has been against blacks from the beginning.

Whether they stand like Curt Flood, or kneel like Colin Kaepernick, white America will criticize their stance.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Mod Podge of Memories

Recently, my wife, the Fabulous Miss Kitty, was talking about coating some ornaments in Mod Podge, anticipating hanging the items in the trees.  If you’ve never been in my backyard, I should explain that in addition to a lovely garden and a bitchin’ deck, the trees are filled with small shiny things of all types.  She has, over time, become a total Ann Arbor hippie chick, something I love to tease her about, though she accepts that description with pride.  I hadn’t heard the term ‘Mod Podge’ (a sealer for porous art projects) in many years.  It put me in the mind of another hippie chick from another time…

When I was in the fourth grade, I was blessed with a young, enthusiastic teacher named Miss Skeba.  She had auburn curls that didn’t quite reach her shoulders and a spray of freckles across her nose, making her look even more youthful when she turned her lively, patient eyes your way.  If you had a cool teenage sister in 1973, she would’ve been dressed like my teacher.

She wasn’t just someone I remember because she wasn’t an ancient crone, which would accurately describe my teachers up to that point (I believe my first grade assignments were scratched into a cave wall).  She saved me from a playground bully once.  Noticing that I had an interest in writing, she let me write the two-paragraph blurb our class submitted to the school newsletter.  When I wrote my first song, she let me make copies and teach the class the tune.  I still remember the exhilaration I felt when we had the sing-along (though that may have been the dizzying ‘ditto’ fluid going to my head).  Do not look for my musical tribute to Snoopy on my ‘Greatest Hits’ album.

Then came the day that she announced we were having a guest in our class.  She seemed really excited about it.  And then I found out why.

In the afternoon, she introduced us to a fellow named Mike, announcing “We’re going to get married!”  I remember him as kind of a beefy fellow who sat quietly on the back counter of the classroom, watching her do her job with a goofy grin on his face…you know, the kind of grin you have when you’re totally smitten.  I don’t know what Miss Skeba talked about that afternoon.  I couldn’t do anything but stare at this interloper, this punk, Mike.

Eventually he left, to my great relief.  Several of the girls in the classroom immediately rushed over to Miss Skeba to gush about how handsome he was and how excited they were for her to get married.  Then, my mouth opened, independent of my brain, blurting out, “Well, I don’t like him.”

I had no idea those words were coming out.  Just like I had no idea that, as a half-grown man of nine, I had designs on my teacher.  I didn’t want her to marry that man.  I wanted her to be Mrs. Miss Skeba Holland.

She turned to me and asked, “Why, Marc?”  It was years later when I puzzled out what her face was saying at that moment.  She was mostly amused and a little bit flattered.  I had no answer, grumbling and offering no coherent response to her question.

It’s been forty-four years now.  I think I’m over it.  I’m very grateful that time added some Mod Podge to those childhood memories, keeping them from degrading over time.  I have no reason to complain…I was lucky enough to marry my very own curly-headed hippie chick, right?  After all of these years, I hope Miss Skeba has had a nice marriage and a fulfilling life. 

And in case you were wondering, I also extend those well wishes to that worthless bastard Mike.