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.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Best of Intentions

Last October, I quit smoking cigarettes, arresting a thirty-eight year addiction.  You expect the cravings, the anxious moments when smoking becomes the only thing you can think about, but what you don’t expect is the enormous amount of credit people will give you for sticking with it.  After two weeks, I was feeling better.   In a month’s time, I was proud of myself.  By Christmas, I was downright cocky.  With January 1st right around the corner and still on a self-improvement kick, I wrote down a list of New Year’s resolutions. 

I am ashamed to admit that I accomplished exactly none of them.  Reproduced below, as a public Mea Culpa, is the list I made…


        Finish my master’s degree in clown college.

        Stop kicking myself when I miss the first few minutes of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’...I know I can figure out what’s going on if I just pay attention!

       Give military salutes to crossing guards.

        Whenever someone says, “Good Morning”, respond with a hearty, “’Allo, Guv’na!”

        Scream “Yee-Haw” at the moment of orgasm.

        Play a country music record backwards to see if my dog will really come back.

        Begin referring to my off-brand sneakers as ‘Air Gordons’.

        Wish on the first star I see each night, asking that my enemies die painful deaths.

        Write to my congressman about the designated hitter rule.

      Get jiggy with it.

      Sue that asshole who called me “overly litigious.”

      Install tiny safes in the birdhouses.

      Resign from Paul Simon’s fan club and join Garfunkels…thereby kick-starting the revolution!!

      Get tested for Hulkamania.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gabriel's Trumpet

Closing in on fifty-three, there is likely more life behind me than there is ahead of me.  There are many things left to accomplish, of course, so before anyone decides to lecture me about when Grandma Moses started painting, let me state clearly that I am not just watching the world go by.  I do, however, spend more time than I used to in quiet contemplation, making it appear that I am just watching the world go by.

The introspective young person wonders about their place in the world.  What will their role be? At some point the answer, for good or ill, will be unfolded for all to see.  For much of our adult lives, we are too busy with careers and lovers and children and home ownership or any number of other distractions to even pause and ask, ‘Am I on the right track?’  I wonder how many of us have the guts to change course when we don’t like the answer to that question.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, as Paul Anka wrote, but then again, too few to mention.  I know that one thing leads to another and one small deviation could have changed where I ended up.  That place is a happy one, a life that has been filled with so much more joy than pain.  So many smiles, so much laughter…I don’t ask myself, ‘Is that all there is?’ because I wonder…had there been more, could I have handled it?

Naturally, your children are a legacy, but in their early twenties, they are still largely unwritten books, a delicious read for another day. So the search for answers goes inward…Did I do anything that made a difference?  It’s a big question and no one else’s opinion matters.  I’ve learned that even vanity doesn’t feed a favorable outcome.  You can only bullshit yourself up to a point.

If you had a clear goal as a young person and accomplished it, it might be easier.  But how many of us do that?  We came up in a time where we were told we would likely work at five or six different jobs in our adult lives, certainly making it a challenge to derive an identity from our professions.  I’ve written millions of words and performed for thousands of people, but does anyone remember an ‘aha’ moment, when they were reading one of my stories?  Was someone so moved by a theatre performance that they decided that they were going to take an unanticipated giant leap?

The thing is, the question is not definitively answerable.  If you didn’t treat your family like shit, when you’re gone they’ll likely say, ‘He was a good Son/Brother/Husband/Dad/Uncle.’  It’s a statement that speaks of a lack of badness…which doesn’t make it goodness.

It seems crazy when you think about it.  A man that mops your floors and cleans your bathroom wonders if he’s leaving anything behind other than some sparkling grout.  Working as a custodian in a library is never going to be a job I love, but I love what it has done for my family and I adore the people I work with.  They are smart, funny and they get ALL the jokes.  Many of the patrons are priceless people.  When I walk through the youth department, I enjoy seeing the kids grow up before my eyes.

One of those kids is Gabriel.  I saw him take his first steps.  I don’t know what his first words were, but his first words to me were “Bye-bye.”  Lots of the children are fascinated by anything on wheels and I am often pushing such a vehicle.  Yet the charm fades in a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months…but not for Gabriel.  One day, when he saw me coming towards him, all he could do was point and squeal.  I referred to the shrill sound as ‘Gabriel’s Trumpet’ whenever I heard him coming. 

It wasn’t long before those first steps started coming faster and faster.  He would make a beeline for me as soon as he heard the squeaky wheels approaching.  His mother derailed his progress in the beginning, but was ultimately powerless to stop him. When she couldn’t catch him anymore, I found myself playing goalie, hoping to keep him from touching my germy cart or blue jeans.  I waved my arms in front of me to slow his progress, but Gabriel wasn’t having it.  He decided hopping into my arms was the next best thing.  It wasn’t what I was planning on, but it was better than the alternative.  I picked him up, just as I had my own children. 

He studied my face, touching the wrinkles around my eyes, the bristle of my moustache and short haircut.  I took in his smooth coffee-colored complexion and dark eyes.  He was not quite two, yet had the face of an old man.  I thought he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.  I didn’t honestly expect it to happen again, but it did the next day and then the week after that.  One day, he squeezed my neck.  Another day, apparently a tough one, he just put his head on my shoulder for a moment. 

Over a few months, we developed a routine where he would run right at me when I entered the youth department.  I would scoop him up and carry him as I pushed my cart one-handed to my destination (about thirty feet).  Then, I put him down and walked him back to his mother.  I would wave bye-bye, he would wave and say the words in return, and then both of us went on with our lives.

It goes on to this day.  Sitting in the early evening shade of my life, I believe more than ever that the single flutter of a butterfly’s wing changes legions.  I was talking with friends last week about a documentary I had seen about dogs.  It asserted that the first wolf that ever took food from a human hand (for there was surely one) experienced a change in brain chemistry because of the experience.  Every wolf in that family lineage was a recipient of this new way of thinking about their relation to humans.  Maybe I was put on this Earth to influence a little boy to like old men with white moustaches.  Maybe he was put here to tell me to mellow the hell out.

I don’t know what the truth is.  But as I watch a butterfly meander its way through my wife’s garden, I know I wouldn’t change anything if I could.  As the Monarch’s silken wings achieve flight, I am glad we are all here, perhaps for just a little while, but as part of a mural that’s meaning is not yet known, and will remain forever untitled.

For my soul-searching questions, that is all the answers I need.  Bye-bye.