Monthly Archives: August 2012

August News Quiz

  1. “Pussy Riot” is the name of:  a) new cat food from Purina; b) the Labor Day weekend women’s underwear sale at Macy’s; c) a brothel in Nevada; or d) a Russian punk rock band whose members were sentenced to two years in jail for hooliganism because they performed music critical of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin?
  2.  The most powerful woman on television today is:  a) Diane Sawyer, because she anchors a network news broadcast; b) Kathie Lee Gifford, because she can work half-crocked every day without getting fired; c) Nancy Grace, because she can talk about the same three cases night after night, week after week, and month after month and still keep her job; or d) Oprah Winfrey, because she now has her own network that has about six viewers?
  3. To vote in Pennsylvania, a person now must:  a) be at least eighteen years of age and a resident of the state; b) be registered to vote; c) have proper photo ID; or d) be white and registered Republican?
  4. The nude photos of Prince Harry in Las Vegas demonstrate that:  a) boys just wanna have fun; b) all that in-breeding that goes on in royal circles has yielded yet another idiot; c) the family jewels may not be as impressive as people have been led to believe; or d) it turns out that what happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas?
  5. The Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters tournament, has admitted its first two female members ever.  A spokesman for the club explained that:  a) it was time; b) it was long overdue; c) the blacks and the Jews didn’t ruin the club so we thought we could take a chance with women; or d) because of the economy, we’ve had to cut back on our staff, so we’re counting on these little ladies to clean up every night before they leave?
  6. The combination of the popularity of Rick Santorum in this year’s presidential primaries, the movement to require women seeking abortions to obtain transvaginal ultrasounds, and congressman Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” suggest that Republicans:  a) are really behind the times; b) hate women; c) have declared war on women; d) don’t realize that women are actually allowed to vote now?
  7. Linda McMahon, wife of wrestling promoter Vince McMahon and former president of the World Wrestling Federation, just won the Republican nomination to run for the Connecticut U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman.  If elected, Ms. McMahon said she will:  a) urge President Obama to appoint Hulk Hogan secretary of defense; b) call on the Pentagon to teach the “camel clutch” as part of the hand-to-hand combat training all American soldiers receive; c) enlist the services of the “Iron Sheik” to help negotiate with Iran; or d) put the sleeper hold on any Democrats who propose legislation that would raise federal spending?
  8. Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, died last week at the age of fifty-seven.  Upon learning of his death, many Americans thought:  a) how sad for his family; b) how unfortunate for his country; c) is Ethiopia still a country; or d) I thought Haile Selassie was prime minister of Ethiopia?
  9. Facebook has introduced a mandatory change in users’ Facebook pages because:  a) it wants to improve the experience for its users; b) it wants to create more space for ads that no one wants to buy; c) it wants to distract attention from the poor performance of its recently issued stock; or d) you don’t pay to use Facebook so it can do anything it damn well pleases and they don’t give a rat’s ass what you think or want?
  10. The best musical on Broadway today is:  a) Jersey Boys, which features songs made popular by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons forty years ago; b) Chicago, a show that’s now more than a quarter-century old; c) Mary Poppins, a remake of a musical more than fifty years old; or d) considering that Broadway rarely features anything fresh and new and most Americans wouldn’t go to New York City on a dare, who really cares anymore?

Mini-Rumination: Montana Republicans Caught With Their Ethical Pants Down

Montana Republicans are eager to reclaim the Senate seat the Democrats won from them six years ago and their strategy is to do everything they can to link the incumbent, Jon Tester, to President Obama, who’s not very popular out in the land where they don’t need no stinking federal government.  It’s a good strategy:  if The Curmudgeon was running the Republican campaign, it’s exactly what he’d do.

So one of the things the Republicans did was to run an ad showing a picture of Tester and Obama in mid-embrace.  If that doesn’t show that they’re close, nothing will, right?

Only the photo is bogus.

Take a look at the photo.  See Tester’s left hand?  Count the fingers:  one-two-three-four-five.

The problem is, Tester only has two fingers on his left hand.  He lost the other three in a family farm accident, and as a result, he has only a thumb and a pinkie.

The Montana Republicans obviously doctored the photo.

There’s nothing wrong or immoral or unfair about attempting to win an election by linking your opponent to an unpopular President – but there IS something wrong with doctoring photos to do it.  There have to be literally a thousand ways to show the ties between the incumbent and the President, and there’s no reason – no justification and no possible explanation – for why Montana Republicans felt they had to doctor a photo to make their point.  It’s wrong, it’s immoral, it’s dishonest, and it’s a betrayal of the millions of good, honest Republicans out there.  If this deplorable tactic is indicative of what Montana Republicans are made of, it’s probably a good argument for voters to reject both their strategy and their candidate.

Giving Up on the Sunday Newspaper

The Curmudgeon loves newspapers.  No matter where his (limited) travels take him, he’s always interested in picking up the local newspaper to read about life elsewhere and learn about common interests from different perspectives.  One of his favorite parts of the trips he used to take frequently to the home office in Harrisburg was the opportunity to look at the Harrisburg Patriot-News while in the office and then to pick up a Washington Post for the two-hour train ride home.

Sunday newspapers are especially fun, and on those Sundays on which The Curmudgeon wakes up at a decent hour, he can usually rustle up a Sunday New York Times.  Through Calibre, the brilliant tool for people with e-readers, he enjoys (free) access to dozens of Sunday (and weekday) newspapers – everything from the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post to the conservative-and-damn-angry-about-it Orange County Register, the Waco Tribune-Herald, and the Yakima Herald-Republic.

And of course, there’s always the hometown paper.

Oh, the hometown paper.

The Curmudgeon is not a big fan of the Philadelphia Inquirer.  As a quality publication, it probably peaked in the 1980s, and it’s been sold three times in the past few years, with each sale bringing more lay-offs, less quality, and the flight of top reporters who have the skill to work pretty much anywhere they please and the desire to work for a great or even a very good newspaper, which the Inquirer arguably no longer is.

Still, there’s something very special about sitting down on a Sunday morning and digging into the Sunday paper, so even though The Curmudgeon subscribes to the Inquirer for the isn’t-this-pretty-much-stealing-it price of $5.99 a month from Amazon, he makes a point of going out on Sunday mornings in search of the Sunday Inquirer and ignoring the version that arrives (wirelessly) on his Kindle.

Over the past few years, though, that once-delicious Sunday morning experience has become no longer even moderately tasty.  The paper has grown thinner and thinner even as its price has grown fatter and fatter.  The local news is skimpy – the paper pretty much stopped covering all but the biggest stories about the city of Philadelphia itself, ceding that more “colorful” (pun intended, including all its negative connotations) turf to its sister newspaper, the Daily News; the business news is almost non-existent; the review and opinion section is downright boring; the real estate section is just plain tired (how many times must readers endure features about the best dishwasher detergent to use to keep glasses shiny and clear?); and the book reviews fewer and fewer and buried deeper and deeper.

The sports coverage is especially troubling.  Somewhere along the line, both local television and local newspapers seem to have decided that because their users have so many places to get the sports information they crave and already know the basic stories before they tune into their broadcasts or open their pages, they needed to do less hard reporting and be more supportive of the local teams.  It’s much worse on television, where most of the television sportscasters would not look out of place wielding pom-poms, but the newspapers, too, seem to see their role as being more supporters than reporters.   The sports coverage seems jaded, written increasingly by writers who seem more like fans than reporters and who come across as personally offended when local teams don’t perform well.  The Sunday Inquirer also has two very unfortunate sports features:  a column by a radio/tv type who already has numerous platforms from which to say things simply for the sake of trying to stir up controversy; and a columnist who retired years ago, or was retired by the Inquirer years ago – much to The Curmudgeon’s delight – largely because he so clearly had nothing left to say but who now seems to have been granted a weekly column in the Sunday paper, probably because he’s not on the payroll and gets paid by the piece and is therefore cheaper than hiring a columnist who might actually have some fresh insights to offer.

So last Sunday, The Curmudgeon rolled out of bed, got dressed, and was ready to head out in search of his favorite Sunday morning fix when he stopped dead in his tracks as he put his hand on his front door knob.  Why am I doing this, he asked himself?  Will I get pleasure out of it?

He turned around, went back into the house, and turned on his Kindle.  From now on, he’ll read his Sunday paper electronically.  The Sunday paper, or at least the Sunday Inquirer, is no longer special, no longer a treat, no longer something to look forward to, and no longer something worth going out to find on a Sunday morning.

Mini-Rumination: Memo to Republican Conventioneers

The Curmudgeon thought you might like to know that the area surrounding the Tampa airport and the path between the airport and Clearwater, and then into Clearwater along Gulf-to-Beach, has a higher concentration of strip clubs than anywhere else in the country (including the original Hooters’ restaurant).

Happy conventioneering.  Get your pictures taken at one of the clubs before you leave; your constituents will love it.

Mini-Rumination: The Sweathogs

First it was Robert Heyges – Epstein – who died in January.  Then it was Ron Palillo – Horshack – who died last week.

The Sweathogs are dropping like flies!

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Freddie “Boom-Boom Washington).

The Curmudgeon’s Brush With the Law

The Curmudgeon can be a bit of a paradox.  On one hand, his thinking tends to be not so much outside the box as it is contemptuous of the box.  On the other hand, he is in some respects highly conventional.  He is, for example, an inveterate rule-follower:  he completes his tax returns simply and without artifice, sees his dentist every six months like clockwork, and drives within the speed limit (often, to the chagrin of his passengers).  While his memory doesn’t go back far enough for him to be certain, he thinks it’s a pretty safe bet that in his younger years he most definitely colored within the lines.

So it was very unusual, to say the least, that one week ago today he was sitting on the beach in Brigantine, New Jersey, surrounded by police vehicles and girding for a tense confrontation between law enforcement officials and a certain bald, pudgy, fifty-four-year-old curmudgeon with an awkward gait that’s sometimes mistaken for a limp.

What led to this moment – a moment that to all appearances looked as if it would lead to The Curmudgeon being led off to the big house in flip-flops and handcuffs?

It all began twenty-four hours earlier, and it began because of The Curmudgeon’s curmudgeonly rule-following side.  Most of the beach towns along the southern New Jersey shore require visitors to purchase and display beach tags whenever they step onto the sands.  Rule-follower that he is, The Curmudgeon purchases a badge for the entire season the first time he visits Brigantine, his beach town of choice.  The pass is well-used:  he visits the town every two or three weeks for a few hours from mid-May through late October and also spends one or two weeks there a year on vacation.  He gets his money’s worth from his badge, and he dutifully shows it every time the college girls who constitute the Brigantine beach tag patrol ask to see it.

On this particular Wednesday, however, as The Curmudgeon was showing his tag to one beach badge co-ed, another was having a more difficult time with two middle-aged women about seventy-five feet away.  They clearly did not have badges and were trying to talk their way out of either purchasing tags or being asked to leave the beach.  The Curmudgeon looked on with great interest, and he did so in a manner that unmistakably caught the attention of the failing beach badge girl.  This contributed to her discomfort:  not only was she failing with the law-breaking women but she also had become acutely aware that someone was closely observing her ineptitude.  Eventually she despaired over both, refused to look up at The Curmudgeon as he eyed her, and walked away in defeat.  As she departed, the two women could not prevent themselves from laughing aloud; The Curmudgeon thought it unlikely that the humiliated teenager failed to hear their laughter.

Fast forward twenty-four hours and The Curmudgeon was back on the beach and the same inept beach tag checker approached him.  He first showed the checker his badge and then inquired about the previous day’s confrontation with the two women who’d been permitted to break the law with impunity.  She immediately knew exactly what The Curmudgeon was talking about and was embarrassed as she explained that it’s the town’s policy not to eject people from the beach if they fail to produce beach tags.

Why should anyone purchase a beach tag, The Curmudgeon then asked, if they know they won’t be ejected from the beach if they don’t have one?  That’s the policy, the beach tag checker explained.  The Curmudgeon then asked the question again:  why should he buy a tag when all he needs is a marginally plausible story about how he left it at home or in his car – or that the dog ate it (sorry, old homework excuses die hard)?  Whenever you let someone stay on the beach without a tag, he suggested, aren’t you essentially making fools out of those of us who were suckers and played by the rules?

At this point, instead of just walking away, beach badge girl walked back toward The Curmudgeon and told him that his questioning constituted harassment and that she was calling her supervisor; every time he tried to speak, she aggressively spoke over him and shut him down.  She and her partner stepped away while The Curmudgeon finished planting his umbrella in the sand, took a seat, and opened the August edition of The Atlantic (an article explaining how difficult it still is for women to “have it all” written by a woman who’s had enough for any five women).

The beach tag duo idled about 100 feet behind The Curmudgeon while they awaited their supervisor’s arrival.  The supervisor must’ve been busy flirting with the lifeguards, though, because she apparently was nowhere to be found.  While awaiting the seemingly inevitable confrontation – ten minutes had already passed – The Curmudgeon walked down to the water to wet his feet; that’s as wet as he ever gets at the beach.  He then returned to his sand chair; still no supervisor.

After about another five minutes The Curmudgeon could no longer resist the temptation to turn around to see what was going on – or if they were still even there, since it seemed entirely plausible that upon hearing her charges’ sad story, their supervisor might very well tell them to grow a pair and get back to work – and when he did, he counted not one and not two but three police vehicles congregated behind him:  two beach patrol vehicles and a Brigantine police car.  Another five minutes passed, after which the beach tag girls’ supervisor – a “lieutenant” (who knew a beach tag patrol would be organized according to a military model?) – approached The Curmudgeon.

She was clearly spoiling for a fight.  She asked what the problem was and The Curmudgeon suggested that since she’d already spent a good deal of time with her charges, she knew perfectly well what the issue was and that The Curmudgeon had already spoken his piece on the matter.  She told The Curmudgeon that he was wrong and that he had mistreated her girls.  The Curmudgeon reiterated his basic contention:  that if the beach tag patrol lacked the ability or the will to enforce the beach tag rule, there was no reason for anyone ever to buy a tag.  She was dissatisfied with the conversation and departed – but only after abusing her authority by asking to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag, which her charges had already viewed and which she surely knew.

While all this was transpiring, the arrival of the Brigantine wing of the New Jersey National Guard and the multiple cross-examinations of a solitary beachgoer were attracting an audience.  Between interrogations, some in that audience, assuming that the problem was The Curmudgeon’s refusal to produce a beach tag, offered him theirs to help him combat the evil beach fuzz.

Another five minutes passed, and when The Curmudgeon again could no longer resist turning around to check out the fleet behind him, he found that the fleet had grown:  it now consisted of four vehicles.  It looked like The Curmudgeon was about to be read his rights and hauled off to the hoosegow.

Yet another five minutes passed, and now it was the police officer’s turn.  When he asked what the problem was, The Curmudgeon suggested that the officer needed to ask that question of the beach tag team that had apparently summoned him about the dangerous criminal who had invaded their sands.

During this conversation, The Curmudgeon remained seated in his sand chair.  Consequently, the officer towered over him.  At this point, The Curmudgeon decided to throw a new wrinkle into the conversation, suggesting that the addition of the police officer and the fourth police vehicle amounted to a clear attempt to intimidate The Curmudgeon.

“Do you think I’m trying to intimidate you?” the officer asked.

“Well, you’re the guy standing six feet from me with a gun on your hip,” The Curmudgeon replied.  After yet another brief conversation during which the officer asked to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag yet gave no indication of what he was even doing on the beach – did they think The Curmudgeon posed a threat to the public safety or was planning to steal some sand? – he asked The Curmudgeon if he had any identification on him.  When informed that he did not – when The Curmudgeon is staying in town, the only things he brings to the beach are his keys, his cell phone, and, well, his beach tag.  With nothing left to ask, and probably more than a little annoyed both by The Curmudgeon and the helpless beach tag girls who had summoned him because their feelings had been hurt, the officer left to rejoin his squadron.

But it still wasn’t over.

After yet another five-minute wait – didn’t any of these people have anything more important to do? –  The Curmudgeon was approached by yet another authority figure:  a Brigantine “summer police officer” who was a criminal justice major who had just finished two years at a community college and will be entering a local college in the fall.  Blessedly, he lacked a gun, although he did have a baton and something else on his belt that looked like some kind of weapon.  Like his predecessor, he asked to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag, and since The Curmudgeon had no ID with him (and was thinking about all those movies set in France:  “Your papers, sir?” the gendarme would always ask), he demanded contact information:  name, address, phone number.  Why?  Because The Curmudgeon was “going into the system.”

Ooooooooooh, just like on Hill Street Blues.

Even now, The Curmudgeon still has no idea who was in the fourth vehicle.  Assuming vehicle number one was Lieutenant Nasty, number two was Sheriff Andy Taylor, and number three was Deputy Barney Fife, who was in vehicle number four?  The captain of the beach tag patrol?  The colonel of the beach tag patrol?  The mayor?  David Hasselhoff?  Dog, the bounty hunter?

It was an interesting adventure.  The Curmudgeon made what he feels is a valid point, he ran the risk of going to jail – he stood up for the principle, mom! ­– and he met some nice and not-so-nice people:  the beach tag girls were just dumb kids, their lieutenant is going to be the dean of women at a girls boarding school when (if?) she grows up – think Beulah Balbricker from the movie Porky’s – and all things considered, the police officer and the officer in training seemed like pretty good guys who were good at their jobs.  The spectators on the beach were pretty great, too.

But The Curmudgeon isn’t quite done.  On Monday he called the police department to get a copy of the police report.  That will be another ordeal:  they have to mail him a form requesting the report, he has to return it, and only then will they send him a copy.  Why does he want it?  Because several people among the spectators captured some of the multiple interrogations with their cell phones, so The Curmudgeon will consult with counsel to explore whether his rough treatment at the hands of the town’s authorities – treatment inspired by his simple observation that a beach tag girl was pretty bad at her job – is going to enable him own a piece of the Brigantine beach, or maybe a small beach-block condo, in the near future.

Mini-Rumination: A (Rare) Television Recommendation

As addressed elsewhere in this blog, The Curmudgeon generally has no use for what is loosely referred to as “reality television.”  His overall theory is that it consists of contrived situations that are structured to encourage people to treat one another badly – and for viewers to get their kicks watching people treat other people badly.

But he has found something he thinks is worth watching, and it will probably come as a surprise to readers.  The Curmudgeon enthusiastically endorses Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which can be seen on Wednesday at ten on The Learning Channel.

“Honey Boo Boo” is actually Alana, a six-year-old who competes in those awful child beauty pageants, and the program centers around her family – a bigger bunch of hillbilly misfits you will never find.  They make Lulu Roman and Junior Samples of Hee Haw fame seem like Alistair Cooke; they make Mr. Haney and Mr. Kimball of Green Acres seem like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett; and they make Snooki and the Kardashian sisters seem like Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk.

But they also make The Curmudgeon roar with laughter – so loud and so hard last week, when he was sharing a beach house with family members, that he woke his hard-of-hearing mother, who was sleeping one floor below.  He laughed so hard that he cried, and as a result, he wheezed all night.

And it was worth it.

Give it a try:  Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, tonight at ten on The Learning Channel.

Fiction: A Short Story

More than a decade ago, one of the only real fights The Curmudgeon had with his then-girlfriend came when he observed that he would gladly give ten years off the end of his life to play major league baseball for just one year.  The woman was furious; even though she was a sports fan, we were close enough at the time for her to think those ten years would come at her expense, and she took the observation very personally.  After absorbing a few minutes of her abuse, The Curmudgeon made a simple request:  present the proposition – one year as a major league baseball player in exchange for the last ten years of your life – to a few men you know who love baseball and see what they say.  She said she would – and The Curmudgeon never heard from her about the matter again.

Flash forward ten years.  The Curmudgeon was working on a satirical novel about urban politics, and after laboring for about a year, he knew he needed a break.  Somehow, the conversation with his ex came to mind, and before he knew it, he wrote the first draft of the following story in three sessions of about ninety minutes each over the course of three days.  The story required a great deal of reworking, editing, refining, and polishing, of course – first drafts of The Curmudgeon’s short stories are always a bit of a mess – but when he was finished, he was pleased with the final product.

He hopes you are, too.

“The Devil and Johnny Kimball”

 The old, refurbished Greyhound pulled alongside the ballpark shortly before 2:00 a.m., belching diesel fumes even after the driver turned off the engine.  Almost immediately about thirty men, most of them young and fuzzy-cheeked, climbed down the steps and stopped only long enough to retrieve their duffel bags from the storage area in the bus’s belly.  They then walked off in several directions to their cars – almost all of them older automobiles that they fervently hoped would start after sitting idle for nine days.  Among them were Johnny Kimball, a twenty-five-year-old infielder for the Reading Phillies, and his roommate, twenty-year-old outfielder Byron Williams.  They walked about thirty yards to Kimball’s 1961 Comet station wagon, a hand-me-down from Kimball’s father, who had recently purchased a brand-new 1970 Buick Electra.  Business was good, and dad had shared his good fortune with his son.

The two young men were hungry, so they headed off to the twenty-four-hour diner a few blocks from the furnished studio apartment they had shared since April.  Kimball’s name was on the apartment lease, and at times that worried him:  Williams was the real deal, a genuine major league prospect, and a lot of people thought the Phillies might promote him from their AA team in Reading to their AAA team in Eugene, Oregon in the next few weeks.  If they did, Kimball would lose his roommate and half of the rent payment.

At twenty-five, Kimball was in his third year as a player in the minor league system of the Philadelphia Phillies, joining them from the University of Delaware.  Players who actually graduated from college, as Kimball did – with a 3.8 average and a degree in accounting – were still fairly rare in baseball, and this set him apart from his teammates.  He was the oldest player on the team by three years, and only recently had he come to the conclusion that unlike his talented roommate, he was no longer viewed as a potential major league player by the Phillies.

For his first two years, Kimball had every reason to believe that he, too, was a real prospect.  A sure-handed fielder with a strong throwing arm but just average running speed, he could play solidly, if unspectacularly, at second base, shortstop, and third base.  During his first minor league season, at A-level Spartanburg, he played every day, performed well, and earned a promotion to AA-level Reading the following year.  While his performance at Reading had been almost identical to his year in Spartanburg, it did not earn him another promotion:  he was now in Reading for a second year, the first sign that his progress had stalled and that the Phillies now questioned his potential.  The second sign, however, was far more ominous:  he did not have a regular position in his second year in Reading, which meant that other players had leap-frogged ahead of him in the organization’s view.  Now, he played only when someone was injured; otherwise, he just watched the games from the bench.  As spring turned into summer and sweltering August began, he was finally beginning to comprehend, and even accept, that he had no future in baseball.  Meanwhile, back home in Florida, his family tried to be supportive:  they, too, understood his situation, but their willingness to indulge his baseball dream was growing thin.  His wife made no secret of her desire for him to come home; a few of the players on the team were married and their wives lived with them during the season, but she had a career of her own and could not pick and move from small town to small town while her husband learned to master the unlikely skill of striking a fast-moving orb with a two-pound stick.  Kimball’s father, who owned five tire, muffler, and transmission shops in the greater Tampa area, was skeptical of the very notion of a grown man playing baseball for a living and wanted his son to return home and take over financial management of his fast-growing business interests.

Kimball and Williams pulled into the parking lot of the all-night diner and entered the almost-deserted eatery; the only other patron was an old man who sat slumped, and possibly asleep, at a table.  The two men took a booth and the only waitress on duty approached them with menus but the players waved them off:  they both knew what they wanted and ordered as soon as they took their seats.  They exchanged small talk with her; they were regulars and treated well.  When she returned a minute later with their large glasses of orange juice, she also brought two large, opaque mugs of something they had not ordered:  ice cold Rolling Rock, which was not on the menu because the establishment did not have a liquor license.  This was one of the privileges of being a member of the Reading Phillies and one of the benefits of eating at a time of day when there was no one around to see what they were being served.

As soon as the waitress left, Kimball excused himself and went off to call his wife from the pay phone outside the rest rooms.  This was their ritual:  when the bus returned to Reading, he called her as soon as he could to report on the game’s outcome and on his own performance and to say goodnight and that he loved her.  They spoke for about five minutes, after which Kimball returned to his table.

“You had a great night tonight, By,” he told his roommate.  “That ball you hit in the gap was a rope, and when you turned on the jets and stretched it into a triple, well, it was just gorgeous.”

“I don’t hear people telling me I’m gorgeous very often,” Williams said, laughing.

“I guess not.  But I’m guessing you’re hearing more people talk about Eugene now, too.”

“Don’t you start, too.”

“Why not?  The Phillies were awful this year, so it stands to reason that on September 1, they’re gonna call up some guys.  When they do, they’re going to need bodies at Eugene to take their place.  If you’re not at the top of the list, you have to be pretty close.”

Williams smiled.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up, but if I do go, maybe we’ll both go.”

Kimball shook his head.

“Now we both know that’s not going to happen.”

The waitress came and set food in front of them – along with another mug of beer.

“Why not?  You’re having a good year.”

“C’mon, I’m a sub.  Utility guys at double A don’t go to triple A.  You’re ticketed for bigger things, you’re gonna get a taste, a chance to show what you can do.  I don’t even have a regular job here anymore.”

“Hey, you’re getting a shot, what with Freddy out.  You’re doing well.”

“I am, I know, but when Freddy’s knee’s better, he goes back to third and I go back to the bench.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yeah, I do.

“Look, remember when you were at Spartanburg last year and you looked around at your teammates and wondered what some of them were even doing there?”

“What do you mean?” Williams asked.  He knew exactly what Kimball meant.

“You know:  the guys who were no better than half the players on your high school team and you knew they didn’t have a chance in the world of playing major league baseball.”

“Yeah, sure.  I still don’t get it.”

“Well, listen, here’s what that’s all about.  On every minor league team there are only five or six players who really matter.  They’re the prospects:  the guys who the big league club thinks have a chance to play in the majors.  The rest of the guys on the team, including the ones you know can’t really play, they’re only around so that each team has enough players to play games every day.  Like if two of those five or six real prospects are starting pitchers, they can’t pitch every day, so you need some warm bodies to throw some innings between the turns of the guys who really do matter.  The same thing is true up and down the lineup.  Maybe a team doesn’t have a real shortstop prospect at double A, so they use another warm body to play short because you can’t play a game without a shortstop.”

“I think you had a point to make somewhere.”

“Yeah, here’s my point:  you’re one of the five or six.  I’m one of the warm bodies.  The Phillies think you have a chance to be a major league player someday.  Last year when I came to Reading, I was one of the five or six, too, but they saw enough of me to decide that it’s not going to happen for me, so now I’m one of the warm bodies.”

“No.”

“C’mon.  Of course I am.  Two years ago I played every day at Spartanburg and did well enough to earn a promotion to Reading.  Last year I played every day here in Reading, but not only didn’t I get promoted to Eugene, but I also lost my job as an everyday player.”

“You’ve played plenty this year.”

“Only when someone’s hurt, or like when they called up Jerry to Eugene and it took them nearly two weeks to decide who to promote to take his place.  And they did promote someone else instead of giving me the job.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“Yeah.  I didn’t realize it at first, but I figured it out when they sent Hector to replace Jerry.  Last year I was ahead of both of those guys.  Now they’re both ahead of me, and the only time I get to play is when somebody else can’t.

“You know, Carol keeps telling me that she wants me to come home, and my dad still wants me in his business, and for the first time, they’re starting to make sense to me.  I’ve got a college degree and a great wife and a good job waiting for me, but it seemed worth investing some time in this to see if I might be able to make it to the bigs, but I think my opportunity has passed.  It’s too bad, too:  I want it so much I can taste it.  I’d sell my soul for it.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“No, not literally, but I’ll tell you this:  I’d give ten years – no, fifteen years – off the end of my life for one year in the majors.  Just one year, that’s all.”

“For real?”

“For real.”

Byron looked at his roommate for a few seconds before speaking.

“Those beers went right through me.  I’ll be back in a minute.”

Williams rose and set off for the men’s room.  Kimball was putting the last bite of pie into his mouth when someone slid into Williams’s seat across from him in the booth.  It was the old man who had appeared to be sleeping when the two ballplayers entered the diner.

“Ken Overton,” the old man said, extending his hand.

“John Kimball,” Kimball replied, extending his own.  He looked at the old man:  he appeared to be seventy years old, maybe seventy-five, with gray hair, and in need of both a shave and a haircut – and perhaps some fresh, clean clothes and a bath as well.

“Yes, of the Phillies.  I’ve seen you play.  You’re a nice little player.”

“Thank you,” Kimball replied.  Reading was a small town and the players were accustomed to being recognized and approached by fans.  Most of them enjoyed it, Kimball among them.

“I couldn’t help overhearing you,” the man explained, “when you said you’d give fifteen years off the end of your life for one year in the majors.  Were you serious when you said that or were you just kidding?”

“For the chance to play big league baseball?  Only every boy’s dream growing up?  You bet I was serious.”

“I thought so.  I could tell by your tone of voice, the passion I heard.

“So what if I told you I could make it happen?”

“Make what happen?” Kimball asked.

“One year in the majors in exchange for fifteen years off the end of your life.”

Kimball laughed.

“Who’re you, the devil?”

Now Overton laughed.

“Of course I’m not the devil.  The devil only engages in wholesale mayhem on earth:  bringing insane dictators into power, spreading disease, wiping out crops and causing famine, that kind of thing.  I’m one of the devil’s emissaries:  I work the retail end of the business, you might say.”

“Yeah, right.”

“You don’t believe in the devil?”

“Should I?” Kimball asked.

“How else would you explain the resurrection of Richard Nixon?”

Kimball laughed.

“That’s almost a plausible explanation.  But then, he is president, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, well, there’s a price yet to be paid for his resurrection,” Overton said, “and we haven’t seen the last of his dark side.”

“I see.”

“So, are you serious about one year in the major leagues in exchange for fifteen years at the end of your life?”

“How can you possibly make that happen?”

“That’s none of your concern,” Overton said. “Leave the details to me.  If you do what I tell you, you’ll get your one year in the major leagues:  not next year but the year after.  It’ll be one year and one year only, with no chance for a second.”

“What do I have to do – mug a little old lady or something?”

“You’re not taking me seriously, young man.  Are you interested or not?”

“I’m still talking to you, aren’t I?”

“So then no more smart mouth.

“Your catcher got hurt tonight, right?”

Kimball was stunned.

“How did you know that?”  Kimball knew the game had not been broadcast on the radio and that the newspapers would not be out for a few hours yet.

“I…know things.”

“Yeah, he tweaked his hamstring.  He’ll be out for a few days, but they think he’ll be fine.”

“He will.”

“You know that for a fact, do you?”

“Yes.”

“So, what about it?”

“Tomorrow, when you go to the clubhouse, you go up to coach Seminick and tell him that if he needs an emergency catcher, you’re game.  Ask if he can give you some pointers, just in case.  He’s an old catcher himself, you know, so he’ll really like that.”

“For real?”

“For real.”

“Your catcher will recover, but in a few weeks, your team will be getting clobbered in a game and they’ll put you in to catch the last inning.  You’ll catch a few more times before the season is over, and when the season ends, the Phillies will tell you that they’re going to give you some serious instruction in how to be a catcher in the spring.  You can use that to justify to your family giving your baseball dream another year.”

“Justify to my family?”

“Well, they’re not coming right out and saying it, but you know they want you to give up baseball and come home, right?”

“Yeah, but…hey, how’d you know that?”

“Like I said, I know things.  Maybe now you’ll take me a little more seriously.

“Anyhow, you’re not going to get promoted next year, so you’ll be here again in Reading.  You won’t have a regular position again, but between all of the positions you play, now including catcher, you’ll see plenty of action.  You’ll take to catching pretty well, and because big league teams always need a lot of catchers in spring training to work with all of their pitchers, you’ll be invited to spring training with the big team the following year.  That’ll buy you another year with your family.  If you work hard you’ll make the team, play just a little, do only fair, stay with the team the entire season, and that’ll be your year in the big leagues.  There won’t be a second year.”

“So all I have to do to get it started is go to the manager tomorrow and volunteer to be the emergency catcher?”

“That’s all – that and never tell a soul about any of this.  You do and all deals are off, plus there’ll be serious consequences.”

Kimball paused for a moment before speaking.

“So now that I know what to do, what’s to stop me from going ahead and doing it without agreeing to your terms?”

Overton laughed.

“It won’t work, that’s all.”

“No?”

“You really think you can mess with the devil and get away with it?”

“Gotcha.”

“So, do we have a deal?”

Kimball shook his head in the affirmative.

“I don’t see why not.  I don’t believe any of this, but then I don’t have anything to lose, do I?”

Overton arched his right eyebrow.

“Yes you do.”

“What?” Kimball asked.

“The last fifteen years of your life.  One day, at some point in the future, I’m going to show up unexpected and unannounced and tell you that you’re down to your last three days.  And I’m not going to tell you how you’re going to go, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

“Oh yeah, right.”

“So, do we have a deal?” Overton asked.

“Yeah, we have a deal.”

Overton extended his hand and smiled.  Kimball shook it.

Just as their hands parted, Byron Williams returned.  Kimball was flustered for a moment but quickly regained his composure.

“Hey, By, this is…”

“Ken Overton,” Overton said.  “I’m a big fan of you, Johnny, and the team and just wanted to come over and say hello.”

He extended his hand and Williams took it.

“You gentlemen have a good evening,” Overton said as he turned and departed.

*        *        *

Kimball did as he was told and was rewarded as promised.  He spent all of 1972 in the major leagues as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phillies that year were the worst team in baseball and one of the worst teams in the history of baseball and Kimball was just another bad player on a very bad team.  Despite the misery of knowing they would probably lose nearly two games out of every three, Kimball managed to squeeze an enormous amount of joy out of the experience.  He reveled in the large crowds that came out to cheer for the team in its still-new stadium; in the fans who – despite the booing for which Philadelphia was so well known – really did love their team; in the travel from major league city to major league city – traveling on airplanes instead of buses, staying at first-class hotels, seeing places he might never otherwise have seen, and eating at first-class restaurants with the help of generous meal money handed to the players in bulging envelopes every time they traveled; and the luxury of having his equipment and luggage taken care of for him and his pre-game and post-game food provided by members of the team’s staff for whom such work was their full-time job.

He also took great pleasure in playing major league baseball in major league stadiums.  Every time he climbed the dugout stairs and stepped onto the playing field or looked into the stands or up at the lights he felt a genuine thrill that never dimmed or grew old as the season progressed.  He did not, however, get to experience these thrills very often:  over the course of the six-month, 162-game season, Kimball played in just fifty-eight games, and the baseball encyclopedia summarized his career succinctly:  he hit .238 with six RBIs in forty-eight at bats, hit two doubles, and scored six runs.  What it failed to capture was what would remain with Kimball for the rest of his life:  in his last game, on the last day of the season, he started for the first and only time in his major league career, playing second base, and in his last at-bat, he hit a home run over the left-field wall and trotted casually around the bases, reveling in every moment because he knew he would never do it again.

By then, Kimball knew that his major league career was over – knew not because of Ken Overton’s warning but because the team’s general manager, who also managed the team for the last part of the season, had told him the previous week that he no longer fit into the team’s plans and would be released after the season’s end.  The general manager also said that he liked Kimball very much and offered him a job coaching in the team’s minor league system.  Kimball told the man that he had a much better offer back home, helping to run the family business, declined the offer, and asked, as a final wish, if he could play in the team’s last game of the season.  The general manager was pleased to grant this reasonable request; by this time, most of the team’s players only wanted to go home and put the disastrous season behind them, and he therefore was happy to be able to give an opportunity to a fine young man who clearly wanted to treat this meaningless game as the most important of his life.  When the season ended, Kimball – not unhappily and without regret – packed up his 1972 Chevrolet Impala that still had a hint of new car smell and drove the 1000 miles back home, to Plant City, Florida, where his wife, his family, and his new job as controller of Kimball Enterprises awaited him.

For the next thirty years Kimball worked in various capacities in the family business:  controller, vice president of human resources, vice president of marketing, chief financial officer, and – after his father’s retirement – president and chief executive officer.  Over the years the company grew and grew, expanding to forty tire, muffler, and repair shops; Toyota and Honda dealerships; three storage rental facilities; and a company that operated shuttle bus services between the airport and the region’s many hotels and motels along the Gulf of Mexico and near Busch Gardens.  Kimball also became a prominent member of the community and a tireless cheerleader for his fast-growing hometown.  He had been the driving force behind the town’s successful effort to attract a major league baseball team to train in the city each spring, served four terms as president of the chamber of commerce and two terms as a city commissioner, ten years as commissioner of its Babe Ruth little league, and on the board of directors of the major bank in town, the United Way, the American Red Cross, and the community college.

Although Kimball’s father retired in 1992, he stayed active in the business in one way or another until his death in 2002 at the age of eighty-two.  One month after the funeral, Kimball, now fifty-seven himself, told his wife that he thought the time had come to sell the business and retire.  She was pleased:  her husband had worked very hard for many years, none of their four children worked for the company, and he deserved the opportunity to sit back and enjoy life and everything he had accomplished while he was still young and vigorous and able to enjoy retirement.

Retirement, however, did not agree with Kimball.  For the first year after he sold the last of his businesses he and his wife traveled the world, including visits to all four of their children, who were scattered around the country, each taking up permanent residence near where they had attended college.  Once they returned home, though, Kimball found himself restless:  other than playing a great deal of golf and reducing his handicap to just six strokes, he felt he had nothing constructive to do.  To fill this hole in his life he decided to launch a new business:  a sports bar.

For a year he plunged into his new venture:  finding the right location, working with a designer, developing a menu and the sports themes, furnishing and equipping it, hiring a staff, promoting it, and getting the business off the ground.  The sports bar was successful from day one, and because he had done such a good job hiring staff, Kimball again found himself with relatively little to do.  He would come to the bar most mornings around 11:30 and stay through the lunch hour and come again for dinner, or right after dinner, but he did little more than greet customers and watch his employees go about their business.

One of his favorite activities at the bar was watching Tampa Bay Bucs football games with his customers.  Come Sunday afternoon in the fall, every one of the twenty-four large-screen televisions in the restaurant was tuned to the Bucs game while patrons watched, ate, drank, and cheered together.  Kimball always set himself up at a table in the middle of the bar area, surrounded by friends and a never-ending parade of people who came by to say hello.

One Sunday afternoon in mid-November the Bucs were engaged in a particularly tight game with division rival Atlanta.  Kimball was anxious, but not because of the game:  he was expecting a call from his son in-law, who he expected would tell him that his daughter had just delivered his first grandchild.  Many of the patrons knew about the imminent call and stopped by his table to wish him well.

During the third quarter, the bartender called across the noisy room.

“John, it’s Ron.”

Heads turned as Kimball rose, walked to the bar, and took the phone from his bartender.

“Hey, Ron.”

He listened for a moment before speaking again.

“Yes.  Six pounds, nine ounces, healthy.  Kathleen.  Wonderful.  And Jeannie?”

A pause.

“Great.  Congratulations, son.”

Another pause.

“Okay, so like we planned, Carol and I will fly up in a week.  I’m so happy for you, son.  Tell Jeannie I’ll talk to her tonight and see her in a week.  Bye.”

Kimball looked up, a tear in his eye, toward the many people who had momentarily turned away from the game to watch the proprietor.

“It’s a girl,” he announced.  “Kathleen.  Ten fingers, ten toes, healthy.  I’m a grandfather!”

A roar went up, people applauded, and Kimball called for a round of beer on the house and spent the next ten minutes circulating throughout the bar, handing out cigars and unable to wipe the smile from his face.

About forty-five minutes later the game ended and most of the patrons departed, with many of them stopping by Kimball’s table to offer their congratulations again.  Once most of the people were gone, the manager joined Kimball and they discussed a few matters related to that night’s dinner service.

As the manager departed, a voice called out from behind Kimball.

“Congratulations on your granddaughter.  You must be very happy and proud.  Your first, I understand.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Kimball replied as the man circled the table to face him.  Kimball thought the elderly, gray-haired man looked vaguely familiar but could not place him.

The man extended his hand.

“Ken Overton,” he said.

Kimball turned white.  He did not take the outstretched hand.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“That’s not possible.  You were ancient back in 1970, you couldn’t possibly…”

“Yes, it’s me, and this is my perpetual age.  Back in my real life I was unkind to the elderly, so my punishment is to live forever as one of them.

“I’ve come to tell you that it’s time.”

“Time?” Kimball asked.

“Yes.  As we agreed in that diner in Reading, Pennsylvania thirty-four years ago.”

“But…”

“I delivered on my promise.  You did as I told you and enjoyed a season as a major league baseball player.  I have to tell you, people sell their souls for much less, even for silly things, but you appeared to enjoy your wish as much as anyone I’ve ever dealt with.

“And you did enjoy it, didn’t you?”

Kimball said nothing.

“Didn’t you?” Overton repeated.

“Yes,” Kimball finally whispered.

“And now I’ve come to collect, as I told you I would.  I also promised you three days’ notice.  The clock starts now.”

“But…my daughter…my granddaughter…my wife and I are flying to see my granddaughter, our first, next week.”

“I can’t speak for your wife, but I know you will definitely not be accompanying her.  Of that I’m certain.”

“But…”

“You knew there would be a price to be paid, Mr. Kimball, and you agreed to pay it.”

“Yes, but…”

“But you never entirely believed it.  I know.  That’s how it usually goes.  People want what they want, they make sacrifices to achieve their goals, they compromise to get what they want, but they think there’ll be no consequences, no day of reckoning.  But you knew exactly what the consequences would be thirty-four years ago.

“By the way, By Williams turned out to be a brilliant ballplayer, didn’t he?  I was truly touched to see you sitting with his family at the hall of fame induction ceremony.  I can also tell you, if it’s any consolation, that he’ll drop what he’s doing to come to your funeral.”

“Yes, but…”

“But you have more important things to think about right now.  Like your last three days.”

Kimball paused for a moment, thinking.

“Three days?  I couldn’t have another week, just long enough to see my granddaughter?”

“I’m afraid not.  The devil has an ironic streak a mile long.  You have three days and there’s no way around it.  We made a deal, I lived up to my end, and now it’s your turn to live up to yours.”

“Yes, but…”

Kimball did not have a chance to finish the thought.  The bar’s fire alarm sounded and the manager came running out of the kitchen.

“Fire,” he shouted.  “Everyone out.  Fire department’s on the way.”

The few remaining customers made their way quickly to the door.

“What happened?” Kimball asked.

“Grease fire, we have them once in a while, but this one spread too fast for us to put it out.  The whole kitchen’s ablaze.  Let’s go.”

They all headed for the door and stood in the mostly empty parking lot.  Overton remained by Kimball’s side, with the manager standing with them.

“Is everyone out?” Kimball asked.

“I’m thinking,” the manager replied.  He was running through a mental list of all of the employees on duty at the time.  Meanwhile, the kitchen’s exterior wall began to burn.

A woman came running out the door.

“Pablo’s still in there,” she said breathlessly.  “He fell.  I think he broke his ankle.  I tried to drag him but he’s too big for me.  He’s trying to crawl.”

Overton touched Kimball’s arm.

“Mr. Kimball?” he asked.

“Yes?” Kimball replied.

Kimball paused for a moment.

“Did you do this?” Kimball finally asked.

“No.  I said you had three days and I meant it.  Still, if one has to go…”  He did not finish the thought.

Kimball said nothing.  He just looked skyward for a moment, sighed deeply, and then dashed back into the restaurant and into the fire in search of Pablo.

Mini-Rumination: The Saga of Kendra and Truly Bad TV Continues

It’s bad enough that those masochists at E Television foisted Hugh Hefner and his concubines on viewers for three or four seasons.  And it’s bad enough that one of those concubines, Kendra Wilkinson (and before you go all high and mighty with The Curmudgeon over the use of the word “concubine,” just consider the facts:  they were paid salaries to reside and sleep with Hefner, they were given room and board, and they had to be in by a certain time at night so they would be available when the Viagra kicked in; if that’s not a concubine, The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what is), then had her own E series for several seasons.

But then Kendra – a woman of no discernible talent, no discernible intelligence, and no discernibly interesting qualities whatsoever save two rather large and ridiculous looking implanted breasts, which appear to have paved her way to all this fame – disappeared from the airwaves and life was good again.

But like a chronically cranky knee, or a case of malaria, she is back, courtesy of a sleazy cable network The Curmudgeon had never even heard of until he saw the ads for the new program Kendra on Top, on something called We TV.

WE TV?  WTF?

It turns out that We makes E look like PBS.  It offers such nourishing fare as Amazing Wedding Cakes, Bridezillas, The Cupcake Girls, Girl Meets Gown, Joan & Melissa (and The Curmudgeon thought we were rid of Melissa forever after she made such a fool of herself on Celebrity Apprentice), In-Law Wedding Wars, Shannen Says (good lord, the return of Shannen Doherty!), Texas Multi Mamas, and Cyndi, which is described as taking “viewers on an all-access journey into the personal and professional life of one of pop culture’s most beloved and influential icons as she juggles her roles as rock star, mother, wife, Broadway composer, and philanthropist.”  In case you’re not familiar with any icons named Cyndi, the program is about singer Cyndi Lauper.

Oh, the absurdity of it all!

Really Annoying Songs

As a Jew in a Christian world, The Curmudgeon sometimes finds himself thrust into the gift-giving frenzy of the Christmas season.  The demands are always modest:  just some token gift to convey appreciation for the celebrations of others.  Over the years, The Curmudgeon typically made small purchases for these occasions, and in recent years he has taken to baking his gifts.  It just so happens, readers, that The Curmudgeon is an excellent baker.

Two years ago, though, he came up with a new idea:  give the gift of music.

But not just any music.  What fun would that be?

With this in mind, he decided to compile a CD of what he considers really annoying songs, and he decided to title it, cleverly enough, “Really Annoying Songs.”

Every CD collection, though, needs liner notes, so to explain this particular collection, The Curmudgeon prepared the following liner notes that accompanied every gift (only the giver’s name has been changed, to protect the innocent):

This is the collection that Time-Life doesn’t have the cojones to give you – but The Curmudgeon does have the cojone.  These are the songs that make you roll your eyes and say “Oh, no” when you hear them on the radio.  Some are dumb; some were horribly overexposed; and some are just plain bad. 

Regardless of the cause of their annoyingness, you know these songs and you know that at some moment in your life, at least a few of them got stuck in your brain and you couldn’t get rid of them.  Hearing them now will bring you back to the time and place in your life when you first realized that you were listening to a new and profoundly annoying song.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy – or don’t enjoy.  The choice is yours. 

Finally, if you find this collection really annoying, don’t be shy about inflicting it on others – because you can be pretty sure that deep down, virtually everyone you know likes at least one of these songs.  People like bad songs.  After all, what else could possibly explain the absence of “MacArthur Park” from this collection?

And now, the really annoying songs.

 

Tomorrow – Aileen Quinn (and orphans)

Theme from “Greatest American Hero” – Joey Scarbury

Afternoon Delight – Starland Vocal Band

Achy Breaky Heart – Billy Ray Cyrus

Billy, Don’t be a Hero –  Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods

The Ballad of the Green Berets – Sergeant Barry Sadler

I’ve Never Been to Me – Charlene

Don’t Give Up on Us – David Soul

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Honey – Bobby Goldsboro

Summer (the First Time) – Bobby Goldsboro

 (You’re) Having My Baby – Paul Anka

Luka – Suzanne Vega

Feelings – Morris Albert

Run Joey Run – David Geddes

Escape (the Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes

Superman (It’s Not Easy) – Five for Fighting

 

Maybe one day The Curmudgeon will create a volume two of “really annoying songs,” so feel free to offer your own suggestions for more really annoying songs.