Friday, April 28, 2006
And here’s another good thing. Somewhere in Australia, a couple of ranchers were cutting down a tree with a chainsaw when a crocodile, who was tired of all the noise, chased them down and stole it. He then proceeded to chew on the chainsaw for over an hour and half just to get it to shut the hell up.
I feel that way about my alarm clock sometimes.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
I'm not a big fan of days like that.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Illusionist DAVID COPPERFIELD's latest trick may be his most practical -- the celebrity foiled an attempted robbery using his powers of illusion.
Copperfield and two women were walking in West Palm Beach, FL when they were robbed at gunpoint. While the two women were forced to hand over their
purse and money, Copperfield did what he does best: he performed an illusion.
When the robbers told him to empty his pockets, Copperfield, who was carrying a cellphone, wallet and passport, used his sleight of hand and pulled out his pockets to reveal nothing... the contents were gone, and the robbers were none the wiser.
As the robbers fled the scene, David took down the license plate number and aided the police department in quickly apprehending the suspects, who were also linked to five other armed robberies within the same week. David himself was amazed at the fast response time and the efficiency with which the West Palm Beach police and detectives apprehended the armed suspects.
The most shocking aspect of that story is not that David Copperfield was able to foil the robbers. It was that he was able to convince not one but TWO women to hang out with him. That is a feat of magic right there.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
So they started to talk about an easy solution for maintaining software upgrades when a couple members of the audience asked if they had tried RadMind. They hadn’t heard of it. Now I’m not up on my Apple software, but I would have at least looked around for readily available systems utilities before I bragged about how smart I was in front of a group of IT professionals; especially Mac enthusiasts, who adhere to the tenets of Apple philosophy with the devotion of a Muslim.
* * * *
The second session was supposed to be on the wonders of content management systems. Unlike the previous meeting, I was actually interested in this topic. Unfortunately, the presenter spent too much time at the bar the night before and was unable to make it. We decided to have a roundtable discussion group with those few who remained, in hopes that the presenter would awake from his drunken stupor long enough to vomit web development knowledge before us. I was going to stay, because I haven’t had much experience as a CMS admin and I wanted to see if I could pick something up. Then one guy asked, “Does anybody know what a content management system is?” And another responded, “No … hey I hear they have free donuts in the lobby.”
I left after that.
* * * *
I could have gone into another classroom, but I decided instead to head across the street in search of a Diet Coke. I don’t like interrupting classes anyway. When I got downstairs, I stopped at an ATM to pick up some cash, and came across two other Microsoft Reps who wore expensive suits, slick shoes, and were in the process of arguing about whose car was nicer. One man withdrew what had to be almost $1000 from the ATM and then hurried to the local restaurant. I approached the ATM and looked at this screen, which read the following:
“Do you have another transaction? Yes. No.”
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “Does Bill Gates feel like paying off my student loans? He’d never notice. I could probably throw in a Mazarati (spelling?) while I’m at it!”
Don’t worry. I was honest. I told the machine there were no more transactions, withdrew 90% of my remaining balance and spent all of that on a Diet Coke across the street. Unscrupulousness is not in my nature. At least, not on Thursdays.
Now, if I come across a Xerox rep, I’ll punch him in the face and steal everything he has. It’s what Bill Gates would want.
Off to lunch…
More to Come. Check out Conference Day 1 here
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
So I just ate my introductory lunch and it was interesting to watch the hierarchical structure of things. First and foremost, you had the administrators. These are the guys (and they are all men, so don’t assume that I’m using the indefinite article in this instance) who have somehow risen to the top of their perspective organizations and rest high on the hog of all that the taxpayers and various and sundry supporters of higher education can offer. They wax poetic about their self importance and contain within their minds a simplified idea of how their organizations are structured, the intricacies of the inner workings of colleges and universities, and the bloated assumption that those around them actually care what they think. These guys jumped to the front of the buffet line, no questions asked and no apologies given. They attacked the front two tables so they could be seen laughing at each presenters vapid jokes and cajoling with their brethren over the alleged levity of this afternoon’s endeavors. In conversation, they whisper vague generalities and eye the room in a mad sweep in search of somebody of greater importance than you. Faced with a conversant well versed in the art of ass kissing, they will talk for hours about their successes. Faced with a person capable of seeing through their thin veneer of intelligence, however, they take personal offense at each criticism and quickly extricate themselves from the tense situation.
Next, we have the posers. These people are the upper crust of management. They are of reasonable intelligence and at one point in their pathetic careers, they knew what they were doing and possessed a zeal and a work ethic that drove them to produce great things. But after early success, they traded in their intellectual prowess for vain grabs and large stacks of dollars, which they use to purchase large homes, fancy cars, and trophy wives/husbands. Unlike the administrators, these people know that their status in life is overvalued and that, had the driving force in their lives been truth as opposed to greed, they may have achieved a more fulfilling state. This produces a sadness that, while cleverly masked with shiny suits and polished teeth, is still plainly visible in the eyes. They sit two or three to a table near the back of the auditorium, blithely engaging in pointless conversation, forever seeking out the hotel bar or the attractive, young newcomer, whom they plan to use to fulfill self indulgent fantasies about a life that could have been.
After this we have the cynics. These people come from the same stock as the posers, but chose an alternate route. Unfortunately, their lives have been dominated by a large and unwieldy stroke of bad luck that has provided them none of the extravagant comforts of poserdom along with no intellectual opportunities. Their once bright eyed exuberance has faded, replaced by a hatred for what they do and those with whom they work. They are usually unshaven, dressed in cheap clothes fro Meijer and Target, and they spend most of their time either in quiet solitude or on long rants to coworkers about the relative stupidity of the world in comparison to themselves. This is my category, in case you were wondering.
Finally, we have the young and the restless. These are the people who graduated less than a year ago, and have finally got their claws into what they believe will be a career as opposed to just another job. Their minds are still blinded by an idealism that has been with them since birth and which was only bolstered in the façade of collegiate schoolwork. They believe that banality is beneath them and that they will reach the stratosphere of both intellectual and moral pursuits in short order. They actually believe that the remaining members of the conference are as enthusiastic as them, and they engage in conversation under this precept, allowing themselves to be sullied by the dark hearted cynicism and psychopathic tendencies of everyone else. Don’t feel bad for them, though. They will quickly realize the truth. They will soon see that all of this action today is a mere moment of the strutting and fretting Bill Shakespeare mentioned when he spoke the world as a stage and the moment each of us has in the limelight. They will realize this and then they will join the rest of us in pursuit of something we know not for reasons we can never fathom.
Our lunches finished, the master of ceremonies takes the stage. The crowd cheers. Let the game begin!
* * * *
There is a large, fat man sitting on a chair, sweating buckets. His cell phone rings incessantly and every time he answers it, he sighs with exasperation. He pops a new piece of Orbit gum in his mouth every five minutes and looks around the room as though in search of a clock which will give him a time different from that which his wristwatch states. He wants out of here as fast as he can. I feel his pain, and I hope that I am not in his position when I am nearing the end of my career. I hope that I’m on a beach somewhere warm, thinking back to a life well spent and people I loved. Either that, or I hope to find myself cut down in a hail of gunfire from some nameless thug who tried to kill the children who cower behind me and then run away, my death having given them another shot at survival.
One or the other.
* * * *
Reading through the guest list of this conference, I noticed three people with whom I used to work at a different state university in Ohio. One of these people has the unfortunate last name of “Fish,” and the equally unfortunate appearance thereof. I remember, back when I was still in their employ, I offered greater assistance to their respective offices, proposing all sorts of interesting projects and activities I could undertake. They turned me down cold. Now I am their equals. And not only that, but my position (at the larger state university in Ohio) is not in jeopardy of being cut due to the extreme budget crunch in Ohio’s collegiate system (thank you Bob Taft. No, really). I cannot say the same for them.
Revenge is dish best served, regardless of the temperature.
* * * *
There is a guy standing in the corner wearing blue jeans and a baseball cap with the logo of a large tractor trailer distributorship in eastern Ohio. Nobody wants to talk to this guy. He’s wearing the nametag and cheap lanyard they give to everyone, so we know he’s here for the conference and he’s standing next to the clock (at which everyone steals furtive glances), so we all see him. But his demeanor is of one who does not understand even the minimum décor of professionalism and he is thus banished to the realm of freaks and losers. Still, this man has a job and, given the percentage of BigWig™ attendees at this little shindig, chances are he’s relatively well versed in the information technology field and relatively well paid as well (at least, as well paid as you can be in the academic arena). This proves once and for all that, even though we pretend to be corporate, we still make room for those who think and live outside what is traditionally considered “normal.” Were that not the case, I would likely be unemployed. Or worse, I’d be flipping burgers for minimum wage at the local Burger hut.
* * * *
So the rest of the conference wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I actually learned something. And when I got tired of learning something, I gave up and worked on the next round of plays I hope to write. Everybody wins!
There was one funny moment, however. I sat in on a Microsoft demonstration of the new Windows Vista operating system. The guy, a born and bred Microsoft junkie, went on and on about how Vista makes vast improvements over XP in both usability and stability. He made particular mention of the new searching functions and file management system. Shortly thereafter, he meant to show us how the new file management / searching function works … and the machine crashed … and he couldn’t get it working again.
That was pretty damn funny, and I can just hear Nate laughing at me as I type this.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
"25: Condoleeza holds a watermelon just over the edge of roof of the 300-ft Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second. The height of the watermelon above the ground t seconds later is given by the formula h=-16t^2 + 20t + 300."Are you as outraged over this question as I am? I mean, seriously, what is the professor thinking? What could have possibly been going through his mind when he made that question? Come on! Everybody knows that the acceleration due to gravity is 32 feet per second, not 16! The equation should have been h=-32t^2 + 20t + 300. What the hell are they teaching kids these days?
It turns out that I am an idiot. It would seem that the equation in question is (g/2)*t^2 + vt + h. This is why I am not an engineer.
So i was wrong. And this professor IS a racist.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Monday, April 10, 2006
Friday, April 07, 2006
It’s really quite cool.
In response to yesterday’s missive on the dualistic nature of Christ, I received this happy e-mail:
“I hate it when you creationists try to pretend you know what you’re talking about. Adam didn’t live with God in the garden of Eden. There is no God. Darwin was right and you are wrong.”
I was shocked when I received this, mostly because I had no idea that people actually read this site. At best, I had hoped that a few of you might print it out and use the pages to line the bottoms of your bird cages. But even that requires work, and I assumed it was probably just too much to handle.
Seriously, though. I wasn’t talking about creation versus evolution. I was talking about God’s relationship with man as it is described in the Bible. It’s a story, and as with any story you can include descriptions that are factual, metaphorical, symbolic, and a whole bunch of other literary terms I never bothered to learn. In the case of evolution and creation, I have to say that it doesn’t matter to me whether it was strict creationism as some believe or some subset of the standard opinions on evolution as others, myself included, will state. Either way, the creation versus evolution debate says nothing about the existence of God or his interaction with humanity unless you either have an overvalued perspective of the significance of your scientific opinion or a strict, formulaic understanding of scripture.
Granted, there are a few things about evolution I don’t understand; macroevolution, in particular. I believe Kurt Vonnegut said it best in his book Timequake when he said, “Believing in evolution is like believing a tornado could rip through a junkyard and build a Boeing 747.” Some of it just seems a bit far fetched. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And I am more than man enough to admit that I’m too stupid to figure it out.
With respect to religion, however, there are only two types of people who have problems with evolution and Christianity. There are those who have been taught the tenets of strict creationism since birth and have never questioned its validity, and there are those who believe in a strict, literal, and formulaic interpretation of scripture. I reject both ways of thinking, so lumping me in with that crowd is small minded. You should have asked a question first, instead of jumping to conclusions.
My interpretation of scripture, that relational story I mentioned in my last post, leaves room for both evolution and God. And if it ultimately isn’t evolution, I think it’s obvious that there will be some sort of scientific explanation for how the world developed from the Big Bang to where we are now. After all, there seems to be a scientific explanation for almost everything else, right? Science doesn’t preclude God and God doesn’t preclude science. I believe that God, being the definition of truth and logic (and many many other things) would likely use science in his creation schema. And if not evolution, then something else equally as confusing.
Like I said, I’m too stupid to figure it out.
My main point in the previous post was not to claim that evolution is wrong. It was to claim that when you look at scripture with the idea of a story in mind, you can contemplate the deeper meanings the authors intended. When you look at things literally, without respect to the whole of human nature and how we view the world, it doesn’t make sense. And you envision a lot of useless debates that need not exist.
With regard to your second statement, “God does not exist,” I have only this to say. What reason(s) lead you to this conclusion? I welcome your response.
I’m ready for the weekend. So here’s a picture of a sad pickle.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
How do you understand Jesus' humanity and divinity?
Not having much to do today, I crafted a simple answer. And here it is:
"There are a multitude of ways to think about this issue. It doesn’t seem to make much sense that Jesus could be both fully God and fully man at the same time. And there is that part of me that wonders why God even needed to become human to begin with. If he’s God, why can’t he just make things the way that he wants?
When I look at the Bible, I think of it in terms of a story. I know that a lot of people like to focus on the laws and traditions contained within. I do that to a certain extent as well. I was raised Southern Baptist, remember. But now I can’t help but look at all of history in terms of a story. That’s why there’s so much poetry and singing and exclamations of rage and hate and love and heartbreak.
If you were to tell [name deleted to protect the semi-innocent] all the things about [him/her] that you liked in a philosophical format, [he/she] would likely be unimpressed. “I really like your hair. Your eyes are attractive. Your figure is pleasing,” you’d say. And [he/she] would respond, “Whatever, freak.” But if you say the same thing in poetry, expressing your feelings in a relational format, the meaning changes. It deepens.
Take Shakespeare for example. In Romeo and Juliet, the two lovers speak of and to each other in poetic, iambic pentameter, but they speak to their friends in regular language. The language they use for each other, the language they use to speak of their love, has much deeper meaning than everyday speech or what you find in a generalized accounting of things. Even if all you’re doing is saying, “you are a very pretty woman,” it carries greater meaning for both parties to communicate relationally when Romeo says, “’Tis the east and Juliet is the sun.” (she is the first and brightest thing he sees in the morning) or when Juliet quips, “Be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet” (tell me you love me and I’ll give up everything I am just for you).
Or better yet, go back and read some of Moses’ writings in the Torah. Or David’s Psalms. Read them out loud. Read them in their original Hebrew. Listen to the ebb and flow of the words. Sometimes Moses states the facts and other times he breaks out into song. When you hear these songs as they were meant to be, not as a collection of theological ideas as most people consider them today and not as simple emotions as others have taken them, but as an expression of width and breadth of thought and emotion that comes with an exhaustive description of relationship, they gain significant depth.
God’s word is not merely a systematic theology. It is an expression of his love for us and his repeated attempts to restore the break we cause with our sin. It is the story of our relationship. In Genesis, this story goes from creation to the fall of man in just a few paragraphs. But take a minute and think of what that meant. God created the universe for us. When he was done with all of that, THEN he created man. Man was his greatest creation. And he didn’t mean for us to be as we now are, but as beings that could fully stand in his presence and be with him every moment of every day. Back then, we didn’t know what it meant to fail. We didn’t know what it meant to be disobedient. We didn’t know what it was like to have doubt or to fear death or to harbor ill will. All we knew was happiness and a perfect relationship with God.
This went on for a long time, too. Genesis says that Adam named every animal and living thing in all of creation. That had to take a while; years, maybe even hundreds of years of communion between Adam and God. Then God gave Adam his wife Eve. And they existed in the Garden of Eden for a time.
Then came the fall. But the fall was not just like sinning is to us nowadays. When you or I sin it is serious business, rest assured, but we can convince ourselves that it really isn’t. You ask for forgiveness and it goes away, but you can repeat it the next day. Follow this cycle and, after a while, sin becomes almost esoteric, like something that doesn’t really exist outside of an idea.
At least, until God kicks your ass about it anyway.
But for Adam, things were different. When he sinned, his very nature changed. He understood death and separation. He understood shame. He understood hatred, selfishness, and disobedience. He understood the vastness of the human capacity for evil. He was no longer God’s definition of human. He was … something else. He became our definition of human. For us, this would be like sprouting ten extra legs and suddenly existing in a four dimensional universe where everybody spoke binary and wore fez hats. It’s completely inconceivable.
When we sinned, we became different creatures entirely. And these creatures could not comprehend God. We could not interact with him properly. We became trapped in our selfish ways and there was no place for us but the death we had brought into the world. This should sound familiar, because this is how we currently are.
Fast forward a few thousand years. God has given humanity the law as a start towards learning how to come back from the depths of our existence. But like I said earlier, a list of rules is not nearly enough. A list of rules doesn’t change a person’s soul any more than baseball statistics are the reasons I enjoy the game or the daily routine that [married couple] undertake is the reason they love each other the way that they do. There is an unseen depth.
In one of his dialogues, Socrates describes a cave. He says man’s understanding from birth is like prisoners chained to a wall in a cave with their eyes covered. After time, one prisoner learns to uncover his eyes and he sees shadows on the wall. This shadow makes no sense to him because all he knows is darkness. But can you imagine the joy this person must have felt in realizing that there was more to life than just the darkness he had known since birth. You can imagine his thrill at realizing there were others around him and that, even though he was in a terrible situation, he knew there was more. Even this dim movement on a dark wall in a deep cave would seem like waking from a deep sleep to find that the world did not go away while you rested, and that the greatest joy waited at your fingertips.
Slowly, however, the man comes to the realization that these shadows are not reality. There is something else, something he cannot see. So he works his way out of his chains and turns around. Before him is a long and treacherous tunnel, the end of which is engulfed in a bright light that moves in the strange patterns he saw reflected on the walls. His heart leaps again. This is true reality. The shadows on the wall were a mere reflection.
He climbs towards the light, slipping here and there and sometimes having nasty falls. But he keeps going. Always, he keeps going, setting the moving light as his. The moving objects become clearer as he approaches. And as he reaches the entrance to this cave, this darkness that once defined every aspect of his reality, he finds crowds of people, former prisoners like himself, dancing in the bright sunlight.
The difference between the darkness of the cave and the bright reality of the former prisoners is an apt metaphor, I think, for the difference between humanity as God intends it and humanity as it is. The prisoners have only known their darkness and their solitude. They may even be perfectly happy in that existence. But there is something greater, and that thing is inconceivable to the prisoner as he sits in the cave with the blindfold over his eyes. He was meant to be in the light, but he cannot comprehend it. He was meant to dance, but he cannot move his legs. He was meant to experience the joy of interaction with others and with God, but all he knows is solitude.
Socrates goes on to say that the only way to free these people is to go down into the cave, help them remove their blindfolds and bring them into the light. The only way to reach those people is to meet them on their level, in the lonely, dark cave.
Now let’s look at the Bible again. Humanity is in the cave. We cannot conceive of life as god intended it. All we know is our current existence. We cannot bring ourselves out of this because we cannot conceive of anything different than what we already know. God saw this and said, “I have to meet them where they are,” He acted relationally. He became human. He faced the darkness of the cave.
He had to be fully God because that was the only way he could be the definition of justice and thus provide the standard by which sin is judged. And he had to be fully human because that was the only way he could pay the price that was demanded for justice. He had to be both, because otherwise there would be no way to remain fully loving (omnibenevolent) all powerful (omnipotent) and completely just (omnijust? Is that even a word?), which are several of the defining characteristics of his nature, and still have a relationship with us in a way that we could understand.
Yes, there are parts of it I do not understand. But that’s what makes it all the more real. We’re talking about the nature of God here. If I were capable of understanding everything there was to know about him, he would cease to be God and become something less than human. Given that I understand parts of it (the thought aspect of a relationship) and that I have experienced others (the emotional aspect), it makes perfect sense that there would be things I didn’t understand. As with any relationship there are things we don’t understand. The fact that it is moreso in our relationship with Jesus only further supports his existence and both his divinity and humanity.
The Bible tells the story of God’s relationship with man, and Jesus in his complete humanity and divinity, is the fullness of that expression. "
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Monday, April 03, 2006
A quick and easy response would be to claim that I am equally as disgusted with the Democratic party, which is merely a front for Socialist/Communist organizations who wish to bring the downfall of Capitalism and Democracy. I am joking, of course. But seriously. Since when did pointing out the worst members of an opposing political party become the standard for political discourse? You can provide many examples of conservatives who act like idiots, and I can counter with just as many stories of Democratic morons. This doesn't mean that everybody on the opposite side of the fence believes that way. How's about a little bit of common sense for a change?
Yes, there is a contingent of conservatives whose opinions on the Middle East are a bit nutso. But I'm not too sure that calling the Republicans a theocratic party is correct. I don’t believe that politics or religion can be so easily categorized and labeled. The contingent - and that's all it is: a contingent - openly uses religion as a means of wooing voters and staying in power. This, however, is distinctly different from a Christian theocracy. This group isn't interested in proffering any particular set of beliefs outside those which will keep them in power. They pay attention to those aspects of Christianity which speak of the power of Christ and his followers, but leave out the parts that speak of a necessary humility in action. They speak of the need to ward off evil and fight the hand of Satan, but they neglect the beatitudes which speak of the need to pay particular attention to the poor and the broken and the downtrodden. In short, they are modern day Pharisees intent only on attaining and keeping power at all costs. To claim that this is merely a theocracy is dangerous in and of itself because it assumes first that there is no Christianity outside that which you (and I as well) find contemptible, it assumes that all Christians are as easily manipulated as the suburban left behinders you mentioned, and it dulls the poisonous affect of the actions of these political bastards into “just another group of blind, religious nuts” as opposed to the truth, which is much more malevolent.
I, too, was raised in a Southern Baptist church, and while there were some things that I liked, on the whole it was far too legalistic. There were a whole lot of rules and not a lot of grace. That’s why I go to a hippie church, where we believe in the credo that God loves you no matter how f'ed up you are, and that we should make every effort to be all kinds of groovy to everybody we meet.
The problem for some sections of the Democratic party is that they have seemingly adopted a religion of their own. Their hurry to disassociate themselves from the wacko evangelicals has resulted in a tacit acceptance and predominance of secularism above all other forms of religious thought. There is almost no room in the Democratic party for a person who believes in God. We Christians who actively work to make the world a better place for the poor and who oppose governmental interests in foreign nations that support genocide and who argue for reasoned discourse in all matters of political and religious thought, even those with which we disagree, are laughed out the door not because we disagree with the larger percentage of the party platform, but merely because we believe in God. This from the party that preaches cultural diversity and tolerance.
I agree wholeheartedly that some contingents of the Republican party have aligned themselves with some bad folks in order to obtain power, and i believe that this problem is much worse than most conservatives would like to believe. The sad truth is that the Democrats are just as bad. And the nature of politics today is such that you either accept each and every tenet of your respective party, or you are an evil person worthy of the worst sort of humiliation. There is no reason. There is no discussion. There is only popularity and polar opposition to generalized ideas that nobody can accept in total unless they check their brains at the door.
This is why I voted for Curt Schilling in the last election. I figured that, all things being equal, I’d rather have a president who can throw a good fastball than the two clowns who ran. I don’t know who I plan to support in ’08, but the early money is on Dontrelle Willis.
I hear he has a wicked splitter.
* * * *
There’s a field down by the Mill Creek where we used to play ball. It was not unlike many you’d find scattered across the United States. There was a large worn patch in the center where the pitcher stood, an outfield fence comprised of a collection of bushes and neighborhood backyard fences, and three small craters for the bases connected by a path of dirt that had been trod over so many times throughout the years, it seemed not to fade even through the toughest of winters
It was here that my friends and I spent the majority of our time as children. We were always there. During the summer, of course, we’d be at it from sunup to sundown, sweating it through the hottest parts of the day, always trying to squeeze in an extra inning or two before the sun finally caught up with the western horizon. When school was in session, we’d hurry home, do whatever chores there were to do, and then we’d hurry to the field. I even remember playing once on Christmas morning. My friend Adam called everybody to tell us he’d got a brand new glove, and we thought there was no better time like the present to test it out.
There were no particular teams, no umpires, and the score always seemed to change from inning to inning whether or not there were actually any runs. We didn’t care. We were playing ball and that’s what mattered. And we were always on the lookout for another player. So when, late in the summer of 1990, Chris Stoppard asked us if he could play, we agreed.
Chris was the new guy in town. He was a little taller than the rest of us, and from the looks of him, I’d guess he was a good twenty or thirty pounds heavier as well. He made up for this advantage, though, with a complete lack of athleticism. If having two left feet is the curse of the clumsy, this guy must’ve had three. Normally we’d love to have a new kid play – the more the merrier and all – but you could just tell by the way he walked, the way he moved, that God hadn’t graced him with the skills necessary to handle a bat much less run down the occasional fly ball.
He’d moved into the old duplex on Bachman Rd. about mid-July. We’d all seen him around the neighborhood at least once or twice, sitting out on his porch in the evening or walking his dog around the block, always making sure not to let it take a dump in the Meadows’ yard. Mrs. Meadows was proud of her landscaping and was always on the lookout to test the strength of her broom handle on some punk kid who made an errant step in the wrong direction.
As July turned to August, he started hanging out around our field. At first, he just sat with his dog in the shade behind third and watched. But, after a while, he grew bold, sitting behind the fence and even talking to some of the players as they warmed up. He didn’t have any friends; that much we knew, because anybody that was anybody was already at our field. Like most people in our neighborhood, both of his parents worked full time jobs, so all he had to keep himself company that summer were his dog and his thoughts.
That and his three left feet.
On this particular day, we were short a player. Josh Paoletti, a short, toe-headed kid from Bayham Drive, was sick with the flu. His older brother Jeff had spent most of the summer working at a Boy Scout Camp but had to come home early when he threw up in the pool, and the whole family ended up getting it. We stood around home plate, trying to decided whether to call Tim from Pritchard St. or play with a ghost man, when Chris spoke up.
“You…you guys mind if I play?” He sounded like a little kid asking his mother for a cookie he knew he’d never get.
I hesitated, hoping I’d imagined it. We were genial enough in most situations, but this was baseball. This was serious business to the kids from Burley Circle. After a full minute of silence, I answered him. “Can you hit?” I asked.
“Can you field?”
I looked around at the other guys, hoping for some excuse to turn him away, but when I found nothing, I told him to grab his glove and come on.
The first couple innings went by easily. Both teams scored a few runs here and there, and besides Scott Woods twisting his ankle on a slide into third base, it was an uneventful game. After he shanked a few easy grounders, it was obvious that Chris had lied about his abilities, so we stuck him in right field and hoped that anything in his direction would be short enough for the Brandon at second base to get on a long run. Things seemed to be going along nicely, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t stay that way. When you’re dealing with kids, social dynamics have a way of changing on a dime.
Sean Hinken was pitching for the other team, and while he was a great guy off of the field, on the field, he as nasty as they came. He constantly talked trash about whoever was batting, calling them names to their faces and making announcements to the infield about how they didn’t need to worry about fielding anything from this guy.
“Don’t worry about this one boys,” he’d say. “This guy couldn’t hit the nuts off of a dead dog. The inning’s as good as over.”
What really got you, though, was that he had the skills to back it all up. He was very good at making a person take a wild swing at an inside fastball or a nasty splitter. He’d then follow it with a big, “Shitchyeah!” which made it that much worse.
When Chris came up to bat in the sixth inning, Sean threw a bean ball right at his head. Of course it hit him, and of course we all charged the mound.
“What’re you doing, fatass? You threw it right at his head.” said Adam.
“He was crowding my plate.” Sean replied with a grin. “I had to show him who was boss. Got tired of watching him strike out each time. You guys are making it too easy for me. I gotta challenge myself somehow.”
Adam leapt at Sean, who sidestepped just in time to watch Adam go face first into the dirt on pitcher’s mound. The fight would have gone further if Brian Woods and I hadn’t held them back.
“I’m gonna kick your ass,” said Adam.
“I’d like to see you try,” said Sean.
“I wouldn’t,” somebody yelled in the background, “you'll probably lose your foot.” We all laughed at that except for Sean, who turned and threw the ball in the direction of the voice, and ended up hitting Scott Woods in the temple. Scott just wasn’t having a good day.
The joke brought a little bit of lightheartedness back to the game, but the tension still remained. Each at-bat was more important than the last, and we argued over every close play. Neither team wanted to lose the game at this point. It was honor. It was bragging rights. It was war, as much as can be had with fifth graders, anyway.
Chris stood in the background the whole time, watching us with a bit of a smile on his face. I think he was just glad to be there.
We started the ninth inning down by three runs. After Tim and Andy went down on routine groundballs, we got a rally going, and scored two to bring us within a run with two men out and one man on. The tide was turning, and I thought we might just pull it off until I saw the next batter. Like the Mighty Casey from Mudville, Chris Stoppard approached the plate, bat in hand.
Sean breezed the first two pitches past a visibly nervous Chris, then missed outside and then in the dirt to bring the count to two balls and two strikes. As he walked back to the mound he was laughing and making his usual snide comments, but you could see the sweat standing on his fat forehead. He’d missed two straight pitches to a guy who, by all rights, should have struck out on three. There was no way in hell he was gonna miss again. No way.
“Keep your eye on the ball, Chris,” I yelled from second base. “Just watch the ball and swing as hard as you can. You can do it!”
I was excited, because if Chris could just hit it, I'd score. Then we could either hope for a single from Adam or at least a trip into extra innings with the top of our order due up the next time around. Things would be okay if only he could just hit the ball. The chances of this happening were slim, of course. He would likely either miss completely or hit a dribbler back to the pitcher’s mound, which Sean could toss to the first for the final out and the victor.. Our game would end, and that night we’d have to listen to Sean go on and on about how much we sucked. That was an idea that didn’t sit well in my mind. It didn’t sit well at all.
But a peculiar thing happened. Shawn, not wanting to walk the worst player on the field and risk giving Adam a chance to win the game, threw what is known in baseball circles as a “meatball.” It’s a pitch right down the middle of the plate that even moderately skilled players could crush into the stratosphere. Chris, knowing that Sean would not miss again, closed his eyes and swung as hard as he could. So much for keeping your eye on the ball, I thought.
To everyone’s surprise, especially the one holding the bat, the ball flew out towards center field. Sean had just enough time to say, “What the…” before the ball was bouncing next to the sunflowers in the Jones’ yard. I took off for third, rounded into home, and turned to watch Chris. He must have been surprised at his success, because he was just rounding first as I scored, and I’m not exactly a speed-demon. I saw two things very clearly at that moment. The first was Aaron Stewart getting to the ball in center, and the second was the look of determination on Chris’s face. He meant to go all the way, his athleticism (or lack thereof) be damned.
“No, Chris. No!” I yelled. Why couldn’t he just be content with a triple? At least then we’d have a chance at winning. He must not have heard, though, because he hit third and kept coming. Meanwhile, Aaron, who had a very good arm for a ten year old, had already released the ball.
“Slide!” I yelled, “Slide you bastard!”
In the movies and on television, you always root for the loveable loser, the kid who never gets the girl and always gets picked last for dodgeball. In the movies and on television, the loser always has his moment in the sun. He always hits the game winning homerun, and both teams carry him off the field on their shoulders. One of the difficult things about growing up, though, is the knowledge that movies and television all too often depict life as it should be, not life as it is. More often than not, the losers don’t quite make it. More often than not, they get the shit kicked out of them
I knew we were in trouble before it happened. Chris must have thought he’d hit the ball farther than he did, because I don’t think he was expecting a play. And judging from the look on his face, you could tell he didn't know how to slide, either. Still, the determination was there. He probably hoped that whatever god had graced him with momentary athletic prowess would continue the blessing for another minute or two and allow him this one moment of glory.
As Chris lowered the top half of his body to make the final descent towards home, his left leg remembered its old tricks, and got in the way of his right. Instead of a slide, Chris tumbled over himself, and rolled. The hem of his pants caught on a tree root, and when he stopped rolling, Chris’s pants were a good five or six feet behind him. In that instant, you could see his face change from unbelievable joy to inexplicable horror. He sat there in his underwear two feet short of his goal as the catcher tagged him out.
Nobody said anything for a minute or two. Not even Sean. We watched in silence as Chris stayed there, almost bare-assed, and tried our best not to laugh. No laugh, no matter how hearty, is worth that humiliation. Kids, however, are not adept at controlling their emotions, and the small spits and spirts of laughter quickly turned into a snicker, a grumble, and an all-out riot. We felt sorry for the guy, we really did, but seeing him there in his underwear halfway between third and home was just too much. Amidst the laughter, Chris stood up, put on his pants, and quietly walked away from the field. He never asked to play again, and his parents moved away at the end of the summer. Apparently his father was in the military.
I think I saw Chris again about a year or two ago. I was watching my nephew play a little league game in the new park behind the shopping center. The one with the brand-new chain link fences and the stands behind home plate. Our field has since succumbed to the passage of time. A city building project diverted the creek through the middle of the field, past second base, and into where Mrs. Jones used to keep her prized sunflowers. I sat with my sister behind third base, watching her son pitch in the last inning of a close game. As I looked across the field, I noticed a tall man get up to watch his son bat. When he stood, his foot caught in the chair and he spilled a bit of his drink on the lady in front of him.
The pitch came in. I watched the little kid smack a hard liner just past the center fielder’s glove. He rounded the bases like a gazelle, and, despite his coach’s warnings, took a turn at third and headed for home with the same intensity I had seen on Chris that day so many years ago. The relay from the shortstop was right on, but it didn’t matter. The kid beat it by a full step. He didn’t even have to slide.
The bench exploded with cheers, and everybody ran out to greet him, but the kid ran past his teammates, and headed straight for his father. The man who may or may not have been the three-footed kid I knew several years ago picked up his son, hugged him, and carried him to the parking lot on his shoulders with his team following in his wake.
Sometimes the losers win after all. Life’s funny like that.