The Captain – Short Story

Every month, the Australian Writer’s Centre holds the Furious Fiction contest, where they give a handful of writing prompts, limit you to 500 words and see what you come up with.

I’ve been ‘longlisted’ for the comp before, and this one got me on there again, so I’m happy enough with that.

The prompts for September were:

  • Your story must start and end with the same sentence.
  • Your story must feature something being inflated.
  • Your story must include the words FLAG, FLAME, FLASH and FLATTER.

** The Captain **

Nobody would ever suspect the captain. He’s expected to lead from the front, to make the key plays, to inspire, to encourage, to extract the best from his teammates at all times. To see the truth, they think it would be someone weaker, lesser. Their vision blurred by decades of wilful ignorance.

They’ll never know the strength it took to stay true to one’s heart while playing such a prominent role. Fan’s perception is that such a facet would be easier to spot and wouldn’t last in the most important position. At best, a flash in the pan. At worst, a shameful admission that statistical breakdowns that affect the rest of the globe had somehow touched their beloved sport.

As he pulls the laces tight and breathes in, deep in concentration, he knows who he is. He knows what he’s been through to get here. He’s had to do more than just laugh along with off-colour jokes in the locker room, pretend he’s indoctrinated with the same subtle bigotry running rife through the professional sporting world. He’s had to stare down an old flame, now playing on a rival team, both hiding in plain sight, and try his hardest not to imagine the questions their well-known friendship would bring should the truth come out.

More than just abilities and athletic prowess, it’s taken every bit of smarts to get here and stay here. The politics of being the captain, the bureaucratic bullshit one must wade through on a daily basis. It’s more than just hiding who you are at times, it’s actively trying to be someone else. Someone whose merits should speak for themselves but who must instead also use all their connections, all their nous and canny observations to work the egos of the ultimate decision-makers.

A true leader knows when to compromise, of course, and will compliment to the point just short of sucking up, using flattery to the point just short of being obsequious, in order to maintain their position at the top. Be they a coach or a manager, there’s not a one of them that doesn’t visibly swell as they breathe in the sweet air of their own pitard.

So he’ll lead from the front, and he’ll do it with the spirit of a true leader. One who puts others’ dreams above his own. His teammates stomp up the tunnel and out into glory with stars in their eyes, a flag the ultimate goal for nearly every single one of them. None would ever know that he’s put this paramount above his own, that all he really wants is to finally settle down with someone special, have a quiet wedding, a modest house, hopefully a couple of kids.

Not a single one of them, from the dozens he shares a jersey with to the thousands upon thousands that might soon be chanting his name, would ever know what type of love truly beats in the heart of their leader. Nobody would ever suspect the captain.

Annabel’s Teapot

This is a short story for the Australian Writer’s Centre Furious Fiction December 2022 Contest for which I was longlisted.

In addition to being limited to 500 words, the other rules were:

  • Each story had to begin with a 12-word sentence.
  • Each story had to include the sale of a second-hand item
  • Each story had to include at least five (5) different words that end in the letters –ICE.

Curious, when the entirety of life’s endeavours is little more than junk. Curious and pathetic. A loose collection of knickknacks, collectable items, kitsch.
Annabel loved her crochet samplers, her porcelain miniatures, her creepily-staring dolls, but she worshipped her spoons. She bid them good night, every night, and she stopped and stared at them every single day, sometimes finishing a nice cup of tea whilst standing unsteadily in front of them.
Her life consisted of very few lasting things. No children, not a single loved one still alive. Those spoons were the only thing she cared about. For them to be here, in this shop, awaiting appraisal and an unfair amount of currency for them was an injustice. Annabel’s life should be worth more than that.
The shop owner regarded the spoons with slightly less disdain than he did the man presenting them. Both were of swarthy persuasion, older and greying, and had been granted citizenship many years ago. But their countries of origin had fundamental differences of policies, and now a prejudice against the other permeated their very cell structures.
Annabel’s spoons would never be here were she alive. The only way someone would get them off her and get them here, was if they knew she was dead.
The man presents a tea set, the shop owner shows even more disdain, pointing out that it hasn’t even been given a proper clean. The tea remnants stain the bottom and one of the saucers shows the striped imprint of a licorice Allsort that was unstuck from it at some point. They bicker, the shop owner doesn’t want it until I call out that I would like to purchase it.
“Fifty.” The shop owner didn’t waste even a heartbeat before turning to me with an outrageous price. The seller’s eyes light up until he looks into my eyes and there’s a flicker, but I don’t think he recognises me.
“Twenty.” It’s a stupid game to play, but play it I must.
“Thirty-five.” The shop owner goes instantly to split the difference but catches the look of excitement on the seller’s face, leans over to him with his hand held up and reminds him, “Fifteen to you.”
The man doesn’t like it, but relents. Perhaps bolstered by this early success, he then takes among the first offers for the spoons and hastily departs. He’s easy enough to follow home because he lives next door to Annabel. I’ve seen him several times, though I don’t believe he’s ever really gotten a good look at me. When he answers the door, his brow gives a crinkle that says he’s confused as to how I was at the shop earlier and now on his front porch.
“I don’t know why, but you got in there before I could finish cleaning up at Annabel’s.” I push into his house. “Now it looks like I’ve got a whole lot more to clean up than just the nightshade from the teapot.”
I pull the door closed behind me.


The River Doesn’t Care

The river doesn’t care.
It doesn’t care about the crystalline, perfect Spring day’s sunshine pouring down. It doesn’t care about me, or my older brother who is home from Uni, or my mother who has made a rare visit back as well and has taken us out fishing for the day. The river doesn’t care about any of that.
We haven’t been all together for a day’s fishing in years, though nothing’s changed. Not for them at least. For me, much has changed. I’ve had to learn how to navigate high school and my father’s moods all alone, just he and I in that big, empty house. She is still mostly-oblivious to the dynamics of her sons, the power struggles for her love. My brother is six years older and will do everything in his power to remain the centre of attention, trying his best to shine bright but belittling me if needed.
We stand on the gravel bank of a bend in the river, rods in hand. The sunshine and water are something out of a poem. They are perfect. She digs her camera out and tells us to pose, her boys. I have not been taciturn, but I have not been boisterous, obnoxious, or interruptive while he performs. I’ve been waiting for them to see anything that’s changed about me and when my brother goes to put his arm around my shoulders, always an act of domination rather than affection, he has to reach up for the first time ever.
Something has changed, and I wait for them to notice. I don’t want to dominate him, I never have. I don’t want to own or defeat him. I just want to be and I want to be seen. But I know his ego won’t allow that unless it’s suitably assuaged. She’s never realised this, and blurts out that by the next time we all get together I’ll have outgrown him. He stiffens next to me, and I brace myself for what he’ll need to do to bring the focus back to him.
He’s smart enough to know that conspicuously taking me down without elevating himself only brings him down too, he smiles as if all is well. Both of us stand there brandishing our fishing rods, posing. A split-second before the shutter snaps, he turns in a flash, grips my head and plants a cartoonishly sloppy kiss on my cheek. My mother roars with laughter and goes on about how funny he is.
The moment leaves smiles on all our faces as we hike up the river past the big bend, leading to whatever spot they think is best. They are the more experienced, more successful, fishers after all. For them, nothing has changed. I trail along behind them for a bit before I stop. I realise they’ll just continue on through the grass and brush without me, so I call out that I’ll be trying my luck at this particular spot.
Both look with confusion at me and then the water. It’s not a good spot, and he feels the need to tell me as such. I shrug and throw together some words that placate and show some river knowledge, anything that doesn’t betray my desire to be away from them. Something about working my way downstream toward the massive logjam at the bend. I turn to gesture to it to confirm but they are both already walking away.
I cast into the swift water, knowing nothing will happen but feeling the need to do something. I realise I need to be on the other side of the river for the best angle at the logjam, but the water here is hip-deep, and fast. I should try upstream for slower water. But they are up there, talking and laughing as they fish. I could go down, cross below the logjam and then walk back up, but there’s too much brush. I’ve forded the river before, so in I go.
The river is so strong that every step is a struggle, every solid footing its own success. I’m ever-aware of the river’s power, keeping my footing and my focus. As I near the middle where it’s fastest and deepest, I turn and look at them. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t have time to ponder though, as my foot slips and down I go.
At first, the river is gentle. Not too cold or rough. But I am moving fast, too fast. A strong swimmer, I’ve never been afraid of the water. But that logjam is dangerous, deadly, and I am headed straight for it. The river bends away from it and I expect the current to bend with it, like the letter “J”. I am not swimming hard yet as one hand still grips my fishing rod, until I realise that the river doesn’t bend gracefully, it rams into a corner before continuing on like the letter “L” instead.
I’m not aware of losing my pole or my favourite hat, I only know I am swimming as hard as I ever have in my life. I am fighting the power of the river, but I am losing. I don’t panic but my thoughts cease to be thoughts and are now pure reflex. I stop fighting and try to protect myself as I am slammed into the logjam, the immense mass of tangled and broken trees having any number of sharp, broken-off branches in it. Then I am under.
The force is the biggest shock. My body isn’t mine now. Like an amusement park ride or under a dogpile of enthusiastic teammates, I am helpless. I don’t even register relief at not being skewered as I am pinned against the underside of the logjam. My thoughts return as I look up at the water splashing around on the logs above and start thinking of something, anything, that I can do to get out.
Pushing out against the river isn’t an option, as I’m barely able to move my arms. I angle one forward into the current and my hand slides along the surface of a massive log above me. Bubbles dance along the underside of it as I reach for something on it to grab as I couldn’t wrap my arms halfway around it. I find a limb’s remnant that fits my hand perfectly and brace myself, knowing that I am strong enough to pull myself up and out, to fight against this river and win. I pull with all my strength and I can feel movement.
But it is the log moving, all I’ve done is roll it over, and now my handhold is underwater with me. The reward for my efforts is to be pinned helpless again. I watch more bubbles dancing up to the logs above and realise I am running out of options as well as time. There’s no room for more mistakes.
I stop fighting. Because this isn’t a battle. The river doesn’t care about me and my struggles. It’s not something to be battled, to be victorious over. The river doesn’t care about winning. It’s not something I can fight anyway, it is too powerful to be fought. I am pinned, helpless, but I can move my arms upward along the rough bank I am pinned against. I won’t fight the river any more, I will work with it.
If I was able to pull one of the logs over before, there’s a chance I can push up between them. Gradually, I force my fingers up through the mass of timber wedged above me. The logs are heavy and the river strong, but I push steady and I don’t stop. Suddenly my hand is through and then the rest of my arm as well.
The logs resist, the hammering of the current pressing them painfully against my arm and I worry that it will be crushed. Or worse, that I’ll get my head in-between them and the relentless force of the river will squish me. My hand finds purchase on the riverbank, my fingers grasping a clump of tough grass, and I push my other arm up to grab hold as well. Then I pull with all I am.
And I am free. I slither onto the bank, gasping and heaving. I stand unsteadily and walk from the trees onto the gravel bank to that perfect sunshine. I feel like something should be different, like I should feel triumphant over the river in the battle for my life. Like I should have seen a light in a tunnel or a showreel of my exploits roll by, but nothing has changed. The logjam sits innocuously, water lapping up and around the leafless branches of long-dead trees before it rolls out the side and smooths out into the slower, wider, riffly and less-deadly, gravel-banked shallows.
I am shaking but I don’t feel cold. I am calm but feel like I shouldn’t be. My mother bursts through the brush, her normally passive face panic-stricken, her mouth a worried half-cry. My brother is a step behind her, in a breathless hurry while his eyes scan coolly across me and the riverbank, assessing the situation. My mother pulls me forcefully into her arms and makes both panicked and relieved noises. I don’t feel the comfort in her grip that I wanted. She is grasping me like something that she has nearly lost.
My brother glibly comments on how they had both seen me crossing and worried until they realised I wasn’t there any more. He accidentally admits it was only when they saw me climbing free from the logjam that they came running. He’s absently smiling and nodding at me as if all is well now that he’s arrived. My mother still holds me firm. Though I am calm, I remember shaking moments before and I try to manufacture a shudder, something to give her to make her feel like she’s needed, like she’s calming me. Instead she steps back, holding me at arm’s length and commenting on how cold I must be before turning me fully into the sun.
We hear his footsteps on the gravel before seeing my brother splash roughly into the river, swimming with a rescue stride out into the easy water. For a split-second I am confused, thinking he’s trying to valiantly rescue me, and I wonder if I’ve actually died in that logjam and I am now watching him attempt to recover my body.
He comes back, his smirk never fading as he gracefully returns to shore, strutting back to me, dripping wet and smugly handing me my favourite fishing hat. He makes some comment about how he couldn’t let our favourite team’s hat go floating down the river and I stand there wondering how he’s missed that this hat is for an entirely different team, their colours a slightly lighter shade of red than his favourite team. I see it for what it is. He needed something to bring the spotlight back to himself, so I put my hand over the hat’s logo and nod at him, thanking him as if he swam like that to save me.
She goes on about how impressed she was that he threw himself into the dangerous water to rescue his younger brother’s favourite fishing hat, and I see both of them. I turn to look at the river, feeling like I should feel poetic, roused to some beautiful articulation about the contrast of the violence and unrelenting force of the water against the logjam that then peters out into a peaceful and gentle flow that meanders across the gravel. I’m sure there should be some sort of comparative reviewing of my own life, some sort of analogous duality I can draw from this moment following my own struggle against this power for my very survival.
But the river doesn’t care. The sun shines on me and I am drying out and warming and, in that moment, neither do I.

We Have Company

He was four days shy of turning fifty and Jack was running so hard he thought his heart would burst. The panting growl grew closer behind him even though he was running as fast as he ever had in his life. The huge German Shepard had burst through the brush and interrupted Jack’s evening jog before Jack snapped a dead branch from a tree for a weapon. When the wood snapped though, a splinter shot right into Jack’s eye and he was now running so fast that blood was trickling into his greying sideburns.
As Jack ran by the Thomas’s abandoned shack he veered off the road and made for the gap between the letterbox and the gate. The dog could easily vault the fence but Jack hoped to buy enough time to find a slat or board from the junk pile, something he could defend himself with. Jack misjudged the gap though, and his hip caught the jagged edge of the letterbox post. Pain jolted down his leg as he flew awkwardly through the air, landing hard on the packed dirt.
The dog was at the gate a second later, still growling viciously while assessing the best way to gain entry. It reared back, haunches coiled to vault the fence, when the Kelpie came from nowhere, bristling and black like it had been dripped straight from the night. It didn’t bark or growl at the German Shepard so much as it roared like a lion, sending the Shepard backward. Another roar and the Shepard ran back into the bush, and Jack wondered if the Kelpie only did that so it could kill him instead.
Jack pulled himself to his feet and the Kelpie turned to meet his eye. Jack knew nobody in the area had a dog other than that homicidal Shepard, and he stared in curiosity and relief as the Kelpie’s ears twitched expectantly and its tail wagged. Jack nodded thanks and then hobbled toward home, stopping intermittently to turn and try to convince the animal to return to its own, wherever that may be. Several painful kilometres later, Jack paused at his front door and turned to see that tail still wagging, those ears still expectant. He let himself in, but then held the door open and waited.
Less than an hour later, Jack’s only son would come through the door, footy shoes slung over his shoulders. He’d look curiously between Jack’s bleeding eye and his father’s hand scratching between a pair of expectant ears while a tail thumped happily on the floor. Jack would need a ride to Emergency but not before he’d smile at his son, gesture at the happy creature and say, “We have company.”
Jack would have Company for the next fifteen years before the night of his 65th birthday when Company would curl up near the tattered running shoes by the door and that tail would thump happily a final time.



The knight stood tall in his resplendent armour, his arms flexing under the chainmail and pauldrons, the plume on his helmet languidly dancing from side to side in time with his steadying feet. The six-foot cat person positioned next to him purred, lovingly cleaned her whiskers and then stared at his plume with fascination. Phillip was trying not to stare at her fur-covered breasts when he was shouldered aside by a werewolf that was licking his chops and making his way toward the cat person.
Phillip looked across from one concrete corner to another and took in a silver-lit fairy hovering just above the ground, a tuxedo’ed man with glowing red eyes and a cyborg’s arm whispering to a soldier in full tactical combat gear while gesturing suggestively at the fairy. She winked at Phillip and both men turned to look at him in jealous fascination. He looked down at his tall, well-built form, looking good in his casual uniform and then looked for a way out. He couldn’t help but think they’d all see he was unaffected and he needed out.
Backing cautiously away, Phillip’s head hit something hard. A bit late, he ducked under the oversized elbow of a red and gold armoured rippling hero straight from the pages of at least two comic books, blending iconic red-and-gold armour with a patriotic white star on his chest and shield and an “A” on his helmeted forehead. The man hadn’t paid Phillip any mind as he was talking animatedly to a pop star who was more interested in her phone’s interpretation of her eyeliner than the heroic tale.
Phillip turned slowly, scanning the drab concrete wall behind a thin cartoonish man with crazily-spiked hair and a grey trenchcoat, the handle of a samurai sword peeking out from the folds that flapped slowly in a breeze that should be impossible in this sealed bunker. A greying wizard with a long, wooden staff walked behind a squatted, scaly troll who was panting with its head in its clawed hands when Phillip finally spotted the viewport in the wall. He pushed past a football player in a blue and white uniform who was eyeing him coolly before flashing a wink and a smile.
The viewports were dark, as expected, but Phillip knew they were back there. He didn’t know how many, but they were definitely there.
“He seems unaffected, thus far,” Ishrat said, standing tall and squinting curiously at the small viewing window, “Everyone else in the room is most definitely into Stage 3.”
“Stage 3 already?” Meilani asked dubiously, the screen of her tablet lighting her round face, “You’re full of shit, Ish. How can you even tell?”
“Nearly all of them are in full pose-mode, Mei,” Ishrat smiled before raising his eyebrow at her, “And there’s one on the far end grooming herself.”
“Bah, could be a freak-out about flies or something,” she fired back, “Who’s unaffected now? I mean, not that I believe you as there’s no way you can tell.”
“Not a freak-out,” Ishrat said, the viewport drawing him back in, “Seriously, she’s about to crank her leg up like a cello and start licking her ass. And our straight man hasn’t done anything other than study the others on his way over here to try and stare me down. Check it.”
Ishrat stepped back from the little window while his partner leaned down to look through it. Phillip’s face filled the bottom-half of the window, his eyes squinted and roamed back and forth as if he was anxiously awaiting something, or someone. Meilani scrunched up her face in disbelief and turned to look down at Ishrat.
“He’s obviously still in Stage 2, Ish,” she said, tilting her head at him, “And yet it’s you who is imagining things.”
Ishrat’s already-wide smile broadened. “Just watch,” he prompted, “He’s lucid. And he’s looking for us.”
She shook her head as she turned back to look. “How’s he any different from early Stage 2?” she asked, “Half the time they all stare around in wonderment after the dose first smashes headlong into their neurons.”
“Check the time,” Ishrat said smugly, “He’s a full 20 minutes past neuron-smashing. That guy is chill and he’s not just looking for us, he’s looking at the others. Studying them. Watch him.”
All Phillip could see in the viewport was his own reflection as his chiselled good looks and swathe of sandy-blonde hair filled the view. He turned from the viewport and looked around the concrete room for the door, spotting it on the far wall looking like a viewport, but floor-to-ceiling. The grey wizard was talking to an pixie-like young woman with elf ears and when Phillip stepped around them he nearly stumbled over the reptilian troll crouched on the floor who was now making pained noises in time with its panting. The slender anime wasn’t directly looking at the troll, but was gripping his sword tightly, everything about him tense.
As Phillip tried to squeeze between the comic hero and the pop icon, Phillip patted the star on the man’s chest and gave him a thumbs up and a wink. Instead of giving way, the celebrity influencer raised an eyebrow at him, the phone at the end of her outstretched arm alternately capturing her image while giving her endless feedback in the form of tiny symbols. Phillip stepped up close to her, looked down her arm at her rectangular interface with the world, leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Your last album made it to Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Worst Ever.” She gave him a dark look and pulled away quickly. Phillip smiled and stepped past.
The still-hovering fairy smiled at his approach and excitedly flit from side to side. Cyborg Tuxedo and the Modern Warfare Soldier loomed behind, glowering. Phillip looked around her at the men, giving a short, sharp salute to the operator and a cock-sure smooth nod and finger-gun to the spy. He blew a kiss to the fairy and she squealed in delight as she spun on the spot, sparkledust cascading off of her and glittering across the floor.
The werewolf was sniffing around the giant cat, literally, and she didn’t appear too impressed, giving Phillip an imploring purr as he approached. The hulking monster had apparently gone a bit too far for the knight as he had stepped over and placed a gauntleted hand on the werewolf’s massive bicep, pulling at it with futility. Phillip moved around them and the cat woman gave him an appreciative nod when he made a show of stepping over her long tail, the very end flipping happily on the floor.
Phillip presented himself in front of the door, holding his arms out, palms up. He could hear the werewolf building a low snarl and the clinking of the plate armour as the knight flinched. It would be one hell of a fight and he wanted out, and he mouthed as such to the darkened door, then waited.
“Alright, something’s funny,” Meilani said, “I’m not saying you’re right or anything, but something’s up.”
“You want to go around?” Ishrat asked her, his face eager, “See what he’s doing?”
Meilani shrugged and pursed her lips before nodding. “May as well,” she relented, “Make sure he doesn’t freak the others out.”
Ishrat fell in step with his partner, hurrying a little because her strides were significantly longer than his. “There’s not always a freak-out, apparently,” he said, “They say that sometimes, it’s super rare, but you get some sort of idealised version of yourself. Like your best self. I wish I’d had me some of that.”
Meilani grunted noncommittally as they rounded the corner of the dimly-lit hallway. “Rumours. It sure as hell can’t do that, Ish,” she scoffed, “That’s not what it’s designed for in any way at all. It’s just meant to get you over the hump, into the next step. You know that.”
“I don’t even remember mine other than I was kind of pissed when I woke up,” Ishrat said, hustling to catch up to her, “All I know is I passed and most didn’t, and here I am.”
Meilani grunted again as they came up to the large frame surrounding the room’s only door, her mass nearly filling the entire thing.
Ishrat looked around under her arm and stared in fascination through the door at Phillip’s pantomime just on the other side. “Wonder what it is he’s going through. You know, Mei…” he said, “All this time together and you’ve never talked about what it was like when you went through.”
“No,” Meilani answered shortly, “I haven’t.”
Phillip was working his mouth wide and exaggerated while so they could more easily make out his words while he gestured toward the door. He only wanted out and clearly wasn’t a danger. He was the only one not an entirely new form like the wackjobs they put him in there with. Whatever this was going on, he wasn’t in on it.
The werewolf’s growl got slowly louder behind him but the knight’s voice was surprisingly firm in response. Those two were going to get at it soon, and Phillip figured he’d do better do something different to get out of there before getting caught up in it. He couldn’t for the life of him remember why it was they’d stuck him in that room but when he looked at his reflection in the viewport’s glass and saw the orange t-shirt and grey jacket, he had a fleeting thought that everyone in there was wearing the same thing at one point.
Phillip studied his face in the glass and saw something a bit off. He wondered if it had a warp or minor imperfection as his chin looked impressively square, though he always thought of it as fairly non-existent. There was something about the lighting in the concrete room too that he totally appreciated, as he looked in the door’s glass and thought he’d never looked so good. Beefed-up too, as the grey jacket seemed to give him impressively-muscled shoulders.
He gave his head a small shake and regained his composure. Whatever weird lighting they had in there, and whatever weird D&D shit was going on with the others, he was ready to come out and he needed to let them know. If only they’d just adjust the tint on the door and he could see them, he could properly explain it.
“Whoa. Read his lips, Mei, he says we should let him out, ha!” Ishrat said before turning to her, “So… what was it like for you when you went through? You freak out or what?”
Meilani breathed a deep and heavy sigh. Phillip was talking conversationally didn’t seem agitated in any way. Two others behind him were sizing each other up aggressively, but that was common enough by this point. They were nearly done.
“I don’t like talking about it, Ish,” she said softly, “I definitely didn’t see my idealised self, that’s for sure.”
Ishrat’s voice lowered and he looked up at his partner, his eyes soft. “What happened, Mei?” he asked, “You can tell me, you know that.”
Meilani sighed again and pursed her lips. “It wasn’t even like it was a freak-out,” she said quietly, “I just saw my husband come in, all six-foot-five of him, and as he walked toward me he slowly changed into my father, all five-foot-six of him. So that was pretty weird.”
Ishrat blew out a breath. “Whoa, Mei,” he said softly, “That’s messed up. So that’s not a freak-out? Sounds pretty close.”
“Nah, messed up was that I stood there and calmly pissed my pants,” she turned to Ishrat snickering, and he joined her laughter, “Seriously! Full load! I filled my boots and it ran out on the floor. I think that’s when they knew I was done, and yet somehow two boots full of piss managed a pass!”
They were both caught in peals of laughter now. Ishrat gripped his partner’s shoulder to steady himself. “Oh Mei, that’s a real pisser!” he chuckled and sighed, “A far cry from the ideal you, I bet! Which was what again? Oh yes, that’s right. The tall gal from movies and comics and such, no? Bit cliched, isn’t it?”
“I was five when I saw the movies, Ish,” Meilani cut him off, giving him a mock stern look, “And yes, she was my personal hero for years, cliche or not. Besides, you’re one to talk about cliches and heroes, yours is like the biggest… wait, what’s he doing now?”
Phillip was gesturing the turning of a dial, still speaking calmly to the door.
“Now he’s asking us to turn off the door tint, I think,” Ishrat said, his voice curious, “We’re almost done, Mei. What do you think?”
“Yeah, why not?” Meilani shrugged casually, “We are almost done and the room is sealed otherwise, I don’t see the harm.”
Ishrat swiped down on his tablet and the door cleared. Phillip smiled and moved closer, looking between the two of them and still speaking conversationally. Meilani’s face dropped as she raised her arms slowly up to the glass. Ishrat poked his head under one arm and looked up at her with alarm.
“Mei, you alright?” he asked.
“Can you see what that scrawny ginger is saying?” Meilani asked her partner, “Did you catch that about a…”
Ishrat’s mouth worked as he watched Phillip’s mouth and interpreted his words, then his face dropped too.
“He says, ‘Get your magic lasso out and open the door.'” Ishrat said, shaking his head in disbelief, “‘You and Spidey are safe because the dose isn’t working on me.'”
“Can he hear us somehow?” Meilani’s voice was almost a low croak, “Is there a PA in there or something?”
“No, Mei, there’s no PA, you know that,” Ishrat answered, “He can’t hear us.”
“But I’ve never told anyone but my husband and you, Ishrat, ever,” she said, her voice rising.
“I… Mei…” Ishrat stammered, “I never told anyone but you. Ever.”

It’s not “Keenoo” it’s “Kee-ah-noo”

I’m not exactly sure when I stopped caring, but about the time I realised that he’d made a lucrative career out of staring blankly and having one, ONE, expression, I started calling him Keenoo.  Point Break is a fucking awesome movie, but I can truthfully say I have no respect for Keenoo.

That said, he made a cool cameo in my dream last night.  Or rather, he inspired one of the characters, as I don’t really think it was him.  Frequently I get characters in my dreams that either look like popular actors or actually are them.  I had a doozy the other night where Brad Pitt, Scott Bakula and myself were all police detectives in the 70’s, like that show “Life on Mars”.  I remember thinking, “Wow, think of all the great experience I’ll get from two pros like these guys.  Plus, I’ll have been a cop and can tell stories when I get back to the future in 2011.”

But Keenoo was only the inspiration for this stringy-haired, flannel-wearing greaseball loser guy in my dream last night.  He’s not much to look at, our hero, but he’s integral to the story.

It opens with a courier, or an assistant of some sort and not notable, carrying a large ziploc baggie with two fresh (dead) fish in it (no idea what, they were movie fish, where they have no distinguishing characteristics other than you know that they are fish) along with several raw eggs.  The yolks were in tact, and there was some sort of wheatgerm or bran grains in there as well, though it was all unmixed.

We follow the journey of the baggie as it gets carried to this giant lab tank, like an aquarium, but with a human in it.  A woman, whose lithe form was suspended in the water and had tubes and apparatus attached to her head and chest.  She had some sort of light robe floating around and her hair was loose.  She seemed semi-conscious but deeply occupied with whatever was going on in the tank.

Gauges and metres ticked and clicked and digital readouts read out while the assistant person carried the bag toward this tank.  She started talking about the massive amount of protein and nutrients that were going to be needed for this when we turn to see the Keenoo wannabe brooding behind her.  They interact only briefly before she leaves, obviously nonplussed by him and a even a little bit scared.

He approaches the tank with reverence and a small TV in the corner shows a black-and-white talking head, like the newsreaders of the early 60’s, and he is telling the populace about how monumentally historic this moment is.  Scenes of rocket ships, still in grainy black and white, show on the screen and it starts to be understood that this woman is going to need protein and nutrients and this special tank and all this stuff because she is going to be on a rocket that’s launched into space soon.

Keenoo is worried and doesn’t want her to go, but takes extra care in prepping some of the machines and such before the officials get there to do the same thing, only very officially.  He’s still brooding though, and we get the feeling that he not only doesn’t want her to go, but possibly should have gone himself yet didn’t.  He makes his exit before the officials get there to avoid having to answer any questions.

The rocket launches…

And the garbage truck pulls up outside my house.  Between his squeaky brakes and incredibly loud robot arm, I am left wondering how ANYBODY is meant to sleep past 6:40 AM on my street.  Fuck that guy and his truck, seriously.


I wrote this in January sometime, and I know it’s long, but I don’t have much to say here and I like writing.

Summers usually sucked balls during my childhood given that I had an abundance of time and a lack of things to do with it.  I hooked up with schoolmates here and there, but had little friendships to speak of and spent most of the time during the day doing odd jobs that my father assigned me and talking to my dog, Herschel.

Herschel was a yellow lab who gained his name during a rare broadcast of a USFL game when a certain College Football superstar ran through an unholy amount of men to score a touchdown and our fat little whimpering puppy scrambled madly across the TV room at Barb’s house.  Barb was the woman my mother left my father for, but that’s a different story.  At this point, we’d just gotten the puppy and my older brother and I were bandying about all the usual simple and inane puppy names with Barb’s kids when we saw that historic run.

My brother looked at the TV, then down at the dog, then across the room to each kid and we all kind of nodded when he said, “Herschel.”

My father, of course, scoffed at the name and assured us that we’d have a dog that never came when we called, but strangely I never experienced that issue with Herschel or later, Pistachio.

In the Summer of ’88, before I began my 8th grade year, I was 13 and too young to get a job at any businesses and too old to simply lay around and watch cartoons all day.  Hell, even my G.I. Joes were feeling a bit dated.  My mother had recently made her move to Dallas and the prospect of flying down there for a couple of weeks was more than a reprieve from boredom, it was heaven.  Sure, Big “D” in the middle of Summer was akin to hanging out at the Gates of Hades, a very, very humid Hades, but I was bouncing off the walls for it.

Mom also told me that, as a surprise, I was going to be attending “The Herschel Walker Football Camp”.  Mom was always pretty good at getting good deals across her lap and while I had no idea how she’d wangled this one, I couldn’t believe my luck.  The fact that I sucked at football and had only marginal interest in it didn’t matter, I was going to hang out with Herschel Walker, and that was going to top my Lifetime List, let alone my Summer.

My brother, of course, did his best to deflate me by pulling me aside and making it clear that football camps with celebrity names on them were run by somebody else, and said celebrity would usually drop by for a solitary hour during the week to shake hands and maybe take pictures with the lucky kids, of whom I would certainly never belong.  I sagged upon hearing this, but did keep in mind that my brother had never actually attended any celebrity football camps, let alone any football camps, and he did have a penchant for talking out his ass.

I flew down to blisteringly hot Texas from comfortably dryheat Montana and was nervous as hell.  Groundbound and slow, I was an offensive lineman by default since I was too slow to do anything else and could, at best, be asked to get in the way so that the fast kids could score touchdowns.  When I got to the camp, I was kind of expecting mom to hang with me, introduce me around and then after I’d settled in and made friends with everyone, she could slip out quietly.  Sadly, she had to work.  And not just “clock in, clock out” either, at the time she was instrumental in the budding organ donation industry and was sometimes flying to Denver, Chicago and Portland in the middle of the night with a cooler full of lungs and kidneys.  It’s not like she could just call in sick.

In the barely dawn the day the camp opened, I sat outside the locked gates to the Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility with a kid named “Phil” who looked like both his parents were Soviet-bloc Olympic Powerlifters and he was relegated to shorts fulltime because no pant in the world would fit his thigh.  The humidity gave the morning that cold/hot feel, which to a nervous and dorky Montana kid is really quite gross, and I contemplated sneaking out of there and going across the road to the shopping mall to spend the day at the video arcade.  About the time that I was formulating a story for Phil about how I was at the wrong camp and was really there to brush up on my Galaga skills a truck came rolling up and out jumped exactly what you’d expect, a nerdy looking skinny white guy with a polo shirt, a whistle around his neck, a clipboard and high-wasted shorts perched above his knobby knees that revealed more than his Presbyterian wife probably knew on their wedding night.

After that, it didn’t take long for the other 40-odd kids to come rolling up, piling out of Cadillacs and luxury sedans with windows tinted so dark I half expected Arab Shieks to come piling out, ready for their gridiron tutelage.  We’d barely begun our signins, checking our names off a list and making sure we’d paid the ungodly amount of money they were asking before setting us off to one side where we were told to group up according to position.  I never asked how my struggling mother came up with the fees for that camp, but I did notice a red star penned next to her name on their list that was also next to the names of the only two black kids that were at the camp, both of whom were wearing other football camp T-shirts that mentioned something about “inner city youth camps” or something similar.

Hardluck case or not, I was there, and when I realised that there were only 2 pasty-white fat kids in the “lineman” group and about eleven thousand in the “running backs/linebackers” group, I took my chances and promoted myself to “linebacker”.  I knew that I could run about as fast backward as I could forward, but what I didn’t have to mention to them was that both were probably outpaced by a lethargic and pregnant cripple.  I just wanted to have someone to talk to, and was prepared to explain the intricacies of my elaborate ankle injury that I was sure to get sometime around the time that we were doing timed sprints or any drill that singled out the slow dorks.

About the time that we were split into our groups and got out onto the field for our “chalk talk” the man himself showed up.  Herschel Walker looked to me like the kind of human that scientists study when they want to look at muscles without all that bothersome fat in the way.  He walked in and among us during his chat about his High School, College and Pro careers and with every emphatic gesture with the football he was holding, I was fascinated by the way the knots and bulges on his forearms all teamed up together to help him tell me that I should follow my dreams and that yes, I really was good enough.  He told us about the 3,500 situps he does every day and how he barely goes in a weightroom, preferring instead to do more natural exercises and running.

I was glowing and instantly excused myself from all weight training sessions for my high school career while also worked on the speech I’d give my brother on how fit I was getting avoiding those troublesome weights.  Thinking of my brother though, reminded me that this pinnacle of football talent was sure to make his escape soon, and when he broke us out into groups and we started doing some stretching, I knew it was goodbye.

Instead it was just a lot of grunting, as even the dorky white dudes with clipboards bagged out of the abdominal workout that Mr. College Football put us through.  Herschel cheerfully explained that holding your legs a few inches off the ground for what felt like days was a great way to warm up, and I took it as implied that vomiting now meant you were lighter and faster when the drills started.  I looked around me at what should’ve been rich white boys, soft from a life of leisure, and instead saw rich white boys (and two underprivileged black kids) whose bodies were all hardened by a life of physical activity.  Even the fat ones had a healthy frame underneath the lard and I was once again pretty sure that I was the most unfit kid at that camp.

Knowing it was unlikely they’d yell at me, though I hadn’t ruled out them contacting my football coaches in Montana and telling them to work me extra hard for my laziness, I took it a bit easy when I realised the eggs and toast mom had stuffed me with were coming up the back of my nose.  It was barely an hour in and I lay on the soft Astroturf while the sun slowly cooked off the humidity and prayed for a quiet death.  Then, just like that, it was over, and I prepared myself again to bid a fond adieu to the camp’s namesake.

But he stayed, and we ran, and we ran, and we ran.  The vomit feeling passed and I felt a huge swell of relief that the laps we were circling were really quite small, so when I got lapped repeatedly almost no one noticed, and when all the other highly competitive boys who were galloping along and finished in a mad sprint, I joined them.  After we all crossed the finish line in an elongated group and stood there panting and heaving I felt about as good as you could for a guy who just got his ass kicked by everybody in the sprint, and also still had 2 laps to go.  Herschel, who had jumped in and lead the sprint, smiled at me proudly and the purity of it told me it wasn’t for my clever cheating.  I looked around again, waiting for him to get “the signal” or something to alert him that he’d spent more time with us than he was contractually obligated to do.

He stayed though, and ate lunch with us, sharing stories of High School football glory with some of the other boys, namely Phil and the two black kids whose names I forget but am sure were announced during televised broadcasts at some point.  The majority of the stories came from the boys too, and I tried to listen for the polite mentions of the time that their father had saved ol’ Herschel in ‘Nam or in vascular surgery, but it appeared that he had actually never met the boys before.  I remembered the starred names on the list and figured that it was a secret sign for Herschel to be extra nice.  Clearly I was missing my chance and he’d forgotten to be extra nice to me too, so I tried in vain to squeeze my way onto the table with the rest of them.  No dice, but when we broke lunch to go back out for our afternoon session I did manage to walk next to him on the way out.

“Hey Herschel!” I dorked at him, “you’ve got a place of honour in my family you know!”  I was extremely pleased with myself for how I’d worded it, it came out perfectly.

He paused and smiled contentedly with me, “Yeah?  Howzat?”

“My dog’s name is ‘Herschel'” I announced proudly, grinning from ear to ear.

His face dropped.  “A dog?” he crinkled his eyebrows at me, “No kids?”

“Well my parents… are ah… divorced and… I uh…” I idioted at him.

“I’m just messin’ wit’ ya!” he giggled.  His smile lit back up and his eyes twinkled at me while he tousled my hair.

My face felt hot and my voice had felt amplified across the entire group of boys.  I was quite sure a bigger dickhead had never graced the floors of the Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility in Irving, Texas since it’s inception, and no doubt one never would.  The vomit feeling was now back and we hadn’t even done any drills.  As we took the field and broke back out into our groups I realised with a crestfall that would never be able to cheat my way through ALL the drills, and I may as well wear my Giant Dorkus Malorkus title resignedly.

Herschel then broke from his usual position of running back and put us through some linebacker drills, holding blocking dummies for us to bash into and then run around, and even doing some of the drills with us when there were uneven numbers.  By the time the day ended and mom came to pick me up, I could actually still smell his sweat in my nostrils and was prepared to describe it to my naysaying older brother.

The following days at camp were much the same and as we neared towards the latter end of camp there were many titterings of the upcoming excitement.  On Thursday, we were going to meet some actual Dallas Cowboys!  I tried to act as excited as everyone else, but honestly didn’t think it got any better than their star running back and kick returner who was running, eating and sweating with us all week.  We got a nice break from our usual physical punishment during the morning for a magical and wondrous visit from… Steve Pelluer!

That’s right, Steve Pelleur!  Right here at the Herschel Walker Football Camp!  Wow!  Steve Pelleur!

“Who the hell is ‘Steve Pelleur’?” was clearly NOT the appropriate response, I said nothing and did my best to pretend to be as excited as everybody else.

In fact, I was actually a bit annoyed at the rest of the boys for making such a fuss over a dude with a last name that was so hard to remember how to spell when they had the nicest, most down-to-earth athletic superstar training with them every damn day.  I decided then and there that, star quarterback or not, I wasn’t going to like this Steve Ploor.  I was going to remain loyal to Herschel.  In fact, when I got my chance to get something signed from the glorious Steve Puhlyoor, I chose instead to hang out at the other end of the table and tell Herschel the story about my puppy scrambling madly toward the television while his namesake made an incredible run for the New Jersey Generals.

Ol’ Herschel liked that story and I think he was glad he didn’t ask again why we hadn’t named any kids after him.  He did get a bit confused as to my lack of explanation as to why the puppy was running toward the television, ribbing me good-naturedly, “I didn’t think dog’s eyes could see television screens?”  As I nearly buried the needle on the Dorkometer and attempted to explain that the puppy’s food bowl was near the TV stand, I was graciously interrupted by the announcement that it was Picture Time.  For only the second time in the entire camp, I deliberately and uncharacteristically defied the rules and lined up on the opposite side of where I was supposed to, so that I could stand by my friend Herschel and NOT Steve Pahhlure.

The day wound down and it was the Cattle Call for parents began, with Herschel being approached by a loud and brash 3-piece suited Texan, proudly driving a Cadillac that sadly didn’t have bullhorns mounted on the front.  Herschel graciously thanked the man for saying hello and laid genuine compliments on his boy, who turned out to be Phil, for his speed.  I knew the compliments were genuine as Phil was the only boy to not only beat the two black kids in the sprints, but also catch Herschel during a rousing game of “Smear the Queer” where we got points for even laying a finger on the Pro Bowl Running Back while he evaded us all over the practice field.

Thankfully, no one pointed out the derogatory name of the game, and I’ll never forget Herschel’s face as he gleefully avoided our stumbling chubby hands only to say “JEEZUS!” when Phil came out of nowhere and knocked the ball loose.  Playing against kids or not, Pro-Bowl Philanthropist or not, Herschel put a little extra foot on the accelerator after that, and gave Phil a hairy eyeball the rest of the drill, asking him while they walked off the field, “You SURE you’re only 14?”

The parents came and went, and the football stars glad-handed and then showered while I wandered out the closing gates and waited in the parking lot for my mom’s red Nissan truck to appear down the distant road off the highway that led only to the practice facility.  After enough cars left that I knew I was looking rather pathetic, I wandered over to the administration building and sat on the curb in the shade.

Pathetic or not, I still had to keep an eye out and wait for mom.  Car after car left until there were only 2 or 3 there.  Slowly trickling out, the dorky coaches in their too-tight shorts and clipboards wandered out and climbed into their air-conditioned oases.  Hope and despair weren’t heavy on me, but I admit I wasn’t sure how to feel when the last vehicle started up and started driving out of the far side of the parking lot.  Built to hold thousands of vehicles, the parking lot and accompanying drive here huge, and as the little black and red blazer pulled up onto the road I couldn’t even see the driver.

He saw me though, and just as the engine whined to pick up steam on approach to the highway, the brake lights shone and the truck slowed, pulling at the last second into the far end of the parking lot and then cruising across the empty expanse toward the admin building.  Not even wanting to think in terms of desperation, I told myself that it was just somebody that forgot something off their clipboard, or worse even, their entire clipboard, though I was incredibly thankful of the chance to have someone to at least talk to.

The modest little truck pulled up right in front of me and the window came down and a glowing smile I’d come to know quite well came peeking out.  Herschel glanced around and asked cautiously, “You alright?  You got somebody comin’ to pick you up?”

Mercifully, I stayed on the lower end of the Dorkometer and explained that my mom usually came and got me, but she was in Organ Donation and I never really knew when she would have to fly out with somebody’s guts in a cooler.  He fished around in his console for a minute and came up with a quarter, then paused and fished out another one, “Just in case.”  He flashed another smile that I took to mean he was then departing and I wandered inside to find the pay phone.  The darkened office hallways were quite foreboding, but I was pretty sure that I could see a phone symbol through the darkness and if there were indeed monsters waiting to eat me, I’d at least die happy knowing that my new hero had given me a couple of his hard-earned quarters.

I paused, pondering going to the toilet, possibly for no other reason than it was the only room with a light on and I wanted to feel it’s comforting glow before wandering into the bowels of the dark building, and then I heard his higher-pitched-than-you’d-think voice coming down from the foyer, “Hallooooooo…”

“Over here,” I called back, wanting him to know I was okay and that, thus far, there didn’t seem to be any monsters.

He came wandering down and told me in a quiet voice that made me think he might’ve been worried about Dark Monsters too, “Just wanted to make sure you remembered the number and got through and all.”  I could tell that he didn’t want to be interfering with familial matters and certainly didn’t want to pry about why my mother had abandoned me, but was also not terribly impressed with me being left high and dry for over an hour.

“Would your mom send somebody to get you, or would you need a ride somewhere?” he asked quietly.

My heart about leapt out of my chest, and I was about to fake an entire phone call where mysteriously the entire department of the Southwest Organ Recovery team was on an emergency when we heard another lighter-pitched voice from the foyer, “Hallooooo…”

“Mom!” I yelled excitedly, my little heart not remembering that now this meant no car ride with my hero but possibly now knowing that I could show him to her like some sort of dog that followed me home.

I came running out of the darkness and hugged her while she apologised profusely and started to explain that, yes actually, she was on a call and was going to get Cyndi to come and get me but then Cyndi took a call and so on, when out of the darkness stepped an incredibly large and muscled black dude.  Mom didn’t make any pant-shitting noises, but I bet she was close.

That 1000-watt smile lit up the hallway when he held his hand out, obviously pleased and relieved that I wasn’t bereft of a parent who cared.  “Hi,” he said pleasantly, “I’m Herschel.”

Mom looked down wide-eyed at his extended hand before blinking and taking it, “Hi!” she dorked at him, “I’m… I’m… Judd’s MOM!”

“Pleasure to meet you,” he said softly, “we were just about to call you.”

“Oh…” it began to dawn on her that this walking Legend of Sports was judging her for leaving her child alone in the blazing Texas heat.  “Well I had a call… and Cyndi…” she began.

His smile interrupted her stuttering and he said, “It’s okay, he told me.  I’m just glad you made it.”

Walking abreast, we pushed open the doors to the foyer and went back out into the heat like 3 new friends about to embark on a new adventure.

My mom’s shiny red truck was purring next to his purring black and red blazer and he asked, “So, organ donation huh?”

Mom blinked, starstruck, and then slipped into a more professional mode with “Uhhhhhhh… yeah!”

He smiled at me and then tousled my hair before mom came back with the Dorkometer still turned up, “Herschel!  Are you a donor?”

His head tipped back in a laugh and he pulled his wallet from those impossibly tiny pockets in workout shorts, showing her his Texas Driver’s License and the box that was indeed ticked as “Organ Donor”.  Mom smiled and nodded her head dorkally and said with a non-asked-for approval, “Oh good!”

He drove off while I told mom about waiting and waiting and how he was the last car and had driven back in and he’d given me a quarter and then came in after me when she’d showed up.  We ambled down the highway while the both of us sat and glowed, and after a bit mom said with growing defiance and complete righteousness, “You know… there are some people in the office that think he’s not worth the money or that he might be just another overpaid sports star, but I’ll never hear a word against that man again!”

My Belushi Foot

The following was written 17-09-2007.

Living on the side of a hill meant that there was a vast array of possibilities of gravitational fun.  Ours was the only house at the end of the lane and our gravel driveway turned to asphalt about a third of the way down.  Summer and the dry weather really only meant that you could push your bike up to the top, near my house, and then coast into town going somewhere near light speed.  Accidents were frequent and my adolescent instinct was finely tuned to the point of precognition when I saw some random kid perched tentatively at the top of my driveway.  Though I’ve never had even a remote urge to follow the path of my physician father, by the time I was 13 I’d patched up many a skinned knee with peroxide and a bandaid.

While the riding of supersonic bikes was about all that dry roads had to offer, winter was whole other story completely.  It may have really only been sledding, but you could do it almost anywhere on that hill, the driveway was just the easiest and most accessible.  On any given day off from school our driveway and the entire length of the lane were both dotted with children, wrapped up tightly in their assorted garments, slogging their little legs slowly up the hill, their sleds in tow behind them.  Occasionally there would be a younger sibling riding in tow, but that would usually mean either a much older sibling or a parent pulling.  It was a pretty steep hill.

The very distinctive whine of my father’s choice of car, the Saab, could be heard for about a block before he would launch himself up our driveway in an attempt to overcome the snowy iciness layering the road.  After his clinic hours on a Saturday morning, the car whine would also be accompanied with the equally whiny and ineffectual honking of his horn in a futile attempt to scatter children off of their slope of pure slippery fun.  The older ones would lackadaisically meander to one side of the road or the other, thinking that they’d provided just enough room between themselves and the far side of the road, not knowing that another kid behind them had done the same only to the other side.  This zigzag pattern of bodies would only allow passage of a vehicle if all the little human pylons didn’t mind getting smacked in the back of the head with the rear-view mirrors as the Saab swished by.  Something that I always wished my father would do, and though I knew in some rational part of my mind wasn’t safe the idea always made me smile.

Our neighbours at the bottom of the lane, like most of the population of my hometown at that point, were Palaeolithically old, and didn’t get out much.  They were more than eager to help The Doctor out by letting him park in their driveway so that he could trudge his way irritatedly up the 100 yards of hill through the snow, past the slack-jawed thrill seekers who seemed to have absolutely no idea as to the part they played in the situation.

It was on one of these Saturdays that I had woken up and made to retrieve some cereal while peripherally listening to my dad and my brother discuss the details of the death of John Belushi.  I remember that I thought they were kidding, or simply relating a comedic routine to each other, waiting for the funniness to wear out before going back to normal.  Belushi was famous for taking seemingly boring and innocuous situations and making them retardedly funny, I was sure that they were talking about one of these now.

Death isn’t that funny though, I remember thinking, and I wondered why anyone would take the joke this far, even Belushi.  The hard plastic of a rear view mirror casing slapping a knitted wool covered head is much funnier than what could, and probably would happen, if such a thing were attempted.  One of my favourite funnymen doing drugs until he died was as funny to me as my dad running down some hapless sledder.  I didn’t get it.

My brother wasn’t ever one for fun with the rest of us, and stayed in the house doing his own thing while I ventured outside for the morning.  For some reason I don’t clearly remember there weren’t many having at the hill that morning.  The haziness of the sky and the cold were probably to blame, but I enjoyed the solitude and simply put a thicker hat on before wandering around on the lesser-used slopes of the surrounding parts of the hill.  Yucca plants and their long spiny leaves frequently ruined a nice and straight run, much like the zigzagged yardapes on our snowy driveway, making it increasingly obvious to me why these parts were lesser-used.

While wandering around the slopes nearest my house I heard some familiar voices and I was pleasantly surprised to be graced with the presence of the Putnam boys, the second-youngest being of “Best Friend” status during our Kindergarten and First Grade years.  As I was in the middle of my second round of First Grade, our friendship had consequently ended.  He and his brothers would forever be that family of “cool kids” that seem to live in stereotypically sports-themed brand-name homes in every G-rated movie and Teen sitcom.  As much as I was anxious of their high opinion and favour, I feared them and would never learn to trust them.

They had probably set out from their home on the far side of town for my particular hill for no other reason than adventure, as they had a few moderate runs from the road embankment at the top of their property and some gigantic slopes on the hills that formed the other wall of our valley.  I was flattered, I suppose, and ever being eager to please invited them onto the slopes around our house.  My hopes of further enticing that spirit of adventure were realised when we had soon not only created a well-formed and quite slippery rut, but also a jump.

The jump wasn’t that impressive at first, as it was only formed as a result of snow being pushed down in the first few passes on the run, but our idea was indeed grand.  Soon we were scooping with anything available, including the sled, and mounding the snow as high as we possibly could.  Simple physics and matters of trajectory are concepts that fall quickly by the wayside in the quest for adventure and the lust for youthful adrenaline, and our jump began to resemble an igloo instead of anything that Evel Knievel would shoot off of.

This may have occurred to at least the two older Putnam boys, and therefore influenced their suggestion that the jump’s maiden launch be attempted by someone other than any of them, including the youngest and foolhardiest.  Running in theme with the rest of my childhood, they singled me out.  I was honoured.  My chest was so puffed up that I felt like I’d shoved a pillow up into my jacket, and I could barely feel my feet as I floated up the hill alongside the greatest ride I was sure to ever have.

The irrigation ditch was empty, because it was Winter, and the back part of old Mrs. Hammond’s circular driveway was as well.  The front part of her driveway was as well, she didn’t get out much at all.  Her back garden shed and it’s accompanying cement stoop were unoccupied and unused in the Winter months, and this entire area was our planned landing strip for our airborne feats.

The ride was great, but only because of the anticipation, which was as short-lived as the ride.  The blast of cold winter air cut across my cheeks just enough to keep the heat from adrenaline and excitement from making me sweat.  Even though I knew I wasn’t flying, yet, I was so close to it that it was easy to believe I was.

The impact of the sled slamming into the base of the jump made me grunt, and for a brief second I wondered why I didn’t explode through it like they would on the “Dukes of Hazzard” or similar high-flying stunt TV show.  I don’t really remember anything about my flight through the air other than the sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when the roller coaster goes over a sudden drop.  That sick feeling doubled in intensity for me when I realised that I was experiencing it because of the overly vertical nature of my trip.

If measured, I probably would have covered about 15 feet in total distance from the top of the jump to the ground.  Unfortunately, only about 4 of this was along the ground.  The rest was all done in the air, almost straight up-and-down.  I knew that landing would hurt, so I was prepared, but when I tried to get up quickly in proof of my bravery and fearlessness I didn’t expect my body to hurt so specifically.  I fell down with a cry of pain.

The Putnams had quickly clambered down to first and foremost see how my ride went, and secondly to check for any injury.  I said very emphatically that the problem was my right foot and the middle boy, my former best friend, braced me against his body and told me cautiously that I should try to walk on it.  I stood up and electrified shards of glass shot through my leg.  I sat quickly back down.  The air got suddenly serious, and even the oldest and most capable of the Putnam boys looked worried.  His face changed back to resolute, and he told the youngest to come with him to go get help from my house, either my dad or my brother, it didn’t matter.  I remember telling them that they had to get my dad.  I knew whatever was wrong was serious, and I was still at that age where there wasn’t anything my dad couldn’t answer or fix.

Left alone with my former best friend and I was comforted, secure in the knowledge that I would be alright, and whatever was wrong with my foot would be quickly righted.  The ground that had felt cold and hard, almost unforgiving, when I first landed on it, now felt like it had a giant felt blanket laying across the landscape.  Time passed quickly until my father got there.  I’d heard he and the oldest Putnam discussing what had happened and was perplexed as to why he hoisted me on his back and asked me as well.  Even though I was in pain and not of the clearest of minds, I knew that he wasn’t really asking me a question but expressing exasperation.

His flannel shirt felt cool against my cheek, as if it had been flash-cooled in the contrasting temperatures of our warm kitchen and the wintery outdoors.  I knew he was a small man by comparison to other dads, but the muscles of his back and arms seemed so strong to be carrying me so effortlessly up the driveway.  The encouraging and friendly looks on the Putnam’s faces faded as my father continued to express his frustrated bewilderment at how I could do “something so stupid.”  The youngest Putnam’s eyes looked confused as to how I was in the most trouble when I was the one in the most pain.  I buried my face in-between my father’s shoulder blades in shame.  I stopped crying.

I stopped listening too, though I heard the word “stupid” repeated several times.  Dad parked me on the examining table in the clinic we had in the corner of our basement and the Putnams disappeared.  My brother came out of his room in the other half of the basement and lent his cooler head to the situation.  Dad had settled down and was busy arranging his gear for examination and diagnosis while David did his best to calmly and smoothly distract me with his charm and song lyrics from a Bob Seger song, “Piss on the Wall”.

In light of my father’s disapproval and apathy, my brother’s concern for me and ensuing efforts made me feel something inside, and I started crying again.  Although I was the one seeking, or at least seemingly deserving, of pity during that moment, I found that I was pitying my brother.  For all his confidence and charm, all of his smooth talk and naughty lyrics, he didn’t know the score, and I felt sorry that he was there giving me sympathy and care when I was in so much trouble.  I felt bad about how foolish he’d feel when he found out that he was offering kindness to such an evildoer.

A self-indulgent part of me was enjoying the attention that I so rarely received and therefore made the decision not to clarify the situation for my brother.  I decided to ride it out and see how long my brother could keep being nice to me.  A short car ride to my dad’s office, some quick x-rays later, and my foot was stockinged and bandaged with a plaster cast.  We made our way back home and before the plaster was even fully dry my brother proudly volunteered to be the first to sign my cast.  He made a very big deal out of the ceremony and custom of signing someone’s cast.  He not only wrote his nickname, “Mouse” across the middle front, but also drew a little crooked picture of a mouse’s face, both of which smudging slightly in the wet plaster.

Over the following weeks, I made sure to keep a few inches clear around the Mouse, on even the off-chance that someone else’s signature ink may run into it.  Most eased this fear by using crayon and my return to school didn’t necessarily bring about a bustling crowd all struggling to sign my leg.  As with any kid, I enjoyed the attention being given to me with my crutches and allowances being made, though I would have traded it all in a heartbeat to not have to sit in the lodge at the bottom of the mountain while all the other kids got to go skiing.

By the time the snow had cleared a bit and I was free to run around with a bare cast and my toes poking out the end, the end of my cast had started to crack and fatigue to the point of ineffectiveness anyway.  I started treating it more and more like an itchy, uncomfortable shoe and put the thought forward that if I was okay enough to jump off of the top of the monkey bars at school, I should probably request that my father remove my cast.

I kept it for years though I have no idea what eventually happened to it.  I would occasionally put it on my little foot, showing disbelief and surprise when it finally no longer fit.  Regardless, I would remember the discomfort and feel grateful that it was off of my foot while tracing my fingers over the crayon signatures from the kids learning cursive.  The date, March 5, 1982, was indelibly marked in my mind because it was shared with Belushi’s death and was carefully written in black felt pen at the top of the ankle.

The cast lasted years, and the ink on the plaster hadn’t ever smudged, nor had the crayon cursives, and even the infamous date.  The only smudge on the entire cast was the most important part, slightly crooked and drawn on before the plaster was even dry.

With me, flying is really just a controlled fall.

Woke up way too early this morning, but lovely wife kept monkeys quiet as I went back to bed and slept until almost 9.  This is what happened after I curled back up under our huge blankies.


As frequently happens, I was playing with a plane, a model of a P-40 Warhawk, that started as a toy and eventually became an actual way for me to fly.  It remained in my hands, but I somehow knew that it was the source of my flying abilities as I soared high above the clouds

I could feel the wind whipping past my ears as I looked up and realised that I’d put an extra fuselage on the top of the plane.

“WHOOPS, good thing it still works…” I thought, before reaching out and smudging a few different clouds into the horizon with my thumb, “they look a bit like storm clouds but they’re not, so I’ll just blend them into the bottom so that the people down below don’t get worried.”

As at least a small measure of reality started to dawn on me, I figured out that “flying” was most likely a form of extended free-fall, and I tried to affect my path to the ground accordingly.

It was very cloudy, but I spotted a helmeted figure flailing his legs and thought, “Hey cool!  Another skydiver!” until I saw that his descent into the cloud bank was significantly slower than mine and that he was in fact tethered to the helicopter above him.

Two things occurred to me at this point:

  1. The Navy must be out doing manoeuvres.
  2. I must be very, very close to the ground.

I flattened myself out to send myself into a “coast” and though I knew it would affect my landing I also knew that I wouldn’t have time to get my parachute out otherwise.  I cleared the cloud bank enough to see that I was over the ocean and there were Navy helicopters all over the place.

Hoping I was staying out of their way, I pulled the ripcord on my stomach and landed near a garbage scow that was being used by several ocean-going Ford F-150s.

Hoping to stay out of their way too, I swam to near where the trucks were pulling up and dumping their trailers and simply grabbed onto the back bumper a creme-coloured truck pulled away from the scow.  Just like we used to hookybob when I was a kid, I calmly held my toy airplane in one hand as I was dragged through the water by this pickup truck that was somehow able to float and move about in the ocean.

As it pulled up to a floating resort-type ship with a huge port, I figured this was as good a place as any to try and find my way back to wherever it was that I was meant to land and did my best to blend in with the tourists.

Life Dream

It was a Sunday afternoon and I’d found it the rare occasion that I wanted a nap. The baby was sleeping and Wife was happily occupied, so I climbed into bed and turned the TV on to a Disney movie where Bruce Willis was visited by his childhood self. It was cute and comfortable in that Disney way, and I was soon dozing enough to want the television off.

I awoke on my side and my first thought as I looked up at the pine headboard was of severe disappointment that my dream wasn’t real. While my life is by no means painful, the realisation that I was still in this life and not in my dream wasn’t pleasant. Instead of feeling depressed or terribly bothered by this, I decided to simply revel in the thoughts and feelings that my dream had given me.

In reality, this particular Sunday afternoon was one in which we were to make that long drive North to retrieve our children from their fortnightly visitations with their less-than-noteworthy biological component and his reprehensible parents. In my dream, this was the same, only the place that we were departing from was very different. Quite simply, it was the home of our dreams. Not just the home of our dreams, but the Life of our dreams as well.

We’d pulled out of a winding dirt driveway from someplace nestled in the hills and had come down the main roads towards the city and our destination just North of it. I was driving a taller vehicle than our meagre Falcon, it felt like a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Patrol, and I had my hat on. I love my hat, as it never fails to symbolise freedom and the dream of being independently wealthy, and I was happy in my “truck” with my wife and youngest child. Even the typically stressful trip to get the kids was made quite pleasant in this context, like an average Sunday drive to town.

The sun was shining at an angle behind me and I could almost feel the warmth that it laid across the door frame and onto the dash. Certain corners brought the sunshine onto me and across the wide brim of my hat, and it felt so comfortably reassuring that I could’ve been fooled into thinking that it would never be cloudy again.

This Life, this Dream Life, is not so unattainable for us. I’ve always lived my life with the knowledge that if you want something enough, if you work for it enough, then it is always within your grasp. This Life is no different, and is within our grasp, despite the ever-present depressing crush of bills and ever-mounting debt.

“Eyes on the Prize” has been something that I’d always found too clichéd or trite to actually use in my common language, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t extremely applicable to the life I’m leading now. I’ve come to learn that thinking and dreaming of something better doesn’t actually add to the depressing awareness of where we are at now, but instead fuels the drive and ambition that it will take to actually get to that better life. I believe that, I’ve always believed that, I just get distracted sometimes and forget.

I spent the rest of the day enjoying this feeling, and was acutely aware of my calm and relaxed demeanour in a way that is pleased that it is here, but is sad in the knowledge that I’m not always this way and that, like my dream, it too will fade away and leave something less attractive behind. Like a base emotion or way of being, my stress and depression at the current state of affairs seems to be the most prevalent, and I am constantly feeling both the need to apologise for being this way and the pressure to not let things get to me the way they do.

That night, after the kids were in bed and the house was winding down, I went outside for a smoke. Even though I had taken off my hat upon returning home, I could still feel it just as strongly as the alternate reality of my dream. I looked up at the stars, winking with a dull glow in the cooling air, and could feel their true shine hidden just past the light pollution of the metropolis I was standing in the middle of. I closed my eyes and let my brain pull that shine through me, allowing the “real” nature of my feelings wind its way through my senses and consciousness. I found myself tuning out the steady blurps and roars of nearby traffic, hearing only the wind on the leaves through the trees and connecting with the movement of nature in such a way that I could tell what season it was and what the weather would be like in the next few days simply by the feeling of that breeze.

This dream, those stars, and that breeze are all things that are “real” in this life, they are what truly speak to my soul, giving me the allowance, the freedom, to actually feel like myself. That grumpy, stressed out, poverty-stricken person isn’t the “real” me any more than that muted and struggling starshine is “real” or that breeze through the trees that carries sirens and V8 engine revvings is the “real” one.

This Life, with its bills and debt, with its not-enough-coming-in vs. too-much-going-out, with its deadlines and hustle and bustle, with its moving and shaking, isn’t “real” to me. Sitting in traffic and watching others zoom in and out of cars, hurrying their way along to whatever destination surely doesn’t need them there so quickly, a question repeatedly grips my brain, “Isn’t there a better way?”

Sadly, this question is answered all too frequently by my own lack of acknowledgement of it. I get bogged down with the best of ‘em it seems, and can only find my head and dislodge it from my ass rarely and with only enough energy and force to get feelings like these documented during a rare moment of “downtime” before I get caught up in it all once again.

What’s the trick then? How does one go about their daily life, fraught with the fragility of money and its importance, and find the willpower to not be affected by it all?

I suppose this question can be answered quite simply, as most difficult questions can, with the idea that if one is doing what they are passionate about, something that truly brings them joy and fulfilment, then they need never worry about being “bogged down” in things as those things can never, will never, outweigh the good that they get from their passionate pursuits. Hence the importance of hobbies, I suppose, though in writing that I have realised, perhaps for the first time, that hobbies are all that I really want to do.

Finding a “hobby” that actually keeps the bills paid turns it into a “job” and has the potential of becoming one of those things that isn’t “real” in context of the rest of one’s life. I suppose there’s the potential of doing something that starts as a hobby that becomes something that pays the bills so well, and comes so naturally and without effort, that one can truly find the joy and passion in it despite it’s importance to one’s lifestyle.

I am a writer. I’m reasonably good at it and I enjoy doing it. It was never felt like a “job”. If I could find a way of turning that into such a substantial income that my own psyche would finally lay off its stressful distractions, then I believe that I would consider myself truly happy. I’m willing to work towards this and I believe that it can happen.

I just have no idea how.

There’s the rub, isn’t it? Isn’t that always the way?

I’m going to write a book, and just get it done. Not in an effort to get that albatross from off my neck, nor in an effort to chase that ever-elusive Life Happiness, but to simply be doing something I love, something I am passionate about.

If I can do this, if I can buckle down and commit myself to this, then who knows what will happen? Worst-case scenario is that I’ll have spent some of my time pursuing pleasure from a hobby, and the best-case… well who’s to say how far that can go?

Wish me luck.