Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Harbinger of Spring

This was written a few years ago. It hasn't been in the sixties yet this year, but it's getting close, and my thoughts have turned to spring.     

 There was a little preview of spring Tuesday. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the 60s and the breeze was gentle. There was another harbinger of spring that afternoon: the fellow next door and his son were out with a bat and ball.
       It made me think of my dad. Long ago, during Eisenhower’s first term, he and I, and later my brother Ed, would get the bat and ball and walk to the playground at Bethel Memorial School. By the early 1960s, Dad was also playing ball with our younger brother Jim, but we had moved by then and the venue had changed.
       In any event, Dad pitched the ball, and I tried to hit it. Listening to the neighbor, I heard my dad. The fundamentals of hitting haven’t changed much. I watched as the guy next door stood behind his son and reached down to move young boy’s feet, so that when he stepped into the ball, he’d step toward the mound.
       “Get your bat up,” he said. “Get your bat up. That’s it.”
       Then the little boy took a few swings.
       “You’re taking your eye off the ball,” the neighbor said. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball. You’re watching everything but the ball.”
       It could have been a recording of Dad talking to me all those decades ago. Then the boy next door made contact, sending the ball back through the box, as they say.
       “That’s the way. That’s the way you want to hit,” the neighbor said.
       Dad used to say that too, although not very often. But that was my fault, and the reason, Dad would tell me, was I had my foot “in the bucket.” The neighbor didn’t tell his son that, which bodes well for the boy’s future.
       About 15 years ago, I read one of George Will’s baseball books, I think it was “Men at Work.” Early in the book, Will told of his father taking him to Forbes Field to see his first Major League game. I’m not sure what grade I was in – probably third or fourth – when Dad took me to see the Pirates for the first time.
       I don’t recall what the occasion was, but we were downtown, and he asked me if I wanted to go to the ballgame. “Sure.” So, we caught a streetcar and headed out to the Oakland section of the city. In his book, Will writes that he was struck by how green the grass seemed as they walked into the park.
       I don’t think I’ll ever see grass as green as the grass in the outfield at Forbes Field that night. More amazing to me were the lights. When the sun went down, it was still daylight on the field. I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure who the Pirates played that night, but the Buccos won with the help of a Dale Long home run.
       More recently, I thought of Dad while reading David Maraniss’ biography of Roberto Clemente. In the chapter about the 1960 World Series, Maraniss talked about Pittsburghers taking the streetcar to the games.
       Dad never drove. So, by necessity, he became an expert on public transportation in Pittsburgh. He passed some of that knowledge on to sons, and we were able to get to the ballgames on our own long before we learned to drive.
       “Going out, you can take any car with a number in the 60s or 70s,” Dad told us. “Coming back, you can take anything coming down Fifth or Forbes except the 77/54.”
       If we took the 77/54, also known as the Flying Fraction, he warned us, we’d end up taking a long, slow trip to the North Side, which wasn’t where we wanted to go.
       The last time Dad played ball with his three sons was on Christmas Day 1996. We were all in San Antonio to celebrate the holidays and my parents’ upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. That morning, Dad found a football and told us to get outside. As he had done countless times before, he motioned for us to go out, and then he delivered the ball to each of us in turn.
       “If nothing else, at least you guys catch the ball with your hands instead of your bodies,” he said as we went back in. “I guess I did teach you something.”
       Dad is 93 now and much more spry than I am. He doesn’t remember much anymore, but I do, especially on spring days when fathers are out playing ball with their sons.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Short Walk

Basking in the sunlight,
watching people at Walnut Beach.
Children running here and there,
laughing, screaming, inventing games,
accusing each other of cheating,
of breaking rules they’d just made up;
an older couple on lawn chairs
in the shade of a large tree;
middle-aged women roasting on beach blankets;
a father sending his son deep
and arcing a Nerf football toward him.
“Why didn’t you catch it?” the father shouts.
The boy rolls his eyes
and retrieves the ball
that hit the ground ten feet behind him.

A commotion in the parking lot.
People in line at the concession stand
give up their spots to go see;
kids stop running in all directions
and run to join the crowd;
one by one the women get up from their blankets,
brush the sand from their legs and go investigate;
“Come on,” the old woman says,
“Let’s see what’s going on.”
Her husband scowls,
“I don’t know why you have to be so nosey,” he says,
then he follows her to the parking lot.
I am curious.
I stand up, take a step. My balance is uncertain,
my legs stiff, as if I’ve been sitting too long.
Way, way too long.
Every step an effort,
and exhausted before I go ten feet,
I want to sit.
“Keep going,” I tell myself.
“You’ll be fine. Walk it off.”
Obstinate legs give way to determined will.
My balance improves,
I walk faster, even run a few yards.

This happened once at a conference.
It was lunchtime.
I stood up, took a few faltering steps, then hit my stride
and hurried to the buffet line.
One time at the airport,
I started down the concourse,
stumbling and keeping one hand on the wall for support,
but my pace picked up,
and I had a jaunty air about me.

But I never had lunch,
never got on the plane,
never found out what happened at Walnut Beach.
Seconds before reaching the buffet line, the airline gate, the parking lot,
I woke up.
The wheelchair was still by the bed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Just Wondering

   On a quiet Saturday in February, my mind wanders as I wonder.  I’ve spent a large part of the morning wondering if it’s possible to know when the mind ceases to wander:  “(of the mind, thoughts, desires, etc.) to take one direction or another without conscious intent or control;” and when it begins to wonder: “to think or speculate curiously.”  But now I’m wondering if curiosity is a preresiquate to thinking and speculating. It seems to me it is, which leads me to wonder if the lexicographer was overcome by redundancy when he tacked “curiously” to the definition.
   I’ve also done a lot of wandering about winter. I was wandering, I’m sure, because my thoughts were beyond of my control, each one a random photo of some winter past. I neither pondered nor speculated as I watched the mental montage. But after wandering for an hour, I began to wonder.
   March is four days away, but by the meteorological standards of northeast Ohio, January and February have been no-shows. There has been more rain than snow this season, and frigid Arctic air masses and Alberta Clippers seemed to have been detoured. Poor Mark Johnson, Channel 5’s panicky weatherman. In winters past, he was a regular feature on Jeopardy, shoving Alex aside to tell viewers the snow would be up to their keesters by morning and the temperature so low the South Pole would be balmy by comparison. This winter, Mr. Johnson’s updates have been confined to standard promos during commercial breaks, and he hasn’t once looked like he was about to wet his pants.
   All this has led me to speculate curiously about the approach of March, and why it feels different this year. The best thing that can be said about March in a typical year is that it’s not January or February. By March first of most years, winter is an aging boxer, still able to deliver a powerful punch, but no longer able to sustain the attack. The storms in March can be as bad as those earlier in the season, but the snow disappears in a day or two because winter is wobbly by then and must retreat for a while in order to catch its breath. That, along with a few early arriving robins and the more fool hardy than hardy daffodils and crocuses, seem to say, “You’ve survived this long; a few more weeks and it will be over.”
   I’m wondering now because this year I’m dreading March. Judging from the months that preceded it, March 2012 should come in like a lamb and go out like something much, much better. Yet, whenever I either wander or wonder about this March, the feeling isn’t “winter is almost over,” it’s “winter is about to strike with a vengeance.” Which leads me to wonder if January and February would have been more pleasant if I had spent more time enjoying what was and less time speculating curiously about winter weather yet to come.
   It has started to snow, but instead of wandering about winter, I’m wondering about the folks who write headlines at the Plain Dealer. Today’s feature story in the Art & Life section is headlined “Marilyn: Like her beauty, our love for her never fades.” That’s awfully presumptuous of the copy editor, isn’t it? Perhaps his or her love for Marilyn is undying, but mine isn’t. In fact, I’m not sure I ever loved her. I’m pretty sure I lusted after her, but when she died I was almost fourteen and spent a good part of each day lusting indiscriminately. If Marilyn is reading this from the great beyond, I hope she isn’t shocked to find out that my lust had nothing to do with her being special, and everything to do with my being an adolescent male and her being female.
   But I have wandered away from what I was wondering about. A headline in the Arts & Life section is pretty harmless. But what about stories about polls with headlines such as “We think” this or that. We don’t all think whatever fifty-one percent or more of those polled think. The rest of us have our own opinions. I wonder if I should resent being told what “we” think. Of course, it might be better if I just went along with what “we” think. It seems that every time I wonder – think or speculate curiously – the results are curious, indeed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Conflict Resolution

“Learn the nine problem-solving styles, how to relate to different personality types and negotiate differences and solutions, and how to resolve conflicts without compromise or giving in.”
From the class description for “Conflict Resolution” in the Cleveland State Professional Development Programs Spring/Summer 2010 Catalogue.

Giving in is no way to reach a solution
that will satisfy your needs and make you feel blessed.
Compromise won’t work, but create the illusion,

since you don’t want fools to know they’re an intrusion,
and you’ll be damned if you’ll cave to their request.
Giving in is no way to reach a solution;

all that endless talking will cause more confusion.
Ignore the fools, but let them get it off their chest.
Compromise won’t work, but create the illusion

to help lesser folks live with their delusion
that the long meeting was something more than a jest.
Giving in is no way to reach a solution.

It’s work to reason with minds so Lilliputian,
but don’t them know you’re really quite unimpressed.
Compromise won’t work, but create the illusion.

Never budge and never sweat, be up to the test.
Say “no” until the smaller minds go home all stressed.
Giving in is no way to reach a solution,
compromise won’t work, but create the illusion.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

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