Boots Poffenberger in the Movies??

One of the many fascinating facts about Boots Poffenberger, who served a three-year hitch in the Marine Corps during WWII, is that he appeared on a U. S. M. C. recruiting poster along about 1947 or 1948. That fascinating fact led to a most interesting experience for me while watching Turner Classic Movies on Monday.

The Naked City, a 1948 classic film noir which was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2007 and was nominated for two Academy Awards, was the TCM feature. It was shot on location in New York City and about two-thirds of the way through the film, one of the detectives who is hot on the trail of the main villain, chases him down the street and past a theater.

As the scene unfolded, I slammed on the pause button and backed up the DVD. There was something about a recruiting poster on a sandwich board in front of that theater that looked very familiar, even for the two seconds that it was on the screen. Sure enough, it was Boots’ poster.

The photo on the left is one I took of the frozen television screen (and a big “thank-you” to Martha for that brilliant idea!) Note the poster that is center left. The photo on the right is a close-up of a Boots’ recruiting poster that is on display at the Williamsport Town Museum.

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That was a weird and wonderful moment!  I guess that when you spend two years getting to know somebody, you get to know him to the point that you can recognize his picture at a glance even when you’re not looking for it and in a place you would never think to look.

I wonder if Boots ever knew that he was in the movies?

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Happy Baseball Season! My 2014 Predictions

Winter has been acting like quite an ass this year, but take heart! The greatest season of the year has begun: baseball season. Anything can happen during a baseball season, but the best way to assess teams at the beginning of the year is to count the number of “ifs” a team has. If a number of things have to go right for a team to win, then they probably don’t stand much of a chance. As I will be giving my predictions on Gordy’s Sports World this Thursday on ESPN 1380 AM, I thought that I would commit them to print. Wild-card winners are marked with an asterisk. We’ll see how I did come October.

American League

East
Baltimore—great offense, great defense, good enough pitching
*Tampa Bay—great pitching, great defense, decent offense
Boston—solid pitching, good offense
Toronto—great offense, not enough pitching
New York—despite some solid additions, the Yanks have four ifs on the infield alone.

Division note: Any of the first three teams could win this thing. It would be a big surprise if the Blue Jays or Yankees captured first place.

Central
Detroit—great starters, but spring injuries make them more vulnerable than past seasons
*Kansas City—young club on the rise, they could challenge the Tigers this year
Cleveland—Terry Francona had this team overachieving in ’13; the Tribe will retreat in ’14
Chicago—rebuilding
Minnesota—rebuilding, but not as fast as the White Sox

West
Oakland—Parker injury a problem, but a solid all-around team
Texas—if they can overcome injuries, they could still take the West. If not . . .
Los Angeles—bounce-back season from Pujols & Hamilton could push them into playoffs
Seattle—on the rise and not inconceivable that they could finish second
Houston—assembling some good young talent, and they won’t lose 100 games this year

National League

East
Washington—plenty of pitching with a good offense; should bounce back after last season
Atlanta—Braves usually find a way, but injuries to Medlen & Beachy hurt. A lot.
New York—Mets on the rise.
Miami—like Houston, the Marlins are assembling young talent to go with Stanton & Fernandez.
Philadelphia—Lee & Hamels could keep them in 3rd; old position players put them in last

Central
St. Louis—I’m done picking against these guys.
*Pittsburgh—solid pitching could overtake the Cardinals
Cincinnati—more ifs than the Cards or Pirates
Milwaukee—a little better than the Cubs; not nearly as good as the Reds
Chicago—building, but not enough pitching to pull them out of last place

West
Los Angeles—great pitching and a solid offense
*San Francisco—enough pitching to hold onto second
Colorado—my surprise pick in the West; they could challenge the Giants for second
San Diego—injuries to Josh Johnson and Carlos Quentin hurt, but could finish third
Arizona—injuries to Corbin & Hernandez this the pitching; D’backs giving off a bad vibe.

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Hi-Fi versus Wi-Fi

In the course of my lifetime, the ultimate technology has gone from hi-fi to wi-fi. For you youngsters out there, hi-fi stands for high fidelity which was a big deal in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Hi-fi sound essentially is sound with minimal-to-no distortions, scratches, and background noises which were common on recordings before World War II. For a cultural reference, listen to “I Need Your Love Tonight” by Elvis, when he sings, “I got the hi-fi high and the lights down low.”

For you oldsters out there, wi-fi stands for nothing! Well, the wi stands for wireless, but according to Wikipedia (that’s the modern version of Encyclopedia Britannica) wi-fi is “a trademark name and was stated to be a play on the audiophile term Hi-Fi.” Yeah, I didn’t know that either until I just looked it up.

I remember scratchy 78 rpm records. I remember when the phone had a cord, weighed 12 pounds, and was black. Everyone’s phone was black. I remember when seat belts were an option in cars. But I can’t remember what I had for breakfast . . . It doesn’t matter. Really, this post was just an excuse to listen to Elvis.

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Valley of Time

Dave Bailey got off Interstate-81 at the Tom’s Brook exit and continued south on Route 11, the Old Valley Pike.  He often did this when traveling to his home in Mt. Jackson, for the trucks on the interstate went too fast.  On Route 11, he not only avoided the trucks, but also could take in more of the scenery.  It was a gorgeous evening on this first Friday of October.  The sun was already behind North Mountain to his right, but the newly colored leaves were still quite visible.  Some folks even had pumpkins and corn stalks on their porches.

Traffic was fairly light.  Everyone in the Valley who had to get anywhere had already arrived for the most part.  Just north of Woodstock, however, an old car heading in the opposite direction passed him.  Dave didn’t know much about cars, but he always enjoyed seeing old things that were still around and still functioning.  Maybe that was because he was now 52 and increasingly grateful that he was still around and still functioning.  The car was yellow, and huge by today’s standards, with lots of chrome.  Definitely from the late ’30s or early ’40s, he knew that much.  A Packard, perhaps?

It was probably headed to Strasburg as part of the World War II re-enactors’ camp held in conjunction with the town’s Harvest Day Celebration.  Dave was really looking forward to seeing that camp.  He had been to it last year and enjoyed it thoroughly, and this year he was taking his neighbor Ed with him.  Some of the re-enactors even had their own Jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on them, but Dave was just as attracted to the labels on old cans and the artwork on old cigarette packs just as much.  The re-enactors enjoyed talking to people such as Dave, and were happy to put M-1s and trenching shovels in Dave’s hands. They could see the gleam in Dave’s eyes, and they thought perhaps they might entice him to join them in their re-enactments.  Without even reading that much about the equipment, Dave could tell the originals from the reproductions just by holding whatever piece he was handed.  More than one re-enactor had been impressed by Dave’s ability in this regard.

Dave made his way through Woodstock, past the Massanutten Military Academy and the brightly lit and ever-busy Sheetz convenience store.  He passed the Valley View Motel, which had closed long ago.  It wasn’t a motel in the modern sense of the word; it was one of those really old motels with tiny individual cabins.  Whoever had bought it most recently used the cabins and the grounds as storage, and there was junk piled up past the windows inside the cabins and junk scattered across the grounds.  This night, however, as Dave slid by at 50 miles per hour in the gathering darkness, the grounds appeared to have been cleaned up.  There was even a light on inside one of the cabins.

“Hmmph,” Dave said to himself aloud, and he wondered if this owner was cleaning up in order to sell it.  Maybe it had been cleaned up to make room for a big yard sale.  They were very popular in the Valley, and many people would be passing by these next few weekends on their way to fall festivals and corn mazes, and on drives to see the changing leaves.

Later that night as they were getting ready for bed, Dave asked his wife Elizabeth whether she had heard if the Valley View Motel was being sold.

“Not that I know of.  Why?” she asked.

Dave explained what he had seen.

“Beats me,” replied Elizabeth.

The next morning Dave cut the grass.  It took him a little longer than other people in his neighborhood because he used an old hand-pushed reel mower for all his trimming, rather than a power mower.  That old-fashioned click-click-click sound that the mower made as he pushed it around the yard was soothing like an Irving Berlin song compared to the rock and roll racket of the power mowers. Finally, at around 1:00, his neighbor Ed came over as they had planned, and the two of them hopped into Dave’s car and took off for Strasburg.  It was a beautiful day, and they rode with the windows down and the radio on.  Both were big baseball fans, and Ed started fiddling with the radio in an attempt to pick up the Los Angeles–Colorado playoff game.  As Ed pressed the Tune button, the AM radio crackled.  At 790 on the dial, they heard the murmur of a crowd.

“That’s a baseball crowd,” said Dave, “not a football one.  This must be the game.”

“Ruffing winds and delivers . . . and Slaughter sends one deep to right field!  Cullenbine looks up and that ball is gone!  Oh my, the Cardinals have tied it up here in the 4th.”

Dave looked at Ed.  “That’s Mel Allen’s voice!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah it is!” replied Ed excitedly, “Slaughter?  Ruffing? This is the Cardinals versus the Yankees in . . . ’42?  ’43?  1942, I think.  They must be rebroadcasting an old World Series game!”

“This is so cool!” Dave said.  Much to their delight, the rebroadcast even contained old commercials for Lucky Strike cigarettes and Gunther beer.

They arrived in Strasburg with the Cardinals and Yankees tied at 2-2 in the 8th.  They hated to get out of the car and stop listening, but at the same time, they were anxious to see the WWII camp.  They did, indeed, get out of the car, and they walked a couple of blocks to the Strasburg Museum, which was the old train station.  There, they spent the next 2 hours looking at equipment and talking to the re-enactors and snapping photos with their digital cameras.

They even spied an old baseball bat and glove strapped to one Jeep.  A sergeant came over and showed them that the glove was stamped “U.S. Army.”  Neither Dave nor Ed had seen an Army-issue glove before, and the sergeant, bemused by these 50‑something kids, unstrapped the glove and the bat, handing the glove to Ed and the bat to Dave, who held them not like historic relics, but like holy relics.  Each took a little half-swing with the bat.

“Boy, they used war clubs back in those days!” remarked Ed.

“Wonder if Enos Slaughter hit his home run using something like this,” replied Dave.

“Enos Slaughter?” said the sergeant, and the two men explained that they had been listening to a rebroadcast of the 1942 World Series.

“Really?” said the sergeant, “I’d love to hear that.  I wonder if it’s still on?”

The three of them ventured over to a sleek and shiny pickup truck that one of the re-enactors used.  Hollering to his buddy for the keys, which were tossed his way, the sergeant stuck them in the ignition and switched the stereo system from CD to AM radio.

“Try 790,” said Ed.

The sergeant did, but all they got was an announcer talking about “Events in the Valley” followed by a Colbie Caillat song.

“Hmmph,” said Dave.  “Game must be over.  It was in the 8th when we got out of the car.”

“I wonder who won?” said the sergeant.

Ed laughed.  “Well, the Cardinals won the Series, but I don’t know what game that was.  We’ll have to go home and look it up on the Internet.”

They wandered over to a hospital tent that was set up near the rusty tracks behind the museum.  An old caboose marked “Norfolk & Western” rested there amid the weeds, its red paint seemingly fading before Dave’s eyes in the autumn sun.  They talked to a man portraying an Army surgeon for quite a while.

Finally, having had their fill of canteens and bayonets and canvas tents, Ed and Dave headed back to their car.  They passed the front of the museum where sat a re‑enactor in a vintage sailor’s uniform.  The scene, with him in his Navy blues in front of the old station was like a living photograph.  Ed got into the spirit of the moment.

“Waiting for the train?” Ed joked, but the re-enactor never broke character.

“Yes, sir.  Catching the 3 o’clock to Norfolk,” was the reply.

“Then where?” said Ed, playing along.

“Pearl.  I’ve been assigned to the Yorktown,” replied the sailor.

“Good luck,” said Dave.

“Thank you, sir.

“Wow,” Ed remarked when they were out of the re-enactor’s sight, “That guy was really good.”

“Yeah, he was,” said Dave.  “Really good.”

On the way back down Route 11, Dave noticed that there was indeed junk strewn about the grounds of the old Valley View Motel.

“That’s funny,” he said, “Last night when I came by, there wasn’t any junk in that yard at all; like someone had cleaned up.  Now it looks just like it did before.”

“What time did you drive by here last night?” asked Ed.

“About 7:15, why?”

“It was probably the lighting.  This time of year, the shadows get long; it’s hard to see stuff.”

“I guess you’re right,” replied Dave.

At dinner that night, Dave told Elizabeth and his two daughters, Leigh and Samantha, about the World War II re-enactors.

“The best part was the guy who was the sailor in front of the museum,” he told them.

“Better than handling the baseball equipment or hearing that rebroadcast?” asked Elizabeth, somewhat surprised, since she well knew her husband’s love of baseball.

“Yeah, there was something about that guy that just made the whole thing seem so . . . real,” replied Dave.

Later that night he sat in front of the TV clicking through the channels.  He wasn’t really watching anything.  He was really just watching the channels go by.  The sailor kept appearing in his mind’s eye.  Then a thought hit him, and he went upstairs to get the photo album of his relatives that his father had put together before he died.  He found it and turned to his parents’ wedding photo showing his father standing there in his Navy blues.  That was it.  That guy reminded him of his father.

Dave started toward Leigh’s room to show her the photo, but it was empty; he forgot that she was out with her fiancé.  He paused at her doorway and gazed at a trophy she had won for making the Minor League All-Star team when she was 12.  He walked over to the bookcase on which sat the trophy and touched it gently.  He had the strongest sense that if he turned quickly, that he could see—not in his mind’s eye, but could really see—12-year-old Leigh proudly placing the trophy right where it rested now.  He smiled to himself.

Leaving, he ventured next door to Samantha’s room and poked his head in, but saw that she had her iPod headphones in her ears, and she was texting away on her cell phone.

He shook his head and took the album downstairs into the den, where his wife was busy posting comments on her Facebook page.

“That sailor,” said Dave, showing her the wedding photo, “reminded me of my dad.”

“Maybe he’s a relative,” replied Elizabeth.  “We’re always meeting one or two new cousins a year that you didn’t know you had.”

Maybe that was it.  His family had lived in the Valley for several generations, and maybe this was a relative.

Dave set the album down and returned to the TV, but he could think of nothing except the sailor.  It wasn’t just that the sailor was familiar to him, it was his demeanor.  Although the sailor’s uniform was perfect in every detail, even down to his shoes, Dave had seen such historical accuracy before.  It was the sailor’s demeanor that was so authentic.  He truly seemed apprehensive, the same way that someone who was really leaving the comfort of his home town for the chaos of war might feel.

Suddenly, Dave burst out of his chair.

“I’m going back to Strasburg to look up that sailor,” he told Elizabeth.

“At this hour?” she replied, “It’s 11:30!  Besides, that Fall Festival was today only.  Everyone will be gone.”

“Maybe some of the re-enactors camped out at the museum,” replied Dave, who grabbed his jacket and left quickly before his wife could present any more logical reasons why his return to Strasburg was, well, illogical.

He heard Elizabeth yell, “What for?” as he closed the back door behind him, but he kept on going without answering, mainly because he didn’t have an answer, at least not now.  He just wanted to talk to that guy again.  Here was a young man who understood how things were; how they used to be, Dave could tell.  There weren’t many around like that anymore, and Dave felt the strongest need to find him and talk to him.

Dave turned out of his neighborhood and onto Route 11, passing a yellow Packard, which he did not notice in his haste.  He passed the Valley View Motel, where the lights shone brightly from several cabins.  Arriving in Strasburg, he drove directly to the old train station and parked out front.  A few olive-green tents remained, but no one was stirring.  He put his face to the window of the museum and peered in, but no one was about.  He saw a poster on the bulletin board, one that he had missed this afternoon.  It showed a line of troops marching with a train in the background and it read, “In Step With National Defense.”

Then, to his surprise, in the distance, he heard a train.

“How cool is this!” he thought, figuring that the train was part of the re‑enactment.  It had to be, since trains hadn’t run through Strasburg at this time of night since the late ’50s.  He listened as it drew closer, and then he could see it rumbling slowly through town.  It sighed as it stopped outside the empty station.  Lights inside the passenger cars illuminated several people sitting or stretching or generally milling about the cars.  Many appeared to be in military uniforms, but the windows were hard to see through, covered as they were with coal dust and dirt, and Dave couldn’t tell for sure. The door opened.

No one got off the train, and no one emerged from the museum; thus, there was no one around to see Dave Bailey disappear from the station platform and into the steam and smoke of Time.

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Change Is Good

The story “Valley of Time” that will appear next Sunday, March 9th will be the last regular installment of Five Minute Fiction For Free. I say “regular” because I’m not going to stop writing stories, but I’m not going to do it at the rate of once a month anymore, a pace I’ve kept since August of 2012. That’s a pretty good run of what will be consecutive 20 months. I don’t want to offer less than my best and if I start forcing plots and characters onto the page, then it will be less than my best.

As Mark Twain said in describing why he took what amounted to an seven-year break in writing his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “I needed to let the well fill up again.”

I will be posting regularly, however, so please continue to follow me. I’ll ponder, pose, and pontificate as I often have between stories. In fact, I’ll soon have news about my Boots Poffenberger biography as well as some work that is being posted at the Society for American Baseball Research.

I might even post a sequel to “It’s a Grocery Store! No, It’s a Sex Shop! No, It’s Both!” That post, by the way, has been without a doubt my most popular post, and literally gets hits from all over the world on a semi-daily basis. I’m not sure exactly what people are typing into their search engines to find that one. I had to type “sex shop + grocery store + Berryville” before my post appears on the first page of any search result. I don’t know why someone in Kazakhstan is adding Berryville as a key word, but then I don’t know why anyone would search for a “sex shop + grocery store” in the first place. I just wish my fiction had that kind of long-term traction.

In any case, thanks to everyone who has read my work and will continue to share this blog with me. As a bonus, “Valley of Time” is longer than the previously posted stories. It’s more like ten minutes of fiction for free. Enjoy it and AS ALWAYS! please pass along the link to all your friends.

–Austin

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Doin’ Ain’t Bein’

Words not only describe the world around us, they reveal the world within us. If we pay attention to how we use words, we may be able to improve that inner world and become happier people. This is especially true when it comes to the verbs to do and to be.

Happiness is the ultimate goal of every human (or should be), but it is not something that you can do, only something that you can be. It is interesting to note that we don’t talk about doing play the way that we talk about doing work. I might do my work, but I simply play. That suggests to me that play is far more likely to lead one to happiness than is work, an observation seemingly true on its face, but one we seem to ignore.

Doing, of course, connotes all kinds of action. We do work and we do practice and in this age we even do lunch. We greet one another with “How ya doin’?” which is an indication that we are really inquiring into each other’s activity level. A common response, one regarded as entirely appropriate, might be, “Oh, man, I’m so busy.” If someone were to answer, “Oh, man, I’m so happy,” we would regard that almost as a non-sequitur. This is because we tend to confuse doing with being, and at our own emotional peril.

Our guidance counselors asked us what we wanted to be and we all answered with talk about the job that we planned to do. The correct answer, of course, was happy, but we spent all of our time preparing to do, so it’s no wonder that we got that answer wrong.

We go through Life making “to do” lists, but while it might strike the ear as odd, we need to start making “to be” lists. “Do the dishes” is an example of something that might be on the former list and it is important in a general sort of way. Think of what should be on that latter list, however; those entries are downright imperative. Such a list may read something like the following:

  • Be patient
  • Be kind
  • Be thoughtful
  • Be encouraging
  • Be happy

Words create reality, especially our inner reality. After all, love doesn’t exist until you say it does. Next time you find yourself talking about all the things you must do, make sure that you consider all the things you must be.

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Aunt Mini

Aunt Mini peered at the diamond, which she certainly considered to be one of her best friends. Only this diamond was marked off in 90 foot increments and made of dirt. She adjusted her New Market Rebels cap and cheered wildly when her summer son, Jackson Stuart was introduced before the game that would decide the Valley Baseball League championship. Aunt Mini was Jackson’s host mom which meant that she had housed him, fed him, washed his laundry, and listened long into one night on her front porch as he tried to talk his way out of a two-week slump that had gripped him right before the All-Star break.

Many summers ago, some ballplayer, as ballplayers are want to do, tagged the Rebels’ number one fan with the nickname, “Aunt Mini,” derived from the fact that she was all of 5 feet tall “in high heel cleats.” None of the players even knew her real name which was fine by her because Aunt Mini viewed having a nickname as a sacred rite of passage. It meant that in her own way, beyond being a fan, and beyond housing a player every summer, she was part of the team. Being named to the Council of Cardinals or to the President’s Cabinet would have been quite the inconsequential association compared to this.

The Rebels were nursing a 3-2 in the top of the seventh when, with a man on third and two out, a Staunton Brave hit a routine grounder to Jackson. Perhaps the ball hit a soft spot in the infield dirt or perhaps he came up on it a tenth of a second too soon. In any case, the ball ticked off his glove, trickling between his legs and the tying run scored. Jackson looked at his glove as if he expected the soft leather to explain this error, but the glove remained silent.

The game stayed tied through the eighth, the ninth, the tenth. In the bottom of the eleventh, Jackson made an attempt at redemption by hitting a one-out triple, but as sometimes happens, redemption is dependent on other people, and he was stranded at third.

Staunton scored a run in the top of the twelfth when the Rebel hurler wild-pitched a run home, but New Market answered in the bottom of the inning on an infield hit, a bunt, and a two-out bloop single. The game remained tied.

By the sixteenth inning, it seemed that the game might go on forever. It was now past midnight and the joke in the stands was that the game had lasted two months, seeing how it had started on July 31st and now, August 1st had arrived.

One New Market run would lay Jackson’s error to rest. One Staunton run would turn it into a ghost.

In the top of the seventeenth, Jackson made a brilliant stop up the middle to start a double play.

“That makes up for that error,” said the man sitting next to Aunt Mini.

In the top of the eighteenth and with two out, Staunton’s ninth place hitter jumped on the first pitch he saw and drove the ball on a line to right. The ball never seemed to get more than five feet off the ground, but the Rebel right fielder couldn’t get to it, and it cleared the four foot fence for a home run. Staunton’s dugout, along with the dozen or so Braves fans who had remained long into this summer night, exploded with cheers. When New Market was quickly retired, three up-three down in their half of the eighteenth, the Braves and their fans erupted all over again. The game, the season, and the summer were over.

Jackson came off the field and threw his glove into the dugout where he sat for some time hungry, dirty, down. He couldn’t stay there forever, much as he would have liked, and when he finally arrived back at Aunt Mini’s he found her seated on her front porch swing. He started to speak, but his emotions were no longer constrained by the game and he had to fight them vigorously.

Aunt Mini rose and reached up to gently place a finger on his still silent lips.

“Errors happen. You have a long drive home tomorrow and you’ll need to get out of here first thing. Go pack.”

Jackson smiled faintly and nodded as he entered Aunt Mini’s house for the last time. “And while you’re packing, forgive yourself,” she called after him.

Years later, he finally did so when he watched his eight-year old son burst into tears after taking a called third strike with the bases loaded for the final out of the game in which a win would have sent his team to the regional playoffs. He didn’t say a word to the crying boy, just put his arm around him as they made their slow walk to the car.

That night, Jackson went out to his front porch and called Aunt Mini.

The idea for this story was provided by Joanne Burns who happens to be the Host Family Coordinator for the New Market Rebels. I don’t think the story turned out anywhere near the way Joanne had in mind, but this is how the seed that she provided came to fruition!

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