Predictions for our trip

As many of you know, my buddy Al and I will be traveling to the South Eastern Conference Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Alabama next week. Actually, I’m flying down to Florida on Friday to meet up with him, and then, we will hit the road come Sunday.

The SEC is the best baseball conference in the country and we had made plans to attend in 2020, when Covid, and the country’s response to it, disrupted everything including our plans. In any case, rather than get all basebally on everyone, I thought I would make a few general predictions about the tournament and the trip:

It will not rain.  . . . Actually that’s more of a prayer than a prediction.

We will, however, have at least one lightning delay. The NCAA has seen fit to install lightning detectors at every ballpark. Very sensitive lightning detectors. Look for Al and me to be sunning ourselves on the left field berm because lightning was detected down in Mobile.

As we will be in Florida for four days coming and going, and in Alabama for six days, I’m setting the over/under at eight meals at some barbecue shack or another. (My advice is to take the over.)

If we’re anywhere near a Buc-ee’s we’ll stop whether we need gas or not.

We will not catch any balls hit into the stands. We might pick one up, but no more barehanded catches of balls hit by 20 year-olds. (We have learned a little something in all these years.) And if I do pick one up, I’m not giving it to any kid. He can wait 66 years as I have and then pick up his own ball. Actually, I have picked up three or four balls in my time, but that was usually at a Hagerstown Suns game late in the season, when the crowds were so sparse that practically everybody in attendance got a ball, so that doesn’t count.

If you have followed our trips before, you know that Al and I will find at least one really cool park or historic site. We just have a knack for coming across that stuff.

Finally, I’m going out on the longest limb here and predict that Florida is going to win the tournament. They’ve got the starting pitching depth and that is crucial in tournament play. Kentucky is my dark-horse candidate for tournament champion.

I promise a full report after we return!

The Florida Gators hosted the LSU Tigers last year at Condron Ballpark. They will be two of the top teams at the SEC Tournament this year (as in most years). That happens to be LSU’s Dylan Crews at the plate. Crews is predicted by many to be the first overall pick in this year’s major league draft.

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And the winner is . . .

. . . the cover featuring the hand thrusting the disco ball through the curtain!

You will recall that my last blog entry asked for your input regarding four potential covers for Swing Time III: Blame it on the Boogie. All four received support and I was impressed by the fact that many of you included a rationale for your support, and did not merely cast a vote. The editorial staff—i.e. Martha—also liked the disco-ball-through-the-curtain more than any of the other three and frankly, the editorial staff’s vote counted more than anyone else’s. As soon as the editorial staff gets to the copy editing, and the dance instructor reviews a couple of patterns described, the book will be that much closer to publication.

I appreciate everyone who took the time to comment on the covers. Thank you. It’s good to know that there are folks out there who care about what I write.

As for what’s on the inside a small sample appears below. Emily, who came of age in the disco days of the 1970s, is recently retired and has been taking hustle lessons at the Trouble Afoot Dance Studio in the White Rose Shopping Center. It just so happens that the disco where she was a regular was located in what is now the Goodwill, which happens to be next door to Trouble Afoot. Chance, her instructor has been holding off on informing her that the shopping center is about to be torn down. The news shakes Emily to her core.

Almost as soon as they got outside, Emily turned to face Chance in such a way that said, “We’re not going any further until you tell me what’s going on.” He pulled her to the side.

“Some developers have bought this shopping center, Emily. They’re going to tear it down. Our studio. . . . the Goodwill . . . all of it.”

Disbelief, sadness, bitterness swirled about Emily’s face but quickly settled into a vacant, crest-fallen stare.

“So. They’re going to tear down the old White Rose,” she said, evenly. “Nothing lasts forever, but it would be nice if I didn’t have to see all of it go before I do.” She stared at the Goodwill. The mannequin in the window stared back. Chance had never seen anyone cry so much without any tears escaping. He was about to ask if she were okay, but the answer was obvious and he stopped himself.

“Listen,” he began. “I understand what you’re feeling.”

“No, you don’t! You’re still young. You haven’t had your youth pulled out from under you. Yet. I don’t know why I decided to do these stupid dance lessons, anyway! All they did was stir up memories that were best left alone.”

It will be up to Chance and his partner Faith to reconcile Emily’s past with her future, but how they are to do it, neither knows. They’ll discover the answer, however, and you will, too, when you purchase a copy of Swing Time III: Blame it on the Boogie. You know, once the editorial department is finished with it and the author uploads it to Amazon.

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Would like a little help on Swing Time III

Emily Wilder has decided that she wants to resume the dancing that she did in the halcyon days of her youth. Only this time, she wants to become good; really good—good enough to be invited into the inner circle at the White Rose Disco were it in her power to go back in Time. It is not in her power, of course, but Chance and Faith have made that journey twice before and are being called upon to do it again for Emily. Chance teaches her how to hustle, but it is Faith who must teach Emily what part of her past to leave in the past. The question is, with the old White Rose Disco about to be demolished and the New Year fast approaching, will Faith succeed . . . in time?

Regular readers will recognize Chance and Faith as the main characters in the Swing Time series. In A Swing Dancing, Time Warping Story and in Stardust in the Shenandoah, the two dance instructors came to the respective aide of two World War II vets. This time, however, they become involved with a character who is the age of many of my friends and I. Some of you may share the same desire as Emily; that is to resume an interrupted journey from your youth. In any case, I think all of us who came of age in the ‘70s (or earlier) are amazed by how—weird, I think is the proper word—time has become. Regardless of age, all of my readers will relate to Emily’s struggle with the vagaries of Time.

This third novella, Swing Time III: Blame it on the Boogie, will be available in both paperback and e-book forms sometime around the end of spring. As with the previous two novellas, the e-book versions will contain YouTube links to all the songs mentioned. My dance e-books always contain the accompanying sound track!

You, my readers, can help me out with something during this production phase. Books ARE judged by their covers, especially in this day and age and I am looking for just the right one. Below are four that I think would work well, but I would love to have your input. The one with the flames was so dramatic that it requires a change in the title (and yes, the song, “Disco Inferno” plays a prominent role in the novella.)

What do you think? Please leave your comments in the comment section below, and thank you!

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A second thought might have been helpful

I try to pay attention to the world around me, but sometimes the world around me gives pause. I’m not talking about the world “out there,” I’m talking about the world right around me, like in the grocery store.

Take the name of this product, for example:

Adding the suffix, ette, means “a small version” of the word in question. If you have a “jumbo” small donut, does that just even out and make it a regular donut? I don’t know what to think.

Nor do I know what to think about those “best used by” dates on perishable foods most of the time. I’m pretty sure this one is in error, however:

I’m pretty sure that the date on this Lipton soup mix is in error, because I don’t think there was any such thing as soup mix in 1820. Maybe the guy in charge of stamping the “best if used by” date was just amusing himself to see if anyone was paying attention.

Maybe, he is a disgruntled employee who is bored at his job. I bet this is his license plate:

Finally, I don’t know what to make of the Stop sign at right. I don’t know why the sign is undersized compared to the standard Stop sign. Maybe, VDOT didn’t want to confuse drivers with a regular sign since it is not meant for traffic. It is meant for pedestrians. Very tall pedestrians. I kind of feel sorry for it, this tiny little sign on top of this incredibly tall pole. It seems to know it is awkward-looking, so you try not to stare at it when you pass by to avoid embarassing it. One day, perhaps, it will grow into a beautiful swan of a sign. This ugly duckling is located in Strasburg, VA at Shopping Center Lane South just south of the Food Lion on Route 11. Shopping Center Lane South runs for about 80 feet before it becomes Shopping Center Lane North. . . . Don’t ask me.

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On the receiving of gifts

“It is better to give than to receive,” goes the old adage, and that’s true as far as it does go. Yes, there is joy in giving, but giving is a two-way street. It is also important to learn how to receive lest we diminish the giver’s joy and the value of his or her gift.

I’m not talking about physical gifts upon which is affixed a price tag. Yes, it is awkward if I give you a gift from Neiman-Marcus and you give me a gift from the Dollar Store, but that can be rectified fairly easily in the next cycle of gift-giving holidays, and probably will be because most of us keep score. It may be informal and it may have never been discussed, but we do keep score, and this is why the Neiman-Marcus/Dollar Store exchange rarely ever happens anyway.

I am talking about receiving spiritual gifts; gifts of sympathy, understanding, love, especially when those gifts are unconditional. If you try to repay such gifts, you demonstrate that you don’t quite comprehend the significance of the gift. You diminish it. It is natural to want to repay the giver of such a gift. It’s natural to want to show appreciation, to thank the person, to do, something for him or her. It can seem downright shabby to simply say “thank you,” which we often accompany with the sentence, “That’s the least that I can do.” Often, the least you can do is the most you can do. It is often the best reaction.

Maybe, the giver doesn’t need any sympathy, understanding or love. (And mind you, these are simply three examples, albeit, very powerful examples.) Maybe you’re not meant to be the giver of such a gift to that person.

It’s hard not to express one’s gratitude for someone who “saved” you from some love gone wrong or life gone wrong or from yourself. It’s hard not to feel indebted to such givers, but perhaps the old adage has a deeper meaning than we realize. You see, such givers have the gift of sympathy or understanding or love and they must give it for the same reason that they must breathe. Don’t analyze it, don’t try to reciprocate it, and don’t ask, “Why are you spending so much on me?” The answer will always be, “Because you need that much.”

We like to think that we are capable of giving unconditionally, but it is just as important to learn how to receive unconditionally.

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Alive and Kickin’

I love the Fire TV Stick that I received for Christmas from Martha. I’ve almost mastered the entire sequence of button-pushing required to go from our satellite service to the program for which I’m looking. I’ll sometimes entertain myself by just seeing what’s available—I don’t even have to watch anything. (Yes, I am easily entertained.) Recently, I found a movie that not only entertained, it inspired; it moved me deeply.

Alive and Kickin’ (2016) is a documentary about the world-wide Lindy Hop community. Part of that community to which we are introduced includes a math professor at the Naval Academy, a Marine combat veteran, a transplant kidney surgeon, and a host of other folks who found a spiritual connection with each other. Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, and Jean Veloz are also interviewed. Those three are important “charter members” of the Lindy community. In fact, one could argue that Frankie Manning is the founder.

There isn’t one minute of instruction in Alive and Kickin’ although you get to see plenty of dancing. The film is most powerful when those who are interviewed speak of the dance’s power to heal. Upon his return from Iraq, that Marine was suicidal. An instructor was in an accident that left her paralyzed. Another, young instructor was diagnosed with breast cancer. They credit their recoveries to dancing and the Lindy community. Almost all who appear on camera speak to the dance’s power to lift someone out of his or her everyday anxiety. (Does it not seem that our anxiousness increases by the week, if not by the day?) All of those interviewed speak to the dance’s power not to heal division, so much as to make our divisions irrelevant.

Such power lies within us all and it doesn’t mean that you have to take up Lindy Hop. I’m sure that other dance communities feel the same way about their dance and their communities. In fact, there are all kinds of communities out there. It’s not about which one is the best—it’s about finding the community that’s best for you.

If you’re a Lindy Hopper, you will thoroughly enjoy this film. If you are moved by stories of individual triumph, stories of connection, and stories about the joy that comes from being a part of something greater than you are, you will be moved by Alive and Kickin’.

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“What thing?”

A child’s perspective is an amusing thing. Children think that if they can see a thing, then you can see a thing; and if they imagine a thing, well then, you certainly “see” it, too. I have noticed a tendency among my post-60 peers to revert to this same perspective. More than a few constantly use pronouns when a noun is called for because they have that childish perspective that I know what it, he, them, that, that thing, or any other pronoun or combination thereof refers to.

People: Use some antecedents, which as you’ll recall from 6th Grade English is the noun to which a pronoun refers. Otherwise, your listener might not have a clue what you’re talking about.

For example, I’ll be driving down the road and my peer of a passenger will say something like, “Huh. Do you see that?”

I look over thinking that “that” must be something obvious—a flaming car, a side-of-the-road fistfight, the Great Wallenda wire-walking from the top of Texas Road House all the way to Target, but I see none of these things.

“Did I see what?”

“The guy in the parking lot over there has on the same pants you do.”

When you do not use an antecedent to antecede whatever it is you are talking about, you give license to MY imagination. Here I’m thinking that I’m going to see the Great Wallenda, when it’s just some doofus, albeit, one wearing sharp-looking pants. I want to explain the need for an antecedent, but simply answer, “No. No, I did not see that.” At least, however, my passenger attempted to give me a visual clue, although not a very specific one.

Familiarity can exacerbate this problem; thus, the correlation exists that the longer a couple is married, the fewer antecedents are used. Not only do spouses tend not to use antecedents with one another, but Spouse 1 will often begin a conversation from a room in which Spouse 2 is not. In fact, Spouse 2 is usually upstairs or downstairs or anywhere but in the vicinity of Spouse 1.

For example, a disembodied, but familiar voice recently rang out from the kitchen, “Hey! Is this dirty?”

And I, being upstairs, am left to guess: She can’t be talking about my mind because she already knows the answer to that question . . . Butter knife? ‘Cause, you know, we all dip the butter knife in the jelly jar and then balance it on the kitchen counter with the blade end hanging over the sink so as to not touch anything, which would make it germy. This way, the knife can be used a second time before being placed in the dishwasher and of such small victories . . . Dishwasher?

“Are you talking about the dishwasher?”

Yes, I’m talking about the dishwasher,” replied the disembodied voice, sounding somewhat annoyed.

I know that there are magnets one can buy indicating whether the dishwasher is clean or dirty, but ultimately, that doesn’t fix the problem, that just changes the subject category. The conversation would remain essentially the same.

“Did you flip this thing?”

“I’m upstairs! Are you talking to me?

“YEAH! Did you flip this thing?”

“Did I skip your ring?”

“NO! Did you flip the thing?”

“Are we having pancakes?”

See? If you want to reduce the overall levels of stress and improve communication throughout the land, please review your 6th Grade grammar book and learn all about antecedents. Use them, use them well, use them often. They are your friends.

Or, at least wait until you’re in the same room with the person to whom you are speaking so you can point.

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The Gift or Susan Buys a Horse

Susan counted out each bill carefully as she laid them into the older girl’s palm.

“Forty. Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three . . .”

She continued peeling off dollar bills until she reached fifty.

“There. So, now I own Rusty?”

“You sure do,” replied Abigail, who patted the horse on her head. Rusty had immediately sauntered over to the corral fence when the girls had arrived. She stood there blissfully unaware as her future was being decided. “I think she wants a snack.”

Abigail handed Susan a couple of carrots who in turn fed them to the Chestnut. Her munching and crunching drowned out the nearby sound of traffic on the four-lane highway that took commuters into the city. Abigail—and Rusty—lived in a little enclave of four acres, the last of the original 220 acre farm upon which a large development had been erected.

“I’ve dreamed of owning my own horse,” said Susan excitedly.

“I know you have,” replied Abigail who patted Susan on the head. “Let’s saddle her up.”

The girls saddled the horse and Susan ran into the stall where she stored her riding helmet. Abigail helped her up into the saddle. Susan rode Rusty around the corral a few times, then pulled up in front of Abigail, who was sitting on the top fence board.

“Abigail, I’m so happy! Thank you soooo much! You can come ride her or visit her anytime you’re home from college. Wait until I get home and tell my parents I own my own horse!”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll come visit her,” replied Abigail. “Let’s go inside and I’ll write you your receipt.”


“Yeah, it’s a document . . . a paper that says you bought Rusty fair and square from me for $50.”

Abigail had already typed out a very official-looking receipt. After they both had signed, she put it in a manila folder, explaining to Susan that she would want to keep it neat “for her records.” Susan had heard her parents use this phrase and, therefore, nodded in agreement.

Susan wanted to ride Rusty home, but Abigail explained that there was “Too much traffic between here and your house, especially at this time of the afternoon.”

Susan’s brow knit slightly, but then she said, “That’s okay. I’m sure you’ll want to say good-bye. I’ll come get her in the morning.”

“I appreciate that,” said Abigail. “Come on; no sense walking home when I can give you a ride.”

“I want to go out to the corral and take one more look at Rusty!”

They did so, and then hopped into Abigail’s car. As they drove the several blocks to Susan’s townhouse, the younger girl looked out the window, hoping that one of her friends would see her riding around—in the front seat no less—with her college friend. A song came on the radio that made both of them start dancing in their seats. Susan looked at the manila folder in her hand. “This is the happiest day of my life.”

They pulled up in front of Susan’s town home, but before getting out, Susan reached across the gear shifter and hugged Abigail tightly. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Abigail watched Susan run into the house. She just about collided with her brother who was on his way out.

 “Guess what I did?” she said breathlessly. “I bought Rusty!”

“That’s dumb,” said her brother.

“It is not!”

“Where are you going to keep it?”

“We’ll keep her in the back yard,” said Susan tersely.

“Yeah, like Mom and Dad are going to let you keep a horse in our little yard.”

“What are you going to feed it?”

Her, not it. Carrots and stuff.”

“Horses eat more than carrots, you dope. They eat hay and grass. And who’s gonna clean up her poop? Not me!”

Susan stormed off to the back yard and looked around. It only now dawned on her that maybe her stupid brother was right:–They probably didn’t really have room for Rusty. Susan’s mom rushed out to her, pausing only long enough to find out from her son what all the commotion was about.

Susan explained how Abigail was going off to college and about how she bought Rusty for fifty dollars. Her mother made a face—the face that said she was unhappy with one of her children.

“We can’t keep a horse in a little back yard like this!” exclaimed Susan’s mom. “Abigail took fifty dollars from you? What was she thinking? I’m calling her right now!”

Susan’s mom whipped out her cell phone. “Abigail, you took fifty dollars from Susan, knowing there’s no way that we can keep a horse here? What were you thinking?”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Jones. I’ve been waiting for you to call. I have Susan’s fifty dollars. She’s smart enough to figure out that she can’t keep Rusty. Probably has realized it already, but let’s keep the idea going until tomorrow, okay?”

“Why? What were you thinking?” responded Susan’s mother.

“I just wanted her to be able to tell her friends that she owned a horse. Even if it was just for a day. And she has the receipt to prove it.”

“Ab—” Susan’s mom cleared her throat. “Abigail, thank you. I’m sorry, Abigail, I—”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Jones. I probably should have explained to you ahead of time, but to be honest, I didn’t think she had $50! I’ll see you in the morning!”

Susan’s mom turned to look at her daughter who was frowning at the yard. Her mom came to her and put her hand on Susan’s head. “Susan,” she said softly, “I don’t think having Rusty here is going to work, but let’s run out to Southern States and talk to the man about how much hay Rusty would need. And how much that would cost. We’ll talk to Dad when he gets back, but in the meantime, I guess you own your very own horse.”

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A Christmas Reminder and the Latest regarding Ground Crew Confidential

Season’s Greetings!

My Christmas reminder to you is that books make great Christmas gifts!

If you need a nice little volume to peek out of the top of someone’s stocking, order Time Is A Pool, my collection of flash fiction.

If you are looking for something longer or you long for the days when we were a united people, order The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, a three-volume set that begins in the summer of 1941. A group of teenagers are busy doing what teenagers do, when suddenly (81 years ago today) they were called upon to save the world.

If you are interested in other worlds—or dancing!—order Swing Time: A Swing Dancing, Time Warping Story and Swing Time II: Stardust in the Shenandoah. These novellas won’t take you back in time, they’ll take you back through time. Two swing dancers discover that their passion is a medium in which Time loses its boundaries.

Then, there is A Faith in the Crowd, written by my alter-ego, Sam Cartwright. Sam doesn’t travel through time, he travels to Heaven. Maybe.

If you like to spend your time in perpetual summer, there are plenty of baseball books, including Ground Crew Confidential, my latest, in which I present the stories of four former members of the Atlanta Braves ground crew in the 1970s. It was a time of crazy stunts and bad baseball, and these four gentleman had a front-row seat to all of it. Two were working the night that Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record; only he almost didn’t play that night—or for a long-time thereafter, thanks to a runaway ground crew trailer!

I recently appeared with two of those gentlemen, Lee Frazier and David Fisher on the Good Seats Still Available podcast with host Tim Hanlon. Tim has an interest in what used-to-be in the sports world and he discussed many Atlanta “used-to-be’s” with Lee and “Fish.” You can listen to that episode here.

Go to the baseball book page for the complete catalogue, including Their Glorious Summer, a free download. Click on any of the titles to take you to the book’s Amazon page.

I’ll be posting another piece of flash fiction on this page sometime before Christmas—a token of my appreciation to you all for following this blog. Be on the lookout for “The Gift or Susan Buys a Horse.” (Tentative title!)

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Private Buckaroo

One of my favorite movie genres isn’t really an official genre at all: I love the mostly forgotten, everyday movies made between 1942 and 1945. I want to see what the average American on an average day during World War II might have seen. Movies that entertained or uplifted and then, once the war ended, passed into the Past along with rationing stickers and food points and Victory mail. A few films such as The More the Merrier (1943), the plot of which revolves around the housing shortage, were Academy Award nominated. In fact, it was nominated for Best Picture and co-star Charles Coburn won for Best Supporting Actor.

On the other hand, there were many more films that played the local theaters for a week or two and disappeared. Private Buckaroo was one such. It recently played on TCM and I found it highly entertaining. Unapologetically patriotic, this 68 minute film was released on May 28, 1942, just a little under six months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and before any Allied victory of any note had taken place. In fact, in May of 1942 there was no assurance that we would even win the war.

Devoid of plot, it was full of the Andrews Sisters and Harry James, the latter of whom opens the movie with “You Made Me Love You,” a song that had put James on the Big Band map in November of 1941. The Andrews Sisters are busy belting out quite a few songs including, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” one of their biggest hits, as well as “Six Jerks in a Jeep.”

There are three notable supporting actors in the cast. Shemp Howard had left the Three Stooges ten years before to pursue a solo acting career, but he would join them again in 1946 after brother Jerome “Curly” Howard suffered a stroke.

Huntz Hall appeared as the company bugler who tried to teach Harry James how to blow the bugle. Hall was an original member of the Dead End Kids, a group that appeared in the drama Dead End starring Humphrey Bogart in 1938. The movie chronicles the grim existence of underprivileged juveniles in the Bowery. The Dead End Kids would evolve through a couple of iterations before becoming the Bowery Boys in 1945.

A dance troupe known as the Jivin’ Jacks and Jills also appeared in the film. Universal Studios put together this group of teens in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience. One of its members, who also had a small speaking part, was considered the weakest dancer of the bunch. Ten years later, in 1952, Donald O’Connor would be starring with Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.

This is a must-see movie for people who enjoy this “genre” or who love music history. I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn’t help wonder throughout the movie if those who saw it in the theater had indeed escaped the fear and uncertainty of the time for at least those 68 minutes.

It is available in its entirety on Youtube.

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