Still

You can’t beat cemeteries for a sense of stillness. Understand, I’m not talking about quietness, I’m talking about stillness.

We can look at dates on the tombstones and know what convulsions the world was putting itself through during the lifetimes of the folks buried there, but we also know what was happening in their personal lives. Not the details, maybe, but we know it was a mixture of joy, drama, trauma, tragedy, happiness, frustration, silliness–both the good kind and the bad kind–and just plain busyness, because that’s what comprises our lives.   No wonder we think of the dead as being “at rest” or “at peace.” They are no longer tossed about by Life’s constantly changing current. All types of people are there of course, from the person who worried about the next day’s stock market report to the person who worried about where his or her next meal was coming from. Now, of course, they worry about nothing. It’s not just their business that is concluded, but their busyness. They are still.

That is the greatest lesson that “those who have gone before” can teach us. Be still.

Be still while we are able to enjoy it, for the stillness of the cemetery does no good for either the stock broker or the pauper  buried there.

Perhaps my favorite cemetery is Riverview in Strasburg, Virginia. It sits on a hill and looks out toward Signal Knob, which itself is majestic, yet still. Massanutten Mountain runs south into the distance, the same as it has for 10,000 years. (Or 100,000 years? Makes no difference in human terms.) Isn’t it ironic that we talk about mountains “running” when they are so still? We can’t slow down to match the mountain, so we anthropomorphize and describe its length as “running” off in a particular direction. You know: the way we do.

Signal Knob from Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg, VA

Signal Knob from Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg, VA

I can never go to Riverview or any other cemetery without thinking of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In fact, I am amazed how often I return to it twenty-some years after first teaching it. The majority of the third and final act takes place in a cemetery and the dead speak to us about living.

This is your homework, class. Go read Our Town, the Pulitzer Prize winning play of 1938. Yes, plays were meant to be seen, but this is the most readable of plays. And if you read it in high school, go read it again because most great literature is wasted on the young. Busyness is natural to them, but far too often the productive busyness of youth becomes the habitual busyness of middle age, and we forget what it’s like to be young and we fear what it is like to be old and we never live in the now. That’s the wisdom that Thornton Wilder hoped to give us.

Here’s the pdf version of Our Town. I know some of you will be crying at the end. I know one or two of you who will be crying at the beginning. Just read it.

And be still.

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Walkin’ After Midnight

This was the girl of his dreams.

Yes, Jason had just met her that night at the IHOP out by the highway, but her smile had encouraged him to flirt with her a bit. When she left the check, she had written across the back “Thanks, Sheri,” with a heart for a dot over the i. This was a sure sign that she liked him, and Jason remained seated long enough to ask for one more glass of water, and to inquire what time she got off work. Sheri told him midnight and he asked her if she would like to take a walk.

“Aww, that’s sweet, but I’ve been on my feet for eight hours.”

With a little persistence and the promise of a full moon, Jason won the day and here they were walking through the middle of the town in which they lived. He reached for her hand, but smiled and thought better of it. She laughed when he related a joke that he had seen in an old Andy Hardy movie:

“Polly Benedict says to Andy, ‘What’s cookin?’ and Andy says, ‘Chicken. Wanna neck?’”

They argued playfully about the merits of modern country music.

They exchanged views on Destiny and whether one could change it or if it even existed in the first place. 20160804_220859

“Destiny can be cruel,” said Jason, loud enough to rouse a mockingbird who joined the discussion until they were well beyond the tree where he had slumbered. Upon this interruption, Jason softened his voice.

The mockingbird notwithstanding, it was a very quiet night. Nothing much stayed open in town past midnight even on a Saturday night. A few patrons at Gus and Isham’s Tavern were lining up for last call, the laughter spilling out of the open doorway at the end of the block. Neon signs here and there flashed “Closed”; otherwise, all was still save for the footsteps.

Jason and Sheri turned the corner and strolled down the next block, a street lined with old trees and small homes. Jason realized that he was slowly leading them towards his house, and that could be problematic. In no way did he want to make her uncomfortable by being too forward. He didn’t want to scare her off, but he didn’t want to let her go either, and so they just kept walking, a bit more slowly now while Jason tried to figure out what he should do.

“Wonder where they’re going at this hour?” asked Jason as a couple in a black Corolla drove past. He often wondered about things like that. When he was out on one of his midnight walks and saw a light on in someone’s house he wondered why they were up. Insomnia? Sick child? Old movie on television from which they just couldn’t tear themselves away? He was delighted to find that Sheri wondered such things, too, and he marveled that he could feel so close to someone so quickly.

They talked about this and that until, finally, they reached the little walk that led up the steps to his front porch. Jason paused. The moonlight filtered through the leaves on the maple trees casting dancing little shadows on the walk as the breeze stirred them about.

Jason looked up at the moon as he fished his keys out of his pocket.

“Well,” he said. “I guess I’ll see you in my dreams.”

The leaves waved, but the moon responded not at all.

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Auto Correct Is Now Officially Insane

The auto-correct on my phone has officially gone insane. I tried to swipe in will as in “Will you be at Friday’s dance?” In fact I DID swipe in will, but my Samsung spit out, “Eukaryotic you be at Friday’s dance?”

I’m not kidding. I don’t even know enough to make up this word and I certainly didn’t know that it was a real word until I looked it up, (actually, Vonnie Jenkins looked it up) so you can be sure it is not an example concocted for this post. eukaryotic

I have many intelligent friends, and I bet 99% of them never heard that word, but there it is floating around in our phones as if we’re going to strike up an Instant Message conversation about organisms composed of one or more cells containing visibly evident nuclei and organelles. Furthermore, I now know that an organelle is not that thing that the organ grinder plays while the monkey dances, although it should be, so I’ve actually learned something.

I am curious, however, about the conversation at the Auto-Correct Factory that resulted in eukaryotic being included as a possible choice for will

“Hey, Bob, if you swipe your finger across w-i-l-l, what would be a good alternate, just in case the person didn’t mean will? Well? Still?

“What, are you crazy? If they don’t mean will they must mean eukaryotic.”

“You mean you karaoke?”

“Pffftt, nobody talks about singing in bars. It’s either will or a conversation about a eukaryote.”

“You’re the boss.”

Sometimes when I swipe in really I get freaky. Once, when I swiped really, I got traktor, which is not a word relating to organisms with one or more cells nor even a Russian version of tractor. In fact, if you look it up, IT’S NOT A WORD AT ALL!

Is the Suggestions Division at the Auto-Correct Factory where the malcontents work?

“Hey, what’s another word for really?”

“Just put down traktor and leave me alone. I’m watching porn on the company computer over here.”

I wrote about auto-correct idiocies back in November, but I swear the problem is getting worse. This morning—and again, I am NOT kidding—I swiped I’ll and the phone put down Oklahoma. My finger wasn’t even on the keyboard long enough to mean Idaho, much less Oklahoma, but at least Idaho begins with the same letter as I’ll.

The one that constantly annoys me is the phone substituting fit for for. I realize that i and o, as well as r and t are juxtaposed on the key board, but I’m guessing that the Auto-Correct Factory has no sense of common usage and, therefore, does not realize that in the average English conversation, we use for maybe 20-30 times MORE OFTEN then we use fit, and that even if you mean fit, it really ought to come up for just on general probabilities.

If any of you should ever hear that I have died of a stroke, you can be pretty sure that I went down clutching my phone which should have read, “Will you really do that for me?” but the screen will show, “Eukaryotic traktor that fit me?” At that point, I wouldn’t have wanted to live anyway. Just don’t bury me in Idaho or Oklahoma come back to haunt you.

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Off the Beaten Basepaths #9: The College World Series

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Wrapping Up the College World Series

Congratulations to Coastal Carolina on their 2016 College World Series (CWS) championship! The Chanticleers won an exciting 4-3 contest on Thursday afternoon making them 5-0 in elimination games for the Series. They are the first team to win the CWS in its very first appearance since Minnesota did it in 1956.

Coastal Carolina players run onto the field to celebrate their victory over TCU, which put them into the finals.

Coastal Carolina players run onto the field to celebrate their victory over TCU, which put them into the finals.

Coastal scored all four of its runs in the sixth inning when Arizona second baseman Cody Ramer committed two errors on one play allowing two runs to score. This was followed by a single and a mammoth home run by G. K. Young, making all four Chanticleer runs unearned. It is easy to pin Arizona’s loss on the Ramer error, but first year head coach Jay Johnson is far more to blame by inserting himself into Game 2, a 5-4 Coastal victory, when with none out and two on in the top of the first, he asked his third place hitter—you know, the guy who is supposed to be the best hitter in the lineup—to bunt including on the third strike. When this failed, Johnson put on a squeeze bunt with his cleanup hitter resulting in the runner on third getting picked off when the hitter bunted through the pitch and the runner could not get back to the bag in time. A subsequent single brought in one run, but Arizona should have had so much more.

This sequence of calls by Johnson represents a mind-numbing bit of strategic idiocy, but Johnson is not the only college coach who insists on putting on plays instead of letting his players simply play.

Florida’s head coach, Kevin O’Sullivan ruined the Gators’ chances of beating Texas Tech in the tournament’s sixth game when, down 3-0, he asked his second place hitter to bunt two runners over. The next batter, Peter Alonso, again the third place hitter and a guy who was hot, was promptly and properly walked intentionally. This set up the double play and that is exactly what happened next, as the Red Raiders turned a nifty 1-2-3 twin killing. Alonso, by the way, would hit a two-run homer in the ninth, but Florida succumbed, 3-2.

Raider Red from Texas Tech.

Raider Red from Texas Tech.

 

Al and I were rooting for Florida (so naturally they lost two in a row and were the second team to be eliminated, following in-state rival Miami), but if we weren’t we would have become instant Texas Tech Red Raider fans simply for the school’s wonderfully politically incorrect mascot who, dressed as a cowboy, waved around his mascot gun everywhere he went. Then, there was the Texas Tech “cheerleader” whom we passed on the way in after the Red Raiders were eliminated. God bless Texas.

As it was, we switched our allegiance to Coastal

Red Raider cheerleader

Red Raider cheerleader

Carolina because of their underdog status and because their head coach, Gary Gilmore tended to not insert himself into the games. In a nice twist of fate, we saw the Chanticleers play in three of the six games we attended and also managed to attend one of their batting practice sessions at Bellevue East High School.

Actually the most interesting group of fans were from LSU, mainly because the Tigers weren’t even in the CWS. In fact, one LSU contingent had a serious tailgate party going on before every game that we attended, and we saw LSU gear everywhere.

***

So, what began in the snows of March has ended in the summer heat of Omaha with a team named for a rooster from The Canterbury Tales the NCAA Division I champs. You gotta love baseball, even when the coaches insist on employing a strategy that became pointless with the introduction of the live ball in 1920.

Coming soon! (i.e. as soon as I have time to produce it)—The College World Series edition of Off the Beaten Basepaths.

The sun has set on the 2016 College World Series.

The sun has set on the 2016 College World Series.

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How to Attend the College World Series

20160622_180504Accommodations: Find some wonderful friends who live in Omaha and stay with them. You’re not going to find a hotel room anyway unless you book one now for the 2017 College World Series (CWS). Al and I stayed with Michelle and Tom Koziar who were the most attentive of hosts and we can’t thank them enough for their hospitality!

Dining: You’re going to baseball games, so don’t even think about finding some Cornish game hen that’s been braised with some unpronounceable sauce. Think hamburgers and hot dogs, which means Stella’s and B & B Classic Dogs. Stella’s was voted the best hamburger in Nebraska in 2014, and Al swears that it’s the best one he has ever eaten. Stella’s features “The Stellanator,” a dish that begins with six hamburger patties, six eggs and 12 pieces of bacon and ends with peanut butter. If you can eat the whole thing in 45 minutes you win a tee-shirt and your photo on the Wall of Fame. Tom told us that he tried this once and came within a single bite of succeeding before losing it. And by “losing it,” he meant losing all the other bites that he had taken, but let’s not dwell on that image.

B & B Classic Dogs features 22 different hot dog combinations using Nathan’s hot dogs. They are meals unto themselves and this is a must-stop for any hot dog aficionado.

Once at the game, I recommend the Grand Slam nachos. Chips covered in cheese, chili, sour cream, jalapenos, and onions is a meal unto itself. If you’re in the mood for something cold and refreshing, try the Pina Colada smoothie (non-alcoholic.)

If you are ready for a little desert after the game, head to Ted and Wally’s Ice Cream downtown. When we arrived after Wednesday’s game the line was out the door, but it was well worth the wait. Made from 18% butterfat and using all local dairy and eggs, this is the creamiest, most deliciouyest ice cream I have ever eaten. It was difficult to pull the spoon out of my Dutch chocolate/chocolate banana bowl. Actually, it was difficult to resist just sticking my face in the bowl and eating my way to the bottom.

Attractions: Omaha is one of the most enjoyable little cities you will ever visit and there is plenty to do and see when you are not attending the games. In fact, I’d go back even without a College World Series in progress. A world-class zoo and a Lewis & Clark museum are but two attractions

The SAC museum is huge!

The SAC museum is huge!

right in town. We drove about 45 minutes to visit the Strategic Air Command Museum in Ashland, Nebraska. This museum features many of the spy planes used during the Cold War and if you take Tom, who happens to be a Captain in the Air Force or Al, who is a military plane buff, then you don’t even need to read the signs; all you have to do is ask them about the plane in front of you.

 

Tickets: Tickets are easier to come by than you might think. We ordered ours online ahead of time, but there were plenty of people exchanging and selling tickets outside of TD Ameritrade Park. Having sat in the “worst” seat in the house, we can tell you that there aren’t any. We sat in all three levels and actually preferred the third deck from which we could still hear the Oklahoma State coach encouraging his players. Every seat is on top of the action.

Section 303 Row A Seat 7

Section 303 Row A Seat 7

Ballpark atmosphere: This is a wonderful venue for kids of which there were many in attendance. We heard no cursing, saw no drunks, and fans from competing teams were comrades, not combatants. The bleacher creatures brought dozens of beach balls which were batted about between innings. During one game, they launched them all, along with several inflatable sharks onto the field. The beach balls got tiresome when they escaped onto the field during play, however, and the head coaches were already doing their best to slow the pace of play with their incessant on-field conferences, but I digress.

I also appreciated the fact the organist played many classic foxtrot tunes between innings, but I managed to remain in my seat rather than slow-slow-quick-quick down the rows.

Souvenirs: Omaha, during the CWS, is full of more tee shirts than the Fruit of the Loom factory. Yes, you can buy mini-bats and full-sized bats and photos, mugs, cups, and key chains, but the tee shirt is the featured item. You will want to wait until your team is eliminated, however, for because then all the shirts go on sale at 50% off. We picked up a couple of Under Armor Florida CWS shirts for only $10.00 apiece.

***

Al and I have been on many baseball pilgrimages, and the College World Series is one of the best. If you like baseball, put this on your bucket list. If you like to visit interesting places, venture to Omaha.

After the winner is crowned, either tomorrow night or Wednesday, I will bring you our actual baseball experience. The best two-out-of-three finals features the two teams thought to have the least chance of reaching the finals: Coastal Carolina and Arizona. That’s why you play the games.

Oh, and I’m rooting for Coastal Carolina (CCU) because we met Bill Ewing, father of Dalton Ewing, an outfielder for CCU at a Chanticleer practice at one of the local high schools. Yes, Al and I managed to find where these teams workout. (We’re baseball guys; that’s what we do.) Besides, how can you not root for a team named for a rooster in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? If you don’t believe me, then as Yogi Berra would say, you can look it up.

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Omaha Bound

One week from today, Al and I will be traveling to Omaha, Nebraska to see several games of the College World Series. This marks the tenth summer that Al and I have taken some kind of baseball pilgrimage. In 2007, our trip consisted of playing some catch at Rebel Park, seeing a game in New Market, and visiting older daughter Becky who was serving an internship with the Salem Avalanche (now the Salem Red Sox) of the Class A Carolina League. She gave us a first class tour of LewisGale Field which included the press box, clubhouse, and dugout. She escorted us onto the field and I remember very clearly that both Al and I were awed to be standing on a professional field, albeit a minor league one.

We basically repeated that trip the next year, but included hitting lessons with coach-extraordinaire Mo Weber. When younger daughter Sarah began attending Salisbury University, we traveled across the Bay Bridge to see her and take in a Delmarva Shorebirds game with Lee Maye, a math professor of hers and an avid baseball fan. We repeated this trip a couple of times, always pausing to play ball in Home Run Baker Park in Trappe, Maryland.

Part of our 2011 pilgrimage to Salisbury included the opportunity to take in the Shorebirds game from the press box.

Part of our 2011 pilgrimage to Salisbury included the opportunity to take in the Shorebirds game from the press box.

Our once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Spring Training lasted for 16 days in 2012. We saw five exhibition games, two college games, two minor league workouts, and even a 13-15 Pony League game!

Last year, of course was our trip to the Hillerich & Bradsby Bat Factory in Louisville, Kentucky.

These latter two trips were chronicled on this blog as will be our trip to the College World Series. You can also bet that we will dig up the best barbecue in Omaha. Regular readers know exactly what I’m talking about!

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