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.

Posted in Life is Interesting | Tagged | 11 Comments

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.”

“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. https://youtu.be/YcyiC79l910

Posted in Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ground Crew Confidential featured on Atlanta Braves Chop Live

Lee Harvey Frazier and I had the privilege of appearing on the November 11th edition of the podcast, Atlanta Braves Chop Live. Hosted by Ray Waldheim and Sean Arias, the podcast covers a wide–and I do mean wide!–range of topics all relating to the Atlanta Braves. Basically begun as a whim after Atlanta’s 2021 World Series victory, Ray and Sean now have 45,000 followers! Ray was our interviewer on this particular episode and conducted a well-researched conversation with us. Lots of laughing and reminiscing, and those are my favorite kinds of conversations.

You can view the podcast here.

You can like the ABCL Facebook page here.

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Ground Crew Confidential

I am pleased to announce that a book that I have been working on for over a year is now available through Amazon. Ground Crew Confidential is the story of four young men who worked on the ground crew of the Atlanta Braves in the 1970s. Harvey Lee Frazier, David Fisher, Clay Jackson, and Chip Moore learned about hard work from shoveling brick dust in the Georgia sun, and about leadership from Robert, their boss, “an ole country boy” who treated everyone, black and white, equally. Each of the four went on to very successful careers, and the bond they formed when their hair was long and their jeans were flared continues to grow.

Some time ago, they began to think that they should put their stories on paper, but felt that they needed an author to organize the material. Harvey worked with Martha’s cousin, Mike McDonald, and he said, “I know this guy who writes baseball books. Give him a call.” He did, and I was honored to become the “as told to” guy for Ground Crew Confidential. That is just another example of the funny ways in which Life works. It also turns out that former Atlanta Journal sportswriter, Gary Caruso, who generously contributed the foreword, got his first big story with the Journal when he interviewed the ground crew in 1974. Seem that second baseman Dave Johnson was complaining about the infield at Fulton County Stadium and the ground crew leader called with a rebuttal.The “leader” was Harvey Lee Frazier.

I am not aware of any baseball story that is told from the perspective of the ground crew, a group that is privileged to witness the historic milestones that take place inside the ballpark that it tends. By design or by accident, the ground crew may even influence those historic events, and such was almost the case in Atlanta when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record. The reckless driving of a Cub Cadet tractor nearly prevented the future Hall of Famer from even playing that night! That story and many more are revealed for the first time in Ground Crew Confidential.

Whether you’re a baseball person or you like “behind the scenes” tales, I am certain that you will enjoy this book. Consider that it shot to number four on the Amazon baseball books best-seller chart after being listed for only two days! Ground Crew Confidential is available in either paperback or e-book form. Click this link to order your copy now.

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Defining bureaucracy, courtesy of Mr. McGee

October has arrived, the month when monsters light up your television screen, haunt your neighbor’s lawn, and show up on your doorstep in miniature form asking for candy.

A nest of insidious monsters lives to the east of us here in the Shenandoah Valley. They are soulless, ever-growing beasts that have no sympathy for human beings. These ghouls are seemingly unstoppable.

I’m speaking, of course, about government bureaucracies, and I recently came across the best definition of them that I have ever heard, courtesy of Mr. Fibber McGee, of Fibber McGee and Molly, one of the most popular programs from the Golden Age of Radio. The particular episode to which I refer was broadcast in 1950, so the bureaucratic nightmare has been haunting us for a long time

Fibber has discovered that he is required to obtain a building permit for a building that is already built and he had this to say:

A bureau starts out to be a good looking, useful piece of furniture, but as time goes on it gets filled up with a lot of useless junk and gets so big for its own drawers that nobody remembers what it was designed for in the first place. By that time it’s so loaded down you can’t move it.

If truer words have ever been spoken regarding the Bureau of Virtually Anything in Washington, I haven’t heard them.

Please listen to Mr. McGee’s full description by clicking this link, then slide the play bar to time-mark 6:35. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Fibber McGee and Molly
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Field of Dreams comes to life in Oakland, thanks to Steven Vogt

Baseball is a spiritual experience, and one of the aspects that makes it so is that it obliterates linear time. Baseball renders time circular, even spherical, a phenomenon perfectly illustrated by the denouement of Field of Dreams in which Ray Kinsella and his long-since deceased father play catch. Ray’s dad appears as a young man, yet perfectly aware that he is Ray’s dad. Ray now truly experiences his father as both father and as a young man before fatherhood and responsibility and time have worn him down. Linear time is completely removed from the equation, which gives “depth,” as theologian Paul Tillich described it, to their game of catch. Naturally, this removal does not bother the characters, but interestingly, it does not seem to bother the audience, either, because the audience instinctively responds to this vicarious restoration of depth. Depth, in this context, is experiencing all points of time in the present moment. When the voice tells Ray to “Build it and he will come,” the voice isn’t talking about Shoeless Joe Jackson at all. “He” is Ray’s dad.

Field of Dreams played out in Oakland last Wednesday on the regular season’s final day. A’s catcher Steven Vogt began his 10 year major league career in Oakland, played for several teams, including the World Champion Atlanta Braves last year and wound up back in Oakland this season, which he announced in September, would be his last. In his first plate appearance, he was surprised and delighted to hear the voices of his three children introduce him over the stadium P.A. system. “Now batting, our dad, #21, Steven Vogt!” He looks as if he’s ready to cry as he approaches the plate. When he came to bat in the 7th inning in a 2-0 ballgame, the 37 year old dad homered. I’m not sure that it was a legal homer, because if you watch the replay, Vogt seems to float around the bases, never actually touching any of them, a grin filling the ballpark and the joy on his face brighter than the afternoon sunshine. The homer on the last at-bat of his career, launched an Oakland comeback and the A’s won, 3-2. For the record, Vogt’s homer landed in the same spot as his first career home run, which also happened to be his first major league hit.

There was Vogt, a happy dad, and a joyous little boy all at the same time. It was Ray Kinsella come to life, being an adult dad and a son and boy all in the same moment.

And by the way, there is crying in baseball.

Click here for a page which contains video of both the kids’ introduction and their dad’s home run.

Steven Vogt’s final trip around the bases.
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Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley Updated 2nd edition now available

Many of you are aware that I have been working on two baseball books this summer. Ground Crew Confidential, the collective memoir of four guys who worked on the Atlanta Braves’ ground crew during the 1970s is about to be fed into Kindle Direct Publishing’s computer.

The other, which is now available, is an updated edition of Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley. So much has happened in the 13 years since I wrote Safe at Home in 2010 that I thought it was important to recognize the changes that have happened to the Rebels organization and to the league in general. Several of the most important “characters” such as Mo Weber, Bruce Alger and his wife Lynn, and ‘Front Row’ Fred Miller are no longer with us. I would also note that the players from that year are now at least 30 years of age with established careers and burgeoning families.

Several former players shared updates on their lives, as did four of our coaches. It was wonderful to hear from them and it was also wonderful to hear how much they treasure their time in the Valley. The Rebels didn’t win it all that season, but I couldn’t have had a better team to write about. Safe at Home is really the story of a community’s passion for baseball as much as it is the story of what happened on the diamond.

Many people made the original work the success that it was and I’m still just as grateful to them, as well as to the others who shared their knowledge and insight for the updated edition.

Click on the title to order either the Kindle version or the paperback of Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, Updated 2nd edition. The paperback is priced at the original $15.00 through October 31, when it will rise to $20.00. (So, do your Christmas shopping early!)

Posted in Baseball Books, New Market Rebels | Tagged , , | 2 Comments