Tuesday, April 23, 2013

First kiss

I got my first kiss from a girl when I was in third grade. That's what, about eight years old? That seems ridiculous, though I'm sure I was there.

Her name was Mary Alice Brannon and I recall her only vaguely before and after the moment she appeared out of nowhere and, for no reason I can recall or imagine, kissed me on the playground.

Let the record show I did not return the kiss, but I liked it. 
 
I don't remember if either of us said anything before or after the kiss. I don't remember if I thought she was cute before then, though I sure as heck thought so afterward. 

And let's stop for a moment right there and ponder something psychologists have no doubt picked apart into tiny, tasteless, tedious pieces:
How can pre-pre-pre-pubescent kids be instinctively attracted to a person of the opposite sex? Isn't there a biological component required to engage a chemical reaction that third graders haven't begun to physically develop? 

I didn't desire Mary Alice and I'm pretty sure she didn't have any such feeling for me, either. We were eight, we weren't capable of desire.

So, why was it a happy thing? Mary Alice kissed me on the cheek and I liked it. 

But, why?

She was a beauty, I remember that. She had long reddish brown curls and a light complexion befitting her apparently Irish surname.

If I was writing a sizzling novel of elementary school lust I'd probably describe her skin as "florid" and I'd throw in a passage about the flirtatious, dancing fire in her eyes. That's the way I remember her now, anyway. The experience of an eight-year-old sifted through five-plus decades of life is very sketchy and requires a dash of imagination.

Mary Alice had an older brother named Bradley, I remember that for sure. He was probably in fifth grade at the time. I steered clear of Brad because he was just too cool to approach, Eddie Haskell to my Beaver Cleaver. And, because I was afraid he'd find out what happened on the playground that day and beat the ever-loving snot out of me even though it was his sister who had kissed me, not the other way around!

But I didn't just fear Brad, I envied him, too. Brad was grown up (ten or eleven!) and cool. He lived in the same house as Mary Alice. He watched TV with her, ate dinner with her, went on vacation with her for cripes sake and probably even saw her every night and morning in her pajamas!

Mary Alice Brannon changed me forever. She injected an Adam and Eve aspect into my life I couldn't possibly understand at the time and still don't. But I do remember that moment.

She kissed my cheek and I liked it.

Though I have no idea why.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No worries

Like you, I worry a bit. Okay, maybe more than a bit. We all do.

We worry about our jobs and money, our personal relationships and whether our kids are healthy and happy.

We worry about big stuff like climate change and politics, we stress over little stuff  like our weight or a new gray hair.

Worry, worry, worry!

We even worry about that.

On  Friday September 12, 2008, 25 people got out of their beds long before dawn, prepared themselves for work, kissed their families good-bye, left the house and died. They were killed in a freak commuter train crash in Southern California. My KNX radio partner, Vickie Moore, and I told their stories with relative dispassion because that was our job but I never got over the soul-jarring realization that you can walk out of your home one morning and never return.

It happens every day all over the world, of course, but we never imagine it happening to us. Among all the trivial stuff we worry about it never occurs to us to be worried about sudden, dumb luck death.

It happened last night in the nearby, very small town of West, Texas, which one resident described on the radio this morning as "a Mayberry kind of place." There was a fertilizer factory in West which employed and supported a good portion of the 2,600 people who live in the town. It caught fire at 7:30 p.m. and 25 minutes later it blew away everything within a five block radius.

Now, almost 18 hours later, they're still looking for bodies, alive and dead. Texas officials tend to play their cards quietly. Ten hours ago they allowed that there may be as many as five to 15 deaths. Most likely there are dozens of others who died with no warning, people who hadn't even been aware of the fire but were close enough to have life literally blown out of them as if they were birthday candles while they finished supper, watched TV with their families and fed their dogs.

When things like this happen and my work day is done I wonder about that. What's it like to die with absolutely no warning? One moment you can be laughing and the next moment you're nothing.

There is no sense to be made of this sort of thing.

But today I'm not worried about anything. Nothing at all.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A true baseball story

It's early April. The North Texas wind is, as they say, blowing like a bandit. White, fluffy clouds are scooting east fast, and I have that comforting, aching feeling again, the one I've had every March and April of my life in memory.

Soggy dirt, wet grass and chilly afternoons.

Baseball season is back.

Roughly 47 or 48 years ago, when I was a kid of 13 or 14, I spent my summer days on a baseball field on Thomas Drive, one block over from my home with my buddy, Norm Miller. We always got there early and that's where we spent our days.

Sometimes we were eventually joined by other kids. Often we were not. Didn't matter to us. Norm and I would throw baseballs to each other, taking turns swinging for non-existent fences, absorbing imagined cheers from the imagined crowd.

We peopled our fantasy with our Northern California heroes of the early 1960s: Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal and Hart. We gave them reality by batting left or right handed as they did. We announced their advancement to the plate at Candlestick Park:

"The batter, number 12, Jim Davenport!"

That's how Norm and I spent our spring weekends and summer afternoons, in baseball heaven.

Late one afternoon a man wandered up behind the backstop and watched for awhile as I threw slow fastballs and flat curves to Norm, who was always a sucker for any pitch high and away.

Balding, portly and puffing on a cigar the man behind the backstop watched. Norm and I thought nothing of him until he finally hollered, "Hey! Mind if I take a swing?"

In those days it never occurred to any kid to say no to any adult request. It never occurred to us that his request was weird or that we should run for our lives and report the strange, fat, balding cigar sucker as a potential child molestor.

He just wanted to hit a baseball and we said, "Sure".

Together, Norm and I had acquired a kid's treasure trove of baseballs. We had maybe three or four between us. Some of them had their covers taped shut, maybe one had its seams intact. That's the one I picked up as Norm ran out to center field.

Something told me I needed to show this guy my best stuff. I was only 13 or 14 but on that particular day I had never been older and I had never played baseball with an adult.

I concentrated, made my best imitation of scraping my toe at the pitching rubber, peered in at the non-existent sign from non-existent Tom Haller and fired in my best non-existent fast ball.

"Thwack!"

The fat, bald guy slammed it on a line into centerfield and hadn't missed a puff from his cigar.

Two or three more times I threw baseballs as hard as I could and the old man peppered them around the deepest outfields, left to right. Poor Norm Miller was run ragged shagging them down.

The old man smiled, dropped the cigar on the grass beside him and got down to business.

"THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!"


He slammed everything I had that came anywhere near the plate. A couple of pitches, the ones twelve or fifteen feet away, he let pass, easily ducking the ones that were boring in straight for his head.

It ended when the bat in his hand splintered. You could say it simply gave up, glued, nailed and taped together as it had been to begin with.

And when the old, fat, cigar-chomper came out to the field, grinning from ear to ear and offering to pay for the bat, we asked him -- with the ignorant innocence of youth: "Did you ever play baseball?"

He smiled again and took the wallet out of his back pocket. Then he carefully fished out a yellow newspaper clipping nearly twenty years old.

I'm sorry to say it didn't mean anything to me at the time and I remember nothing about it now. But his wallet also displayed his driver's license, and having never seen one from New York before it caught my attention:

Carl Furillo.

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Carl Anthony Furillo (March 8, 1922 – January 21, 1989), nicknamed "The Reading Rifle" and "Skoonj," was a right fielder in Major League Baseball who played his entire career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. A member of seven National League champions from 1947 to 1959, he batted over .300 five times, winning the 1953 batting title with a .344 average – then the highest by a right-handed Dodger since 1900. Noted for his strong and accurate throwing arm, he recorded 10 or more assists in nine consecutive seasons, leading the league twice, and retired with the fifth most games in right field (1408) in NL history.
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