Friday, July 30, 2010

All Softball, All The Time

[M Street Softball League, on the Feeney/Moran diamond.]

All softball, all the time. That's what it must seem like to some of you. Don't worry. September will be here soon enough, and then no more softball until April.

I usually post about softball on Monday, but I have multiple reasons for posting about softball today. They are...

1 - The Swingers

2 - Fast Freddie Goodman

3 - Jack Atton

First, the bad news. The Swingers lost on Tuesday. This means we still haven't clinched our playoff spot.

Dorset Club - 17 SWINGERS - 7

Could this news have waited until Monday? Sure, but I want to get the bad news out of the way quickly, put it behind me, and write about joyous softball happenings come the beginning of next week.

(There are more photos following this, too, which has nothing to do with why I'm putting this news here today instead of Monday, but maybe that tidbit will entice you to keep reading.)

As I lamented near the beginning of the season, The Swingers defense is not very good. There were four balls to the outfield that should have been caught, but weren't. If Big Jay Atton keeps pitching with this defense behind him, he'll have a nervous breakdown before long.

(It's not for lack of effort. The guys try hard, and they truly are remorseful when they blow one, but damn. Can I recycle a line I used earlier this year? I haven't seen this many stone-fingered hands outside of a sculpture museum.)

We had some cushion for failure. That is, we only had to win one of our remaining three games to clinch that playoff spot. Now we have to win one of our remaining two. We get another shot on Monday. If we don't get it done then, we have one final shot on Tuesday. Here's hoping we finish it off on Monday and keep Big Jay out of a rubber room.

You may be wondering who these people are. "Are these photos of The Swingers? The Bombers?" No, this photo, as well as the one at the top of the post and the one following, are of two teams I don't play for: Clarke's (blue uniforms) and Tom English's Stingers (yellow).

I'm going to explain, so take cover.

You see, not only do we love to play softball, many of us also like to come down to the park, on our off nights, and watch other people play. We love the game. We pick up a roast beef sandwich or some pizza - and maybe a beer or two, but don't tell the authorities - grab a seat in the stands, and enjoy a warm summer night at the ballpark.

The park at M Street is in the middle of an old-fashioned Boston neighborhood, so it's not unusual for the games to occasionally draw a sizable crowd of onlookers. The top tier of teams play a brand of ball that's crisp, exciting, tense, and skillful. For a game this past Monday, between Sidewalk Cafe and Shenanigans - possibly the best two teams in the league - I'd estimate there were 75 or 80 folks on hand to enjoy the spectacle. Even for our Swingers game on Tuesday, there were 25 or 30 in the stands. And these people know ball, too. When someone makes a good defensive play, they applaud. If they don't agree with the ump, they tell him so.

[My good friend, and manager of the Bombers on Sundays, Jack Atton, pitching for the Southie Sox last night.]

Last night, I went to the ballpark because it was a lovely evening. Also, two of my teammates from the Bombers were facing off against each other in a game: Fast Freddie Goodman and Jack Atton. Jack pitches for the Southie Sox, while Fast Freddie plays outfield for a team known as Blood, Sweat & Beers. This would be the first time, in the 12 years since they've known each other, that they would be on opposing squads. I wanted to see that. They're both competitors, and good friends.

As it turned out, Fast Freddie's team won a nailbiter, 6 - 5. This was about as I would have hoped. I love Jack, but his team was out of the playoff hunt. Fast Freddie's team needed the win in order to make the playoffs. I wanted to see them both play well, individually, but if I had to choose a team to root for, it was Fred's. And they won, while both guys had pretty good games.

[Fast Freddie warms up while Earl, a good umpire and a good man, cleans the plate.]

Jack pitched the full seven innings, giving up - I believe - 4 earned runs. He threw well, and might have come out with a win if not for a couple of errors behind him. The Southie Sox led, 5 - 3, entering the seventh. Fast Freddie had one clean single in three at-bats, but it was a clutch hit in the seventh inning, eventually resulting in him scoring the tying run. Both guys can still make a case for which one had the upper hand last night. It was fun.

[Jack, always an intelligent player, heads to first base after drawing one of his two walks in the game.]

What can I tell you? It was a pleasant night to see a game, and I took a few photos, and that's about it.

[Fast Freddie on first base, following his single.]

More softball on Monday. Return at your own risk.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

100 Things I Love About America

A little while back, MY WIFE and I were reading a magazine that touted, on the cover, an article concerning 100 things the editors loved about America. As a fun exercise, we decided to compile our own lists of things we loved about America. We thought we would then compare our lists to the one in the magazine, seeing how many of ours matched theirs. I wrote out my list, train-of-thought-style, and so did MY WIFE.

It turned out the list in the magazine was far more specific than we had thought. It named particular places and things – Joe’s Diner in Weehawken, perhaps, or some weirdly built house in a cornfield in Omaha - whereas our lists were much more generic. It was an interesting article, but our writing of lists had turned out to be an hour wasted. We felt somewhat cheated.

But, wait! I saved my list, thinking of perhaps using it as a text for a blog post, and here it is!

(For those wondering, MY WIFE’s list is no longer extant. That's unfortunate, but perhaps, if enough of you clamored for it, she'd be willing to write it again.)

The following is only a list. I’m not going to elaborate on any of the individual entries. If I did so, we’d be here until next year. You might read through it, agreeing or disagreeing with my choices. You might consider compiling a list of your own (and then letting me know about it, thanks, as I’d love to read it.)

(If you live someplace other than America, I’d probably like to see a list about your own country even more. I find patriotism and a love of one’s country tremendously appealing, so long as it isn’t at the expense of someone else’s lovely country. And, having said that, I hope my list isn’t overly jingoistic. It has to approach that territory, to be sure, but the intent isn’t one of forcing you to acknowledge that I live in the best place on earth – even though I do.)

If you think some of these things aren’t specific enough to my country, you’re right. Many of these things can be found in other places. However, they are here and I enjoy them. Also, a fair number of them were INVENTED here, and that’s why I included them.

(A short while back, I had an acrimonious disagreement with a blogger residing in Asia. I felt that one of her entries unfairly denigrated The United States. I replied, in her comments section, with a defense of what she ridiculed. I won’t go into detail – nor will I give you her name, as I refuse to send anyone to her place – but it ended with me telling her that I found her attitude towards my homeland entirely unacceptable, insulting, and ignorant.

I rarely fight. I like to think I can get along with almost anyone, and I’ll usually just ignore something I don’t like, moving on to another site, but she really raised my hackles. This list isn’t what I said to her, but it became more special to me after that exchange of unpleasantries.)

So, enough preamble. Here’s my list of 100 Things I Love About America. My things won’t be your things, but that’s just fine. One of the great things about America, which I didn’t include on the list because I felt it was self-evident, is that we don’t have to walk in lockstep.


If you get sick of me, you can click onto any of the links and probably find something entertaining, educational, or both.

1 – Baseball
2 – Sitcoms
3 – Plentiful Food
4 – Varying Climates
5 – Air Conditioning
6 – Rock ‘n Roll
7 – Jazz
8 – Musicals
9 – Comedy Teams
10 – Sneakers
11 – Basketball
12 – Football
13 – Generosity
14 – Heroes
15 – Electric Toothbrushes
16 – Watermelon
17 – Norman Rockwell

18 – Public Parks
19 – Subways
20 – Trolleys

[courtesy Track Twenty-Nine]

21 – Beaches
22 - Ice Cream
23 – Cheeseburgers
24 – Paved Roads
25 – Shoeshines
26 – Money That Doesn’t Have This Year’s King Or Queen On It
27 – The Internet
28 – Bass Guitars
29 – La-Z-Boys
30 – Good Coffee
31 – Porches
32 – Decks
33 – Grills
34 – Cold Beer
35 – Tube Socks
36 – T-Shirts
37 – Jeans
38 – TV
39 – Radio
40 – Fried Chicken
41 – Electric Lights
42 – Popcorn
43 – Ice Water
44 – Public Libraries
45 – Mailmen
46 – Gambling
47 – Air Fresheners
48 – Mark Twain
49 – Q-Tips
50 – Breathe Rights
51 – Just Enough History
52 – Voting
53 – Funny Pages
54 – Pornography

(No, you don't get a link. If you can't find any yourself, you're just lazy.)

55 – Peanut Butter
56 – Thanksgiving
57 – Capitalism
58 – Rubber Duckies

59 – Cheap Stuff
60 – 50 States, So If You Don’t Like Where You Are, You Can Move To Another One And Still Be Here
61 – Inventiveness & Ingenuity
62 – The Right To Bear Arms
63 – Plain Food, Served Flat

(That is to say, not THIS...

(courtesy And Then We Eat)

But, yes, THIS...

(found at From L.A. To LA)

64 – Holidays That Celebrate Ideals
65 – The Freedom To Be Weird
66 – The Freedom To Call Someone A Weirdo If They’re Weird
67 – Americanized Chinese Food
68 – Big Honkin’ Trucks
69 – Nostalgia
70 – Amazing Medical Breakthroughs
71 – Netflix
72 – Professional Wrestling
73 – Roller Derby

74 – Cartoons
75 – Stand-Up Comedians
76 – Long Hot Showers
77 – Wikipedia
78 – A Distinct Lack Of Man-Eating Tigers
79 – You Don’t Have To Bow Down To Some Asshole Who Inherited A Throne
80 – Not Too Many Volcanoes
81 – No State Religion
82 – Photo Booths
83 – Pie
84 – Wonderfully Silly Self-Importance
85 – The Ability To Laugh At Ourselves
86 – Amazing Diversity Of Cultures
87 – Frozen Foods
88 – Second Chances
89 – The Ability To Quit A Rotten Job
90 – ONE Great Idea Can Make You A Rich Person
91 - Drive-In Restaurants
92 – Motels
93 – The Johnson & Smith Co.
94 – If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave
95 – If You Don’t Like Where You Are, You Can Come To It

96 – If We Don’t Like YOU, We Can Tell You To Go Away
97 – If You Don’t Like US, Tough Shit
98 – No Matter How Silly Your Idea, You Can Always Find At Least One Person Willing To Seriously Discuss It
99 – I Met MY WIFE Here


100 – If You Can’t Think Of 100 Things, It’s OK. As A Matter Of Fact, If You Make A List Entitled "100 Things I Hate About America", You Won't Get Thrown Into Jail. That, In And Of Itself, Is Worth The Other 99 Things.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who Was Smith?

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The Bombers play the great majority of their games at Smith Field, a 14-acre park, in Brighton (a neighborhood of Boston.) It contains 3 softball diamonds, two Little League fields, a street hockey rink, two basketball courts, and a play area - slides, swings, etc. - for children. I thought it might be nice, after all of the seasons I've played there, to actually find out who the heck Smith was.

My weekday team, The Swingers, plays at M Street. The field we play on is named after Bucky Feeney and Sam Moran, two people instrumental in the origination and success of the M Street Softball League. That’s pretty cool. If I could have a field named after ME, I’d consider it the greatest honor ever for playing this game. Mark Senna, the current commissioner of the league, and a player/manager for a couple of decades, had the great idea to dedicate those fields after those two men, and he went about getting it accomplished. Mark is a good man with a well-founded reverence for those who came before him. Someday, perhaps a part of that park will be dedicated to him.

The Flames, my former weekday team, play at Clemente Field in The Fens. That one is named after the great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, Roberto Clemente. Aside from his fantastic playing career, he was a humanitarian of note. He died in an airplane crash while en route to delivering food to starving people.

I play some of my Sunday games at Cleveland Circle. I assume it was named after the U. S. President, Grover Cleveland.

But, who was Smith?

Well, he was William Francis Smith. He was a marine private, killed in Soissions, France, in World War One. And that's all I can find out about the man.

I started my search for information by asking the people at the Boston Parks And Recreation Commission, the folks responsible for the upkeep of Smith Playground, if they knew anything about the man for whom the playground was named.

(We always call it 'Smith Field', but the official name is 'William Francis Smith Playground'.)

Here was my e-mail letter to them:

I've played softball [at Smith] for the past 16 years on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Do you have any information about the man for whom the park was named? I sometimes blog about our softball leagues and I would like to include such info. I'll be sure to give a real nice shout-out to the Parks Department, if you can supply me with anything whatsoever. I tried to find out by Googling all of the obvious things ("William Smith", "Smith Playground", etc.) but could find nothing definitive. Thank you, very much!

Brian McLaughlin, of the Parks Department, was speedy in his reply. After doing a bit of research, he sent me the following:

Mr. Sullivan,

Thank you for your inquiry about Smith Playground.

The Boston Parks and Recreation Commission minutes of their meeting on May 16, 1921, record the following:

"A communication was read from the City Council asking this Board to name the North Brighton Playground, William Francis Smith Playground, in honor of William Francis Smith, who was killed in Soissions, France, on July 20, 1918, and it was voted that the name of the North Brighton Playground be and is hereafter to be known as the William Francis Smith Playground."

Brian McLaughlin, Executive Secretary
Boston Parks and Recreation Commission

I'm grateful for that information, but it was a dead end after that. I have entered all known relevant information (his name, where he died, the world war, etc.), in Google, and all I could come up with was a list of deaths. I found out he was a Marine private, but no further elucidation.

It's a shame. He has this big green space named after him, as memorial for whatever he did, but it would be nice if his deeds - whatever they were - also lived on in some way. I'll assume heroism on his part, since he apparently died in the line of duty on a battlefield, and I'll say a small prayer for Mr. Smith this Sunday as I once again enjoy a morning on his field.


Did I say "enjoy"? Well, I did enjoy it, but not completely.

BOMBERS – 14 Brighton All-Stars – 4
Brighton All-Stars – 14 BOMBERS – 9

We were in first place for 90 minutes.

The Moe Howard Club did us the favor of taking their first game against the Titans, so we stood at 12 and 1, in first, with the Titans at 11 and 2. When we dropped the second game, we once again had the same record as the Titans, who had won their second game. And, since the Titans hold the tiebreaker against us, we were back in second place again.

We now have one more week in the regular season, and we need the Titans to lose one of their two remaining games while we win both of ours.

We blew our best chance yesterday. It was an upset for Moe’s to split with the Titans. If we had taken care of business…

Oh, well. On paper, it was an upset for the All-Stars to split with us, too. They came into the day at 5 and 7. They’re better than that, though. Are they better than us? No, I don’t think so. I think we'd beat them over the course of any series. They’re better than their record indicates, however, and I would prefer not having to play them again come the playoffs. Let somebody else have that headache.

The first game was fine. Big Jay Atton pitched nicely, notching his eighth victory of the season. Third baseman Manny Dominguez and right fielder Fast Freddie Goodman, batting from the 6 and 7 spots in the line-up, both went a perfect 3 for 3. Catcher Joey Baszkiewicz broke out of his recent slump with a couple of hits and three runs batted in. Charlie Conners continued to rack up the RBIs, garnering another three on a bases-clearing double. Danny Espinosa had three hits. Leadoff hitter Pat Atton, Big Jay Atton, outfielder Tom Resor, and some dope named Sullivan playing first base, contributed two hits apiece. The defense was particularly good, with the infield turning three double plays. We pretty much cruised to our 12th consecutive victory - a club record - and took over first place.

Then the roof caved in during the second game. Big Jay gave up nine runs in the first two innings, by far the roughest two innings he’s tossed for us this season. The All-Stars benefited throughout the game from miscues by our defense – a flubbed grounder here, an ill-advised throw there. On offense, we ran into outs twice rather than playing it safe. Still, we were only down 11 – 9 after four innings, and with 12 straight wins behind us, we weren’t feeling pessimistic about our ability to pull it out.

But, as you already know, we didn’t get the job done. The All-Stars scored again in the fifth, and we wasted a couple of nice innings of relief work from Josh Lebron (1 run, 0 earned) when we didn’t score over the final three innings.

The big games, in defeat, were had by Tom Resor (triple, home run, 4 RBI) and Emilio Zirpolo (3 for 3, following his 1 for 10 over the previous three games.) Fast Freddie Goodman and Danny Espinosa continued hitting, both ending up with 5-hit days. Charlie Conners had a double and a triple, good for another two RBI and an astounding 29 RBI in total for the 8 games he’s played for us this year. Not enough to overcome the poor start, though, and we finish the day in second place.

The good news is that our single victory clinched second place for the season. We can finish no lower than that, no matter what happens next week.

The Titans play the Reds at 9am next week, at Cleveland Circle, and we have our final two on the same field, following theirs, at noontime. I always get to the field early, but next week I’ll be there very early, three hours before our gametime. I’m going to head down and watch the Titans, while rooting for the Reds to take one. If they don’t, our two games become meaningless to us.

(They’ll still mean something to other teams, so we won’t just tank them, of course. But it would be more fun to actually be playing with a chance at first place.)

Since this is my blog, I always tell you about my day. I finished 3 for 5, two runs scored and an RBI. Playing first base in the first game, I made no errors. I raised my season average to .500, which is really nice for an old fart. Even nicer would be to win that championship I’ve always wanted, and I still feel pretty good about our chances.


(In case you were wondering, the Swingers – M Street Softball League – did not play this week. We now have three games remaining and need to win only one to clinch the last playoff spot in our division. We next play on Tuesday at 7:30. Wish us luck!)

As always, thanks for putting up with the softball talk. I’ll actually have something NEW, and non-softball, tomorrow.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Day (5 Of Them, Actually - All Saturdays) In The Life

Well, it's finally happened. I've now re-posted so many things, I have no idea if I've previously re-posted the stuff I'm re-posting today. That's a shame - for you. Me? I don't give a damn. I consider this the best thing I've ever written, and I might just keep re-posting this, over and over, between every new softball post. If I could stand to read it the 85 or 90 times I've done so since the first time I published it, then so can you.


A Day (5 Of Them, Actually - All Saturdays) In The Life

Saturdays in the life of me, at various ages.

AGE 10 (1967)

5am – I wake up. Realizing that it’s Saturday and that there’s no school, I literally bounce out of bed and hit the ground running. I take a pee and haphazardly brush some of my teeth. After bounding downstairs, I turn on the huge black-and-white Admiral television.

While waiting for it to warm up, I go to the kitchen, feed the cat, and then pour out a huge bowl of Quake. I drown the cereal in whole milk and sprinkle three tablespoons of sugar on top of it, even though it’s already 50% sugar.

5:10am – I carry the enormous bowl of cereal to the living room, possibly spilling a bit along the way. It’s a cold summer morning, so I turn the thermostat up to 80. The TV is showing an Indian Chief test pattern.

Turning the knob that changes channels, I find nothing but snow on any of the other three Boston stations. I settle down on the shag carpeting and eat the cereal, waiting for the fan-forced gas heat to come pouring out of the vent in the wall. I stare at the Indian Chief and wonder why he’s on a test pattern.

5:15am – The heating system makes the distinctive sound that tells me the heat is just about to come on. I get my body right up next to the vent, in anticipation. The heat comes on. Ahhhhh! Nice! The cat, having finished her breakfast, comes into the living room and curls up next to me - and the heat.

5:20am – An announcer comes on and tells me what station I’m watching, how many megahertz they’re broadcasting at, and where they’re located. He has a distinctive and soothing baritone voice. I wonder if he owns the station and maybe, if I write to him, he’ll tell me why there’s an Indian Chief on the test pattern. Finishing my cereal, I drink the sugary sludge of milk from the bottom of the bowl while listening to the National Anthem and the Morning Prayer. Mom and Dad are sleeping soundly upstairs. They don’t get up until at least 9:30 or 10 on Saturday morning. I am king of the castle!

5:25am – Farm And Market Report comes on. It’s complete gibberish but somehow soothing, anyway, because I know that something to actually watch will be coming on next. I wonder if there are any real farmers in Boston, listening to this stuff and saying to themselves, “Corn ain’t gittin’ a good price today. I’ll wait fer next week to sell it.”

5:30am – Public service program comes on, produced by UNICEF. It wants to tell me about dam building in Africa. I get up and switch the station, to see if any of the other channels have cartoons yet. Nope. It’s either UNICEF or test patterns. I watch a test pattern of (no doubt many glorious colors, but on our black-and-white TV, gray) bars for a minute or so, then decide that dam building in Africa isn’t so bad. While it plays in the background, I open a volume of the Golden Book Encyclopedia (Volume XIII, Rabbits to Signaling, as a matter of fact.) A gift from my grandfather, it is my favorite set of books. This particular volume tells me all about the races of man (Caucasian, Mongoloid, Negroid) and shows a drawing of an Asian in colorful silk robe and funny tasseled hat in front of a pagoda, while a black man is tap dancing. A Caucasian, meanwhile, is pictured in front of a Frank Lloyd Wright split-level with a neatly manicured lawn. He is sharply dressed in suit and tie, staring off into the middle distance as though the cure for cancer lies just beyond his square jaw and steely-blue eyes. I think Caucasians MAY have been the target audience.

6:00amBoomtown comes on. While Rex Trailer and his sidekick, Pablo, are in the bunkhouse deciding what to do today, I go out to the kitchen and start mixing some Aunt Jemima batter to make pancakes. I put bacon in the frying pan.

6:10am – Popeye is saving Olive Oyl from Bluto. Meanwhile, I’m saving bacon grease in a tin can we keep on the kitchen counter. I have no idea why. I don’t remember us ever using that grease for anything. I guess we just didn’t want it down the drain. I pour pancake batter into the greasy pan.

6:35am – I take the bacon and stack of pancakes (smothered in maple syrup) out to the living room. I eat them while watching Rex and Pablo. I give a piece of bacon to the cat.

– Rex and Pablo leave the bunkhouse and ride into Boomtown. I go get the newspaper that was just delivered on our front porch. I read the funnies and the Red Sox box score. My favorite player, Tony Conigliaro, hit a home run last night. The Red Sox are in first place for the first time ever in my entire life. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour, The Wacky Races, and Tom & Jerry await me.

The world is a miraculous place full of laughter, friendly well-fed cats, good things to eat, fan-forced heat, interesting people, loving parents, and the promise of a sunshiny day playing baseball with friends. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

AGE 20 (1977)

7:15am – The radio is playing something by Barry Manilow. I roll over, curse the DJ, and shut it off. I light a Kool and lay back in my bed, smoking. I then realize that it’s Saturday and I don’t have to go to work. I sit up on the edge of the bed and roll a joint. My Mom and Dad have been divorced for about five years now, and my Dad is out of town on a business trip. I figure to carry a steady buzz all day, but I especially want to be stoned for the Saturday morning cartoons. Being stoned gets me closer to how I felt when I was a kid and watched them. Not completely, but closer than when I’m straight.

7:25am – Get out of bed, take a pee and brush my teeth. Go downstairs and put the heat under the coffee. While waiting for it to warm up, I go out on the back porch and smoke the joint. Go back in and pour the coffee, adding three teaspoons of sugar and a lot of cream. Feed the cat (a different one) and then go to see if the newspaper has been delivered yet. It hasn’t.

7:40am – Flip around through 20-or-so channels on cable. The best thing available is Boomtown, with Rex Trailer and (now) Sergeant Billy. A Popeye cartoon comes on. Popeye is still beating up Bluto and eating spinach. The spinach looks delicious. I realize that the buzz is creeping up on me.

7:50am – Mix pancake batter and put bacon in frying pan. I decide that I can’t wait that long. Put pancake batter in refrigerator. Leave bacon in frying pan. I can heat it up later. Eat cold leftover egg foo yung.

– Eat cold leftover pork strips and egg rolls in living room while flipping through channels. Hear big crash from the kitchen and then see the cat come running by with half-cooked bacon hanging from his mouth. Go out to the kitchen and mop up grease from the linoleum. Stop cursing only when I hear the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner theme song start playing. Yay!

8:01am – Laugh like a loon as Wile E. Coyote gets caught in one of his own traps.

8:02am - I then begin to wonder if Wile E. Coyote has a charge account with ACME. How does he buy all that crap? Why doesn’t he just have a side of beef shipped to him and save himself all this trouble? And what does the ACME delivery guy think when he carts a crate of birdseed, a see-saw, and a two-ton weight to the middle of the desert, and a coyote signs for it?

8:03am – Laugh like a loon as Wile E. Coyote gets hit on the head with his own two-ton weight.

8:04am - Smoke another joint.

8:23am – Come to realization that there is only one Pepe Le Pew script, recycled for each new cartoon. Heavy, man!

9:00am – It’s another hour until The Three Stooges come on, so I plug in my bass and put Master Of Reality on the record player. My band has a gig tonight, so this counts as practice. Halfway through Children Of The Grave, I hear the newspaper hit the front porch. I unplug the bass, shut off the record player, and go get the paper. I read the funnies slowly, admiring the artwork. I read the Red Sox box score and then it’s time for The Stooges.

The world is a miraculous place full of laughter, larcenous cats, good things to eat and smoke, interesting coyotes, loving (if absent) parents, the promise of a day watching baseball on TV, and an evening of being on-stage playing rock-n-roll, with an order of sex and drugs on the side. I could ask for more, but I’m not that greedy.


AGE 30 (1987)

11:05am – The radio is playing a paid program about bowel cleansing. I realize I’m awake. I have a vicious headache. My skull feels as though someone filled it with shredded brown paper bags and then lit them on fire. My nose is clogged beyond belief and there’s a spot of blood on my pillow.

I remember that – again - I have spent every penny of my paycheck on cocaine and vodka. I have no desire at all to leave my bed, but my Dad is downstairs and he hasn’t seen me since Thursday evening. He probably waited up until 2 or 3 in the morning, hoping to hear me pull into the driveway safely, but then gave up and went to bed. The least I can do is drag myself downstairs, force a bleary-eyed smile, and try to eat a bite or two of the lovely breakfast he’s cooked – and for which I have absolutely no stomach.

I light a Kool and shuffle into the bathroom. I pee, dark yellow and foul smelling. I brush my teeth, but it doesn’t help much. I climb into the shower and turn on the hot water full blast. I stand there, letting the steaming water hit me, hoping to quell the headache somewhat and loosen the crap in my nose. My father waits patiently downstairs.

I have a dead-end job and an ongoing dead-end relationship. The only thing I look forward to doing is drugs. I sometimes enjoy playing softball, but half the time I’m coked up when I’m doing that, too. I haven’t played the bass more than three or four times in the past year, and I haven’t been in a band in ages. I don’t give a damn about the Red Sox or anything else. The funnies aren’t funny any more and the latest cat just died from feline leukemia.

The world is a place full of times to endure until I get more money for drugs. I have the promise of a day filled with lying on the couch, blinds drawn, feeling guilty. The only reason I don’t want to die is because I’m already dead. I wouldn’t ask for more because I don’t deserve it.


AGE 40 (1997)

7:00am – The window is open and the birds are singing. It’s sunny, but cool. I realize it’s Saturday and I don’t have to work today. I get up, go take a pee, and brush what’s left of my teeth. MY WIFE is still asleep. I have a doubleheader this morning at Smith Field in Brighton.

7:05am – I light a Kool and sit in my underwear, going over the scorebook from the season thus far. I’m the manager of the Bombers, a good group of guys to play ball with. I’ve played ball with them on Saturday mornings since moving to Watertown in 1994. Today we play at 9am. I’ll be at the field by 8am at the latest. I’ll have 10 minutes, at least, until anyone else shows up. It’s nice to sit there in the cool morning, listening to the birds sing, doing some light stretching and imagining all of the possibilities that the day might hold in store.

7:15am – I finish my cigarette, strip down, and hop into the shower. I turn on the hot water full-blast, letting it wash over my body and loosen the muscles. While standing in the shower, I reflect on how much my life has changed this decade.

I have a good job, which I got as a result of having gone to broadcasting school. I’m off of drugs. I play softball in two different leagues full of good people. Best of all, I’m married to a beautiful and supremely funny woman.

My Dad is dead. He died three years ago. I was clean and sober, and pretty much had my act together, long before he passed away. I thank God for that. If he had died while I was still an asshole, I would now have unbearable guilt. At the time of his death, though, he was proud of me and of what I had worked to become. I had a chance to pay him back for some of those times he stayed awake worrying with a broken heart.

I’m sporadically playing the bass again, as well as keyboards. I also have a collection of other odd instruments, courtesy of MY WIFE. She gives me one every Christmas. I have a thumb piano, a chanter, a triangle, an ocarina, a ukulele and a tongue drum. Someday, I’ll get my act together and make a recording using all of them.

12:15pm – I stop and buy a newspaper on my way home from the games. When I get home, MY WIFE asks me how we did. She likes it best when we split, because then she thinks everybody is happy. After a shower, I settle in, reading the funnies and checking the Red Sox box score. Later today, we’ll go out for Chinese food with my Mom and stepfather, Bill.

The world is a miraculous place full of laughter, good things to eat, lovemaking, caring relatives, good friends and co-workers, and the promise of many more years playing fast-pitch softball. There’s no cat, because MY WIFE is allergic. I’ll take that trade any day.

AGE 50 (2007)

7:15am – I started writing this blog entry.

1:00pm – I’m finishing it up now. I’ve taken breaks for coffee and cigarettes, to talk to MY WIFE, to eat some leftover sushi, and to play the bass a bit. Still no cat, but later on I’ll watch the Red Sox play some Tigers. This evening, we’ll probably watch Pirates Of The Caribbean. I got it from the library when I returned Shrek 2, which we watched last night. I've got new teeth (implants) that are way better than the old teeth. We’ve got three air conditioners, two televisions (with 80+ channels of interesting stuff on cable), all the food and drink we could possibly want, 49 teddy bears (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) and I have - at the very least - 10 more sunshiny days of playing fast-pitch softball to look forward to this year.

The world is a miraculous place, indeed.


AGE 53 (Thursday, July 22nd, 2010)

Still a miraculous place.

The following is what I usually close with. The reason is because it's what God keeps telling me. Sometimes, when I say it, it's a lie. When God says it, never.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Let’s talk about what happens when a team doesn’t have enough players available.

In professional sports, and also in the higher levels of organized amateur competition, the inability to field a complete team will result in a forfeit. The rules do not allow for anything else. Not enough players show up and you lose, period.

The leagues I play in, however, put a premium upon playing the games, as opposed to the results. Wins and losses are important, but if the choice is between a win via forfeit or accommodating a shorthanded team in order to play the game we all love, the choice is to play the game. And if the team that would have lost, by forfeit, somehow manages to win the game in question? So be it.

The usual factor in avoiding a forfeited game is the loan of a player to the disadvantaged team. The player may come from another team in the league, or may be someone from the team they’re playing, or might even be someone taken from the stands.

(I once managed a team, in the M Street league, that had enough players of its own only about 75% of the time during one hideous season. It wasn’t unusual for me to shout at the twenty or thirty people in the stands, "Anybody want to play? We need two players!"

More often than not, we’d get the warm bodies we needed. That’s what they were, though – just warm bodies. If somebody in the stands could really play well, then they most likely wouldn’t be in the stands. I ended up with lots of hideously obese wannabes, young kids, half-drunk louts, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam playing right field that year. God bless them all, though. We got to play because of them.

The one I’ll never forget – mostly because MY WIFE will never let me forget him – was Teddy. Teddy was perhaps thirteen-years-old. He was also stone deaf. Very nice kid, and not too bad a ballplayer, but he couldn’t hear. He was in the stands with his father, or perhaps his uncle, when I called up into the stands for a player to come down. His male relative nudged Teddy, pointed at me, and made it understood that I needed players. Teddy then bounded down to the field, a big smile on his face, raring to go.

He could read lips, so as long as I faced him directly we were OK. I put him in right field and batted him ninth. He didn’t hurt us in the field, but he was overmatched at the plate. The pitcher on the other team was one of the better ones in the league that year, so Teddy had no chance. The pitcher – whose name I wish I could remember, since he should get props for this – eased up when Teddy took his stance in the batter’s box, throwing at about three-quarters speed. Teddy still struck out swinging.

By the time the third inning rolled around, another one of my players had made it to the park. To my everlasting regret, I indicated to Teddy that I now had enough players. I thanked him for his services and sent him back up into the stands. We were losers in our first four games of the season to that point, and only trailing 5 – 0 in the game, so I did what I thought would give my team its best shot. Had I known then what I know now, that we would only win one game that entire year, I not only would have kept Teddy in that game, I would have made his year by inviting him to be a regular. God knows he showed more desire to play than most of the other bums on that team. And, as MY WIFE pointed out to me after the game, he was the only one with his head in the game enough to know the line-up. For the next three innings after I had announced the line-up, my players with hearing kept on asking me where they were batting. Teddy didn’t. He knew.)

In all situations involving a borrowed player, good sportsmanship is the key. When a team is granted a favor, in order to be able to compete, they should not take advantage of the other team’s generosity. If the player in question is an obviously good one, it is expected that he will not play his regular position, especially if that position is one that affects the game more than others; pitcher, for instance. If he’s an excellent hitter, he should be placed at the end of the line-up. And if another regular shows up, the substitute should be removed from the game.

I was a substitute this past week, and I also played in a game where a substitute was used by the opposition. My presence didn’t make a big difference for the team I played for, but the other game was impacted greatly by the man who filled in. We’ll briefly look at both games before getting to the Bombers action from Sunday.

Warriors – 27 FLAMES – 6

Some of you may remember the Flames as my weekday team from a few years back. Good bunch of guys. I enjoyed my time as a regular with them. Although I now play in the M Street League on weekdays, I’ve allowed Pete Mittell, the manager, to keep me on the Flames roster over in the Fenway League. Pete will ask me to fill in when he desperately needs a body to avoid a forfeit situation. If I’m free that evening, I’m happy to do him the favor. This makes the third year in a row, since my retirement from the Flames, that I’ve been called upon to play one game during their season.

Pete usually carries a roster of some 17 or 18 players, so when he’s desperate enough to call in players from the past, it means he’s missing most of his regulars. As a result, games like this one happen. Pete had a couple of guys playing out of position, as well as an outfielder pitching. The Warriors had four outfielders, the norm for that league, but we only had three. The result was what one might expect. I played first base, and fielded it decently, but I also went 0-for-3 at the plate. I’m not as despondent about that as I might have been in a closer game. I could have hit three grand slams and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

(I had a shot at one in my last at-bat. I came up with the bases loaded and two out. The score at that time was the same as the final listed above, so that will tell you how I did.)

Fun seeing many of my former teammates, I saved them from forfeiting, and I didn’t totally disgrace myself. As horrible games go, it was one of the best.

Now, the more interesting game, from M Street.

Stadium – 13 SWINGERS – 8

We lost, but we didn’t lose.

Stadium used a player from another team to avoid a forfeit (or to at least avoid having to play shorthanded, as they had the 8 players which would have allowed them to begin the game legally.) They batted him third in the line-up, and had him playing third base. He hit two vicious home runs, accounted for at least five runs batted in – the difference in the score – and played his position well.

After the game, Dan Chan, our manager, talked to Mark Senna, the Commissioner of the league. He did NOT protest the game, but he did make Mark aware that Stadium had used an excellent player from another team as a fill in, had batted him high in the line-up, and had let him play his usual position, a position that had some major impact upon the outcome. Even though, as I say, Dan did NOT protest the game, Mark nevertheless decided that Stadium should not have benefited so greatly from their use of that player, so he ordered the game nullified and replayed at a later date (this coming Thursday.)

So, we lost, but we didn’t lose. We remain at 7 – 7 – 1, in third place (the final playoff position in our division), and we still completely control our destiny. Now it’s up to us to prove we deserve the playoffs.

While I think it was a good move on Dan’s part to tell Mark about the situation, and I’m certainly glad to have another chance to play the game, I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. It’s the right decision, no doubt, but... I don’t know. The other player DOES play in the league, and if we’re going to prove ourselves a team worthy of the playoffs, we should probably have just sucked it up and beaten them regardless. My major concern is if any of their guys harbors resentment (which I certainly might, if I had a win taken away by an off-field decision.) I hope good sportsmanship prevails during the rematch, and that no little incident – an unintentional brushback, a hard slide – turns into a major dust-up because of hard feelings.

M Street website

Now, let’s tie this all together with the Bombers.

BOMBERS – 11 Renegades – 10 (Extra Innings)
BOMBERS – 11 Renegades - 8

The Renegades knocked us out of the playoffs last year, beating us two games to one in the opening round. Game three went extra innings, nobody able to put a run across for four innings running, before they beat us by one. This year, they have fallen upon hard times, with half their roster having had to relocate to California because of their employer moving there. As a result, they had forfeited a couple of games earlier in the year.

Dwayne Dahlbeck, their manager and catcher, is a really nice guy and an asset to our league. It would have been a shame to see him have to fold completely, so Jack Atton and I stepped in to help. I got Dan Chan from the Swingers to play for him, and Jack was able to recruit a couple of his teammates from the Fenway League to come down. Thus, the Renegades now have enough to compete - and they almost knocked us off as a result.

Since we play doubleheaders each Sunday, and another league has the fields after we finish, there is an interesting rule in force for a first game that ends tied after the regulation seven innings. In order to save time and make a complete second game possible, the first inning of game two also functions as an extra inning for the first game. Thus, if a team wins the first inning of game two, they win the first game. Should the game still remain tied, the next inning serves the same function, and so on.

We had a 10 – 2 lead going into the top of the seventh inning of game one. We were cruising. And then the Renegades got a single, a walk, another walk, a double, another double, and another single. Suddenly it was 10 – 7, no outs, a runner on second (he had gone there on a throwing error), and the Renegades bench was alive and feeling it. Jack Atton induced a pop up to shortstop for the first out, but that was followed by two more hits (10 – 8), a second out on a fly ball to center, then a game-tying triple. One more hit and the Renegades would have taken the lead and stomped on our hearts. Jack got the third out, however, and, since we were the home team, we had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the inning.

No go. We had two on with two out, but couldn’t put a run across. Therefore, we went into game two, with the first inning being the decider for game one.

Now we were batting first, since we were the away team for game two. We scored one, on a home run by Charlie Conners. Charlie was also the pitcher for game two, so he had helped himself with that hit. And he helped himself in the bottom of the inning, also, shutting out the Renegades and giving us the victory for game one.

The Renegades had to be slightly demoralized after that nice comeback resulting in only a loss, and we took advantage. We led the whole way, by varying degrees, and although the final score was close, I felt as though we were solidly in control the whole way.

Charlie threw a nice game in his first start of the season, and he had a monster day at the plate, as well. In game two, he had three home runs in three at-bats. It would have been nice for him to have gotten a shot at four in one game, but we came up against the time limit in game two and did not play a seventh inning. For his day, total, he went 5-for-6, three home runs, two doubles, and an amazing 12 RBI. In addition, he got the win in game two.

(It was originally thought that Charlie got the win in both games, but Jack Atton gets the win in game one due to our having reversed batting order entering game two. Our winning run scored before Charlie had thrown a pitch. So, via that fluky rule concerning extra innings, Charlie ended up getting the save for game one to go along with his game two victory. Whatever he’s credited with, a day like he had deserves applause.)

Other superb days were had by Pat Atton (5-for-6, plus a base on balls, batting leadoff) and Cam Zirpolo (3 hits, including a double and a triple, along with 2 RBI.) Manny Dominguez had three solid hits in game one, and played nice defense at third base in both games. It was good to have Pat "Mike" Pickup back in the line-up after a few games absence. He had 3 hits, a double, a home run, a walk, and 2 RBI.

(Plus, he’s a really nice guy and a good softball man. We’ve got a team full of guys like that this year. The banter on the bench and on the field is both intelligent and funny, and everybody keeps their teammate’s heads in the game at all times. The ribbing occasionally gets semi-vicious, but there’s always an understanding that your teammates will back you up when it counts. A couple of examples…

Pickup asked Charlie if he had any sports rub, something like Tiger Balm or Ben-Gay. Charlie gave him a tube of the stuff, and Pickup stripped off his shirt to rub the cream into his shoulder. Pickup is a hairy guy, so while he’s rubbing in the ointment, Robbie Rogers looks over and says, "You know, if you want that stuff to work, you should take off your sweater before rubbing it in."

Another from Robbie. After one of our guys hit a weak pop up for an out, he said, "Does your husband play?"

Of course, when you’re a wiseass, you have to take it, too. After Robbie had a couple of unsuccessful at-bats, somebody (maybe Charlie) said, "Has anybody seen Robbie Rogers today? I think he was supposed to be here, but he hasn’t shown up yet."

The thing is, if there were ever a scuffle, these guys would be the first to have a teammate’s back. I know that for a fact, and so do the other guys, and that’s why the ribbing is taken with good grace. And all this stuff keeps a team loose, which is always a good thing. Tight teams lose. Loose teams win.)

We are now 11 – 1, at least tied for first place. I don’t have the league-wide scores yet, so we may be alone in first. Two more weeks before the playoffs begin. I’m one happy 53-year-old softball bum.

Oh, yeah - my day. Between hits and walks, I reached base five times, scoring three runs. I played both full games at first base and made no errors. Not bad for the oldest guy on the field.


Soon, with more better stuff.

LATE UPDATE: Titans won both of their games, so we're still tied for first.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Just Your Basic Softball Post

[Big Jay Atton pitching at M Street. Not the best photo of him, but it will have to do for now.]

I didn’t have the four greatest games of my life this week, but my teams won three of them and got into good position for the stretch run. I’ll take it.

First, let’s recap the action from the M Street League in South Boston.

Below Average Joes – 6 SWINGERS – 5
SWINGERS – 12 Dorset Club – 5

The loss to Below Average Joes pretty much finished any chance the Swingers had to take the top spot in our division. That would have been nice because the top finisher gets a bye in the first round. The win over Dorset Club put us into third, though, and leaves us in control of our own playoff destiny. Our record is now 7 – 7 – 1 (and that’s following an 0 – 4 – 1 start to the season, so it’s been a good run lately.) There are three games remaining in the regular season. If we win, we’re in.

Big Jay Atton is pitching magnificently well this year, in both leagues (and more about his performance on the mound when I get around to the Bombers.) He deserved better in the loss, giving up only one earned run. The Swingers defense is improving, but it’s still not very good. Pitching, from both Big Jay and Josh LeBron, has made the difference.

The team can hit, though, that’s for sure. Some of the guys could use a bit more patience at the plate – lots of swinging at first pitches, even when the opposing pitcher hasn’t shown decent control – but overall they get a good piece and they hustle.

Me? With my patience, I draw a lot of walks (12 of them in the 14 games I’ve played) and I think I’m third on the team in on-base percentage. But the hitting has been weak lately. In the two games, I went 1-for-6, and my patience cost me as I watched a third strike go by (it was high and outside, but close enough to the strike zone where I should have been swinging at it.) I’m catching OK, so no problems there.

Next game is Tuesday.

M Street Website

And now, let’s talk about the team that’s carrying my hopes and dreams for the year. As much as I enjoy playing for the Swingers, and as well as they’ve played lately, they’re still a major longshot to win it all. The Bombers, though…

BOMBERS – 10 MHC – 0
BOMBERS – 11 MHC – 8

We now stand at 9 – 1, tied for first.

(MHC is The Moe Howard Club, in case you were wondering, and as a Stooges fan it pained me to beat them twice. Better than losing to them, though.)

The obvious thing to talk about is that zero up there in the scores. Shutouts are pretty rare in our brand of softball (which is modified fast pitch, for those of you late to the party.) Big Jay Atton threw a three-hitter in the opener, striking out five along the way. Great performance. He then followed that up with another five strikeouts in game two. His record for the Bombers is a perfect 7 - 0 this year. He’s been solid all year. In addition, he’s hitting .667, and he’s a freakin’ joy to play ball with, as he’s always up, smiling, cracking good jokes – he often gets batters he just put out to laugh, which is a great testament to his personality – and he truly cares about his teammates, too. Here’s a small story about that…

In the second Swingers game this week, I didn’t have a hit yet. I was in an 0-for-6 slump going back to the previous game. We were leading handily and coming up against the time limit. With the Dorset Club batting, Jay could have taken his time and set them down leisurely. The umpire would have declared the game over and nobody would have complained, least of all me. However, Jay worked fast, set them down, and got me another at-bat. I stroked a solid line drive up the middle to break my slump. When he went back out to finish up, Dorset scored a couple. So, he took a hit to his ERA for my sake.

You have no idea how much I appreciate that, Jay. Thank you.

Another Bomber I really appreciate is Fast Freddy Goodman. I’ve played ball with Fred, off and on, for 22 years now. He always hustles (even if he never slides, which someday, FFG, is going to cost you and you’ll regret it.) He has a fine sense of humor and isn’t afraid to make himself the part of the joke you laugh at. You have to be secure in your own skin to do that, and I probably don’t know anyone more secure in his skin than Fast Freddy. Anyway, he had a swell second game. With the score tied at 5, he stroked a solid triple to left field that plated two runs. We never trailed after that. FFG ended up with 5 RBI for the day, tied for the team high with...

Robbie Rogers, who is always a threat to hit a moon shot, and that’s what he did this week. Having never developed a power stroke myself - if you want to know why, see THIS - I marvel at his ability to send the ball to distant parts of the field. He has a beautiful swing. Mine is utilitarian, workmanlike, meant to stop the ball from going across the plate, while his is a work of art. His swing flows, with marvelous wrist action at impact, and the ball goes on a wonderful journey. My hits are like a trip across town on an old broken down bus. When he connects, it’s the Orient Express.

As has been the case all year, everybody contributed something worthwhile. Everybody either drove in a run, or scored, or made a fine defensive play. Charlie Conners had a fantastic catch in center field, a full out sprint with his back to the plate.

(The next batter for MHC stepped into the box and we discussed that play. Talking about Charlie’s speed, he said, “Yeah, he’s a freak of nature.”)

Joey Baszkiewicz, pressed into duty at second base for game two, made a swell running stop-and-relay on a sharp grounder. He mostly plays my position, catcher, but he’s a very valuable guy to have around because he can play just about anywhere and do a creditable job. Robbie Rogers (playing my other position) had a nice catch at first base on a soft liner, timing his leap just right.

There are three weeks left in the regular season and there’s no reason for this team not to win all of the remaining games we have. Two of the sets are against weaker opposition (the Renegades, who beat us last year in the playoffs, but who have fallen on hard times, losing half of their roster because of a company many of them work for transferring to another city; and the Brighton All-Stars, who haven’t quite lived up to their name.) The final week we play a team new to the league, A-Town, and I haven’t seen them play yet, so I can’t say for sure how tough they might be. I’ve seen their scores, of course, and it seems they aren’t pushovers, but extrapolating what they’ve done, against the teams we’ve both beaten, leads me to believe we’re better. Since the Titans hold the tiebreaker against us (we split, but they have the run differential), we need them to lose one in order for us to finish first. They play the Reds later and that may be the best shot (the Reds are 7 – 3 thus far, but we beat them twice and it would be an upset for them to take one from the Titans. Could happen, though. They aren’t bums.)

To wrap this up, I went 3-for-6 on the day, one run scored. One of the hits was pretty cheap, but that made up for the good wood I got on the ball in the second inning of game one which ended up as a can of corn. Robbie inspected the ball after the inning and found out it was a restricted flight ball, illegal in our games. I’m sure it was an honest mistake that it found its way into the game, and both teams hit against it, I think. Still, I might have had extra bases if it had been a .47 COR, and I don’t get too many extra-base hits these days. Oh, well. As I say, another one fell in that didn’t have any right to be a hit, so it all evens out. Most things do in this sport, sooner or later.


One last thing - I know a few players from other teams sometimes read this blog. If Scotty from the Titans is one of them this week, thanks again for helping to clear the field of the water from that downpour on Saturday. Much appreciated.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Now THAT'S a 4th Of July Parade!

A few years back, I found myself in the small town of Areola. It's a quaint little burg, the sort you see on picture postcards of New England. It has the requisite white steeple of a Protestant church peeking over leafy green trees; local businesses lining Main Street - an ice cream parlor, a barber shop, a real estate office, a combination five-and-ten/pharmacy, a locally-owned bank, and a hardware store that smells like a hardware store; a smallish two-story brick schoolhouse containing all classes from kindergarten up through high school; and a Little League baseball field sitting just off to the side of the school. The surrounding countryside is dotted with farmland, and it was quite pleasant to drive into town with the windows down, listening to the occasional "Moo!" from a cow, while the melody of chirping birds carried on the warm summer breeze.

I was hungry, so I decided to stop and eat at a joint called Tom's Diner. It appeared to be the sort of place where one might get a decent roast beef sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes and savory brown gravy, maybe a nice slice of blueberry pie for dessert, and then some strong coffee for the road. I pulled into a parking spot, went up to the door, and found, much to my dismay, that it was closed for the July 4th holiday. I was on the way back to my car when I heard tires screeching from the next street over.

I watched as five clown cars came careening around the corner. They did "Batman turns", spinning 180 degrees, sideways, until they each came to a stop against a different part of the curb. Doors flew open and squadrons of brightly-painted clowns clambered out. Some sprinted down the sidewalk, while others ran across the street, all carrying hacksaws in their hands. Each clown went up to a parking meter and lopped the top off of it. One very acrobatic clown climbed up onto the lone traffic signal in town. He pulled a blowtorch from his baggy pants and melted a security camera. After shimmying down, he ran back to his car, as did all of the other clowns, who then revved their engines and peeled rubber. I noticed that cheering crowds had begun to line both sides of Main Street.

Areola's Independence Day Parade had officially begun. I stood transfixed as various floats, marching bands, military formations, and other parade participants now came by, each with its own message concerning freedom.

First up was a flatbed truck loaded with people denouncing various members of state, federal, and local government. They shouted obscenities and racial epithets at one another while flipping the bird to we who were spectators. While quite vociferous, they did not come to blows - nor did the people being given the finger seem to take much offense. As a matter of fact, most smiled heartily and returned the gestures with some vehemence. As the rear of the truck came into view, I saw that it sported a sign saying "Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Will Never Hurt Me!"

A float, festooned with lovely pink and purple flowers, followed behind. Twelve people occupied the float - 7 men and 5 women - and it was divided into four separate areas made to look like the insides of various buildings. In one of the mock buildings, a man and a woman were being married by a Presbyterian minister. In another, two men were being joined in civil union by a Justice of the Peace. The third little building contained two women being hitched by a Wiccan. The remaining three people, in the fourth building, showed neither delight nor distaste, carried no placards or banners showing favoritism toward one religious practice or non-religious belief system, and in general gave the sense that the practices of the others, so long as they did not foist their beliefs on them, affected them not in the least.

Next up came a cadre of marching backyard barbecue chefs. They were deliberately serving very rare hamburgers accompanied by french fries cooked in trans-fat-laden oil. Meanwhile, vegetarians strode alongside, munching tofu burgers and enjoying plates of delightfully crunchy crudités and dip. Some of each were drinking beer, while others sipped wine, drank soft drinks, or enjoyed milkshakes variously made from whole milk, 2%, 1%, and soy. There was some good-natured ribbing concerning the supposed health risks (or benefits) of the other participant's food choices, but everybody seemed to understand that so long as they weren't being force-fed what they didn't want to eat, it was really none of their business what somebody else put into his or her mouth.

Fifteen bearded and bell-bottomed hippies came running up the street. They scattered among the crowd, flicking Bic lighters and burning every American flag in sight. The crowd of citizens did not cheer, nor did they try to enact laws forbidding the practice. However, fifteen veterans of war followed behind, somberly replacing every flag that had been burned. As they did so, they gave a very short speech about how they had specifically fought so that the freedom to do such things as protest via flag burning would be allowed, but that they were very proud of their flag and would see to it that each burned one would be replaced by a new one. Seeing that both sides of an argument could easily be made without interference from either government or legislation, the veterans and the hippies marched off arm-in-arm as the assembled throng cheered lustily.

Speaking of lust, next up was the Salute To Pornography float. A large movie screen adorned each side, and extremely graphic images were continuously shown. However, those people who had no desire to see such things could turn away and ignore it. In order to be fair to the more prudish members of the audience, a loudspeaker on the float blared out "Here comes the porno! If you don't want to see it, shut your eyes! If you don't want to hear it, go "Lalalalalalalala!" for the next minute or so! If you don't want your kids to see or hear it, tell them to shut their eyes and go "Lalalalalalalala!" for the next minute or so! However, please move to the back of the crowd and face the other way while doing so, since you don't want to ruin the enjoyment of anyone else! Thank you!" And the float rolled by without major incident (a few teens were reluctant to follow parental orders, but were dragged away before they could be gratified to a greater extent than their parents wanted them to be.)

I was enjoying myself immensely. A cigarette, I felt, would make my circle of happiness complete. I asked the person to my right if she minded if I smoked. She replied, "I don't care if you burn!" Having gotten the go-ahead from her, I turned to the person on my left and asked if he'd mind. He said that he had a slight asthmatic condition and would prefer that I not light up near him. Totally reasonable response, so, rather than inconvenience him, I removed myself to the back of the crowd and lit up there, blowing my smoke away from everyone.

(On the way, I tapped a few "Lalalalalalalala" folks on the shoulder and let them know that the porn float had gone by. They thanked me for thinking of them, and then asked me if they had missed anything. "Not too much," I responded. "There were some folks walking unlicensed dogs, and a car full of people making jokes about TSA's.")

After I finished my smoke, I returned to my spot at the front (graciously saved for me by the man whose asthma I didn't exacerbate. Ironically, I didn't get to see the Burning Leaves Without A Permit float, and he had to use his inhaler twice while it went by.)

Another loudspeaker announcement was heard: "Here come the women who believe they should have the same rights as men! They're wearing no tops! If you don't want to see titties, turn your heads!" Most of the folks who were returning from not having watched the porno float were now sighing resignedly and walking back to their former non-viewing spots at the back of the crowd. I felt a bit sorry for them, but then my attention was drawn by the marching boobs. Hubba-Hubba! Sure, there were a few grannies with droopies mixed in (and more power to them) as well as a few folks whose breasts were smaller than mine (I'm a 42-A) but the lovely variety of sizes, shapes, sways, bounces, and colors was absolutely dazzling. It was one of the best troops of tits (that's the scientific term) that I've ever had the pleasure of seeing in action.

Next came a collection of Priests, Rabbis, Ministers, Imams, Monks, Practitioners, Nuns, Ascetics, and other assorted religious folk. They were all saying prayers of one stripe or another, with each one realizing that, since his or her deity was the only real one, it didn't matter a whit what the other folks were saying since it was all just talk, so why not let them babble as much as they want and who is it going to hurt? Some atheists tagged along behind. They joked a bit about those in front of them, but not to the extent that anyone had reason to get angry.

The parade was nearing an end. I could see two more floats coming.

The first was filled with AK-47s, pistols, slingshots, cannisters of pepper spray, nunchuks, rifles, nail guns, ice picks, machetes, cricket bats, and knives. All of the various weapons were NOT in the hands of people, and thus were entirely harmless. The people riding the float were explaining to the crowd that expertise with said arsenal - loading and unloading the guns in a safe fashion, taking apart the more complicated weaponry and putting it back together, knowing how such things as safeties worked, sheathing the knives without cutting off any body parts, and also not inadvertently putting out someone's eye with the slingshots - could be an effective deterrent to violent crimes. A copy of the Second Amendment was prominently displayed, and the riders took great pains to point out that it's always better to actually know how to operate your weapon safely than to just rush out, willy-nilly, to buy one while thinking there's no chance that you won't blow your own ass off with it.

The last float was done up in tie-dye, with lava lamps strewn about, and had humongous speakers blasting Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, and Snoop Dogg. The riders on the float were tossing huge fatties of marijuana into the crowd. Those folks who liked pot were lighting up (after first asking the folks next to them if it was OK, of course) and those who didn't like the effect just ignored the joints in the street.

(A few people in wheelchairs and hospital beds followed behind, some being assisted along the route with the aid of friends. They gathered up the leftover weed, toked up, and had some of their most heinous pains and ailments relieved almost immediately. I tossed them the handful of bones I had picked up.)

At the very end of the parade was the Mayor of Areola. He was riding in a 1990 Chevy Blazer, not a limousine, and he was driving himself. His paycheck, equal to the average net income of all residents and thus inexorably tied to the prosperity his administration brought to the town, was proudly displayed. I hadn't noticed before, but there was a reviewing stand right across the street from where I stood, and The Mayor pulled up to it and got out, then mounted the steps to the stage. He stepped up to the microphone and said...

"Fellow citizens of Areola, Happy Independence Day! I'm glad you've had a good time at our celebration, but, as you know, true freedom must be coupled with personal responsibility. We are truly free only if we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions. If you get drunk, you have no right to piss and moan about whatever hangover you might have the next day. And none of us is truly free unless we are willing to extend to our fellow men and women the same freedoms we truly crave. So, please go forth, with love and respect, for all whose beliefs and actions may differ from yours, understanding that they are likely to afford you that same love and respect if you do so. In other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And know that every time you build a jail, the possibility exists that someday you might be the one thrown into it. Thank you!"

The crowd reacted with hearty applause, then dispersed peacefully as fireworks erupted in the background. I had to be in Perineum before nightfall - it's right between Connecticut and New York City - so I got in my car and drove off.

Later that evening, as I lay in bed in my motel room watching the 11 o'clock news, I saw that every last citizen of Areola had been arrested and the federal government had declared martial law in the town. It seems that what I thought was a fireworks display had actually been the local Internal Revenue Service office being blown up.

Oh, well. I still say it was the best Independence Day celebration I've ever witnessed.

Soon, with more better stuff.