Saturday, August 8, 2015

Softball Hardtime

In the early 1980’s, I had the opportunity to play softball with some of my co-workers, if only for one game however, a game for which they had failed to recruit enough of their regular players. The game took place at an exclusive ball field where the opposing team always had the home team advantage: The Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Ky. They were rumored to be undefeated.

We assembled our group of fresh fish at one of the razor wire entry gates leading to the ballfield located within the confines of the “Castle on the Cumberland”. We passed through this gate as it closed up behind us. A second gate would find us walking down the first base line toward home plate. Freedom was a long way off from here.

A few minutes later, a massive steel door along a tall stone wall screeched open and the inmates began to trickle out and gather in small groups around the field. A half dozen sunbaked, wild eyed ball slingers took the infield and began to warm up. Slow pitch softball has nothing to do with base to base hurling. The inmates were putting on a show, a very high speed show.

Other inmates talked with us as we waited for the game to start.

“You see dat infield, boy?” One of them asked. “If yo ball don’t get out dat infield, you out! Don’t you worry ‘bout fust base. You ain’t gone make it.”

“An all dem boys is murderers.” He pointed to the infield. “Dat home plate umpire…he a murderer, too.”

I could see why some of our regular players were unavailable.

Anyway, win or lose, playing the game was now the only way out of here.

“Batter up!”

Our first at bat was uneventful, other than confirming the captive Prophets’ predictions. “What I tell you, boy?” Laughing as he called the play-by-play from behind the dugout.

Our fielding wasn’t much better, giving up several runs before the inning was over.

Tommy, one of our better players, stepped into the batter’s box with all of the confidence of a big hitter, having, on occasion, pointed to an out-of-park location in a prophecy of his own making. 

He dispatched the second pitch high over the right field fence, bouncing off the roof of one of the perimeter buildings.

“Double!” The empire bellowed.

One of the little known rules of this particular field was that any hit striking the roof of the building beyond right field was counted as a double.

Tommy was dismayed but stopped at second base. He later dropped one over the fence to left field for a home run.

Probably the smallest, yet best all-around athletes on our team was a fellow nicknamed “Wiener”, who somehow managed to advance to third and was threatening to steal home. A fly ball gave him the green light as he dove across the plate, taking out the legs of the catcher who was none too happy about it. The Umpire stepped up to discourage any discussion that the catcher might have as Weiner trotted to the dugout. He was pronounced “out” but I think he was proud just the same.

One of our guys had worn a pair of loud, plaid “Bermuda” shorts; not a good choice, we thought, considering where we were. Somebody called him by name but what the inmates heard was a little bit different.

“Lisa! Lisa!” They heckled. He must have felt like the day would never end.

But eventually, the game came to a close, having let the inmates eek out a win of about 20 something to three. They were really good sports about it though and invited us back anytime, as they really had nothing better to do.

We knew that.

Slowly the inmates made their way back up to the big steel door where, when the last man passed through, the door slammed shut, echoing off the nearby hill. It was an imposing sound followed by an eerie silence. 

We just couldn’t get through those gates quick enough. We lost the game but having come away from there, we felt like winners.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Dead End Street

Trying to pinpoint a year in my life is like locating your upper floor hotel room from the parking lot. And if by chance, I should be on the wrong side of the building, I hope someone lets me know.

Somewhere in the early to mid-nineteen sixties, I lived near the end of North College Street in Marion, at number 502.  College Street was a no outlet street, terminating at creek’s edge, three houses down. In those days, a “no outlet” street was unheard of, as they were commonly called Dead End streets. Ours had a big white wooden sign with black letters spelling, “DEAD END”, right there at the end of the pavement, so that there would be no doubt, exactly where you were. An eight or nine year old might read into this, “BEYOND HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS”, and in our minds, there probably were.

The last house on our side of the street was home to Johnny. He was almost a full year older than me. Plus or minus a year usually makes a big difference when you’re a kid, but if it did, I didn’t notice it at the time. He was already building plastic models; one in particular was an Army tank of some sort with several machine guns mounted on top. I really thought this was cool.

The sidewalk in front of Johnny’s house ended like the street: abruptly, dropping off into the corner of the yard before leveling off in their driveway. This was the perfect launching site for many a red wagon juggernaut and later, a ramp for our bicycles.

I remember once seeing a multicolored string lying on the ground after our wagon made a pass. I went back to pick it up but it decided to slither across the yard.  After much commotion, Johnny’s Dad, a tall thin man, came out and dispatched the snake with a hoe. We were always on the lookout after that. Snakes were probably common around the creek side, but us being the terrors of the neighborhood, they were probably more afraid of us than we were of them, so we didn’t see very many.

There was a street light situated right over the dead end sign, drawing night bugs and of course, bats. On summer nights, when we were allowed to play outside after dark, we would throw small rocks up in the air and watch the bats chase them. This was also the place to hone ones skills with a slingshot, culminating in lots of pock marks in the sign from BBs and small stones.

If you gathered two or three boys together, chances are, one of them had firecrackers in his pocket and they were crying out to be lit. We blew up everything: toy soldiers, stick huts, crawdad holes, you name it, and when we ran out of things on the ground, we looked to the skies.

With some regularity, the “Air Force” as we called them, passed overhead in C-119, Flying Boxcars. We knew they were Air Force, because they were the ones with the airplanes, right?

Anyway, we would find an old pipe, or in one occasion, an old Pogo stick with the handle gone, and stick it in the ground, lined up with the flight path of the oncoming planes. We placed a firecracker in the top end of the tube and hooked the fuse over the edge. Once the fuse was lit, and the hook burned away, it fell down the pipe and went off. The U.S. would boast the world’s largest Air Force, but when I was a kid, we shot a whole lot of them down.

We learned a lot about science, you know, why things do what they do. We discovered that, if your firecracker failed to go off, all was not lost. We broke the firecracker in half, and lit the exposed powder. This would provide a show of sparks and if you still wanted to get the bang, you stomped it while it was spewing. This was hard on my old tennis shoes.

We knew that Mom’s Strike-Anywhere kitchen stick matches fit nicely in the end of our BB guns and when fired at the sidewalk, would pop and ignite into flames.

Caps were a great invention. They were not only a fun supplement for your cap gun; they were also a singular source of amusement in themselves. These could be set off, one at a time, or even a whole roll under the impact of a good claw hammer. This was amazingly loud for a roll of caps.

We played Army a lot, hiding in the weeds or bushes along the creek, ready to shoot or be shot, and then argue as to who shot who first. We were into camouflage long before it was a fashion statement, with weeds sticking out of our plastic helmets and sometimes our clothes. I think we could have had as much fun with simply a game of hide-and-seek, as the hideout was the biggest part of it all. But, we were too big for that, we thought, so our toy guns and garb made all the difference.

But, life was not all about pyrotechnics and such.

There were also baseball cards. It was a proud display to have your cards lined up on the sidewalk, set up your “Dream Team”, or trade for someone else’s. Names were everything. Names like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Yogi Berra just sounded like great players, even if they hadn’t been. So many future valuable cards were lost in the spokes of our bicycles, not to mention, many of Mom’s clothes pins.

The Ben Franklin store, on Main Street, offered a kid everything he needed to survive in the world. They carried all of the fodder needed to cultivate the imagination. The people who worked there knew this, as they watched kids very closely.

There, I was introduced to the world of wind-up balsa airplanes, making a dead end street a fine runway for our rubber band squadron. The flights were short and often ended disastrously, but every once in a while, one unlikely take-off would catch the breeze and soar on a seemingly endless flight, only to turn and make a perfect landing right in front of me.

I still live for those moments.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

23b: Cruising the Town

The 23b repair sled was on-call for the evening but the boss seemed to be having a good night and it looked like we were not going to have to work. For a delivery guy who only works one night out of the year, he has a pretty good record of satisfied customers.

Anyway, it was a quiet but cold Christmas Eve here in Princeton, so I thought I would take the team out for a spin around town. I laid down the better half of my leftover burrito, harnessed the team and popped the whip just over their antlers. They turned and looked back at me as if to say, "Are you crazy??"

"Uh...fellows...?" I said, as the sled suddenly lurched forward.

We zipped out across the yard and banked up to the left, clearing a split rail fence and clipping the top of the neighbors hackberry tree before leveling off at a couple hundred feet above an asthmatic barking dog on Cadiz Street. I could see the Christmas lights around the court house as we cruised out along North Jefferson.

As we approached the city limits, the team suddenly dipped and made a hard left. I realized that we were lining up on the East bound lanes of I-69, specifically, the overpass under Providence Rd. I pulled the reins hard as the steel and concrete whizzed just over head. We just squeaked by an oncoming eighteen-wheeler and buzzed the top of a family in a white SUV with fuzzy antlers on the luggage racks.

It was close...I counted 8 points.

We made the turn back towards town and stopped next to Wal-mart where I went in and bought some donuts and a couple of banana moon pies for Rude and Nasty and we were off again, just missing the power lines along the highway.

Passing just south of Main Street on the way home, I could see a white SUV at the Police Dept. with a mess on it's roof. I guess I know where the other half of my burrito went.

He's not called Nasty for nothing.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

I was a Robot

It was in the fall of 1963, when I was nine years old, that I began to prepare for that ultimate costume celebration.  At that time, robots were big. All a fellow needed was a couple of big boxes, some silver paint, lots of duct tape, and after a few craftily made cuts with one of Mom’s steak knives, it was “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”

I was a skinny kid and, of course, there were no skinny legged robots, so I decided that I would beef up my appearance with those round tube boxes from the Quaker Oats company. I really felt brilliant as they were just about the right size to fit inside my pants legs with one at the thigh and another at the shin with a space in between for my knees. I finished it off with a torso wrap of cardboard and duct tape and a box for a head.

Man, I was ready.

I grabbed an appropriate sized pillow case and set out to plunder the neighborhood in the quest for the treasure more precious than gold: Trick-or-treat candy.

As the evening progressed, and the pillow case filled up, gravity began to tug at the oatmeal boxes and it wasn’t long before the space designated for knees was no more. So, while I could still sort-of walk and drag my loot, we decided to finish up at a couple of high porch houses along the home stretch.

I managed the stairs and collected a popcorn ball, and dropped it into the sack amongst caramel apples, Milk Duds, Sugar Daddies, a black banana, 47 different chocolate bars, eighteen and a half pounds of everything else and 38 cents in nickels and pennies from people who just wanted the varmints off of their porch. I turned and reached out for a non-existent hand rail and found myself in free fall without a chute.

I crashed through the prickly top of an evergreen shrub and rolled out into the yard, a broken robot. I limped home dragging the bottom out of the bag and leaving a trail of hard candy and licorice.

 The rest of the night would find me sorting and eating the inventory and feeding the piggy bank.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Taunting

I remember a really good story teller from my younger days who could make my hair stand up with her ghost stories and tall tales. She was mother to a friend of mine when we were guitar players dreaming of fame.

One night when she was walking home after visiting a nearby nieghbor, we dicided to hide in a late summer garden alongside the road, to see if we could rattle the great rattler.

As she walked by, we tossed corn cobbs into the road and made noises, which she ignored at first. After a couple more attempts to get a rise from her, she stopped, turned to face the garden, and took one step forward, pulling a 10-inch butcher knife from her purse.

"C'mon out, ye sons-o-bitches!" she scowled. "I'll cut yer guts out!"

We came out...the other side of the garden...running.

Careful who you mess with.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Back around July of 1971, my older brother and I went to the Marion Jail to visit a friend of his who was, at that time, a guest of the County. The old jailhouse, having been built in 1901, was a bleak environment of stone and iron bars and in every respect, a bad place to be.

It was the heat of the summer that found us standing beside an open second floor window where a slight breeze might be felt coming through the bars. The window sash had been cocked to stay up because the sash wieghts no longer held the window.

At some point I leaned on the window sill which displaced four or five molecules of the window frame, just enough to send the sash crashing down in a shower of flying glass.

The Jailor and his Deputy came running up the stairs in typical SWAT team fashion, to get to the bottom of what he might have thought was a failed jail break. We explained the situation which seemed to suffice but the less than amused Jailor proclaimed that our visit was officially over.

That's right.

We were kicked out of jail.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Beast

This was as far as I was going to go. I knew this moment would come, and that the outcome was inevitable, so it would be here, that I would be forced to make a stand.
From the deepest part of the woods, it had come. Every other creature that roams the night had fallen silent, even the dogs were strangely quiet, perhaps knowing that this was way out of their league.
It gave a low, rumbling growl, the kind you felt as well as heard. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I felt a numbing cold and became acutely aware of every other small noise in the house. A great breathe exhaled outside as the weight of something large pressed heavily on the wall and the door.
My eyes were drawn to the top of the door where the panels were beginning to bulge and crack. The sound of enormous claws raked the woodwork as it quickly became enraged. I knew that the old door would not stop it and I braced.
Suddenly the door panels gave way as I reached for my last line of defense, holding it out in front of me, my thumb quickly pressed down. For a moment the room went dark and then…
“And now, your Local on the 8s. The temperature for your area is 62 degrees under partly cloudy skies…”