Z28 Footnotes

(don’t try this at home kids!)

years ago I was real lost and damned
high somewhere above waiting river road
admiring the shine and stripes on her.

the lawless monkey clung
with sharp spurs in my back
as I heard her hurst four speed shifter calling.

we soon foolishly aimed speeding moonlit chrome
through terrible thrill lottery of unsuspecting others
on mother earths twisted roads.

it was rinzai rodeo on wild wide bucking rubbers,
deep and down with ma natures wrinkles;
all hot and revved up she was with delicious horsepower beckoning.

she called as we tore through them all,
sliding with drift screaming;
intimate and ravishing every wily weaving curve of road.

barely hanging on as we thrashed real good back and forth
in sliding sideways time from haphazard moves
on tree lined roads of living breathing earth

to the geometric and sequential manicured and captive lawns
bound and gagged with well intentioned concrete;
from blur to blur we slid and smoked, and you know about intentions.

streets of skid marked long linear straight jackets with
crisscrossed yellow striped asphalt restraining belts
were hard surface bondage. need of release had us on edge.

we thrashed all sacred and unholy with a snarl
to try to free us both from restraints somehow,
if but for a moment.

my rebops were cool and tapped her roaring footnotes,
all brash and slash smoldering strokes;
she howled strange new age zen in teckno glide calligraphy

on spinning squealing paintbrushes
backed by screaming eight piece combo from detroit;
she was a real rapid dose of rigid alloys and dense steel.

all over rural and urban canvas we painted hard rock lines in smoke.
six grand or so spun wildly while we brushed and wrote.
we searched long moments where scenery blurs and smears.

we tangled in wailing sideways strokes, to chords of gear change
after gear change after gear change; a tune of mechanical notes.
then, chasing fans under flashing ruby lights

came at us I think
for maybe autographs or more,
but couldn’t keep it up.

we grinned real loud and
gave them our best
fine fading footnotes.

(she was an ’74 Z28 LT1 slammed, jammed and with enough horsepower to smoke the tires anytime you wanted to all the way up to 120mph)

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dis aster (aka to wish upon a new clear star)

dis aster rose in west two hours before was due
was human made sun and born to end what other star gave life to

in darkness was brighter than usual break of day
and only winked and wanned unlike the one that lit our way

and then a rolling wave from star came near
leveling every thing regardless if uncared for or dear

as I became a shadow on a wall
I realized too late it’s not a sun at all

(The word disaster comes from the Middle French désastre from the old Italian disastro, which comes from the Greek pejorative prefix dis- (bad; Gr: δυσ-) + aster (star; Gr: ἀστήρ). So disaster literally means “bad star”. The sense is astrological, of a calamity blamed on an unfavorable position of a planet or star.)

Author Notes
light is love yet sometimes light not love at all.

gladiators of new rome (NOT FOR LONG)

while NASCAR chariots make left turns all day
for mob swilling dew and whatever comes their way;

only pleasure is the populations mainstay
since herd’s best entertained with NFL blood and fray.

now we’re all stadium crowds or flatscreen fans on gameday
as gladiators of new rome get cheered racous and rampant ’til doomsday.

Author Notes

their bodies WERE the weapons in the history of the NFL like the gladiators of yesterday. Now we see the sport as changed by PC and modern juris prudence. Some of us played it the way it was envisioned and now it is what it is. What football was is not now and will be less and less every day but it’s still the closest thing to war you can see in team sports besides hockey and lacrosse.

football as we know it is gone. the numbers of today are skewed and cannot be compared to what it was when football was brutal and quarterbacks and receivers were targets. Manning is great but couldn’t have made it in the heyday. my humble opinion as a middle linebacker.

GO NINERS! come on Kap, see the field, know your weapons, use that pocket, anticipate and deliver WITH SOME FREAKING TOUCH, we know you can smoke that pigskin when ya gotta!
– See more at: http://allpoetry.com/poem/11715357-gladiators-of-new-rome–Not-For-Long–by-jim-christ#sthash.tdXJcNoG.dpuf

Summer Night Slopes of Adolescence (formerly summer nights and golf courses)

Although I’m a hacker (golf, mind you); my fondest memories on a golf course occurred many years ago in the southern part of the golden state in a green hills part of lost angels in the south bay right along the coast. The sixties were rolling along in the mids, experimentation of all kinds was rampant and we were finding new ways every day to make new and amusing adventures and memories. Our code motto to remind each other that time was a’wastin’ was, “hey, we’re burnin’ daylight”. We were a band of wild revelers and pranksters. We had a sense of the absurd and the creative and drove each other into situations that escalated into the wondrous. If you’ve been there and done that yourself you know exactly what I mean and if not; it’s why stories like this are recounted.

Summer nights in lost angels at that time for us were memorable no matter what happened. There was adventure waiting just around the corner for us at all times. In those days there were only six million on those freeways. It sprawled from the Palos Verdes peninsula to Ventura and from the ocean to the badlands of the eastern boundaries. It was a circus of cars, hot rods, wild young kids, millions that had not a clue all contributing whether they knew it or not.

Our summer nights were usually spent at the beach, on the strand (that concrete walkway that borders the beaches) or coming up with totally whacko ways to stretch the envelope of experience. Although some of those things aren’t subjects for nostalgia rants like this, our golf course adventures were some of the more tame and acceptable forms of recreation.

The golf course was a natural magnet for us when night had fallen. It was our own wonderful world away from the swarming masses. The manicured rolling hills and fairways beckoned to us long before we actually began prankish behavior there. In our early years in high school before we were driving; we’d walk on the course to one of our spots and talk and watch stars or night sky fuzzed at the edges by the lights of Los Angeles. There weren’t many places we could go where those millions of lights didn’t light up the night sky. On the other hand, there were places where we would go to see those lights that twinkled all the way to the horizon. It was a pastime of everybody we knew to find places to watch the sprawling lights. The golf course was at first a place where we went to sit around in our own space and then later became a place where we knew every nook and cranny and graduated to other wonderful and wild things.

The golf carts were originally kept in a big shed with a metal roof and wood walls that was hidden in some trees just off the first fairway. The shed was out of view of the clubhouse and pro shop. When we began our night races and games of hide and go seek or cart tag the carts were not only unlocked but either full of gas or all charged up and ready to go for full nights of fun and frolic. We knew the habits of the night watchman. He had a little building near the pro shop with a big window and a floodlight on the front. He was a nice old guy and could barely walk. He had a television that you could see him watching through his big window and was sometimes asleep in his chair by midnight. Soon thereafter there was another old guy that took over the shift. His habits were about the same except that he was usually asleep after he’d been there an hour or so. Both of them never ventured out onto the golf course in those early years when we were making the golf course our nocturnal amusement park. Years later they were replaced by serious active younger guys that acted like they were guarding Fort Knox or something. When that happened everything was changed forever but that’s another story altogether.

The old security guard that we met by chance was a very nice guy. He usually stopped at a convenience store on the way to the golf course each night to buy himself a pack of cigarettes or two and something to drink. Just by chance we were there at the same time one night and said hi and spent a few moments in idle chatter. He was in a great mood and we were sure he’d never use that gun strapped to his hip unless he caught somebody breaking into the pro shop or the clubhouse. It was 1964 and in our world he was one of the more understanding adults of his generation that we knew and always had a kind word and a smile for us and actually listened and answered questions without any attitude. There he was one of the nicest old guys we knew and we were taking advantage of him. We decided we’d use the golf course and it’s equipment but that we would never vandalize or destroy anything while we were there.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of those rural sprawling estates areas on the outskirts of south Los Angeles. Just south of the Hollywood Riviera section of Torrance in the rolling hills not far from the coastal bluffs was Palos Verdes High School. To the north of the avenues of Torrance Beach was Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and El Porto. This was the community we ran wild in. The golf course was big and expansive and had a plethora of detached and sequestered geographic pockets. It was our enormous amusement park where we roamed and played and reigned supreme. When we began our adventures there; we treated the golf course with respect and never left a sign we had been there at all unless we left in the morning after the dew had collected. If we left too late there would be walking trails where we had been until the sun dissipated the telltale signs. We noticed that early on and adjusted our schedule so that the early arriving greens keepers had no clues to unlock secrets of night before.
We enjoyed our private sanctuary and did our due diligence to ensure we wouldn’t screw it up.

We roamed the golf course for months until we worked up the courage to check out the golf carts. The carts were situated in a place that was very easy to get in and out of without even getting close to the guard building. In the beginning the carts weren’t even chained up or locked up in any way. There they were, sitting there all gassed or charged up or on chargers and ready to go. There were gas engine models as well as the electric carts but when we began these adventures after lengthy discussions we decided to only use the electric carts because they wouldn’t show signs of gas usage and above all didn’t make the noise that those faster and probably more thrilling carts would make. When I think about it now; we were really careful about stretching the envelope of life even though we were only fourteen or fifteen years old.

At the beginning of these adventures just reveling in the nooks and crannies of the golf course were good enough. After a time we succumbed to the allure and thrill of driving golf carts in the night through our own private park. Eventually were having races on the fairways of holes nine and ten where there were no houses and where we wouldn’t bother the guards. We had all manner of games that we played in the carts. We were careful not to tear up the grounds or the carts and cause no wear and tear that would be noticed. In those first months a six pack of sodas and a bag of chips or other munchies were the extent of our refreshments and we packed out everything we took in so there’d be no evidence. Everybody we introduced to our wonderland played by our rules and did as we did. That lasted about a year or so.

Things changed when one of the regulars invited his older brother and a couple of his friends. They showed up with six packs of beer and know it all attitudes. The beer didn’t bother us at first because we had no idea how they’d act after a few of them. We had established routes from the cart area through the course that avoided observation if the on duty guard was outside his shack smoking a cigarette as well as from surrounding neighbors houses and roads around the periphery. Once we were clear and in the outbacks of the golf course, the older guys took off on their own and were doing things we never did that could ruin the whole thing. The second time the older guys showed up without an invite they had girls with them who couldn’t keep their voices down and whose laughter you could hear from far away. Our rules were being shattered and things were getting out of control. That night there were about a dozen of us on the course, more than had ever been there at the same time before. We were where we usually were in the safety zone of the back holes but the older guys and their dates we could hear hooting and hollering and laughing along with occasional whoomps or crashing sounds. Whatever they were doing; we had a feeling that things were never going to be the same and we didn’t know it then but we were right.

None of the carts were wrecked that night, despite the older clowns playing chicken and other games that were over the top. There were some paint scratches and beer spills on seats and floors and we were sure it would tip off our joy rides to the maintenance man. Another thing we didn’t know until later is that instead of packing out or hiding their beer cans; they’d thrown them all over the place on fairways and other places they been marauding.

Nothing changed immediately and we were able to have a few more nights with our usual activities but that summer would be the last that the carts were unlocked and kept in the area where we had first started borrowing them. The older guys were making forays on their own whenever they felt like it and getting wilder and wilder until neighbors started calling police and they eventually were caught.

In a way it was one of the most horrible things that happened to us up until then but in a way it was a wake up call and forced us to be more creative and careful with who we trusted. The next summer we were not able to liberate the golf carts so we were forced to come up with plan two.

Our new idea was not as high tech or as long range mobile as the golf cart races but it became the favorite pastime of that era. In many ways; it was more fun and far reaching than times with the golf carts had been and more importantly was fun that didn’t interest the older vandals at all. They’d moved on to bigger and better things. At the time we made the next discovery and change in our golf course night activities most of us were driving cars or motorcycles and were far beyond the mystique and novelty of golf carts but were still drawn to the magic of the empty golf course and it’s moonlit parklike sanctuary. There was just something unexplainable about those grassy enormous rolling knolls and hills back on the ninth and tenth and eleventh holes areas. All around them the woods at the top of surrounding hills framed the course with their borderlands of shadows and mystery just waiting for us. Those places were hands down the best place to see the stars on clear nights without moon or to play around when it was moon bright and lit like day far beyond the estate drives and street lights of the surrounding area.

The hills around the back holes were long, smooth cut grass rollercoasters that were hundreds of yards to the bottom. Our new game was conjured late one night after star watching and storytelling when we found that we could run and then slide for yards in the wet grass down the hill. After a few thrill slides down the hill we made a starting line and had a contest for longest slide on two or one foot. If you fell that ended your slide and was your mark. Although none of us drank beer at that time we were experimenting with pot and other mind altering substances. At that time our interests were becoming getting high, girls, motorcycles, cars, music and the wonders of nature and pretty much in that order. There was something that surfaced in all those things about reliving and feeling our childhood and that joy of life which had been there in sweet but short moments. It was an undercurrent in all our activities at the time. As time went on we letting our hair get longer and wearing beads and bellbottoms. Psychedelic music and current pop tunes were constantly our background sounds for everything. We were expanding our consciousness and slowly maturing in a way that was alien and foreign to our parents at the same time we were trying to find new ways of recapturing something that was gone forever.

While we were sliding down those slopes in our bare feet there was a noise they made in that wet cool grass. Bare feet were a part of life in the south bay of Los Angeles and the only times we wore shoes during high school years were places like school, church, work, restaurants that had that sign or during sports endeavors in places other than at the beach. The rest of the time was barefoot time. I remember the words of Redondo Pier Bob, the wino, when he said, “I’m barefooted because I like to walk on the earth and stay connected to it. When I walk in shoes I walk on shoe leather and am not connected to the earth at all”. Wisdom from a wino from the beach was good enough for us because it made sense at that moment. We not only walked everywhere we could in bare feet, and drove our motorcycles and cars in bare feet; we liked to slide down those long dark or moonlit magic slopes of the golf course with bare feet as well.

One particular night one of us had a brainstorm. Now we don’t remember who had the idea first, but all of us saw the genius in it as soon as we heard it. We were convinced if we got blocks of ice; we could sit on them and slide faster and farther down those long grassy slopes. Sitting on a block of ice with feet as balancers and stabilizers would be a wild ride, silent and much more fun that sliding on bare feet alone. We figured our weight would be distributed more evenly, there would be way less friction and that the ride would be amazing. With our feet as steering guides triangulating with the ice block under our fannies it would be a maximum thrill ride. We couldn’t wait to test the theory and made plans to get ice blocks for our next visit.

When the time had arrived for our next foray we all stopped at the ice company and bought big blocks of ice. We brought burlap bags to drag them with and cardboard for the top of the block where our fannies would for insulation and to keep our butts dry. We walked and dragged those burlap sacked ice blocks back to our playground. The ice blocks had only costed us a few dollars apiece and the burlap sacks had come from one of the gangs garage where there were hundreds of them sitting folded and waiting for some fun. We were right. Sitting on a block of ice with the folded burlap sack and a piece of cardboard on top and our legs out in front to each side and our hands extended for balance when we really got going found us rocketing down the hill at speeds you had to experience to believe. After awhile the burlap and cardboard were soaked though and so were our butts. It didn’t matter that first night at all though; we had downhill races, who could go the farthest contests, downhill spinning around contests for farthest without falling off and for best and most spins and the ultimate short slides standing on the cube and surfing the hill as far as we could go which was always just a few precious feet of out of control pell-mell thrills laughing all the way.

As we became more experienced we covered the ice blocks with plastic bags and cardboard boxes with only the bottom exposed where the ice met the grass. Like that the girls would ride them as well and nobodies butt got wet after a few rides. Sometimes there would be a dozen or so of us, maintaining silence and racing at the speed of ice and feet swishing through the wet grass with a noise that was one of a kind. It was white noise underneath and the wind going past your ears above. It was magic. Going down those slopes in groups, everybody zooming this way and that with only the sound of our feet swishing through the grass and the wind were moments I’ll never forget. After high school we never went back to the golf course although we talked about it from time to time. We reminded each other of those times with deep nostalgia and satisfaction and longing and made plans to do it again although we never did. When I remember the sound of feet and ice block in the grass, wind in hair and ears and stars or moon in the sky along with oohs and ahhs we all took down those slopes; it hits me and holds me like very few other things. Those sounds and feelings were one of a kind.

Years later on a visit to Lost Angels I met one of greens keepers from the golf course by coincidence at a friends house. I’d been a gypsy following the music and then done a tour in the Air Force. When I got out of the Air Force; I moved to northern California and those back pages were a memory that surfaced from time to time. As I mentioned our revels and highjinks on the back slopes of the golf course years earlier; he suddenly lit up like a floodlight. Smiling and laughing he said, “you know, we found big blocks of ice at the bottom of those slopes a few times in the early mornings while mowing or whipping the greens. They were usually in the bushes near the tenth fairway until now I never had a clue about them. Now I know, and that solves a mystery none of us could imagine when we found them. We didn’t know what to think. Wish I had been there with you guys to see what it was like”.

“It’s a small world”, I thought to myself as I remembered the sounds of the wet grass hissing under my feet and a block of ice with others sliding and quietly whooping all around me as we raced down the slopes of fading adolescence.

The Rat I Knew And Loved

My parents told me under no circumstances would I be allowed to have a pet hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, mouse, rat, cat, dog, snake or horse. I could have a turtle if I wanted one. I asked for other pets rather than a turtle many times but was turned down.

A friend at school was one of the group that walked home together. His house was on the way and we usually stopped there for at least a few minutes and sometimes for hours. He and his family raised rats.

There was a wall in their garage next to his dads workshop filled with cages. He and his brother raised the rats and sold them to a local pet shop for pets and feeders and they also sold them to a local university to the science department. Most of the rats were sold to the university.

My friends name was Jack. I watched the way the rats acted with his brother and father and sisters and our friends but they acted changed when Jack was there. Those rats loved Jack. Those rats acted very differently around Jack. The way they acted and sounded around him was like night and day. You could see it in their faces and eyes and hear it in their voices clear as a bell. His dad was always after him to spend as much time cleaning the cages as he did playing with all the rats. The rats were easy to understand. When they were happy all the litter and food stayed in their cages. When they were agitated or out of sorts they would kick all the stuff all over the floor. Jack thought it was funny and told me it was them shouting at him or somebody else about something the only way they knew how. I right then realized how grown up Jack was compared to myself. It made me think that maybe being with and taking care of a rat might be a good thing.

After school when we’d stop at Jacks house; we sometimes help clean cages, fill food dishes and top off water bottles. That was a blast. Before we knew it those rats were almost as happy to see us as to see Jack. It was one of the special times of my life. After chores we’d sit around a little card table in chairs and watch the rats watching us and talk about the rats and school and tell jokes. Jacks dad and his friends played cards there at night. Jack told me his mom didn’t want him and his loud friends in the house so they played out here to keep the peace. The garage was workbenches, refrigerators, washer, dryer, cardroom and rat farm. After school on weekdays it became a place where Jack, Dave and I and sometimes Jacks little brother played card games like hearts and spades and sometimes even jigsaw puzzles. The rats paid attention while we drank sodas, ate peanuts, and played cards. It was the best spot to spend a rainy afternoon. And all the time the rats were a part of everything. Those rats seemed to have a wild cycle that peaked at the full moon, or so Jack said. While we were playing cards, Jack would usually have a few of them on the table, walking around and checking things out. Each one of them went about exploring in different ways. Jack would hand feed them while he played cards.

The biggest rat there though he was not the oldest rat was white with one light gray spot. He had a long pink tail. He had big black eyes. Jack called him popper because he did this thing in his cage that made the whole cage move and go bang. Jack told me his dad didn’t like popper and his antics because he made too much noise when the men were there at night playing cards. He was always banging his cage and making a racket. Finally Jacks dad told him it was time to sell popper to one of his buyers or else. Jack asked me to please give him a home and we made a deal. I never got to hear popper pop his cage either there or at my house but maybe it was because the door on the cage was never closed again. I traded Jack a bag of marbles and handful of baseball cards for popper. I promptly renamed him poppa rat. I smuggled him into my house in my knapsack. I’d just drop a line from my window on the third floor to the back garden to pull his cage and litter and food in the window.

I remember walking into the house that day through the kitchen where nanny was cooking and sitting with three of my brothers while mother was down the hall in her project room with a few of her friends planning something. It was up two flights of stairs as quick as I could to my room. Poppa rat never made a sound. Since my parents had only been to my room once in two years I hoped and thought we’d probably be safe.

After I closed the door to my room; I opened the knapsack on my bed and poppa rat crawled out wiggling pink nose and white silver nose hairs. He blinked black eyes and dragged long pink tail behind. We pulled up the cage without bumping it on the side of the house and dryed all the evening dew off of it together. The bags of food and litter went in the closet up on the shelf. He watched every single thing I did. Jack had given me an idea of how to set up poppa rats quarters. He said up off the floor better because out of the draft. Jack had been to my house and had seen my bookshelves. He told me he had a rat in his room that never left the shelf before they set up all the cages in their garage. He thought poppa rat would like that shelf and I could put a ramp up to it so he could go there and get around the room when I wanted, or I could take the ramp down and he’d have his shelf. I cleared that shelf of all small things, left some books to sit on and hide behind and put his cage at one end with a tee shirt as bedding At the other end of the shelf went the tray Jack gave me for the litter. Poppa rats food dish was in the middle of the shelf against the wall. For the first time, I held poppa rat up and looked at him closely and he licked me. It was the first time he was that close to my nose and he smelled like cigars. Later he smelled like my undershirts or where ever he slept or like what he’d just eaten.

After inspection I put him in his tray with the shavings litter. He played around in it for a bit and did his thing and after he’d rooted around awhile I made little scratching noises that he heard and followed up and over a couple of the books that I’d left as perches mid shelf. In no time he was sniffing around and crawling in and out of things and over things and watching me while he wasn’t exploring. Where ever I went in the room he followed on the shelf. I was glad he liked me and his new home. When nanny called me for dinner he was sitting on my undershirt licking his feet.

When I got upstairs after dinner he was asleep right where I’d left him. He woke and we played around until it was time for bed. It wasn’t lonely up here any more. Good old poppa rat.

For the first few weeks I was worried about getting caught with him in my room but as weeks and weeks passed I finally stopped worrying. For the first few weeks I would hand transport him from the shelf when I came to the room. We’d play or do homework on the floor or in the bed or at the desk or we’d read. He’d be right there if I was building radios or models or painting and drawing or carving. He liked it all. We’d listen to stations all over the world on the short wave or crawl around on the floor like maniacs or sometimes just stare out one of the windows and watch the clouds.

One day I picked up a piece of wood that went from one end of the shelf to the floor where it met the other wall. It made a perfect angled ramp so that poppa rat could come and go as he pleased when I was home. When I was out poppa rat had his shelf penthouse. We were happy campers.

Any time I wanted poppa rat to visit I’d make little scratching noises and he’d instantly appear. When he wanted to play he would squeak to let me know. Sometimes I would feed him little amounts of molasses, lettuce and crimped oats and he’d go completely bonkers running around like a madman.

After poppa rat had been at my house for a few months something funny happened. Jack and Dave came over to trade some model parts and goof around. When they went over to say hi to poppa rat he made mad noises and acted like he’d bite them. Once he smelled them, he started acting himself again. Jack said, “Jimmy he’s got it so good here he’s gonna turn into a one man guard mouse”. Jack said it was also because I was feeding him so much real food and letting him sleep with me.

When they visited after that, he’d always be on guard at first until he smelled who they were. When the ramp was down while I was gone; he’d always meet me at the door of my room when I got home, just like my friend Dave’s dog would meet him at the front door.

As time went by even Jack and Dave finally started calling him poppa rat instead of popper. The first time they saw him sitting on the windowsill making noises through the windows at the birds they laughed and laughed. I told them about how poppa rat started doing it one spring morning with the window open and how now it was a habit. We’d lay there in bed with pillow on windowsill and listen to the birds all doing their morning salute. Orioles would line up on the lines that came to the house and on tree branches surrounding the house. If one of them got too close to the window on a branch or flying in the air; poppa rat would make those noises like he was warning them about something. I got to the point where I could make little kissing sounds with my lips that sounded just like him. Sometimes when I slept with the window open he would wake me up talking to the orioles. Those were good times.

Later I got an oriole ballcap from some guy who dropped it by mistake through a gap in a fence. I thought that it would make a perfect little bed for poppa rat if it had a tee shirt or something soft inside it for a mattress. Poppa rat would like the high sides and could curl up in it out of the drafts when I wasn’t around. Sure enough, he liked it fine right off the bat and always was in it when he napped during the day.

My parents never visited my room and never found out about poppa rat. Nanny knew but never told them even though she came up to the room all the time for sheets and laundry. We never talked about him. The only one in my family who met poppa rat was grandpop. Grandpop laughed and laughed and told me that if “Fritz” (my dad) knew I had a rat up here, I’d be in boiling hot water. Then he made a face and said, “and what about your mother? If she found him here you could hear her in the state capitol”. Poppa rat like grandpop right off from the get-go. Ran right over to him and jumped in his lap and crawled up his shirt. I told grandpop to smell him and he told me he smelled like clean sheets. Grandpop said he didn’t know rats smelled like that. grandpop was the first one poppa rat liked at first meeting and maybe it was partly because they both had white hair and big black eyes.

Poppa rat stayed with me for a few years. One day when I came home from school he was in his hat curled up and didn’t come over to say hi. He wasn’t warm anymore. I didn’t go down to dinner when they called me that night and went out before the sun came up the next morning with a pick and a shovel from the garage. I took him in his oriole baseball hat and put them deep in the ground under the place by the fences where I had first picked up the hat.

I think of him whenever I see orioles or the baseball team from Baltimore.

I can still hear him talking to the birds.

An Incident From Childhood

One of my first memories of interaction with the world of strangers was the testing of those unknown humans around me. My first prank wasn’t even original. I’d seen something like it on television, on Candid Camera probably. The only difference was that they’d used a wallet. Anyway, I decided on a womans handbag. One of my moms handbags that had been sitting in the basement was just the ticket. It looked good and would be a great decoy.

My best friend Jack and I found a good street corner. It had a nice thick hedge and an escape route handy in case there was someone who didn’t think that this was as funny as we did. I had a couple of dollar bills from my birthday money stash as bait, the leather handbag, a spool of fishing line and an inordinate amount of mischief. Before we even started to enact the ruse, Jack and I were laughing uncontrollably just thinking of the prank we’d play and the excitement we were about to share with total strangers.

We taped the dollar bills inside the handbag, so that they would stick out of the opening. Jack figured it would look better if we bent the bills in half, since this would make it look like there were twice as many of them sticking out of the handbag. They wouldn’t stick out as far he pointed out, but there would be more of them. We then poked a hole through the bottom of the bag, got a small piece of tree branch, threaded the clear fish line through the hole and tied it around the stick a few times with our best granny knots.

Making sure that we were not being watched; we placed the bag on the curb at the stop sign. We then made sure that the bills were easily seen and that the bag was hanging off the curb. That done, we retired to our hiding places in the hedge, to munch O’Henry bars and make noises in anticipation of high comedy to come. After a few, “this is going to be goods”, and other similar comments, our first customer appeared. The car slowed down at the stop sign, didn’t completely stop, then pulled away without even noticing or giving the bag a look. Jack said he thought we should have used a more brightly colored bag. I told him it would work and that some people didn’t see things on the sidewalk or even in the street, because that’s how dogs and cats got hit and our handbag wasn’t even moving.

After a couple more cars went by without a second look, Jack volunteered to go home and get a bright colored scarf, to give the trap some “hey, look at this”, he said. In no time at all he came back with the scarf, a bright red silk one with flowers all over it. We situated it under the bag so it was trailing out into the street like a flag. After that we returned to our hiding places.

The next car arrived almost immediately. An older man was behind the wheel. It was a large station wagon with the extra seat in the back like the country squire at home. As he pulled up to the stop sign, we saw him looking at the bag. We were laughing, holding our hands over our mouths. This was great. The man behind the wheel took his hat off and put it on the dash of his car, moved the shifter, and then looked in his rear view mirror and all around. Then looked all around again. After that he opened the door and as soon as he wasn’t looking as he was getting out of the car and walking around it to the curb, looking everywhere around him; we pulled the bag to safety under the hedge. He walked up to where the bag was supposed to be, but now there was only the scarf. He looked up and down the curb, over at the hedge where we were hiding and then picked up the scarf and looked under it. Suddenly he cursed, “God dammit, what the …..”. He wadded it up and put the scarf in his pocket, got in his car and took off. “What are we going to do?”, Jack asked. “Tape the scarf to the bag next time I said”. “Well, I can’t get another scarf until tomorrow”. We decided to go get a soda and plan our next handbag incident.

The next day, we figured we were ready for bear. Jack had donated 2 brightly colored silk kerchiefs, one orange and one yellow. I’d raided my cigar box, (the one I kept on the shelf next to poppa rat) for a couple more dollars to make the bait a little better. We taped the extra money to the other money, folding it all and kinking it to make it look like a sizable wad. We tied the orange kerchief to the bag. This kerchief looked like it was on fire except for the little balloons that were flying around bouncing into each other all over it. We poised it on the corner of the curb so that the scarf was in the street, and the bills were fluttering in the wind. We bent them a little so they would look good and would take up as much space as possible. Jack was convinced that for absolute realism, there should be some change scattered around in the gutter and the street, so we strategically positioned some pennies, nickles and dimes. We were ready.

The first car was driven by a young woman. She looked right at the handbag and then crept up to the stop sign taking years. She then did what we’d seen the man the day before do. She looked in her rear view mirror, across the street and the other way down the street. She looked in her rear view mirror again. Jack asked me, “do you think they look around to see if the owner is near, or just to check if anybody is watching?”. I admitted that I didn’t really know and that if he wanted to he could ask her. We both laughed, but quieted down suddenly as she got out of the car.

Jack pulled the bag with the kerchief trailing after it as quickly as he could. This time though, the bag was just barely sneaking its way under the hedge as the young woman rounded her car. She was looking right though the hedge at us moving her head back and forth trying to see who or what was on the other side. The scarf was trailing after the bag like a tail on fire. I couldn’t help it and was laughing so hard I could hardly breathe as Jack started barking like a dog. She was immediately smiling and asking us if we would bite. She came right up to the hedge as we were running for our lives barking back at us laughing and asking, “then I guess all the change in the street is mine, right?” That was the last we heard as we rounded the corner and kept running and laughing until we were blocks away. Jack said, “did you see that look on her face when she saw that the bag was crawling into the hedge?” “I thought she was going to scream until she started smiling at us”, I said. We agreed that this was almost as good as any game of baseball or marbles.

We went back after going to the local mom and pop store to pick up a couple of root beers and packages of peanuts. Sure enough, she had taken all the change. We scattered some more change around and set the bag up real pretty. Then we tossed the stick with the fishing line wrapped around it through the hedge and took our places. A little breeze came up and moved the money, and there was something about the money moving that made us look at each other at the same time and started us laughing again.

Another car with an older person went right by. Jack was worried that we hadn’t “set it up right”, and so he went out and made sure everything looked good. He was sure that the driver had been preoccupied because he said it looked the best it ever had. We ate peanuts, drank root beer and talked about Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford. During a heated discussion about whether Mantle or Maris was the best home run king of all times (except for “the babe” of course) our next customer arrived.

In the next car was a guy with an Orioles cap on. We could hear the radio. He didn’t see the bag until right before he started slowing for the stop sign. He did the same thing they all did. Looked in the rear view mirror. Looked across the street, looked the other way down the street. Looked in his rearview mirror again. Got out of the car and lit a cigarette. As he was lighting the cigarette Jack was pulling the bag to us like the madman he was, laughing under his breath. This time though, it was all wrong. The guy heard the bag scratching its way along the concrete and turned to watch it sneak into the hedge. He threw his cigarette down and pulled his hat tight on his head almost in one motion. I thought, uh oh. As we were moving as fast as we could and getting up with the bag and choking on our laughter, we could hear him yelling, “hey you, hold it right the f__k there, HOLD IT!”, like we were going to listen to him. The chase was on. As we were moving as fast as we could, we knocked our bottles over in our scramble to get away and took off towards our escape route. We could hear him coming right through the hedge at us. He didn’t even take the time to go around it. I could hear Jack whimpering a little behind me as the sound of our running footsteps echoed between the houses of the yards we were running through. I heard a “hey, you can’t run through there!”, and that just drove me to move even faster. I could hear Jack right behind me like a little freight train each time his breath went in and out. I could also hear some other heavier footsteps getting closer and closer. Just as I thought that I was going to feel a big hand reach out and grab my neck, or feel Jack crash into me, we reached the place where the two fences met. They were two really tall fences that had a gap between them that we could just barely squeeze our way through. I hit that gap like greased lightning, tore my shirt and scratched my arm. Jack made one little squeal, but dove through right behind me. I heard clothes rip as he pushed me and then fell as he came through the gap.

The big stomping footsteps and the body that they were attached to hit the gap between the fences with a sound that was like thunder. Both fences jingled after his thud. One big hairy arm reached through the fence grabbing air and flailing as he screamed some things I’d never heard before. He kept ending all his screams with something and something and something else YOU LITTLE FREAKING BASTARDS, but the word he used wasn’t freaking. His speech was broken and he was thrashing at the gap in the fence, but he couldn’t get through. Jack and I were so scared that I just stood there and he sat there frozen watching him thrash at us. All of a sudden like a miracle his hat fell through the gap and landed right in front of me. I reached down, grabbed it, helped Jack up (who was sitting on the ground watching our new friend waving at us), and ran like the wind all the way home.

As I was sitting on the back porch, I found myself thinking that I’d never ever seen anyones eyes bugging out of their heads the way our new friends were when I picked up his hat and smiled at him just before I helped Jack get up. Jacks eyes were bugging out too. They looked like relatives or something. I was laughing so hard all the way to my house that my side started hurting. While I was laughing and Jack was still making the little weasing noises; he began to laugh as well. I turned the Oriole cap over and over in my hand thinking that now here was an unexpected treat. It was brand new and didn’t even have any sweat stains or dirt on it yet. I knew I’d never wear it, but it would make a nice little bed for poppa rat to sleep on. I took my Yankee hat off and held them side by side, wondering if we would ever try the handbag trick again.

I didn’t think so.

Jack and I saw his car around the neighborhood a few times that week, he was always driving around slow, like he wanted to play the game again.

We didn’t think so.

After that we made ourselves scarce, laughing about it from time to time and reminding each other of how our new friend had looked with his eyes bugging out of his head, the same color as the scarf and the Oriole cap.

Some weeks later we saw his car parked a couple of blocks away. We decided it was only fair to remind him of the fun we’d had. We went to our fort out behind Jacks house and got the handbag and the orange scarf, in case he didn’t recognize the handbag. We put a note, the orange scarf, and a couple of dollars in the handbag and threw it through the open window of his car as we bicycled by. We were laughing like hyenas. Jack kept asking me if I was going to give the Oriole hat back to him as well. I thought about how happy poppa rat looked while he was sleeping in it. I told Jack,

I didn’t think so.

Stealing Bases

Most of the cherished memories of childhood had something to do with baseball.

If we weren’t playing baseball, we were talking about it, pretending we were our favorite players, trading cards, flipping cards, quizzing each other on card stats or at the very least, wearing our favorite teams baseball cap. When the weather permitted and we had enough players, we were at it. As soon as school was out we were either at little league fields or playing on a local field or lot. Sitting around oiling gloves, gripping, swinging or boning bats, talking about the rules or the latest game wasn’t just the way we passed time but the way we reveled in it. On schooldays during baseball season we played pick up games. We played it at school during recess and lunchtime. On weekends when we weren’t playing little league games we’d play where ever there was action. When there weren’t enough of us for a game we’d play pepper or homerun or just throw and catch for hours. When we were by ourselves we’d bounce balls off surfaces of garages and fences or would swing bats at imagined fast balls, curves and change-ups and hit imaginary homer after homer after homer. It was more than a pastime.

Most of the time when we played ball it was with kids our own age. Sometimes there would be one or two of the little kids playing with us. At other times a couple of the older guys would be team captains and show us some of their favorite finer points of the game. This story came about because my friend Jack and I played with the older guys from time to time and were driven to make a point and win a bet. We were answering a challenge, demanding equality and accountability, growing up and taking our first steps somewhere towards that field of honor.

Ed was one of the all-star older big guys that lived down at the end of the street. Ed wasn’t the happiest person in the world when he wasn’t playing ball but he could play baseball better than anyone we played with or had ever seen outside of the big leagues. Ed hit and fielded just like the big leaguers. In our neighborhood he was a legend. When Ed was around and we were playing baseball; Ed was the coach, the star player and the umpire all rolled into one. Although Ed had many fans; there was no greater fan of Ed than Ed.

Ed either pitched or caught or played third base. His arm was pinpoint accurate. His arm threw a fast ball that no matter how careful or going away from it to lessen the impact you tried; the hiss as it approached warned you of the deep sting that accompanied the catch as it hit. Ed had a saying that he repeated now and then when he struck you out, threw you out, tagged you out or called you out. “If you play you pay.” Ed pointed out to us that anyone who tried to steal a base when he was catching or playing third would be OUT EVERY TIME unless the guy at the base he was throwing to or the guy that was throwing to him muffed it. When that happened the poor target of Ed’s wrath heard about it that day and sometimes the next. Ed was famous for throwing everybody out or tagging anybody out that wasn’t paying enough attention or took a little bit too much lead. Ed said over and over, “nobody steals bases when Ed’s playing catcher or third, ever, unless somebody else makes a mistake.” If we heard it once we heard it a thousand times and had to admit that’s the way it was.

Right around the end of summer, just before school was ready to start our baseball activity was at the fever pitch of summer days almost over. We all threw everything we had into the game because we knew that it was ending for the year and we desperately didn’t want it to be over so we were cramming everything into every moment and pulling everything we could out of it at the same time.

It was that experience that many have had at the end of the day when it starts getting dark and you’re still throwing the ball, not wanting the day and the game of catch to ever end. It’s probably happened to everybody and if not with a baseball, football or basketball with whatever it was they were immersed in.

In those times we all swung harder, threw harder and always tried to get extra bases on hits. Every play we made got maximum effort to make it count. It wasn’t that we weren’t like that all the time; it was that it was intensified immensely as the weather changed and fall edged in and school was around the corner. Ed threw more people out during those days of the quickening than he did in the whole rest of summer. Everybody was trying harder and Ed kept mowing us all down. Ed taunted and challenged us continually and made us give it everything we had. He loved to remind us, “Nobody steals a base when Ed’s playing catcher or third unless someone else makes a mistake”. One thing for sure, we all knew Ed loved to remind us about Ed.

In a heated discussion during one of those games; Jack, my best friend and I were teamed up against Ed and arguing that sooner or later someone would eventually steal a base while Ed was playing catcher or third because no one is perfect. Ed became more excited as we discussed it and got louder and louder as it went on. Ed’s face got redder and redder, his eyes bugged out like never before and he kept making quick little smiles again and again that weren’t smiles at all. Finally with a bellow that echoed off the school walls at the end of the field Ed told us there was five dollars for anyone who stole a base while he was catching or playing third. Then he went a bit too far and over the top daring us to prove him wrong and mocked us all mercilessly. After that he repeated his offer that if the day ever came when any of us stole a base while he was catching or playing third he’d not only pay us five dollars but would kiss his own bare ass. Now that was it. He’d intrigued us no end and heck; he’d asked for it.

Those last days of summer went like ice on august afternoons. Ed reminded us constantly that there was a five dollar bill that would never be ours because no base could be stolen in any way, shape or form as long as he was playing catcher or third. No way, no how. Eds buddies and peanut gallery loved it and whooped it up every time Ed boasted. Jack and I wondered why none of them wanted to take a shot at that five dollars but figured maybe it was because they were Eds friends and didn’t want to mess that up. Heck maybe they didn’t want to see Ed kiss his own bare ass because it would remind them of what they’d done so many times in other ways while Ed badgered them and bullied them around.

The last week before school started the best game of the summer for all of us happened. A bunch of Eds friends showed up at the field and all of us younger kids were already there hoping for a big game. We had enough players for full teams and a whole afternoon to play a full nine inning game. Ed was the captain of one team and his friend Randy was the captain of ours. Ed announced he’d also be the umpire since he had the “eye” and was the only one that could make the close calls. Randy and Ed had an argument about that when the game started, but Ed yelled louder and louder until Randy agreed. It didn’t matter to us. We were about to play the best neighborhood game of summer and nothing could be better.

As the game got going everybody was hitting real good and fielding great as well. It was an exceptional close game that went back and forth until in the ninth inning was all tied up. In the top of the ninth Jack was on third base with two outs. Randy had lost the toss before the game and we were the visiting team so this was our last ups. Randy was in the batters box and took a pitch that went right off Eds glove and into the dirt. Jack took off for home running like the wind as Ed scrambled behind home trying to pick up that passed ball. Jack slid into home and Ed got there late with the tag. We all saw it. Jack had stolen a base and not because anybody else had made a mistake. Ed had let a ball get by and given Jack the chance to score. Jack had beaten Ed to the plate by seconds with a clean slide. Ed was yelling louder and louder, “you’re out, you’re out”, as we all looked at him and each other with raised eyebrows and grimaces. Randy argued with Ed but stopped when Ed said something to him we couldn’t hear. Randy shook his head and turned to go grab his glove for our turn in the field at the bottom of the last inning. Ed and his team didn’t score that inning so we went into extras. After three more scoreless innings; Ed’s team scored a run and won the game. Jack had a real bad look on his face during those three innings but didn’t say a word about the five dollars he’d been cheated out of or losing the game we had actually won. He didn’t need to say it; I could see it written all over his face.

The last thing Ed yelled at everybody as we were walking off the field in every direction was, “Jack was close but there is still five dollars that says no one will steal a base while I’m playing catcher or third, no way, no how”. With that he walked his Ed walk off the field with Jacks five dollars in his pocket and his ass in his pants unkissed by his own loudmouth lips. Jack had never been that quiet as he was on the walk home.

Those following last days of summer hummed by and hissed like a fast ball with loose threads. Jack and I went over and over the events of Ed’s umpiring and the stolen base that only Ed made out as a stolen base. We couldn’t believe that the whole thing had happened and that the bet wasn’t won and paid for fair and square just because Ed said so. Jack would sit pounding a ball in his glove and slowing shaking his head for long periods of time until the day before school would start when he suddenly looked at me, smiled, and told me the best idea he’d ever had.

That afternoon the older guys always played their traditional last game of summer at the local field. Randy, Buzz, Brownie, Murph and a whole bunch of others including Ed would all be there. They’d warned all of us younger kids that the diamond was theirs that afternoon. We were welcome to come and watch and catcall and cheer them on, but that was it. The diamond would be ours for a late afternoon game after theirs was finished. As Jack explained his plan; I realized how simple and perfect it was and also how dangerous, but it had to be tried. We had to do it. Jack was smiling jubilantly for the first time since Ed cheated him with that big goofy all Jack smile. We laughed and laughed and then stopped with a start. We both gave each other serious looks as we came to grips with the fact that this could either be one of the best moments of our lives or the worst.

Jack and I walked to the field going over the plan time after time. When we arrived we alternately would either laugh or get serious every time our glances met. Everybody was there in the neighborhood and for this game one of the older boys dads was home plate umpire and another was infield umpire. That made our plan less dangerous since there would be someone there to keep Ed from killing us but at the same time there would be an extra person or two to dodge and avoid at the moment of truth. The stage was set, they were playing the last game, the time of truth and consequences was upon us.

As the game got going we watched in a daze of anticipation. We were yelling and screaming with everybody else so we were just part of the crowd until it was time for the first part of the plan. Every time Ed touched the ball, came up to bat or looked in our direction we gave him the thumbs down signal and made faces at him. At first he didn’t know what to think about it. Then he began trying to threaten or intimidate us with hard looks and shakes of the fist but this was our day and possibly the last chance we’d ever have to straighten things out with Ed. Throughout the entire game we didn’t give Ed a moment of peace. At one point in the 8th inning, the plate umpire, Randy’s dad, told us, “I don’t know what you two are up to but I think you’d better get out of here as soon as this game is over. Ed isn’t ok with what you’ve been dishing out. I know about the problem Jack and Ed had recently and I don’t think this is a good way to deal with it”. He turned and went back behind the plate and we hoped he was wrong. Jack and I traded looks that said with no words there was no way we’d quit the plan.

The last inning of that game was beautiful. Ed was so mad at our constant banter that he was continually making mistakes. No one had stolen a base while he was playing but everything else that could have possibly gone wrong had gone wrong. It was the bottom of the ninth and Ed was in his stance playing the baseline at third. The next to last batter of the game approached the plate with two outs and a man on second. At the same time Jack and I looked at each other, got up and got ready to take the plunge into the plan of plans.

Jack walked over to the first baseline side where Ed’s teams dugout was and I headed along the fence up the third baseline side to take my position near Ed and third base. Jack slipped into the empty dugout and made his way over to a bag at the end of the bench. I watched as Jack bent down and opened the bag. He slipped something out of it, tucked it under his shirt and casually walked up the steps out of the dugout and took his position for the coming stunt. Here we go, so far, so good.

At this point I was trying my hardest to be invisible. I was back to the fence, behind Ed and ready for the next part of the plan. Jack reached under his shirt, pulled out Ed’s lucky Davey Crockett coonskin cap and put it on. He yelled, “Hey Ed, look at this!” Ed turned, saw Jack and twitched as it hit him that Jack was wearing his prized lucky coonskin cap that was always in his baseball bag. Ed yelled at Jack and threatened with, “take that off or else” as Jack did an outrageous dance. A moment later the pitcher pitched, the batter swung and the ball made a nice little noise that I can still hear through the grass right towards Ed. Ed moved like a cat but was a step too late as the ball went by him and then slowed down a few feet into the outfield. By the time Ed got to the ball the hitter was on first base. The runner on second had started to run but thought better of it and returned to second base. Two outs and the winning run on second base. Jack was screaming and pointing this out to Ed as he danced and swung Ed’s coonskin cap around by the tail. Ed’s jaw was set and twitching but he didn’t have anything to say. He just looked at Jack and smiled one of those smiles that weren’t a smile at all. Jack gave the hat a couple more spins and gave it a toss. The coonskin flew and perched on top of the backstop fencing. Ed was turned away from me and I wished I could see his face. Jack could see him and suddenly that big goofy grin washed away like it had never been there.

At that moment the pitcher pitched, and the batter wagged his bat readying for a moment of truth which would be more of that than anybody knew except Jack and I. The next moment the sound of hardwood on horsehide announced a high high popup and somehow, better than we’d planned, everything had fallen into place far more wonderfully than we’d ever imagined. As the ball jumped into its climb I knew it was to Ed and I moved like lightning to the third place bag. I grabbed the bag, lifted it and slashed the strap with my penknife which was razor sharp and ready for the moment. I jumped up bag in hand and saw Jack jumping up and down as Ed got under the ball finally falling from the sky. Before that slap of the ball hitting the mitt sounded I was off the field and running as fast as my legs would carry me around the back of the backstop. Everybody who’d seen what I did were watching me thinking I was completely bonkers. I’d stolen third base and was out of bounds before Ed caught the ball and ended the game with a win for his team. That was OK with Jack and I.

Ed’s team cheered after he made the catch and then noticed third base was missing. The look on his face was priceless because although he knew something was up at that moment he had no idea what it was. He turned and yelled something unintelligible as he ran towards Jack who was laughing so hard he was bent over holding his knees. Everybody that knew what was up raced to Ed and Jack so that things wouldn’t get out of hand. Some people were cheering, some people were yelling things and some had strange looks on their faces and didn’t have a clue what was going on. I ran over to Ed and Jack struggling as team mates separated the two of them with third base in hand. Randy was looking at me with amazement that slowly became a big toothy smile. Jack was laughing like a hyena. The plate umpire, Randy’s father put a hand on my shoulder and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing. I told him I thought he’d understand if he’d come over and listen to what I had to say to Ed. He loosed his grip and said, “ok, this better be good”. As we approached Ed still being held by his team mates and Jack still laughing uncontrollably I could hear Ed in a rage screaming, “it’s a good thing we won this game because I would have pounded those two blankety blanks. Jack grabbed my lucky coonskin cap and threw it up on the backstop and Jimmy stole third base, right off the diamond before the game was even over”.

At that point Jack reminded him about his promise and that he’d just admitted that I’d stolen third base while he was at third. He reminded Ed that he was playing third base and that “nobody would steal a base while he was playing third, no way, no how”. Ed stammered something and Jack started laughing again. Randy reminded Ed that he didn’t say steal the base in any specific way and that it looked like Ed owed somebody five dollars with a whole field of witnesses for backup. The veins in Ed’s forehead and neck said more than he did as he went to his baseball bag, got his wallet and then handed me a five dollar bill. I handed the five dollar bill to Jack, still laughing so hard he could barely breathe. After all, Jack had stolen a base first, fair and square, long before I had and Ed owed him for it. Ed said something under his breath and started to walk away. Jack suddenly stopped laughing and said, “Hey Ed, how about the other promise you made?” Everybody there who remembered the rest of the bet started howling as Ed’s face turned the color of a gravenstein apple, red with some green.

Jack and I didn’t stick around to see Ed pay up the rest of the bet but our imaginations had a field day with it. That was between Ed and the rest of them. These days, when I think of what that must have been like, although it isn’t a baseball memory; it’s almost as good.