Food Crisis in Room 13

One of the challenges issued to us this month was to assume a different writing voice.
And to not bother with editing. Oy.

Here is my attempt.

***

lunchbox-xed out

It was another day in Room 13.

13—not my favorite number, but that’s how this school year rolled.

Unlucky from the get-go, as my dad often says.

But he’s usually talking about some football game he’s watching.

For me, it was unlucky in a lot of ways.

We had Mr. Jackson as our teacher.

He believed in writing.

A lot of writing.

He believed that if we sneezed, we should write about it.

And posters all over the room reminded us of how important it was to write.

There is no wrong way to start. Just grab a pen.

I am a writer.

Good writers practice.

It never ended with this guy.

The rest of us just didn’t want our hands to fall off.

And if you mentioned the computers in the lab for writing, he would shake his head and make some weird sound.

It sounded like, “Piffle”.

Anyway, today was unlucky in another way.

Our lunches were missing.

The whole barrel full of them. Gone.

And I was hungry.

The other kids were probably hungry too.

But, really, it was me I was worried about.

When it comes to food, that’s how it goes.

And I had missed my mid-morning snack.

Not a scheduled mid-morning snack like a lot of classrooms have.

Mr. Jackson didn’t believe in those.

So, on the way in from recess, I would snag my own snack.

A quick visit by my lunch bag, and—boom—granola bar in hand.

I’d crunch it up a little on the way to my desk and tear at the top.

And like clockwork, Mr. Jackson would start read aloud.

He’d be so wrapped up in James and the Giant Peach or any one of the Harry Potter books that it was clear sailing for me and my granola bar.

But, as I said, today was different.

Not a lunch bag in sight.

This was one of the few days when I wished I had a cafeteria account.

Something needed to be done.

“So, Mr. Jackson,” I said, “What are you going to do about our missing food?”

“Simple,” he said.”We’re going to write about it.”

Oh great. As if words will magically make my peanut-butter-and-apple-on-wheat to appear. And my bag of Doritos.

I’d take those Doritos over a steak any day.

Well, maybe not a steak, but you get the picture.

And in she walked. Emily Michaels. A sight for sore— and hungry—eyes.

She carried herself in just the right way.

A careful march toward Mr. Jackson’s desk.

Perfect balance.

Arms in exact position…

To carry six flat steaming boxes.

I knew those boxes. And I knew that smell.

Pizza from Gianni’s.

For all we cared, the missing lunches could be floating toward China.

“Happy birthday to me-e-e-ee!” said Emily, dropping the boxes, one arm at a time onto our teacher’s desk.

“But wait!” said Mr. Jackson. “We should write about this!”

Not a chance, Jackson. Not a chance.

We needed both hands for something more important.


More from the January Challenge

Stardom denied…part II

 

rag tag baseball team rascals

Our team
The gun? Just for show.
Who’d have trusted this group with live ammo?


Feeling masochistic? Here is      Part One

And so, with all these strikes [literally] against us, you might be thinking that this will evolve into a story of personal redemption, of rising up against the odds to turn around a lost season.

You would be wrong.

If anything, we got worse.

But it’s not as if we stood around and let shame and failure wash over us.

Oh, no. We proactively degenerated.

We replaced DD with a person who was actually old enough to drive. And then some.

MB took the helm, with the help of DD’s father, who probably felt it was time to lift his son out of a deep, dark depression that can only affect kids who have no negotiating power, no money to sign up available kids who could actually hit and catch, and no hope of ever living down the Al H Moonshot.

MB…he knew his baseball, and he knew how to buy boxes of stale Bazooka bubble gum, but he really didn’t know A. how truly bad we were  B. how to bail from an experience that might just drop him into the dumpster fire-on-the-diamond. [He might have considered a move to Siberia, but even there, the Tass news agency might track him down and reveal his humiliation. Those were Cold War years, you see, and all diplomatic bets were off.]

Back to the misery.

Under the guidance of MB**, we continued the losing ways of a team that wrestled MM from the safety and comfort of his dinner table so we could field an entire team. He would later claim that we were better off with eight guys and an empty right field than nine guys with him fixated on the roast beef and mashed potatoes he was dragged from.

And then, there was me. One otherwise pleasant afternoon, I was still reveling from the game before when my only base hit of the season brought in the winning run–we interrupt this paragraph for our inaugural episode of TRUTH IN FICTION!–Truth: He did get a base hit. Fiction: It was a feeble opposite-field single that did not move one base runner closer to scoring, other than himself.–we now return you to our regularly scheduled venture into fantasyland.–

I stood on third base. I represented our last chance to creep within ten runs of the other team. And with a full count on our batter, I was ready to sprint for home on the next pitch. Even I knew that if the pitcher threw a strike, the inning would be over so no problem with my being off base. And the whole world knew the batter wouldn’t make contact, so I was good there too. And if the pitcher threw a ball, well, the batter casually trots to first base. How could I lose?

Welllll, baseball folks know the answer to that. There are multiple answers, actually.

  1. The teammate actually might make contact.
  2. The teammate might swing and lose his grip on the bat. [More probable.]
  3. The pitcher might throw a ball, in which case, there are still two outs and I would be a sitting duck.
  4. The teammate will take a called third strike…

If you guessed #4, congrats. Oh, did I fail to mention–there was actually just one out. So, strike three on the batter meant two outs. And Mr. Clueless on third base still ran for home. The catcher saw me coming and stood, no doubt dumbfounded, and waited…for the easiest double-play in the history of America’s National Pastime.

Looking back, I’m thinking that one play–that singular moment of baserunning ignorance– might have turned the tide against baseball’s immense popularity and vaulted football to where it is today.

You’re welcome, NFL millionaires.

To be continued. Honest, I’ll wrap up tomorrow.


**[You’ll notice I’m doing my best to hide these people’s true identities. I figure the summer of ‘70 offered enough pain and embarrassment. No need to salt their wounds any further.]

To be continued.

More from the 500-Word Challenge…

 

Stardom denied…

We were a formidable collection of athletes–pole vaulter, sprinter, hurdler, shot putter, discus thrower. Versatile. Dedicated.

One problem: All us tracksters comprised a large part of our summer of ‘70 Colt League baseball team.

But we had DD at the helm. With a solid working knowledge of baseball and successful experiences as a player.

Another problem: He was a half year younger than most of us.

And so begins the saga of one of my favorite athletic endeavors in my storied [in my head, not yours] sports career.

Game 1: A gorgeous sparkling late Friday afternoon in early June. [Not to worry. I won’t be detailing every game. I’m no sadist.] Al H, opposing first baseman whose right leg dwarfed our shortstop, stepped to the plate and launched a pitch from DD [yes, our ‘manager’ was our opening day pitcher] deep. And that was the last we saw of our center fielder Eric. When authorities arrived, they first talked to the guy sculpting stacks of cut lawn with his feet. Me. Seems I was the last person to actually see Eric.

 

rocket-launch-cropped

The bat-to-ball impact intensity [Equation: b2bI=d2n]
blocked out the sun instantly. Some of my teammates took that as a cue to bolt from the field. DD rounded them up and marched them back before the sun returned. 

“It all happened so fast. Al H sent that moonshot toward Big Sur. Eric and I looked at each other. I shrugged. He took off, the wind took his hat, and that was it.”

“Didn’t you even get in position for a relay throw?” asked the cop.

“I was the one who yelled for someone to call missing persons.”

Disgusted at my lack of baseball acumen [or the fact that I had settled back into my ready stance], the cop shook his head.

Fickle fans. But I wasn’t going to buckle. “Hey, I’m a shot putter! I’m not expected to know how to play baseball!”

Meanwhile, at least five runs scored on the Al H missile launch. As memory serves.

And we had switched pitchers. Twice. Yes, folks, a loooong home run.

The authorities left.

“Let’s play some baseball!” shouted the ump.

Clearly, he had never watched one of our practices.

What he envisioned as ‘baseball’ was nowhere near what we flailed away at.

At one of our early attempts to organize and hone our skills, Eric [before his tragic disappearance] and I stood in the outfield and watched as DD tried to clarify with a few of our track athletes one of the finer points of baserunning…or the steal signal…or dating Sally. Something like that.

Anyway, I looked over to Eric. “What we have here,” I said, summoning a line from Cool Hand Luke, “is a failure to communicate.”

Eric looked back. “What we have here…is a failure.” **

So, sure we had communication issues. And we weren’t all that sharp in the field. But by god, you put a bat in our hands and our ineptness really shined through.

So consistently piddly at the plate, in fact, that pitchers threw three no-hitters at us. Consecutive no-hitters. That, baseball fans, is 27 straight innings without a hit. Riveting entertainment, doubtless.

Undeterred, however, we actually won the last of the three.

How do you do that? To this day, I’m not quite sure, but credit our pitcher, Steve V, for keeping the other team’s hitters at bay…and us–utterly stupefied–in a position to win a game.


**Bravo, Eric. It’s been over four decades and your classic line remains ingrained in my memory. I hear rumors that–years later–you actually did find your way back to your family and fashioned a very successful life. Good for you. I still have your hat, by the way.

To be continued.

More from the 500-Word Challenge…

Nothing to Write About

unsure face

Well, Jeff Goins has suggested we write about hope, as in, “I hope I have something to write about.”

People often suggest regaling readers with images of the past.

But why would I want to write about the days in the ‘hood’?

Who wants to read about the halcyon days of the 60’s when our Chestnut Street and California Street intersection would be so quiet at night that Jimmy T and I could hang our heads out our upstairs windows and, from 50 yards away, hold a conversation without raising our voices. We just let the quiet of the night carry our words from one house to another.

And there really is no reason to share the ecstasy and the agony of my first Little League base hit. I remember making clean contact, pulling the ball to right field and standing there in disbelief that it was  A. in fair territory and B. whistling past the second baseman. As I said, ecstasy. Perhaps I soaked in that moment just a bit too long, as the right fielder promptly picked up the ball and threw me out at first base. Let me take a moment to ask: Shouldn’t that kid have been coached to automatically throw the ball to his teammate at second to make sure I didn’t take the extra base? [Assuming I would actually reach first base.] In essence, then, it’s all his fault that I suffered the humiliation of being thrown out at first from the outfield.

But again, that’s not even worth writing about.

Still on baseball which, unlike today, was the number one sport in the U.S.

We lived on the fields behind Lincoln School. Pick-up games were the order of the day and it was generally the same 12-15 kids. With five to seven kids per team, we had to make in-game adjustments. We would ‘close off’ parts of the outfield, depending on if the hitter was right-handed or left handed. We might leave out an infielder. But one game feature we insisted upon: the fence. We had to have an outfield fence. Home runs that sent some poor sap off to Maple Street or the blacktop just didn’t carry the same cache as a ball that cleared a barrier.

So, what were we to do? We weren’t about to set up wooden boards or something even equally inconvenient. Instead, we lined up enough of our Schwinns, front-wheel-to-back-wheel until we had our fence. Easy to shift and sturdy enough to take a few shots to the spokes, pedals, and chains. If the ball was flying out that day, shifting this fence was a matter of kickstand up, roll 20 more feet away from home plate, kickstand down, and ‘play ball!’. And when the ball flew well past that chain of bikes, we might as well have been hitting towering shots over the deepest spot in Candlestick Park.

But, the struggle to dig up meaningful enough content continues.

No need to bore readers with reflections on the Monopoly tournaments that ruled the neighborhood in mid-July. The blue and yellow and green cash filled the air whenever owners of Baltic and Mediterranean landed on Boardwalk or Park Place. Not a pretty sight.

And finally, I see no reason to revisit our adventures around the Lincoln School cafeteria to poke our heads in to watch the folks square-dancing. After all, any thing or place on the forbidden list was just what the doctor ordered for kids without the cash for trips to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk or evenings at the movies. Instead, we patrolled the playground and rattle those tetherball chains till the poor custodian stormed out to chase us off.

Now that was entertainment.

Well, seems I’ve at least entertained myself. So that’s something.

Your cards and letters begging me to stop writing? Keep’em coming.

An Un-Career Retrospective

gratisography post it note hysteria

Today, I’ll be taking on one of life’s great mysteries:

Why didn’t massive multinational cash-spewing corporations gut their entire marketing, research,–or custodial–staffs to hire me a few years ago. [Your definition of ‘few’ may vary widely from mine. That’s a topic for another post–perhaps one covering ‘denial’.]

Were these commercial monoliths too busy raking in profits to even scan my impressive ‘built-to-succeed’ resume?

Had to be.

Baiting Hooks

Otherwise, why would they not rush in and offer a job to someone who baited hooks with chunks of squid and meticulously positioned them to allow for an efficient untangled toss into the Pacific Ocean? No matter that I lasted just past lunch on my first day. Old-time journalists have nothing on me. I truly was an ink-stained wretch [emphasis on the ‘wretch’].

Okay, so maybe that experience didn’t translate as neatly into corporate life.

Shafting

But there is no way they should have overlooked my months as a shafter. Yessir, you bet. Look around you. Bet you can’t find one shafter within 50 miles of you. Seems my time at San Diego Paper Box Company wasn’t as highly valued as I thought it should be. That job went like this: I muscled eight-foot tall rolls of paperboard to a metal, uh, shaft–seven inches in diameter. I then judiciously postioned [i.e. rammed] the shaft through the roll’s hollow core.

Locked and loaded for action.

I’d flip the switch and off it went, delivering premeasured cuts through the paper at very high speed.

And son of a gun if something mechanical that moves at high speed doesn’t generate lots of heat.

And that heat radiated from that shaft.

And that shaft found my exposed hands and forearms.

And those body parts incurred second degree burns.

Nothing like one’s own searing flesh to encourage more careful maneuvers around that machine.

But nowhere in the plant did I see one, “Respect the shaft!” sign.

Of course, I wouldn’t have complained about that to future prospective employers. My loyalty? Skin-deep. The mid-interview change of bandages might have hinted at previous workplace concerns, however.

So, maybe I wasn’t quite white collar-ready right then.

Strike Three!

But by gosh and golly, I would have thought my time at ITT as a ‘materials handler’ would have earned me a spot somewhere in a company’s higher echelon. This job neither belies the requisite high-level skills [“Hey, Dave, we need more masking tape to label these wire samples!”], nor does it do justice to the extreme dedication I exhibited in taking on the job. Dedication…ignorance. Such a fine line between the two. You see, I was crossing a picket line—a minor detail that the temp company managed to omit.

Despite the waving signs and the colorful language directed my way, I was determined to make good on my commitment. Well, that, and there really was no convenient way to hang a U-ie and floor it.

Besides, I was lucky enough to be driving a yellow Gremlin at the time.

Some folks might question the sanity of a writer using the words ‘lucky’ and ‘Gremlin’ in the same sentence, but–armed with a firm sense of denial–I see it differently.

If I’d been cruising past these scarred, tatooed, and high-spirited folks in a Camaro, I wouldn’t have lasted ten feet.

But in a Gremlin? Even the most hardened and embittered would be brought to their knees with sympathy.

Memories fade of course, but I think I recall one of the leaders putting down his barbed-wire-on-a-stick and backing others away with the words, “Let him go. He’s worse off than we are!”

Wise words indeed.

And with that, despite so many wanting to hear of my stint at Equality Screw Company, my career retrospective has reached its conclusion.

To quote Boon from ‘Animal House’: “A new low. I’m so ashamed.”

 

Prevarication takes over…

pinocchio type

For today’s 500 words, the creator of the challenge has demanded—demanded, I tell you,—that we dabble in the practice of lying.

Not the malicious hostility-based type of lying, mind you, but let’s just go with not just stretching the truth, but flat out snapping it so it comes back and takes out an eye.

As the creator of the Internet, I can only say, this is wrong and I really have no choice but to personally expunge all record of this person’s involvement in the field of writing, blogging, and living in Tennessee.

Okay, so, back to the truth.

I’m going to answer a few questions from my readers’ mailbag. No wait, it’s my mailbag, but with questions from my millions of readers.

June from Midvale, Colorado asks: What do you not like about the National Basketball Association?

Well, June, it’s like this.

NBA players are allowed an exorbitant number of fouls, thus enabling on-court-assault-and-battery. [Not to worry, fans. This will be taken care of when I finally give in to the resounding demand for me to take over as the NBA commissioner.]. Worse than the customary bloodletting on the hardwood, though, is it slows down and chops up the game and really, what appeals to me is what’s most important, right readers? Uhhh, readers? Don’t leave yet!

And then, there are the timeouts. Too many, especially when you count the TV timeouts that open the floodgates for commercials suggesting that I have either ED or the cardiopulmonary shortcoming du jour.

Let me just say, “Geeeeeeezzz! Let the players play! And let the fans actually think they’re watching a game that consists of more than dribble up court, ref calls a foul, ref confides in other ref and watches the mugging on replay, player enters concussion protocol, player [once steered back to the correct foul line] is deemed okay, misses the basket [but hits teammate in forehead], makes the second, the other team calls timeout so the ball is advanced to half-court. Or something like that.

Ward from Midvale, Colorado asks:  Come on, the NBA game isn’t that bad, is it?

Well, Ward, one word: Yes it is that bad. But what really gripes me is, out of one side of their mouth, they [choose your own ‘they’] remind us all that pro sports is ‘just entertainment’, but on the other side of their mouth, they put on their ‘dribble, foul, free throws, timeout, rinse and repeat’ rendition, which is NOT entertainment. And then there’s what they say out of the third side of their mouth, which is  A. unprintable   B. fodder for another, much-anticipated Q. and A. from my billions of readers.

But have no fear. When I become commissioner, I’ll be limiting the players to four fouls. However, I will allow the coaches four fouls, but they A. will not lead to stoppage of play.  B. must be committed on their own players for rudeness to fans, stupid plays on the court, and/or over-exultation after a slam-dunk.  In many cases, I will even allow an extra, double-top-secret foul called, “Hyper Flagrant” to be committed at their discretion on a player who, in my judgment, deserves it.

The Beav from Midvale, Colorado asks: But what if the fans at the NBA game are excessively rude? Isn’t that possible?

WULL-GEE BEAV, that is possible, and even probable, because so many of these people feel so entitled that they think they can spew racial slurs and demeaning epithets at these millionaires who are just trying to earn a living and max out their daily allotment of NBA fouls. In the case of fan stupidity, I’ve set up a black-ops league of mixed martial artists who, clad with semi-assuming Kevlar vests to accompany their Batman masks, will patrol the stands and swarm to the first hint of spectator unruliness. A few kindly senior citizens with Dick Tracy watches [without batteries] will be sprinkled among the fans to provide additional ‘surveillance’.

There, Beav, I’m glad we had this talk.

Thanks for checking in, readers. In my next installment, I’ll be covering my concerns about the National Football League. Stay tuned.


More entries to my January writing challenge can be tolerated here:
http://jrmays.com/index.php/500-word-challenge/

Writers Horoscope December 31: A familiar question wells up…

Maybe you took Austin Kleon’s 30-Day Challenge. And you nailed it.

And then that question: What’s next?

Consider this thought from Ian Svenonius, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group:

You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the [tiny number of people] who even noticed will ask, ‘What next?’” **

And so the question: What next?

boy-on inner tube in ocean

This is not to dismiss what you might have accomplished in the last month…or year…or decade. Or to evoke dissatisfaction.

Instead, use the question as a prod to pursue new projects, skills, friends.

Or maybe I’m just nudging myself in that direction.

Either way, have an adventurous–and fulfilling–2018.

 


**got Svenonius quote from a blog post by Austin Kleon

Note: The link for Svenonius’s book is an affiliate link. It doesn’t raise the price on the book, but it will bring me a very small amount of money.

Writers Horoscope December 8: Today, you can’t make up your mind.

Who can blame you?

angel-devil clip art

Some folks post content about setting goals, about finishing, establishing habits.

And those same shmucks then post suggestions to break habits, to mix things up. And they glorify those times when they procrastinate on their writing.

Who are these people and why are they allowed to publish this drivel? It has to stop!

Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, just to add to the confusion, take a look at what Susie Orman Schnall says in Writer’s Digest about balancing work and life. Pay particular attention to tip #4.

 

 

Writers Horoscope December 7: Don’t let your groove become a rut.

Your sacred habits?

Behold the thrill of breaking one.**

Change things up.

Write a letter to the editor.

Write a letter to an editor.

Set the timer for twenty minutes. Race against the clock and generate as many words as you can. [If you need to cheat, list a few topics at the top of the document/sheet of paper, and then set the timer.]

Of course, none of these ideas will send you hurtling through the snow like Truffle here.

Maybe that comes next.

My camera will be ready.

 


** Those goals you set days ago? They’re not going anywhere. Neither is your discipline.

 

 

Writers Horoscope December 5: Excuses, excuses…

Hey, we all need them.

How about…

“I’d be writing but…

skillet cookie

  • “Geeeez, that Hallmark movie’s Nielsen Ratings need me.”
  • “Right now, I’m getting more concrete results from cleaning the garage than rewriting that last chapter.”
  • “I just have to call my friend back east, even though she hasn’t acknowledged my existence in the last eighteen and a half months.”

Okay, there you go. But you can only use them once. And then it’s back to work.

Need a ‘few’ others?

excuses

Tell me your favorites you’ve used [overused?] through the years.