My wife and I recently moved from South Florida to Raleigh, North Carolina to unload the giant house in which we raised out three children and to be closer to our oldest who hopefully will crank out a grandchild one of these days. Originally we lived in New Jersey and like most people living in the New York span of influence, had developed a thick skin and a slightly prickly way of dealing with all of the rest of the jerks among us.
My grandmother was born in New York and moved with her family to Newark, New Jersey as an adolescent to “get out of the rough urban stink of the inner city.” It was probably like our move to Coral Springs, Florida in Broward County. We were west of Ft. Lauderdale, south of Palm Beach and North of Miami. This tri-county area is pretty much the sixth borough of New York. It was pleasant at first, with less horn blowing, but eventually became nearly as obnoxious as North Jersey.
I was checking out my new area in Raleigh. I had just left my water aerobics class at the YMCA. I had originally joined the “Y” to play basketball, but quickly found that while my spirit was 25 years old, my knees were 59. Pleasantly, I found that water aerobics was populated by nearly exclusively women who read. I brought my books and sold half a dozen. I left the gym and headed to the Library to find out about getting my books in there as well.
While pulling into my parking spot, I noticed the car in the next space had a vanity license plate that said UNC-PHD. Instantly, my snarly New Jersey sensibilities kicked in and I decided to take a picture of the plate and send it to some select friends with an appropriate caption. Well, maybe not so appropriate. I knew that this particular group of friends (including my children) would all agree that anyone getting this sort of license plate was obviously a narcissistic blowhard, who we had every right to make the object of our derision.
These friends included Tyrone and Joe. I spoke to Tyrone a day earlier and he told me about a good deed that he had done. When I complimented him on his actions, he told me that he was doing a good deed in case he needed to come down and slap some sense into a couple who had rejected our offer on the house they were selling. I explained that he may be using the principles of karma incorrectly.
I’ll admit that this was not my best bit, but to the right audience, a picture of this license plate accompanied by my caption of DCHE-BAG was guaranteed to get at least a chuckle. As a matter of fact, when relating this story to each of them, they all laughed. Here’s the problem. As I lifted my phone to take the photo of the plate, a woman walked up to me and asked why I was taking a picture of her car. Being the quick thinker that I am, I immediately came up with a credible lie. I told her that my son-in-law was finishing his PhD at the University of North Carolina and I thought he’d like to see the plate.
Technically this was not really a lie as he actually is in his last year of his PhD studies, but I’m not so low as to cheat at karma like say, Tyrone. The crazy thing is that the woman began talking to me and may have been the nicest and sweetest person on the planet. I even ended up giving her a copy of one of my bookmarks when she told me how much she enjoyed blogs. After she departed, I was left standing in the parking lot, holding my phone with the picture of her plate wondering, “Who is the DCHE-BAG now?”
As I walked into the library, I thought about this at a deeper level. I wondered if the people here were so nice, that they wouldn’t even get the joke about condescending and demeaning someone’s vanity plate choice. The might even be so nice as to not be narcissistic at all. Could this be possible?
After the library, I called Joe, who also happens to be a Buddhist. He did laugh at the bit, but also gave me a primer in karma to pass on to Tyrone. What was really crazy was that a half hour later, while going into a bookstore, I saw the license plate KARMAH, as though I needed a reminder to consider my evil New Jersey ways.
The testing continues as later that day, I walked into a thrift store and saw a record album prominently displayed on the top of a pile of LPs. It was by The George Mitchell Minstrels, and was actually by a barbershop style group of Caucasian singers who perform in, yes, you guessed it…blackface! The album cover depicted a cartoon drawing of a fellow with a cane, striped jacket and panama hat in actual blackface.
Granted, the album was old and the group from England, but still! I’d like to think that a responsible store owner would forgo the dollar, even for charity, to avoid offending the hyper-sensitive population of today. This seemed no less offensive than finding Josef Goebbels Greatest Hits on the shelf.
In any case, I’m obviously going to have to approach my new home and neighbors with a bit more caution than I might in New Jersey or South Florida. I’m clearly not in Kansas anymore, although, that might be less of an adjustment for a DCHE-BAG like me.
I got my ball. After fifty years and dozens of visits to Major League stadiums, I finally got my genuine Major League game ball. As usual, there is a crazy story behind this event, which I’m sure you will agree that it will result in a deeper level of Hell for me someday. But first, for those of you who are not baseball fans, or had a deprived childhood, let me provide some background regarding the significance of this event.
For most normal red-blooded American kids, when first attending a Major League baseball game, you quickly realize that nothing on this earth could be more thrilling that getting a ball that was hit into the stands. Why do you suppose so many kids and even adults bring their gloves to the game? They constantly show the guy catching balls in the stands on TV broadcasts of games. I’ve watched thousands of games, each with dozens of foul balls and home runs, and in each case, someone ends up holding that white sphere of triumph over their head to show off to the world.
I’ve seen men catch balls while holding a baby. I’ve seen people catch them in their beer cup. Since the first guy usually misses the ball, I’ve seen people diving over and under seats to find the prize. Commentators frequently mock adults for diving over other patrons, elbowing someone out of the way, or even worse, snatching a ball from a kid’s hand. I’m not condoning this behavior, but I also don’t need judgement from a team employee or a former player who can go down to the clubhouse and pick up a ball at any time.
If you are familiar with the Steve Bartman play in the 2003 National League Championship Series game 6 that effectively cost the Cubs a chance at their first championship in over a century, you’d get all of this. A Cubs fan decided to go for a ball at a critical time in the game which prevented Moises Alou, a Cubs outfielder to catch it. This opened the floodgates to a Marlins rally that basically ended the Cubs season. Even though every single fan in the section was reaching for the ball, it was Steve Bartman who touched it. He is currently living a slightly more secluded life than Salman Rushdie.
Most baseball fans are like me in that they’ve never got a ball or even came particularly close. Still, I’ll bet any real baseball fan can tell you the closest they came to a ball. Mine was a night game at Yankee Stadium on May, 11th 1979. I know it was at the end of my junior year in college, but I have no recollection who I went to the game with. I do know that I was sitting in the left field bleachers, just a few rows behind outfielder, Lou Piniella. With two California Angels on base in the top of the fourth, Don Baylor lifted a high fly ball in my direction. As Piniella moved back to the wall, dozens of fans and I instinctively stood as one, waiting for the ball to arrive. It landed about four rows behind me. Pretty crazy, right?
I’m not the only one like this. A few years back, I was at a game in the new Marlins Park in Miami with my friend Tyrone. We had good seats in foul territory and spoke of the opportunity to get a ball. Tyrone is tall and could have the opportunity to reach over another fan. Obviously, there are no rules when everyone covets the same thing. Still, Tyrone deludes himself into thinking that he can follow a code. Even crazier is his belief that everyone else should follow the same code. He still insists that if he were in the Bartman seat, he’d have had the discipline to not reach for the ball. Yeah, right.
This came up when a ballhawk took up residence in the walkway in front of our seats. A ballhawk is someone who regularly gets balls using a combination of determination, tenacity, and asshole-like soulless behavior. Tyrone seems to think that one ball is enough. I pointed out that this was not true for any of the other things that we once coveted like cookies, money or sex. After the first time, we just wanted more and still do.
A couple of years later, Tyrone and I were at Fenway Park in Boston sitting in the right field bleachers. During batting practice, I walked up to the wall where pitchers were shagging fly balls. Some of the pitchers would occasionally toss a ball to a fan. This is another legitimate way to obtain a game ball. They were throwing the balls mostly to kids. Tyrone said this fit his code. Then, a kid, about six, handed a ball to his father. Dad asked, “How many is that?” The kid replied, “Four.” At this point, Tyrone figuratively swerved across five lanes of traffic. He wanted to go and beat up the father for not stopping his kid from being a hog. So much for the code.
On this occasion, I was in Atlanta visiting my friend Carlos for a few days. Carlos’ wife Ines and their three kids were in Spain visiting relatives. He has season tickets to the Braves new stadium which is across the highway from his job and not far from his home in Marietta. We went to parts of five different games in five days, although a deluge at the beginning of the first one caused a long rain delay, and we left before the first pitch. He did take me on a nice tour of the stadium where I got a picture with a statue of Hank Aaron.
On Saturday, Carlos took me to the batting cages to hit several balls before lunch and then the 4:30 Braves game against the Milwaukee Brewers. I was wearing a bright yellow Brewers cap with the old-style logo. I did not wear this due to any allegiance to the Brewers, rather to be provocative to the local Braves fans. Carlos upgraded our seats to spectacular ones in the cutout in foul territory along the left field line. This would be a good place to get a ball. Alas, nothing was hit our way other than a double down the line that was still in play.
At the end of the game, the kids all left the area and a few adults stood to harass the half-dozen Brewer relief pitchers who were walking from the visitor bullpen to the dugout for a ball. A guy tossed one to someone in fair territory and I thought the balls were all gone. Still, I sheepishly lifted my cap to (falsely) show the Brewer pitchers that I was one of them. Meanwhile, Carlos was pointing to me when he shouted, “He’s an old man! Give him a ball!” He followed that with “My father is a cancer survivor!”
Yes, he went that low. You may know from my previous writing that I once went to a Jets game in a wheelchair to get in free. I’ve been trying to make up for that horrid act for the past 35 years. Now I’m back to the fast track to hell. The problem was that I still was hoping for a ball. One pitcher looked right at me, stopped for a moment, took a ball out of his glove, and tossed it across the fifty-or-so feet between us. It took a perfect arc, directly into my eager hands. I caught it like Willie Mays doing a basket catch…and I felt like an excited eight-year-old.
Carlos was laughing hysterically. I reminded him that he was going to Hell for this, even though I felt it unlikely that any of the players actually heard him. He responded by telling me that he carefully calculated what he had said. He said that it was true that I was an old man, certainly when compared to his forty years. He also reminded me that his father had indeed beaten cancer. He felt that if any of the Brewers misconstrued that he was referring to two separate people, well, that was their problem. I reminded him that he would not be able to bring a lawyer when he meets St. Peter, and that the people in Heaven were particularly good at looking directly into one’s heart.
As for the player who threw me the ball, his name is Jacob Barnes. I had not heard of this second-year reliever prior to this moment. I will follow his career from now on. He’s from St. Petersburg and went to Florida Gulf Coast University. He’s right-handed and currently leading the league in games pitched. I will be forever indebted to him and hope he has a nice career.
I suppose the best outcome is that I now have a great story. On the way out of the stadium, I was carrying the ball and a guy came up and asked if I got it at the game. I told him the unvarnished story, and he hung on every word. He offered no judgement other than laughter. When you think about it, is that really such a sin?
Octavia walks down the stairs of her Hollywood Hills home followed by a fluffy Bichon Frise. She checks her hair in the mirror in the hallway before turning into the kitchen. She’s smartly dressed in a black pencil skirt, a white silk blouse and an animal print shawl.
“Good morning, Lupe,” she says to an Hispanic woman in an apron who stands in front of the sink and next to the open dishwasher.
“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” says the housekeeper, in a mild Spanish accent. “You look nice. No personal trainer today?”
“Unfortunately, he’s still coming. I moved him to this afternoon.”
“You should at least have some breakfast.”
“No time. I’m running out to see my agent and then to USC. I’m giving a talk at the film school. I also will probably stop at the Post Office.”
“I don’t suppose you’re taking El Diablo with you,” says Lupe while jerking her thumb toward the dog.
“No, and it’s Dorothea. The groomer should be here to pick her up at 10:30 so she’ll be out of your hair for a few hours.”
Octavia takes her keys and handbag off of a hook near the door and heads out. Lupe sticks her tongue out at the dog.
Octavia gets into the elevator at the parking garage level at a downtown office building. She pushes the button for the sixteenth floor. Just before the door closes, a man in a suit runs up and sticks his hand in the door causing it to reopen. He gets in and pushes the button marked 12. Octavia can tell that the man is looking at her, something she has gotten used to.
“Would you mind terribly if I asked to get a picture of us together?” he asks. “It’s just that my daughter did a project on you for her third grade class and she’d be so thrilled.”
“Sure, of course,” says Octavia.
The man holds his phone selfie-style, moves in next to her and snaps the picture. “Thank you so much,” he says as the door opens on twelve. As he leaves the elevator, he adds, “She’ll be so inspired that I met you.”
On the way up to sixteen, Octavia wonders what kind of curriculum would have a third grader do a project on an actress. She exits the elevator and walks into the office of Solomon Berger, her agent since arriving in Hollywood.
“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” says the receptionist. “My, you look wonderful. Mr. Burger is in his office. You’re usual?”
“Good morning and thank you for noticing, Allison. It almost makes the dieting and exercise worthwhile. Fortunately, I can still have a latte, if I use Splenda instead of sugar, but I’m fasting until my weigh-in this afternoon. Thanks for offering, Allison.”
Octavia heads into the office. Solomon Berger is standing at his desk and is holding his arms open. Grinning, he says, “There’s my superstar. Let’s have a hug!”
Octavia strolls past him and sits in one of the client chairs. She puts her bag on the other. “You know what you need to do in order to get a hug, Buster,” she says.
“Sweetheart, the Rosa Parks film is still just a rumor.”
“And Spielberg? I suppose his interest is just a rumor, too? I’m not losing all this weight for nothing.”
“Octavia, you gotta trust Solly. Who got you Millie in The Help, Fruitvale Station and Hidden Figures?”
“I know, I know, but you also got me Car Dogs, Herpes Boy and Bad Santa 2.”
“Look, sweetheart. I promise you that when Spielberg makes a decision, I’ll know it even before Kate Capshaw. I’ll even spread some bad rumors about Viola Davis. With the new figure, you’ll be a shoo-in. By the way, are you sure you’re eating enough?”
“Just never you mind and get me that part. I’ve got to get to my USC gig.”
She gives him a hug on the way out.
Octavia looks at the printed instructions from her email. She’s been to USC several times, but this route is different. She assumes that this particular film class just happens to be in a different building. Maybe the crowd is big enough to require a large lecture hall. “Check that ego, sister,” she says to herself. It’s just as likely that they’re in a seminar room. She fails to notice that this particular building has “Department of Computer Science” in large letters screwed into the brick façade.
She finds the room and enters. It is indeed a large lecture hall filled to capacity and beyond with several students standing along the walls. Her entrance is met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Octavia is both surprised and humbled as she graciously smiles and curtsies.
A young woman steps to the podium and waits for the noise to die down. “It is with great pleasure that I introduce our special guest to the Department of Computer Science students as well as our fellow students from the College of Urban Studies.”
Octavia is surprised to hear that these are not film students.
“Please welcome, Dorothy Vaughan!”
Octavia shoots a look of panic toward her host, who is applauding as vehemently as the students in the crowd. The young woman appears to be crying. Octavia moves to the podium and has another full five minutes of applause to think about what to do next. She realizes that her planned presentation will simply not do. After the students return to a seated position, she begins to speak.
“It is a privilege to address you fine examples of our future. It is as much of a privilege as when I was asked to portray Ms. Vaughan in the film Hidden Figures.”
Again, the crown erupts into applause.
“You know, I was planning to do the Q & A last, but since there are so many of you, I think I’d like to take some questions from the audience.”
Several of the students eagerly begin waving their hands. Octavia picks out the nerdiest-looking female, figuring that she at least looks non-threatening.
“What was it like to work for NASA in the early years of space flight?” asks the young woman.
“Um, good question. While I was able to portray a person from that time, I’m sure that it was quite exciting. Unfortunately, as an actress, I typically have to depend on the writers for most of the emotional motivation.”
The crowd erupts again.
Octavia decides to try a different approach. She chooses a young African-American man wearing a beret and a dashiki. “How about you, sir?”
“As an icon of the struggle against white oppression, can you describe your rise out of Jim Crow Mississippi?”
“Let me get a couple of things straight, young man. I did play a maid in a movie called The Help that was set in Mississippi and I am from the South, but I actually went to Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. Also it was in the late 1980’s and then I received my degree from Auburn University.”
Again the crowd erupts.
Octavia is incredulous. She decides to give it one more try. This time she figures to go down the middle and picks an apparently mixed-race kid with thick glasses. “I have time for one more question. How about this young man on the aisle?”
The young man stands excitedly. “At NASA, you were a pioneer on the IBM 7090, which of course, operated using 50,000 transistors making it six times faster than its predecessor, the 709. With regard to the use of Assembly languages—“
“You all are going to have to excuse me. I just received an urgent message from Dr. Von Braun and Reverend King to save the world,” says Octavia. She turns, picks up her bag and heads out the way she came with the audience applauding the entire time.
Octavia enters the Post Office on Wilcox. The line is short, but not enough to prevent a few furtive glances and whispers. Soon, a short-haired, middle-aged woman calls out “Next,” and Octavia moves to the counter.
“How may I help you?” asks the woman.
Octavia makes a quick look at the worker’s nametag, something she learned to do after an awkward incident the first time she was recognized in a restaurant. “Good morning, Angela. I’d like a book of stamps.”
Angela smiles at the personal gesture and adds, “Would you like to see any of our new commemoratives?” Just as suddenly, Angela’s face goes blank as she steps back and points to a sign above promoting the newest stamps.
Octavia casually looks at the sign depicting a new set of Black Heritage Commemorative Stamps. After a beat, her mouth drops open. “What the Hell…?”
All of the stamps represent a black person from the past, but all of the pictures are of Octavia in some sort of costume.
“Angela, is this some sort of Candid Camera type of joke? The six cents is a nice touch. Wait a minute…nobody even knew when I was coming here.”
“I-I never met anybody that was on a stamp before,” says Angela.
“I assume that’s because I think you’ve got to be dead ten tears to get on a stamp. That Harriet Tubman stamp, I played her on Drunk History, for God’s sake!”
“Maybe you look like the real Harriet Tubman,” says Angela.
By now, a crowd has gathered and several people are taking pictures. Octavia is becoming increasingly agitated.
“And I suppose I’m also a dead ringer for Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Vaughan? Who made these stamps? I need to see a supervisor…actually I’d like to see the Postmaster General. And look at these other two…Slave woman? What the hell is that? That picture comes from Snowpiercer. It was a damned Sci-fi movie. What does this last one say? Shit Pie Maid? The character’s name was Minny! I’ll bet they got Aibileen right on Viola Davis’ fucking stamp!”
Suddenly, the room starts spinning and goes dark as Octavia hits the floor.
Octavia wakens to see a man with a headset standing over her. There is another young man kneeling next to her holding a cup. She hears a man’s voice say, “Come on, step back and give her some air.” An older man with a beard pushes through the crowd and kneels by Octavia’s side. He takes the water cup from the key grip and hands it to Octavia.
“Mr. Spielberg?” croaks out Octavia.
“Please, it’s Steven and please drink this. We can’t have our Rosa Parks falling out of her seat on the bus.”
“Rosa Parks? Where am I?”
“We’re on the set. It’s been a long and intense day of shooting. Can we get some of these lights turned off?”
“I-I must have gone too long without eating…Steven.”
Octavia takes a sip of water, and then shakes her head to regain her focus. The older man suddenly looks younger and no longer has a beard.
“Come on, people.” He says, brusquely. “We’ve got a schedule here and only another hour of daylight. If she can make it, get her back on her mark.”
“Look, Octavia. I sure as hell ain’t Spielberg or I wouldn’t be directing this piece of crap. You’re on the set of Herpes Boy 2 and if you can’t make it, I’m sure we can always get Viola Davis.”
I recently ran into a friend at a local coffee shop. He was leafing through a stack of index cards with short phrases written on them. When I asked what he was studying, he told me that he was trying to learn Spanish, and had created the cards with the hope of learning enough to allow him to survive in a Latin-American country.
It seems that he had recently spent three weeks in Guatemala to test the waters or living there.
“Why Guatemala?” I asked.
He said that he was so fed up with what was happening in this country that he felt it may be time to leave. I told him that any right-wing “America, love it or leave it” talk was really just that. These are the same ugly people who tell other Americans to “go back where they came from.”
He felt strongly enough to do a fair amount of research on the climate, both weather and political, as well as economics and relative friendliness of other countries. While I, myself am not ready to leave the U. S., his quest did give me an idea for a business venture.
With an ever-growing number of people leaving and/or getting run out of America, why not help the expatriates out a bit? I decided that there is a market for flash cards that would help Americans learn a new language in a way to help them assimilate more smoothly into their new land.
Below are some sample cards in a variety of the countries and languages to give you an idea about my new product.
En ce qui me concerne, tout pays qui nous a donné William Shatner est d’accord avec moi.
As far as I’m concerned, any country that gave us William Shatner is okay by me.
Alors, où est-ce que je vais pour les soins médicaux gratuits?
So where do I go for the free medical care?
Tapā’īṁ yāka bhandā an’ya kunai pani māsu bōkna garchan?
Do you carry any meats other than yak?
Wo yi zhi cheng ren ni de zhu quan
I have always recognized your sovereignty
Žao mi je što je moj vođa gurnuo vašeg premijera
I’m sorry that my leader shoved your Prime Minister
Wacht. De drugs zijn niet vrij? Jij noemt dit gesocialiseerde medicijn?
Wait. The drugs aren’t free? You call this socialized medicine?
האם מישהו כבר יכול לסרב את מיזוג האוויר כבר?
Could someone maybe turn down the air conditioning already?
Deol michin jidojaleul gajneun geos-i johda.
It’s nice to have a less crazy leader
yeogie gaega eobs-seubnikka? waenyahamyeon naneun gaeege aju alleleugigaiss-eo.
There’s no dog in this is there? Because I’m highly allergic to dog.
Non guardarmi. Sostegno l’immigrazione e sono contro il muro, proprio come il tuo ragazzo, il papa
Don’t look at me. I support immigration and am against the wall, just like your boy, the Pope
Nessun oliveto? Non mi aspettavo.
No Olive Garden? I didn’t expect that.
Мне совершенно нечего сказать.
I have absolutely nothing to say.
to kaheen koee haimbargar nahin?
So no hamburgers anywhere?
tumhen pata hai ki aapako apanee nadee mein bahut saare dookee milee hai.
You know you got a lot of dookie in your river.
Anata no shushō no sei wa Abedesu ka? Watashitachi ni wa sore o nanoru shachō ga itakaradesu.
So your Prime Minister’s last name is Abe? Because we had a president who had that as a first name.
Gojira ga arawareta toki ni keihō nado ga demasu ka?
Do we get an alarm or something when Godzilla shows up?
Αστεία ιστορία. Πριν από πέντε χρόνια γελούσα σε σας.
Funny story. Five years ago I was laughing at you people.
‘ana ln ‘akadhib. ‘innah harr kama aljahim huna. alhararat aljaffat mukharaty.
I’m not going to lie. It is hot as hell out here. Dry heat my ass.
Ich würde mich freuen, die Hand deines Kanzlers zu schütteln.
I would be happy to shake the hand of your Chancellor.
“This okay Mr. Mixon?” says a man in a white scrub top with a football helmet embroidered on the left breast. He is massaging the calf of a young muscular African-American man lying face down on a training table deep in the bowls of Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The young man has only a towel over his backside.
“Please, call me Joe,” says the young man. “And you are?”
“Sal,” says the trainer, tersely. “Just want to make sure this is okay, uh…Joe.”
“It’s fine, Sal,” says Joe. “Anything is fine. You’re the first person I’ve met here that hasn’t asked me about the ‘incident’.”
Sal does not respond. He puts down the leg he’s been working on and walks around the table to the other side. He lifts the other leg and begins working on the calf.
Joe thinks back to his first days as a Cincinnati Bengal draft pick. He had fallen well into the second round due to his year-long suspension at the University of Oklahoma for striking a woman in the face at a bar. After months of anger-management, he is still mostly angry with himself for doing it in a public place and being caught on camera.
While happy that the Bengals took a chance on him, he is still angered that a clear first-round talent like himself, should have to continually put up with the lingering questions. At his Meet the Media press conference, one of these fat white fools actually asked him if he felt that his troubled past was behind him, like he would tell a reporter that he was going to commit a crime in advance.
This was the second day of the camp for rookies and free-agents. Joe had already received far more attention than the Bengals first-round pick, John Ross, a receiver at #10. Joe thought bitterly to himself that he’d have been picked in the top ten were it not for that bitch… Joe stopped himself and took three deep breaths as he was taught in therapy. He knew it wouldn’t help.
A man in a tank-top and shorts walks into the otherwise empty room. He drapes a towel onto the surface of the neighboring training table and then places three rolled towels at the head of the table where a pillow might go. Sal overtly avoids eye-contact. The man hops onto the training table and lies on his back. He carefully flips his dreadlocks over the small stack of rolled towels and settles his head on them. “Sal,” he says.
Sal quickly puts down Joe’s leg that he is working on and hurries out of the room.
Joe still has his head turned from the other man. “I’m not supposed to talk to you,” he says.
“So you know who I am, then. Good, it’ll save some time. Who put the word out on me? Coach Lewis?”
“It was the running backs coach…Caskey,” says Joe.
“I figured that pussy wouldn’t do it himself. It came from the top anyway. Coach don’t do shit without the man’s say-so. When they gonna realize that Pacman Jones runs this team?”
“I thought you dropped the ‘Pacman’ and went back to your given name…Adam was it?”
“Just for the press, my brother. My agent suggested it. Anybody important knows what to call me.”
“Well whatever you go by, just steer clear of me. I don’t need no trouble. I spent the last two years climbing out of the shit. Mike Brown told me that as long as—“
“Fuck that motherfucker,” says Pacman. “He don’t know shit about what goes on here. Turn around and look at me when I’m talkin’ to you, boy!”
Joe thinks for a moment then slowly turns his head toward the next table. Pacman continues to look up at the ceiling. Joe wonders if this is some psychological ploy or if Pacman is simply a sociopath. He also wonders if he should have done the assigned reading while in therapy.
“Got a proposition for you, boy,” says Pacman. “First I gotta tell you how things run here. As you know, I got quite a track record of infractions here.”
“Nine arrests, I was told,” says Joe.
“Not all with the Bengals, but you get the point. You must also know that the Bengals lead the league in arrests.”
“And generally fucked-up behavior as well as early playoff exits,” says Joe.
“Don’t believe everything you hear from a white running backs coach. Another dumb-ass move by Mike Brown, but you’ll find that out for yourself.”
“So why are you here? Vets aren’t due for three more days.”
Pacman ignores Joe and plows ahead. “I saw the video of you punching that woman,” says Pacman.
“You and the rest of the world. I put it behind me. I gotta move on.”
“Bullshit. Even on the grainy video, I could see that you enjoyed it. I get it. We all need to release anger…especially us high-level athletes. Nobody knows what it’s really like. Nobody else can know the high of the hitting and the competition at this level. The bitch should have thanked you for making her famous.”
“I can’t talk about this, man,” says Joe.
“So just listen. I got suspended for a year after Dallas released me. I was outta control. While on suspension, I connected with Chris Henry, who I went to college with at West Virginia.”
“They told us all about him in orientation. He got killed falling out of a truck cause of some brain disease,” says Joe.
“He ain’t had no brain disease, least not from football. That motherfucker was crazy before he got to West Virginia. He jumped out that truck on purpose to fuck with his girlfriend only he got his ass killed instead.” Pacman turns to look at Joe for the first time. “Chris got suspended soon after me, but after he died, I guess the Bengals felt bad or something, ‘cause they signed me when I couldn’t even get a gig in Canada. It was then that I decided on a new approach.”
“Whatever your new approach is, it don’t seem to be working very well,” says Joe.
“It ain’t about the arrests, it’s about the money.”
“The money? What do you mean?” Joe grabs his towel and readjusts it over his crotch as he sits up to face Pacman.
Pacman smiles. “How much that bitch cost you, Joe?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. You paid her a settlement. Six figures? Seven?”
Joe looks at the floor. “A million,” he says softly.
“And what’s the difference in your contract getting’ drafted in the second round instead of the first?”
“About twelve million over four years,” says Joe.
“I figured your agent woulda pointed that out. So this bitch gets in your face and cost you 13 million dollars, a million of which you gotta pay before you even earn it…that about right?”
“Yeah, so? What’s done is done. I figure I’ll make it back on the next contract.”
Pacman sits up to face Joe.
“You think you’re done hittin’ bitches? You don’t think they’s gonna be taunting you every chance they get? And the ones who don’t wanna get hit, will be happy to get themselves knocked up with your babies all right. Had this teammate with the Titans who had like nine baby mamas. He got arrested for drug trafficking ‘cause he couldn’t keep up with the support payments.”
“So what’s this got to do with me and how does your system help?”
“My system focuses on the money instead of the behavior. Drinkers gonna drink, druggies gonna drug, fuckers gonna fuck,” says Pacman, while looking directly at Joe, “and bitch slappers, gonna bitch slap.”
“Not me,” says Joe. “I’m here to play football.”
“Sure Joe, we all are…but shit happens. Let me explain. Different infractions have different costs. For example, a first offense usually carries little or no financial penalty, either fines or suspensions.”
“One of my incidents, I spit in some chick’s face in a bar,” says Pacman.
“She wasn’t my chick. I did it for a teammate.”
“What? Why would you do that?”
“Cause I didn’t know her. I did it for a teammate. He does it, he gets sued for a hundred grand. I do it and worst I get is a small fine and a night in the pokey.”
“But why?” asks Joe.
“’Cause he hooked me up in return.”
“I don’t get it.”
“He fucked up a guy in a bar for me. My last bar incident got me a year’s suspension and an eleven million dollar settlement. He was only looking at a fine and misdemeanor. It was a win-win. Had another teammate do 15 days for a big marijuana deal. I’da gotten ten years.”
“What did that cost you?”
“I’d rather not say other than he has significantly less child support obligations.”
“This sounds pretty insane. I can assure you that I won’t be in any need of your tit-for-tat services,” says Joe.
“I guess we won’t know that until it happens, but I can tell that you still have that anger in you…and the life here at this level will only add more pressure. At some point, you’re gonna need to let it out and that’s fine with me. I just want to let you know that when you need some woman put in her place, that it’s gonna cost you everything. I might be able to help you out when that time comes. I also hope that if I need something taken care of, and you can help a brother out with minimal financial consequence to yourself, well…”
Joe continues to stare at the floor. Pacman looks at him for a moment.
“There is something, isn’t there?” asks Pacman.
“I meant this chick at a party after I was drafted,” says Joe. “I haven’t seen her since, but after I got my signing bonus, she texted me that she was pregnant. I’ve been holding her off, but…”
Pacman slides off his table and puts his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Put some clothes on and let’s get a drink, rookie. There’s nothing like a veteran teammate to help you with a problem.”
I’m sure that you all have seen pictures of airplanes lined up on the runway waiting to take off. I’ve been on planes that have already taxied from the gate when the pilot comes on and says something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are fifteenth in line for takeoff and should have you in the air in less than 40 minutes.”
On a recent flight, I saw a very similar image, only this was while sitting in the terminal. As I waited at the Southwest terminal for a flight home, I noticed a surprising number of people in wheelchairs lining up at my gate. By the time that the plane began its boarding procedures, there were fifteen passengers in wheelchairs in a single queue curving back from the gangway. Since all of the chairs had the Southwest logo and an embroidered picture of a jet on the back, from a certain angle, it looked, to me at least, a lot like the planes stacked up on the runway.
Now I had spent the previous day, as is Southwest policy, on my computer trying to check in simultaneously with 200 other passengers, to get an earl boarding number, lest I end up in a middle seat in the back of the plane. I thought that I was successful with an A49, typically in the first twenty percent. Alas, this was not to be. In addition to the fifteen people in wheelchairs, there were one to four additional travelers in each of their parties.
This not only meant that at least 60 unexpected passengers would board before me, it also meant that the fifteenth wheelchair user would have 59 people boarding before they even reached the check-in point. Fortunately for me, Southwest boards people with small children in between the A and B sections. It made me wonder about the changing trend of more handi-capable people able to get out and about in the world due to the American Disability Act and scumbag lawyers.
We are all familiar with the ISA or International Symbol of Access. It is the stick figure in a wheelchair painted on all of the parking spaces for handicapped drivers. We’ve also seen people using these spaces bound out of their vehicles and traipse into Walmart. One of the downsides of increased accessibility seems to be an increased amount of cynicism among the rest of us. I will admit that in the frustration of having to park a half-mile away from a store where I need one item, I’ve muttered the phrase, “Those handicapped people get all the breaks.” If you do not believe me, talk to someone who has recently visited Disney World. There are more fit looking people in wheelchairs there then at the mass Hamstring Flu epidemic in the late thirties.
I have found myself and others judging the relative worthiness of supermarket customers using the motorized shopping devices. This has some basis in reality. I have an aunt, who at 80 and after an ankle replacement (they can do that?) says that the time in the airport is now the best part of the trip. She arranges to have a wheelchair meet her at the curb and take through the terminal, through security, and all the way onto the plane. After landing, it’s the same thing in reverse. When she travels with her 90-year-old companion, they are taking up two employees for a significant amount of time. I guess that’s why my airplane snack has been reduced to well, peanuts.
The thing is, as the number of people using wheelchairs at the airport increases, it becomes less of a benefit. I fear that soon people will be judged on the severity of their handicap to get a better place in line. I don’t want to see someone smashing their knee in a mensroom stall door in order to move up the line.
I was already on a plane once when the flight was cancelled due to a maintenance issue (or possibly a drunken pilot). It was a late flight, so everyone dashed to one of the counters to make alternate arrangements. The wheelchair people already had the advantage of deplaning first. I dashed to a farther counter that had a shorter line. There is no truth to any rumor that I pushed anyone out of the way nor did I jump over anyone. Still, the wheelchair people were moved to the front of the line. This was not an issue of access. Why couldn’t these people wait with the rest of us. As a matter of fact, I would think that waiting would be right in the wheelchair wheelhouse.
Years ago, my friend Tyrone told me of a time he was at an airport and saw a young child playing with an unused wheelchair. We have been debating for years the propriety of the behavior, the relative quality of the parenting, and just about any other issue we could dream up. Now we know that this kid could have been a young Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. He was clearly a pioneer who was way ahead of his time and out in front of this trend.
I’m still quite content to be able to walk on and off a plane under my own steam and hope to be able to for a long time (I recognize that divine punishment from a deity who reads my blog could eventually become a problem). In any case, I hope that you are all aware of this trend and will go out among the air travelers and be my judgmental eyes and ears. The fakers need to know that they are being watched.