Friday, November 30, 2007

RT-D discovers Larry Rohr

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Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, A.J. Hostetler covered a magic show that took place at the Science Museum of Virginia on Wednesday. Members of Richmond’s International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 180 performed tricks that delighted the crowd and demonstrated various scientific principles

....The magicians performed several tricks that seemed to defy gravity. [Lou] Dean made two ropes into one, fellow magician Harry Gallant made apparently unconnected colored pompoms tug at each other, and [Watt} Hyer somehow slowed a slug as it fell seemingly unimpeded through a blue tube.

A cube magically halted halfway down a string held by magician Larry Rohr. Yet when visiting home-schooler Emily Wigglesworth held the string, gravity kicked in and the cube easily slid down.

Click here to read the article. And, once there, to view a nice slideshow of the tricky stuff, click on the link that says “Magic.” There are pictures of some of the magicians, including the above mentioned Larry Rohr. The first picture in that slideshow is the one of Rohr holding a gravity-defying rope that appears on Page 2 of today’s Metro section, accompanying Hostetler’s piece.

The picture of Larry at the top of this post is one I shot of him last month at the National Folk Festival. He loves being in a crowd and it usually doesn’t take much to get him to do a few tricks for children.

Longtime generous friend and stalwart fellow Frisbee-golfer, Larry is a colorful character who I have written about several times in other contexts over the years. Below there are five links to stories and other pictures of Larry “Wolfman” Rohr.

Those interested in contacting Larry Rohr, perhaps to hire him to perform at a party, etc., please call (804) 233-2295.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Maybe Rosebud

Fiction by F. T. Rea

October 11, 1985: Waiting for the veterinarian to call back about his cat, Pal, Roscoe Swift sat at his old wooden desk. His breath was shallow. He stared at a blank sheet of paper as he struggled to listen to a radio report about one of his heroes, cinema luminary and champion prankster Orson Welles, who had just died.

As the tension gripped Swift's neck and radiated into his arms, he sought refuge from his mounting sense of dread in the realm of memories and imagination. Closing his eyes he saw the foreboding scene that sets the mystery in motion in Welles' masterpiece, "Citizen Kane." There was the mansion, Xanadu, and inside it publishing mogul Charles Foster Kane was dying alone in the shadows.

With his pen Roscoe sketched Kane's slumped body, but with the head of a cat. The artist drew a dialog balloon next to the cat's face. In it he put Kane's ambiguous last word: "Rosebud." He had fashioned the cat's look after Zig-Zag, the little stray Roscoe and his ex-wife, Julie, had taken in a few weeks after their marriage in the summer of 1970. A neighbor on his way to class tossed the kitten in Roscoe's Studebaker to save her from a pack of dogs. Later, Roscoe found her hiding under his seat.

Four years after Zig Zag's unexpected arrival, she disappeared. Eventually, Roscoe found her under a bush in a back yard down the street. Her latest paramour, a black tomcat, scampered off as Roscoe approached. Lying on her side, Zig-Zag was stiff and her eyes were glazed over. Maggots were having at her guts. Patting her head and whispering her name, he carried the body home on a unfinished plank he found.

Through the kitchen window Julie saw him coming. She rushed out onto the back porch and began to sob. Without a word Roscoe placed the board on the porch. Then, as Julie crouched and touched poor Zig-Zag, quite unexpectedly, the cat moved. She was alive!

Roscoe ran inside to call a veterinarian. But seconds later, with Julie holding her, Zig-Zag cried out, arched her back, and gave up the ghost for good. Julie seemed comforted by the notion that Zig-Zag hadn't died alone in another yard. Roscoe mentioned her tomcat friend had been nearby when he found her.

The next day Nixon resigned. Three summers later Roscoe and Julie split up. The sound of the radio broke through his time-trance, abruptly, so he switched it off. Then he noticed loud footsteps, overhead, in the apartment above him. His new neighbor, a woman in her mid-30’s, had a heavy-footed walk.

*

Pal had made her first appearance at Roscoe's English basement apartment shortly after his longtime job as manager of the Fan City Cinema evaporated on the last day of 1982. Virginia Commonwealth University bought the old converted church building and dismantled it to build on the lot. He and his sometimes-live-in girlfriend, Tess Dailey, were having breakfast on an unseasonably warm winter morning, when a peculiar noise got their attention. They discovered a determined gray cat squeezing its way through the chicken wire stretched across the outside of the window.

Roscoe didn't want to encourage the animal to stay around, but playful and charming Tess insisted on feeding it something, which turned out to be his leftover pizza. The next day, ignoring Roscoe's wishes not to name the cat Tess started calling it "Rosebud."

Well, it turned out Rosebud was smart and would eat anything Roscoe would eat. Then, only a month later, Tess, the kid-sister of his old friend, Finn, announced she had given her notice on her art gallery job. Beyond that, she had decided to move to New York to pursue her career as a dancer/choreographer.

"I gotta go before I'm too old and scared to do it," Tess explained.

They hadn't had any sort of squabble, but Roscoe, 35, knew the drill well. She'd seen all his moves and heard all his jokes. Smart, pretty girls her age, 23, know when to say, "when."

Later, in the airport parking lot she leaned her back against his Volkswagen bus, as they kissed goodbye. Roscoe held her chin and couldn't resist using his Bogart imitation: "We'll always have Paris, Schweetheart."

Tess laughed, cried and made him promise to reconsider keeping Rosebud. And, that he did, except he renamed the cat "Pal."

Ultimately, Pal proved to be a good companion. Their morning ritual at the kitchen table, as Roscoe slowly drank his coffee, was rarely changed for any reason until she got sick. Pal always insisted on curling up on the parts of the Richmond Times-Dispatch he had finished reading. She would get up each time he needed to put another section on the used pile. Then she would park herself on the newspaper stack again, to doze. Pal was waiting for him to push his cereal bowl toward her, so she could drink the milk at the bottom.

Taking a break from the numbing fog of nostalgia Swift opened the door, to step outside and check his mailbox. It was noticeably colder than it had been earlier in the day. He found only junk mail and his telephone bill. "It'll keep," he muttered, shutting the box.

He decided to take a walk around the block. Swift breathed deeply, the crisp autumn air smelled good. A pair of pleasant, fragile-looking old ladies offered him a religious tract. He politely said, "No, thank you." Red, orange and yellow leaves were blowing about the street as he considered, once again, the role of irony in the grand scheme of things. Fresh thoughts began to fall into place, his stride quickened.

Back inside, the artist and occasional no-budget filmmaker -- who for his income depended mostly on a part-time position as special events coordinator for a charity -- pulled out a few blank sheets of paper. After a flurry of writing he put the pen down and went to the refrigerator. Breaking his new weekday rule -- no beer before 5 p.m. -- he cracked open a green can of Heineken.

Staring into a poster of a Degas ballerina painting, which was over his desk, another bubble of realization popped: Yes, it had been far too long since he had gotten laid. Roscoe sighed/chuckled, as he reached for the paper to read over what he had just written:

It would be easy to continue to see all of life itself as God. For me that's been a comfortable notion for many years. I have thought of it as a soft-edge brand of existentialism that avoids dwelling on doubt and debate. However, at this particular sad moment I find it more interesting, perhaps more useful, to see God in a different light. What about The Creator as the totally unpredictable random factor that causes change?

Thus, I submit – the ironic God. This God is itself another dimension – fifth, sixth, take your pick. Since it has no form or action we are capable of corralling to measure, it remains beyond the grasp of our reason. Perhaps we sense it most when we take risks, when we are in uncharted waters.

In many ways the biggest risk we take is falling in love. The playful, musical laughter of young lovers -- off, in their own dimension -- may be as close to being at one with this mysterious force as human beings are likely to get.

Putting the page down, the author rubbed his eyes. The text before him seemed to have been written by another hand. It excited him. After another swig of beer he grabbed the pen. Again, the words poured out, effortlessly:

The spark that set life in motion on this planet stemmed from the magic of the aforementioned force -- a force that creates anomalies as it wafts its way, hither and yon, and into the cosmic gears of order.

Why?

Who knows? Who knows if it cares about what it does? Who knows what else it can do, if anything? Preachers say they know, then they ask for money. I say nobody even knows what entity created order, in the first place, so it could then be tweaked by this ironic force of change? We just know that nothing stays the same, and payback is a bitch.

What the hell does that mean?

Maybe everything, or nothing. Maybe Rosebud. If there is inevitably a yes, no, and maybe aspect to all earthly propositions, then perhaps God is a kaleidescope of ever-changing maybes.

Change -- a big bang? -- caused mass to emerge from what had been only energy. Then came more change. We move from single cells, to dinosaurs, to mammals, to whatever is next in line; no doubt, something that will thrive on the poisons my species has unleashed on nature.

No matter how comforted people are by their worshiping of order and predictability, the existence of the species is owed to mutations through the ages. Without the random changes which fall like leaves one time, and a ton of bricks the next, the short life we struggle to live wouldn't even exist.

The phone rang. Walking like a zombie, Roscoe picked up the receiver: "Hello."

He listened to the vet's report: Pal's infection was so massive it was a medical wonder she was still alive. She had not responded to the antibiotic, nor had she regained any interest in eating. Fluids had been pumped into her. She was only getting weaker.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," said the careful male voice, "but the quality of, ah, your Pal's life, in whatever time she has left, is only going to continue to deteriorate. Do you want to take her home for the night and see what happens? Or, you might consider putting her down today. It's your decision. Mr. Swift."

"There's no good in prolonging her suffering, " said Roscoe, "if the situation is hopeless. She must be so confused, and..."

"I understand," the vet said. "If you want, we can take care of it in about an hour, including disposal of the remains. But you can still come to see her to say good-bye, or whatever..."

"How do you," Swift cringed, "I mean, will it be lethal injection?"

"Yes," Roscoe heard from the receiver, as his heart sank.

"OK, I’ll be there in a half-hour," said Roscoe. "And, yes I'd like to spend a few minutes with Pal before you put her to sleep. And, well, I’m not so sure about the rest, because I can't... After she's kaput, I'll take her body with me."

"That's fine, I understand," said the man. "And, I'm sorry we couldn't make her well."

"Thanks," said Swift. He hung up. Tears spilled onto his cheeks as he sat at his desk again. He began connecting to other sad times, disappointments, losses, deaths, melancholia. The phone rang, again.

On cruise-control, Roscoe listened to an artificially perky woman he didn't know.

"This may be YOUR lucky day! If you qualify and register now, you will be eligible to win an all-expenses-paid vacation in HAWAII. That's SEVEN sunny days and romantic nights for two in paradise. How does THAT sound to you Mr. Roscoe?"

"What on earth are you talking about?" protested Roscoe. "Ah, listen, my last name is Swift, not Roscoe."

The anonymous voice began again, "That's SEVEN sunny days and romantic nights for..."

"You shouldn’t have called," Roscoe advised. "This is a ... Look, I'm trying to work. Whatever list I'm on, please just take my name off of it."

"This may be YOUR lucky day! If you qualify and register now, you will be eligible..."

Roscoe shouted, "Believe me, I don't qualify! You've got the wrong guy. Look! I never buy anything, and I don't even give a happy Shinola about Hawaii, much less whatever you're selling!"

Swift hung up and walked back to his desk to cut the radio back on. Mercifully, "Rhapsody in Blue," was playing. Pen in hand, he went to work, again:

Shrill voices and strident blather. Relentless telemarketing and talk-show crackpots. Constant accusations. Constant denials. Aggressive promos and seeping disinformation. When you add them all up, the combination becomes a cacophony that stands like a wall of noise, separating us from whatever quiet truths we might discover, but for it.

The wall of noise is more than a mean-spirited abuse of our sense of hearing. It's a greed-driven abuse of the most cherished of rights – Free Speech. In such a maddening condition one of mankind's basic universal pursuits – peace of mind – is all but out of reach.

*

During the fifteen minutes Roscoe spent alone with Pal, in the quiet pale green room in which she would soon die, he found the courage to push through his lifelong needle-phobia. He simply couldn't abide the idea of Pal having to go out without her only true friend at her side. So, he opted to stay on for the execution.

Roscoe gently stroked Pal's head as the vet, Dan Yost, prepared to shoot poison into the animal's veins. His assistant, Sally, held Pal in position by her striped legs. Swift avoided looking at the syringe, hoping to suppress the queasy, lightheaded sweats the sight of an injection -- anyone's injection -- always brought on. To block out his powerful desire to turn away from the nauseating specter, he focused totally on Pal's face, on her eyes that looked so weary.

"Easy there girl," Roscoe said, scratching behind her ears as she flinched from the prick of the needle. "Easy Pal," he said in a low tone that would ordinarily make her purr up a storm. Pal had never liked anybody fooling around with her feet. She struggled weakly to free herself from Sally's grip.

Panic made Roscoe's heart race as he saw Pal's dignity being compromised. Then she slowly turned her head to the side and sank her teeth into his right thumb. Roscoe didn't react. Seconds later, she was motionless.

When Roscoe's thumb began bleeding Dan was shocked: "I've never seen that happen. Hey, I'm so sorry, man. I didn't think there was any way."

"It's OK," said Roscoe. "She never liked being held down. She protested, even if she was ready to go, and she left me something to remember her by. I'm glad."

Dan was greatly relieved and said so. He cleaned and dressed Roscoe's wound and continued to apologize. Roscoe watched Sally's gentle hands as she carefully wrapped the lifeless cat in a white towel. Dan cautioned him to watch for infection and to go to the doctor if there was swelling.

Remembering he needed to call a friend about borrowing a shovel, Roscoe asked, "May I please use your telephone for a short call?"

"Sure, not a problem," said Dan. "And, watch that thumb."

At sunset, Roscoe and two of his oldest friends, Rusty Donovan and Zach Collins, buried Pal under a large oak tree in Byrd Park. Each of the three took turns digging the grave. The oak was located at a dogleg in the middle of the ninth fairway of their unmarked Frisbee-golf course, where their small group had been playing for ten years.

Roscoe showed off his bandage as he told them about what happened when Pal died. He opened the towel and put the lifeless cat into the fresh hole in the ground. After they covered the grave the men toasted Pal with a ceremonial beer. Rusty, who was still always holding, broke out a joint. Stories about favorite pets were exchanged.

The three agreed to meet there the following afternoon for a round of golf. Starting with that next round's play, they began treating Pal's grave site as hallowed ground. It became routine for the players to meow and hiss, out loud, whenever a drive inadvertently smacked into the "Dead Cat Tree."

On a bright morning almost three weeks after Pal's burial, Roscoe saw Sally sitting alone in a new coffee shop that he'd been meaning to try. She invited him to sit at her table and asked about his injured thumb. He said it was healing fine.

Lingering over coffee, they shared his Washington Post. She pointed out a funny article about a wild celebration of the 47th anniversary of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio prank.

He told her Welles and Luis Bunuel were two of his biggest heroes.

"It seems you admire talented mavericks," she said. "Who are your two favorite comedians?"

"Lenny Bruce and Richard Prior," he answered quickly. Then he recounted a funny version of the story of Pal's name-change.

Sally asked Roscoe if he hoped the bite mark would leave a scar.

He flashed his best smile, "Naturally."

* * *

All rights reserved. "Maybe Rosebud" with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories called "Detached." Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below:

"Dogtown Hero"
"Central Time"
"Cross-eyed Mona"
Fancy Melons

Rams report card; VA Top Five

VCU defeated Elon, 79-61, on Saturday night at the Siegel Center. Rams head coach Anthony Grant seemed pleased with his team's effort, coming off of two losses in San Juan last week.
In the first half VCU’s snazzy pair of starting guards, Jamal Shuler and Eric Maynor, went two-for-two on three-point-shots in propelling VCU to a 21-point advantage at the break. In the second stanza, as Rams head coach Anthony Grant shuffled 12 players in and out of action, his team’s lead fluctuated between 25 and 15 points.

Call it a nice working margin.
For commentary on the Elon game and the Rams season (3-2), so far, click here to read an article I penned for Richmond.com.

This week we are launching SLANTblog's Virginia Top Five feature. For the rest of the season each Monday it will rank the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (5-1)
2. Virginia (5-1)
3. VCU (3-2)
4. ODU (3-3)
5. Va. Tech (2-2)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

VCU coasts; UR advances

Upon returning to their Siegel Center home floor, after a 1-2 trip to Puerto Rico, the VCU Rams made mincemeat of the visitors, the Elon Phoenix: VCU 79, Elon 61.

Before a crowd of 4,489, the Rams veteran guards Jamal Shuler and Eric Maynor both went two-for-two on three-pointers in the first half, as the home team ran away with the game and led by 21 at the break. In the second stanza the Rams’ working margin grew to 25 and was never less than 15.

For the game VCU made good on 59.9 percent of its field goal attempts. When they shoot that well the defensive-minded Rams (3-2) will beat a lot of teams better than the Phoenix (2-3), who play in the Southern Conference and aren’t projected as one of its contenders.

VCU head coach Anthony Grant used 12 players tonight, nine of them were on the floor 10 minutes or more. Shuler was the game’s top scorer with 17 points; he added five rebounds. On top of his 10 points, Maynor got seven assists. Freshman forward Larry Sanders scored nine points, grabbed six boards and blocked four shots.

The Rams return to the road on Thursday to play the Hampton Pirates there at 7 p.m.

And, earlier in the day at UR Stadium, the University of Richmond defeated Eastern Kentucky, 31-14, to advance in the so-called “subdivision” playoffs.
Tim Hightower rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown and Eric Ward threw for one touchdown and ran for another Saturday night, leading Richmond past Eastern Kentucky 31-14 in the first round of the football championship subdivision playoffs.

The Spiders (10-2) will travel to Wofford next Saturday for a quarterfinal game.
Click here to read the AP story about the Spiders win.

Fancy Melons

Fiction by F. T. Rea

“Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly. Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, he wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans with twine for shoelaces.

Roscoe Swift was content to ignore the rumpled stranger until he made his purpose clear: “Gotta match?” Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.

Roscoe approached the weather-beaten character cautiously and handed him a matchbook. The old salt lit his crooked, hand-rolled cigarette. Then the man coughed, cleared his throat, and spat triumphantly on the heavy support of the nearby tourist telescope. Roscoe watched the oyster slime its way off the heavy base to collect on the pavement.

After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the ungrateful man threw the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, yer no prodigy.

Annoyed, Roscoe looked in the water for the matchbook. It floated up so he could still read the type on the cover. It said Fancy Melons.

“No sir, heh, heh, yer just another thin-skinned boy -- ha! maybe a skinless boy -- trying to bluff his way into heaven,” said the old timer, as his pale blue eyes twinkled in a maze of wrinkles and broken capillaries.

The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. Reality at the moment was no less weird than his dream had been. He found that he had been sleeping on a stack of inflated rafts on the sand. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty.

Slowly, he began to remember climbing the lifeguard stand on the beach to the top of a pile of rental rafts lashed to it. Strangely, in the moonlight, it had made sense to sleep on an open-air perch, 15 feet up. He shuddered as he thought of the old man in the dream that was already beginning to fade away.

Then he realized he was still dreaming.

*

April 9, 1980: Roscoe Swift woke up already aware of the warm, moist air wafting through the slightly open bedroom window. Contrary to the weather forecast, it was still raining. Selena Cross, asleep on her back, didn’t stir as he deftly climbed over her and down from his loft.

The dream-within-a-dream he had just endured was a familiar haunt. It went all the way back to when he was 16, shortly after he actually did wake up on top of a stack of rafts on the beach. Roscoe shut off the alarm clock, so it wouldn't ring, and he gathered up last night’s clothes -- a black “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” T-shirt, khaki shorts, white socks, and high-top Converse All-Stars -- on his way to the bathroom.

Dressed and finished with the bathroom, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him.

Leggy and graceful, bright-eyed Selena had a feline quality that Roscoe told her was reminiscent of a young Brigitte Bardot, in “And God Created Woman.” While such a comparison was obviously meant to flatter, it also recognized her natural talent for mimicry and disguising her thoughts. To him Selena always seemed to be working from a script.

Roscoe and Selena had a big day planned -- a stolen day, removed from time. As he headed for the kitchen to scavenge up some breakfast, she opened her eyes, unbeknownst to him.

Selena Cross waitressed three nights a week at Soble’s on Floyd Avenue. To protect her image as one who never partied after hours, or strayed from her main squeeze, Selena invented a system to facilitate her “sessions” with Roscoe. On the nights she worked, he would swing by the bar on his way home from work at the Fan City Cinema, where he was the manager. Her fiancé -- a 30-year-old antique dealer, with money to burn -- traveled frequently, usually for a couple or three days, on short notice. If she was free and feeling amorous Selena would wear her honey-colored hair in a ponytail, to signal Roscoe she would be showing up at his place later. That way they could confine their conversation in the restaurant to small talk and leave at different times without huddled discussions.

In spite of the obvious chemistry between the two of them, Selena had convinced herself this subterfuge kept her coworkers and the bar’s regulars from suspecting anything.

In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good. Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.

Until this particular occasion it had been her custom to leave Roscoe’s carriage house apartment, in the alley behind the 1200 block of Franklin Street, before the first light of day. This time her fiancé was scheduled to be away longer than usual. Thus, this was their first morning together.

Roscoe Swift, 32, was a divorced wannabe filmmaker, who was too existential for his own good. Having had the same job for nine years, he could coast most of the time. Selena was a 23-year-old art history graduate. She led a disciplined, goal-oriented life and was ready to make her mark on a world of unlimited opportunity. Aside from a shared taste for Rockabilly music and a similar appreciation for black humor, they really didn’t have much in common. Generally, Selena didn’t talk about the past and Roscoe didn’t talk about the future.

Roscoe switched on the radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza. He was out of eggs, too.

What he had to work with was: a half-loaf of wheat bread, an almost new stick of butter, jars of mayonnaise, mustard and strawberry jam, a box of fig bars, a tired-looking head of lettuce, a bottle of extra dry domestic champagne, two cans of ginger ale, seven cans of beer and an empty pizza box.

Roscoe took out the champagne and sat it on the counter next to a small watermelon Selena had brought with her from the restaurant. As he carved up the melon, he whistled along with the radio to the classic Everly Brothers’ not-so-thinly-disguised ode to masturbation: “All I Have to Do is Dream.”

Selena, naked but for her thick socks, entered the room without making a sound. Amused that Roscoe hadn’t noticed her, she leaned her butt against the damp windowsill and folded her arms.

“Morning!” said Roscoe. “Hot coffee, buttered toast and cold champagne, with a watermelon spear, served in a pewter goblet. Presto! A perfect rainy day breakfast.”

Selena grinned. “I like rainy days. With no shadows, colors look more thick and juicy…”

“Miss Cross,” said Roscoe, “would you please slide the coffee pot onto the burner. It’s already loaded up.”

“You betcha,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”

“Yep,” said Roscoe, watching the gas flame burst into action, “this is an old Southern favorite. They call it a ‘Spring Fling.’ You haven’t heard of it?”

“No, but it’s so appropriate,” she said with a yawn. The gesture fit well with her decadent rich girl act -- sometimes Selena almost seemed to have walked out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Given her blue-collar, small town background, it was a persona he enjoyed watching her affect.

Roscoe popped the cork off the bottle of bubbly and the moment’s perfection promptly fizzled. The bubbly wasn’t!

“Goddamn it!” he growled in a tone she hadn’t heard from him before.

While Selena’s body language had seemed to suggest that something other than breakfast was on her mind, anyway, the suddenly crestfallen Roscoe was focused on the flat champagne.

“I’ll be right back,” Roscoe blurted out, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt. He ran three-and-a-half blocks to a neighborhood wine shop in a steady rain, convinced the owner to open early, and returned with chilly bubbles aplenty.

“When you’re wet, you look fantastic!” Selena said, at first sight of him.

That prompted an impromptu session, with Selena seated on the porcelain kitchen table. Once again, they delighted in their collaborative ability to please one another. If anything, it was still improving. And, that was that.

The rain stopped and the clouds parted as they polished off their perfect breakfast with gusto. During the drive from Richmond to their destination, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Selena and Roscoe sang along with a taped compilation of cuts by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.

Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road. “I’ve smiled at you so much I feel like a Cheshire cat on two hits of acid,” Roscoe deadpanned, as he pulled his pale yellow 1973 Volvo wagon into the parking lot of the quaint Hilltop Hotel.

As soon as they got to their room, Selena went to the bathroom. As he waited, Roscoe lit a joint, took a hit, and asked, “Do you still want to go to the horse races in Charles Town? We’ve still got the rest of the day to go sightseeing, or do whatever…”

“Whatever suits me fine,” said Selena, as she opened the door wearing only the Fan City Cinema T-shirt he had given her. That, and a spectacular smile.

“What the hell,” said Selena, who rarely smoked pot, “Up here I’m as out of town as it gets, give me a damn toke of that.”

After her second hit, as she passed the joint back to him, Selena lifted her right foot to rub the instep along the back of her left calf. Roscoe stepped closer, tossing the joint at the bedside table’s ashtray. Her head tilted slightly to one side. The air between them was charged.

She pulled at his belt buckle as they landed on the bed. His hands cascaded along her rib cage to her bare hips.

Then Roscoe heard a loud explosion; he flinched. “Wha, what the hell was that?”

Selena laughed as Roscoe rolled onto his back, seemingly dazed. “What was what?” she cooed.

“That sound; like a gunshot, or a bomb,” he gasped. “That bang! Didn’t you hear it?”

“Passion!” she said, widening her eyes. “Pure, pure passion!”

Roscoe was disoriented. Hadn’t the noise been real? Hadn’t she heard it, too? He sat up. “Come on Selena, you didn’t hear that sound?

She kissed him with such fury that he had to stop talking.

Soon, thoughts of fiancés, ex-wives, everyday concerns in Richmond, horse races in Charles Town, and especially mysterious explosions in hotel rooms were put aside. Later they slept the sleep known only to earnest lovers, who’ve given their all to the moment.

*

The next day, in spite of his efforts, Roscoe was unable to determine if Selena had actually heard the explosion he had. They talked about it during the drive back to Richmond, but she never gave him a straight answer. She enjoyed teasing him -- maybe this, maybe that.

Exaggerating her southern accent, Selena would say, “Pah-shun.” Eventually Selena’s evasiveness began to rub Roscoe the wrong way, so he stopped asking.

They finished off the drive with little to say, accompanied by a Kraftwerk tape, turned up loud. He dropped her off at her Volkswagen bug, parked in a lot near his place. She planned to stop by her apartment and then take care of some errands. Selena’s parting words were: “I’ll call you around dinnertime, about getting together later, if you’re up for a encore session.”

At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-Golf, he found a message Selena had left on his answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew. There must have been some gossip. Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling.

The end was abrupt: Harper’s Ferry proved to be the finale for Selena and Roscoe. Two months later, Selena’s wedding took place in her husband’s hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. After a honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds surprised everyone by deciding to set up residence in Annapolis, Maryland, instead of Richmond.

And, that was that, except for this postscript on a chilly rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry. Upon returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, Roscoe found a paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo when he got home. In it was a bottle of Dom Perignon, along with half a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette. He shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers.

“Passion,” said Roscoe with chuckle nearly as dry as the bottle of bubbly next to him. He let out the clutch and turned up the volume.

* * *

All rights reserved. "Fancy Melons" with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories. Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below:

Friday, November 23, 2007

New Rule: SUV's can't park at the corner

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In the interest of full-disclosure let me say up front that, as a class, I don’t like sports utility vehicles. So, I wouldn’t own one. But my dislike of SUV's goes beyond what I might choose to drive. OK, at this point, I should also say that I love the Fan District; to me it’s as close to an urban paradise as it gets.

The first time I drove a SUV it was surprising how unstable/top-heavy it felt. That was 10 years ago, the model was a Toyota ForeRunner. Since then there has been plenty of publicity about how unsafe SUVs are. No doubt, some makes are worse than others are, but it seems the basic full-sized SUV is outrageously susceptible to rolling over.

Which is ironic, in a way, because I've heard owners of SUVs say they drive them because they feel safer ensconced in their big-wheeled behemoths than they do in a standard sedan.

About three months ago I saw a SUV get flipped over by a low-slung compact like it was a hamburger on the grill. The car going west on Main St. had been doing about 25 mile-per-hour before it struck the SUV on the rider’s side, chiefly because the SUV had run a red light at the intersection of a side street.

The SUV tumbled over and spun around on its roof; its driver was bloody and trapped inside. She was lucky to be alive.

The small sedan had a crumpled front end; its driver seemed unhurt.

As a bicyclist I’ve learned to watch SUVs more attentively than other vehicles. Their drivers tend to ignore me more than their counterparts in less severe vehicles. In truth, nearly every time a door suddenly swings open in front of me it’s a SUV driver’s door.

When the Fan District was designed most families didn’t own two or more cars. Some had none. Lots of folks rode a streetcar or bus to work. Families had their groceries and department store purchases delivered. People walked for short errands. Consequently, the streets were much less congested with motor traffic.

Well, that era is long-gone but there aren’t any more parking spaces in the Fan now than there were 50 years ago. So, it’s crowded. The bigger the vehicles get the more space they take up, whether moving or parked at the curb. More importantly, the taller the vehicles get the more dangerous it is to get around in the Fan, because it affects visibility.

The height of SUVs, vans and other such tall vehicles breaks the sight line of one who is trying to see over and around them at an intersection. For example: if you’re heading south on Stafford Street in your standard-sized sedan and you want to cross Floyd Avenue, you stop -- look both ways -- and if you see the way is clear, you step on your accelerator.

But if a dump truck is parked on the north side of Floyd, close to the corner, facing west, you can’t see around it. So, you either creep half-way into the intersection and look again, or you jet across, hoping for good luck to protect you.

While this scenario is an everyday thing for Fan motorists, it could be a thing of the past if we stop letting tall vehicles park within 25 feet of the corner. A law which says in densely-populated residential areas vehicles that stand over a certain height can’t park near the corner would save some lives, prevent fender-benders and improve the quality of life.

Of course, some SUV owners would object, strongly, but so what. They can park their gas-guzzlers in the middle of the block, or in their garage/back yard. Or, they can trade them in for another style of a ride.

Bottom line: Owners of SUVs, giant trucks and Winnebagos have no intrinsic right to park them anywhere ol' where they choose. So, let's move them back from the corners 25 feet and we’ll all be safer.

-- words and manipulated SUV image by F.T Rea

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cross-eyed Mona

Fiction by F.T. Rea

September 21, 1977
: The Luis Bunuel double feature playing at the Fan City Cinema drew a sparse but appreciative crowd. In the lobby, just before the nine-thirty show got underway, manager Roscoe Swift said to a pair of regular customers who were Bunuel aficionados, “Yeah, I suppose if we’ve got to go broke at least we’re doing it with style.”

At 10:45 p.m. Swift locked the bank deposit from the evening’s take in the ancient safe in his office. As he left the theater the 29-year-old manager set out to wash away the still-clinging vestiges of a hangover that had dogged him all day. Swift’s destination was the stained glass and wood-paneled confines of J.W. Rayle, his favorite watering hole. Once outside, he decided to walk, hoping the fresh air would do him some good.

Monroe Park was quiet. As he walked Roscoe recollected a series of images from events that had unfolded in that park, which bordered the Virginia Commonwealth University academic campus. The montage stopped abruptly at his memory of a Sunday afternoon live-music happening where a young man fell to his death from atop the park’s cast iron fountain.

Upon arriving at the restaurant Roscoe was glad to see Rusty Donovan was the bartender on duty. He and Rusty had been friends since boot camp in 1966. Eleven years later they were teammates on the J.W. Rayle softball team.

Lean and agile Rusty was the best all-around athlete in his high school class. Yet he passed on opportunities to play college basketball because he didn’t crave competition as do many jocks. Nor did he have any desire to launch a serious career. He liked being a bartender, attracting pretty girls and playing shortstop on the bar’s softball team. All three tasks were easy for Rusty. That’s how he liked it.

Rusty’s droopy mustache widened as he glanced up from washing a glass to see Roscoe. “Yo!”

“Heineken please,” Roscoe said, taking a seat at the bar. “Slow night?”

“So far,” Rusty replied, setting the bottle in front of Roscoe, “Maybe it’ll pick up. Peach said she’d stop by. Sal just called, he’s on his way.”

“It was slow at the Fancy, too,” said Roscoe. “I watched most of ‘Los Olvidados,’ it still knocks me out. Bunuel is the champ.”

“Aw, give me the ol‘ ‘Dog,’ every time,” Rusty laughed. “That eyeball-slicing scene, oh man, the effect it ... it’s cosmic.”

“The audience always groans,” Roscoe affirmed. “What year was it that kid died climbing on the fountain in Monroe Park?”

“Beats me,” Rusty shrugged. “You’re the stickler for dates. I’d guess five or six years ago, maybe more. Why?”

“No real reason,” said Roscoe, “I walked here from the Fancy and something reminded me of being there the afternoon it happened. I didn’t see him fall, but I remember Bake said he was rocking back and forth. I think you and Finn were there, too. I sure remember how the fountain looked, all skewed.”

Rusty asked, “Didn’t that happen the day after we went to that post-Kent State war-protest in DeeCee?

“Sounds right,” said Roscoe. “Kent State was 1970, so...”

“Look!” bellowed an unfamiliar male voice behind Roscoe, “I saw you. Don’t lie!”

Rusty cringed. Roscoe turned to look behind him at the squabbling couple, seated about twelve feet away.

The balding, rather soft-looking man, was probably in his mid-30s. Roscoe pegged him as the ne’er-do-well son of a fat cat. Decked out in a big-collared shiny polyester get-up, the guy had an air about him that reeked of bad karma. His opposite at the small round lounge table was a striking beauty. She couldn’t have been much over 21, if that. With her dark hair and gamine, long-limbed look, Roscoe was reminded of Audrey Hepburn, as she appeared in “Sabrina.”

After taking a generous swig of his beer, Roscoe was pleased to see the veteran bartender cranking the volume up on the bar’s stereo, which was playing a reel-to-reel tape: The rather apt song of the moment was the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance.”

Roscoe cracked his knuckles as he once again noticed the irritating joke reproduction of the Mona Lisa on the back wall; this version of Mona was cross-eyed. Once again, he wondered why the silly thing struck others as funny.

A couple of minutes later the song ended and Roscoe glanced at the bickering girl. She was sitting alone, retouching her lipstick. He studied her gypsy-like eyes, her long nose and wide mouth. Her small head rested perfectly on a swan-like neck. She had a dark tan. Wearing a form-fitting powder blue tube top and tiny floral-print shorts she looked like a fancy dessert.

Leaning on her elbow, lovely Sabrina glanced up from her hand mirror at Roscoe. Her vexed expression melted into a sweet smile that took his breath away. When had he seen her before? After a long second, the girl averted her eyes, unsmiled, and nervously lit up a cigarette. Roscoe turned away, so as not to stare.

His thoughts drifted. Over the previous Labor Day weekend Roscoe and his wife of nearly seven years, Julie, decided to separate, temporarily. He wondered if the hard-edged single man’s life he had been leading would bring tobacco back into the picture. It had been almost a year since he had fired up a Kool Filter.

“Do you believe that?” whispered Rusty, nodding toward the two-top, as Sabrina’s sparring partner returned. “Why would she be with him?”

“What a waste,” agreed Roscoe, polishing off the dregs of his first beer of the night. He closed his eyes to see the teal color of Julie’s eyes light up and dissolve into a familiar picture of her in mid-stride, running on the beach the day her met her.

Rusty placed a second frosty green Heineken in front of his friend and said, “On the house, amigo.”

“Just what the doctor ordered,” said Roscoe, “thanks.”

Sal Modiano, the art professor, walked into the room. Sal was a skinny, cocky son of Italian immigrants from New Jersey, he looked like a character straight out of “The Godfather.” Sal was an ordinary athlete, if that. He played second base on the restaurant’s softball team.

Since the split-up with Julie, Roscoe had been staying in Sal’s Grove Avenue carriage house art studio. The amenities were minimal but the roof didn’t leak. Although he had no plan for what to do next, after only two weeks, Roscoe already sensed that he and Julie would not live together again. While they still cared for one another, far too many injuries to their relationship -- which began the summer before they were juniors in high school -- had been ignored over time, left to heal wrong.

As John Lennon’s voice warbled from the speakers, Roscoe softly sang along, “Ah, bowakawa pousse, pousse.”

“Yeah, yeah ... Turn me on dead-man,” Sal chuckled, as he plopped down next to Roscoe at the bar. “Rustman, I’ll have the same as our leftfielder here. And, ‘Scoe, what the hell does that bozo-cow-eye, pussy, pussy line actually mean?”

“Beats me,” Rusty laughed.

Roscoe shrugged, then suggested to Sal they move from the bar to get further away from the obnoxious battle underway behind them. Sal nodded and picked up his beer to follow Roscoe to a table nearer the back of the room.

Having scored an ounce of expensive hothouse marijuana that afternoon, Sal was wearing a telltale illegal smile. “Bet your life, man, I’m having just an excellent night -- happy hour at the Rainbow Inn, followed by some excellent oysters at Gatsby’s...”

“Who was at the Rainbow?” asked Roscoe.

“The usual suspects,” said Sal. “Zach came in. The mouthpiece bought a round for the house to celebrate winning a big case. Later on JD was in the back booth dealing nasty, nasty half-grams for thirty-five bucks. The sample line felt like he had cut it with Ajax. I think JD, the crazy deejay, is stepping all over the product and going to get himself in trouble. Oh, and Julie came in.”

Roscoe resisted, then asked, “Was she with anybody?”

“One of her girlfriends,” Sal replied. “I forget, ah, heavy jugs, thick ankles, bleached blonde hair. What say we take us a little a ride ‘round the block to burn one? I’ve got a fresh batch of sweet primo for you to test. Forget Julie for a while, man. Give it a rest.”

*

Twenty minutes later, the teammates were finished with their smoke break. Re-entering Rayle’s lounge, Roscoe and Sal were pleasantly surprised to see that Rusty’s sharp-looking new strawberry blonde girlfriend, Peach, was sitting at the bar with another young woman, an equally attractive brunette.

Peach introduced Kit to Roscoe. Sal already knew her, as both girls were art majors who had transferred from Old Dominion University. Both wore the obligatory paint-speckled faded blue jeans and T-shirts that signaled they were art girls.

Peach mentioned that Kit had played volleyball at ODU. Roscoe liked her immediately. He hoped to get to know her better, but when the battling couple resumed their argument, he and Sal fled to their table.

For Roscoe and Sal a discussion followed that digressed effortlessly from the rudderless aspect of current politics into the days of the Grove Avenue Republic, which was a group of anarchy-loving neighbors living on the 1100 block of Grove. That area of the Fan District was the epicenter of a few notable street parties that brought out the worst in the local police force. Roscoe brought up the time the cops actually turned dogs loose to chew up a crowd of hippies.

Sal complained about how the Fan, with its distinctive architecture, was suddenly losing its front porches to a “weird trend” in renovation.

“What’s so wrong about a porch?” demanded Sal, in a voice the whole room could hear. “The Fan is changing, man! No surprise, Bake was right again when he predicted a new breed would move into the Fan to run off the hippies and old folks. Look around, it’s happening!”

“Yep, the times are a-changing,” said Roscoe. “How about having to choose between Disco and Punk Rock?”

“Not in Rayle, not on my shift,” Rusty tossed out from behind the bar. On cue, the next cut on the tape started -- “Poor Little Fool,” by Ricky Nelson.

Sal’s rant morphed into his favorite source of material for yarn-spinning, the colorful life of the late Roland “Bake” Baker.

A bullet to the head finished off Bake in 1975. His body was found in a boarded-up house on Floyd Avenue, a couple of blocks from where Julie and Roscoe lived. It had never been determined what happened, or who else was involved. The weapon that killed him wasn’t found. In the newspaper, according to a police department spokesperson, it was considered to have been, “a drug-related murder.” In the same article, Bake was made out to have been a “known associate of anti-American radicals and underworld figures.”

While Bake had played guitar in a couple of Rock ‘n’ Roll bands and dealt pot on a substantial basis for several years, to cast him as a spy or mobster was preposterous to anyone who knew him at all.

For the benefit of those in the room who were tired of hearing the unhappy couple slug it out, Sal, in full Jersey throat, began telling the “Bake Calling His Shot” story. Roscoe and Rusty had heard it many times.

According to Sal, it all happened at Finn Daley’s pad on Harvie Street. There were six guys there. The happy raconteur named them all to add credibility to the tale.

“They were discussing the clues to the Paul-is-dead controversy, or scam,” said Sal. “Bake was stretched out on his back on the couch. His feet were on the coffee table, next to several beer cans, an ashtray, a bong, and a Coca-Cola bottle. Abruptly, the late Mr. Baker announced, ‘Watch this shot, boys. Swish!’”

Sal took up a matchbook and began acting out the part. “He pulled the last match out and whistled. Then he aimed it, man, squinting one eye. He tossed it at the bottle, and ladies and gents, the match went straight into the Coke bottle like a guided missile. Voila!”

“Voila?” Roscoe interrupted, “Did it swish?”

“‘Voila,’ is what he said,” Sal fired back. “You remember, Rusty, we measured the flight of the match at over seven feet. That’s a one-in-a-hundred, a one-a-thousand shot, man. He called it. Calling the shot man, that’s…”

“How do you know Bake was aiming for the Coke bottle?” Roscoe inquired. “What makes you think you even know what he meant? He could...”

Sal puffed up. “I believe you were still in the brig then, man. I was there and heard him call the shot. I saw the match go in the bottle.”

Roscoe laughed, “Yeah, I know. Oh, for the record, by then I out of the Navy and in school. I was at class that day.”

It both amused and annoyed Roscoe that so many of Bake’s old running mates were continuing to glorify everything he had ever done. Bake climbed the WTVR broadcast tower. Bake hit a flamboyant politician, Howard Carwile, with a water balloon. Got away with it. When the riot broke out in the midst of the Cherry Blossom Festival, he torched one, maybe two of the police cars. Got away with it then, too. Stranger than the exaggerations of Bake’s actual doings were the ghost rumors and soap opera speculations concerning his demise. Roscoe was uncomfortable with the idea of Bake, who had been his closest friend, becoming a minor league James Dean-like cult figure.

“Knowing Bake,” said Roscoe, as Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself” began to fill up the room with close harmony. “I just wonder if he had a vision of the match going into the bottle. Or, if he thought he could will it to do so. No doubt, he was capable of either...”

A glass broke on the floor. Sabrina stood up and stomped her foot. Tearful and angry, she raised her voice, “...and don’t ever follow me again!” Her outraged companion grabbed her arm, forcefully. He hissed something unintelligible.

Roscoe closed his eyes and reminded himself that it was none of his business. Sal glanced sideways at the imbroglio and said, “Damn it, man, I wish he wouldn’t rough her up like that.”

“This is awful!” said Roscoe, turning to look through the antique leaded glass windows at the misty night on Pine Street.

“Ease up, buddy,” commanded Rusty from behind the bar, in a tone unusually stern for him.

The angry girl tried to wrench herself loose from the masher’s grip. In a rage he lifted her off the floor and growled, “You lousy coke-whore!”

Sabrina wrinkled her nose and spat in his face.

With his captive suspended overhead by a grip under her armpits, the man charged across the floor. Although Roscoe would rather have watched someone else deal with the crisis -- after all, he wasn’t in charge and he had a hangover -- no one among the others present moved. Significantly, he was the one most directly between the couple and where they seemed to him to be heading. Roscoe saw the scene’s heavy as about to throw the heroine through the windows, so he sprang from his seat.

Knowing a half-hearted gesture was likely to make matters worse, Roscoe slammed his right shoulder into the villain’s thighs with utter sincerity. Sabrina was freed as a result of the collision. Riding the momentum of his surge, Roscoe ripped the man’s legs up to drive him onto the tile floor on his back.

As he scrambled to his feet, Roscoe heard Rusty asking the damsel if she was all right. Disheveled and flustered, she grabbed her pocketbook and ran toward the door. She didn’t look back or say, “thanks.” Roscoe let the urge to speak to her pass, as his Sabrina disappeared forever.

Having caught his breath the lout got up from the floor, apologized profusely and slapped a $20 tip on his $12 check. Nonetheless, Rusty made him stay for a few more minutes in an awkward silence, to give the woman a better head start. Then he sent the guy packing with, “Listen here, don’t let me see you in here again. Get it? Don’t come back.”

Sal observed, “That slimy dude better be happy he’s not on his way to jail, or the hospital.”

Rusty picked up a fifth of Bushmills from the back bar. He placed three shot glasses on the bar. He poured, “Scoe, I’m glad you put that sicko in his place.”

Roscoe said, “I couldn’t just sit and watch him throw her through the glass. I had no choice.”

“Wa-a-ait a minute, man,” Sal said. “What makes you so certain that’s what he was going to do?”

As the Eagles’ “Hotel California” began to play, Rusty put in, “Look, either way, he had it coming. That poseur was way, way out of line. I’ve served him in here before, he’s always had a bad attitude.”

“No! It wasn’t like that, Rusty,” resisted Roscoe. “I wasn’t punishing him. They were two or three steps from ... I could see where it was going. Otherwise, it’s none of my business.”

Kit supported Roscoe, “I’m sure that poor woman is very thankful, even…”

“How can you know? pounced Sal. “Nobody else in the saloon felt obliged to nuke the dandy. Then again, the girl was pretty, hmmm, just your type.”

“Hey, my type, too,” jabbed Rusty.

“I heard that!” Peach laughed.

“Wait a minute,” said Roscoe. “The only reason I interfered was because I could see what he was doing ... the look he had ... I couldn’t allow it.”

“Interfered?” Sal mocked. “If that was interfering, I’d hate to see how hard you’d have hit the sucker if you held a grudge. Like, do you know him from somewhere?”

“No,” Roscoe laughed.

Rusty and Sal began rehashing the details of a two-month-old disputed game with their chief softball rival, the Back Door, a nearby bar. Roscoe searched the room for someone to testify on his behalf. Kit was talking to Peach. Once again he caught sight of the Mona Lisa painting on the back wall. For the first time, it seemed funny -- Mona’s mugging expression said it all.

Roscoe looked through the windows again. Pine Street seemed the same, but his hangover had subsided. With that realization he remembered where he had seen the expression in Sabrina’s eyes before. It was the key scene in “La Jette,” a short French New Wave film, which was made up of still images that dissolved, one over another.

Solving the mystery pleased Roscoe. Setting his empty glass down, he declared, “You guys can say what you want. I made a total commitment to my particular view of reality. Maybe I’m crazy, I couldn’t just watch.”

“Amen,” said Rusty. “I don’t care about any hidden motives. Thanks for putting the brakes on whatever was going to happen next.”

“I tell you what, man,” said Sal. “Bake would have said “amen” over that go-for-broke tackle, too. It was solid as a brick!”

“There you go, saving a worthy damsel-in-distress, that’s good karma,” said Rusty. “Who knows…”

“Nobody knows,” said Roscoe with a sardonic smile. “Nobody. Pour us three more, please, on me. Let’s drink to wherever hangovers go and to the utmost of worthy damsels, Rayle’s own cross-eyed Mona.”

* * *

All rights reserved. "Cross-eyed Mona" with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories. Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below:

"Dogtown Hero"
"Central Time"
Fancy Melons
"Maybe Rosebud"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Central Time

Fiction by F. T. Rea

August 16, 1966: Roscoe Swift sat alone in a day car slowly rattling its way into Central Station. The solitary sailor had spent the last hour turning the glossy pages of Playboy and contemplating infinity. As the train lurched he glanced out of the window at Tuesday morning, Chicago style.

Roscoe had sequestered himself from the marathon poker game in the club car. The stepped up call for wild cards and split pots, by the various dealers, had finally driven him from the table. His resolute grandfather had schooled him to despise such frilly variations on the already-perfect game of poker.

“Gimmicks like that were invented to keep suckers in the game,” was the old man’s admonition.

This was hardly the day Roscoe wanted to invite the sort of jinx that might be set in motion by disregarding absolutes.

In the magazine’s lengthy interview section LSD pioneer Timothy Leary ruminated on his chemically enlarged view of the so-called Youth Movement. Professor Leary called the current crop: “The wisest and holiest generation that the human race has yet seen.”

The subculture forming around psychedelic drugs in that time was opening new dimensions of risk for 19-year-old daredevils. Roscoe wondered if he would ever do acid. His friend Bake had tripped and lived to tell about it.

There was a fresh dimension to the conflict in Vietnam that month, as well. The Cold War’s hottest spot was being infused with its first batch of draftees; some 65,000 were being sent into the fray, like it or not. Until this point it had been the Defense Department’s policy to use volunteers only for combat duty.

Also, on the home-front, quakes of change were abundant: A 25-year-old former Eagle Scout, Charles Whitman, climbed a tower on the University of Texas campus and shot 46 people, at random, killing 16; comedian/first amendment martyr Lenny Bruce was found dead -- overdosed and fat belly up -- on his bathroom floor; news of songwriter/musician John Lennon’s playful crack -- “We’re [the Beatles] more popular than Jesus Christ now” -- inflamed the devoutly humorless; and reigning Heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali, bent all sorts of folks out of shape with his widely reported quip -- “I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong.”

Since leaving Main Street Station in Richmond, Virginia the morning before, Roscoe had traveled - via the Chesapeake and Ohio line - through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, on his way to Illinois.

Taking leave from the airbrushed charms of September’s Playmate of the Month his mind kaleidoscoped to the sound of his girlfriend Julie’s laughter.

As a preamble to Roscoe’s departure for basic training he and Julie had spent the weekend in Virginia Beach, trying their best to savor the bittersweet taste of war-torn romance, black and white movie style. As luck would have it, the stately Cavalier Hotel’s central air conditioning system went on the blink the Friday they arrived.

Since the hotel’s windows couldn't be opened that meant the sea breeze was unavailable for relief from the heat wave. Nonetheless, they stayed on, because the hotel itself, a stylish relic of the Roaring ‘20s, meant something. After two years of catch-as-catch-can back-seat romance, this was where they had chosen to spend their first whole night together.

That evening they stretched out on the bed and sipped chilled champagne. With the hotel-supplied fan blowing on them at full blast, suddenly, a good-sized chunk of the ceiling fell onto a chair across the room.

After Roscoe mischievously reported the strange problem to the front desk -- “I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but perhaps you have a safer room?” -- Julie suggested a barefoot stroll on the beach to cool off.

Walking in the surf, neither of them had much to say. An hour later Julie and Roscoe were happily soaked as they returned to the hotel. With a little snooping around the pair discovered the door to the Cavalier’s indoor pool was unlocked. As it was well past the posted time for the pool to be open and the chlorine-smelling room was nearly dark, they reasoned that the facility was at their disposal for a little skinny-dipping.

*

Stepping off the train, Roscoe was two hours from another train ride. This one, aboard a local commuter, would finish the job of transporting him from Richmond’s Fan District - with its turn-of-the-century townhouses - to a stark world of colorless buildings and punishing grinders: Great Lakes Naval Training Center was his destination.

In the last month Roscoe had listened to plenty of supposedly useful yarns of what to expect at boot camp. Concerning Chicago, he could recite facts about the White Sox, the Cubs and the Bears; he had seen the movie about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the big fire; he thought Bo Diddley was from Chicago. One thing was certain, Seaman Recruit Swift knew he was further from home than he’d ever been.

Outside the train station on the sidewalk, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” -- a novelty tune on the summer's Top 40 chart -- blared appropriately from the radio of a double-parked Pontiac GTO.

After laughing at the ironic coincidence of the music, Roscoe, Zach, Rusty, and Cliff - comrades-at-arms in the same Navy Reserve unit in Richmond for four months of weekly meetings - considered their options for killing the time between trains, and they spoke of the ordeal ahead of them.

“That’s it, man.” Rusty explained. “The Navy figures everybody eats Jell-o, so that’s where they slip you the dose of saltpeter.”

“Get serious, that’s got to be bullshit,” said Zach. “The old salts tell you that to jerk you around.”

“OK, Zach, you can have all my Jell-o,” Rusty offered.

“Not even a breeze; what do y’all make of the Windy City?” asked Cliff. “It’s just as damn hot up here as it was in Richmond.”

A couple of blocks from the station the team of eastern time-zoners, outfitted in their summer whites, stopped on a busy corner to scan the hazy urban landscape. Finding a worthwhile sightseeing adventure was at the top of their agenda.

Answering the call, a rumpled character slowly approached the quartet from across the street. Moving with a purpose, he was a journeyman wino who knew a soft touch when he could focus on it.

In a vaguely European accent the street-wise operator badgered the four out of a cigarette, a light, two more cigarettes for later, then a contribution of spare change. When the foul-smelling panhandler demanded “folding money” Roscoe turned from the scene and walked away. His pals followed his lead. Then the crew broke into a sprint to escape the sound of the greedy beggar’s shouts.

Rusty, the fastest afoot, darted into a subway entrance with the others at his heels. Cliff was laughing so hard he slipped on the steps and almost fell.

As Roscoe descended the stairway into the netherworld beneath the city, he was reminded of H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” and observed, “I guess this must be where the Morlocks of the Midway would live; if there are any.”

Zach smiled. No one laughed.

The squad agreed that since they were already there, and only Rusty had ever seen a subway, a little reconnoitering was in order. Thus they bought tokens, planning only to look around, not to ride. Roscoe, the last to go through the turnstile, wandered off on his own to inspect the mysterious tracks that disappeared into darkness.

Standing close to the platform’s edge, Roscoe wondered how tightly the trains fit into the channel. As he listened to his friends’ soft accents ricocheting off the hard surfaces of the deserted subway stop, he recalled a trip by train in 1955’s summer with his grandfather. Roscoe smiled as he thought of his lifelong fascination with trains. Unlike most of his traveling companions, he was glad the airline strike had forced them to make the journey by rail.

Walking aimlessly along the platform, as he reminisced, Roscoe noticed a distant silhouette furtively approaching the edge. It appeared to him to be a small woman. She was less than a hundred yards down the tracks. He watched her carefully sit down on the platform. Seconds later she slid off, disappearing into the dark pit below.

Although Roscoe was intrigued, he felt no sense of alarm. Not yet. He didn’t wonder if it was a common practice for the natives to jump onto the subway tracks. He simply continued to walk toward the scene, slowly taking it in, as if it were a movie. When Zach caught up with him Roscoe pointed to where the enigmatic figure had been.

Roscoe shrugged, “What do you make of it?”

To investigate the two walked closer. Eventually they saw a gray lump on the subway tracks.

Zach asked in a hushed voice, “Could that be her?”

When the unmistakable sound of a train began to report from the tunnel’s void, what had been a puzzle was solved.

Roscoe screamed at the woman, “Get up!”

The scene took on a high-contrast, film noir look when the tunnel was lit up by the oncoming train’s light. The two desperate sailors waved their arms frantically as they ran toward the train to get the driver’s attention. The woman remained clenched into a tight ball, ready to take the big ride. Suddenly the brakes began to screech horrifically, splitting seconds into shards. Metal strained against metal as the train’s momentum carried it forth.

Roscoe's senses were stretched to new limits. Tiny details -- angles of light and fragments of sound -- became magnified. All seemed caught in a spell of slow motion and exaggerated intensity.

The subway train slid to a full stop, about ten feet short of creating a grisly finish. Roscoe and Zach sprang from the platform and gathered the trembling woman from the tracks. They carefully passed her up to Rusty and Cliff, who stood three feet above.

Passengers emptied from the train, as well as the driver. Adrenaline surged through Roscoe’s limbs as he climbed back onto the platform. Brushing off his uniform, he listened to the conversation between the driver and the strange person who had nearly been splattered about the area.

The gray woman, who appeared to be middle-aged, spewed thank-yous and explained her presence on the tracks to having “slipped.”

In short time the subway driver acted as if he believed her useful explanation. Zach pulled the sweaty man aside to point out another angle on the truth. Roscoe began to protest to the buzzing mob’s deaf ears, but stopped when he detected a second feminine voice describing what sounded like a similar incident. He panned the congregation until he found the speaker. She was about his age.

Filing her fingernails with an emery board -- eyes fixed on her work -- she told how another person, a man, had been killed at that same stop last week: “The lady is entitled to die if she wants to. You know she’ll just do it again.”

As she looked up to inspect her audience, such as it was, Roscoe caught Miss Perfect Fingernails’ eye. He shook his head to say, “No!”

The impatient girl looked away and gestured toward the desperate woman who surely had expected to be conning St. Peter at the Pearly Gates that morning, instead of a subway driver. “Now we’re late for our appointments. For what?”

Roscoe watched the forsaken lady -- snatched from the Grim Reaper’s clutches -- vanish into the ether of the moment’s cheerless confusion. Shortly thereafter the train was gone, too.

“Well, I don’t know about you boys,” said Roscoe. “But I’ve had enough of Chicago sights for today.”

On their way back to daylight Roscoe listened to his longtime friend Zach tell the other two, who were relatively new friends, a story about Bake: To win a bet, Bake, a consummate daredevil, had recently jumped from Richmond’s Huguenot Bridge into the Kanawha Canal.

“Sure sounds like this Bake is a piece of work,” said Cliff. “You said he’s going to RPI this fall. What’s he doing about the draft?”

“This is a guy who believes in spontaneity like it’s sacred,” said Zach. “Roscoe, can you imagine Bake in any branch of military service; draft or no draft?”

“If he can hack being told what to do at art school, I’ll be surprised.” observed Roscoe.

“Hey, man, I’m not so sure any of us belong in the service,” Rusty volunteered.”

“I hear you.” Cliff concurred.

Upon rejoining the others from their Virginia contingent at Central Station, the four sightseers found a legion of additional boot camp-bound sailors from all over the country. For the men assembled, a two-year active-duty hitch in the Navy Reserve was preferable to rolling the dice on what the busy Selective Service system might dish out.

Rusty and Zack eagerly rehashed the morning’s bizarre adventure: “One of them told me there’s been three suicides in Chicago’s subways this summer,” reported Zach. “Could it be the heat?”

“I still had no idea what they were doing when I saw these two fools hopping off the platform, right in front of that train,” Rusty chuckled. “Hey, I couldn’t see squat on the tracks.”

“She’s probably standing on the roof of a skyscraper, right now” Zach theorized. “And, I’m sorry, but I’ll let some other hero break her fall.”

*

Aboard the train from Chicago to Great Lakes Roscoe sat by the window considering the unseen dimensions of his new role - a GI sworn to stand between what is dear to America and its enemies. Only days before, as he walked on the beach with Julie, he had felt so sure of being prepared for the task.

Yet as he sat there, with miles of unfamiliar scenery streaming by, Roscoe felt waves of trepidation washing over his easy confidence. On top of that, he wished he had gotten a little bit of sleep during the trip.

With their destination only minutes away the four Subway Swashbucklers opted to get in a few hands of stud poker; to accommodate Roscoe, wild cards weren’t suggested.

Sitting on an ace in the hole, with a king and ten up, Roscoe called Zach’s fifteen-cent-bet. There were no pairs showing and the bettor had just drawn a jack to his queen.

Cliff mentioned that the Treasury Department had announced it would no longer print two-dollar bills. “And, I heard boot camp pay comes in the form of -- what else? -- two-dollar bills.”

“Where’d you hear that?” Zach challenged. “I bet it’s bullshit.”

“Maybe we’re going to get the last of the deuces,” said Rusty. “And, I’ll take any of them you don’t want.”

Roscoe’s mind wasn’t on payday or the poker game. He was daydreaming about Julie; smiling on the beach, teal-colored eyes glistening, sun-streaked hair livened by a gust of wind.

Roscoe grappled with his thoughts, trying to pull them together: memory, urges, and anticipation all marching to the steady beat provided by the tracks. It occurred to him there was something more than mere distance between his seat on that train and what had been his life in Virginia.

“If time has borders, between one age and the next, it might be thicker at the border?” Roscoe asked no one in particular.

Rusty, the dealer, batted Roscoe’s oblique remark away, “So, are you calling Zach’s bet, or what?”

Expressionless, Roscoe stared at his fourth card, a queen. He pulled out a cigarette. Nodding toward Zach’s hand -- a pair of jacks, showing -- Roscoe flipped his up-cards over, face down. “OK, even if saving the Queen of the Subway from certain death doesn’t count for shit, anymore, there are certain standards that still don’t change; not for me.”

Rusty shrugged, “Meaning?”

“So, this disposable hero won’t pay a cent for a fifth card to fill an inside straight,” said Roscoe, lighting his cigarette. “First hand, or last, it’s still a sucker’s bet. And, I’ll sit the next hand out.”

“Whatever you say, man,” Rusty laughed. “But we’ve probably got time for just one more hand. Sure you want to quit now?”

Roscoe took a big drag of the filter-tipped Kool and drank in the moving picture of Illinois that was streaming past his window. The railroad ties were clicking monotonously. He thought about how movies depict motion by running a series of still pictures through a projector. However, with the memory picture of Julie he’d just conjured up it wasn’t frozen like a still. Nor was it in full motion. The image moved ever so slightly, capturing what amounted to a single gesture.

After receiving their last cards Cliff and Rusty folded, too. Zach smiled broadly and raked in the pot. Cliff gathered the cards and began to shuffle; preparing to deal the next hand.

“You in, Swift?” inquired the dealer. “The game is seven-card stud. The ante is still a quarter.”

“This time let’s make it 50 cents,” suggested Rusty, sliding two quarters into the center of the makeshift card table.

“Last hand? I’m in,” said Zach.

Roscoe blew a perfect smoke ring, which he studied as it began to float out of shape. He promised himself that no matter what happened to him, he would never forget that smoke ring.

He smiled, “OK. Deal me in.”

* * *

All rights reserved. "Central Time" with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories. Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below:

"Dogtown Hero"
"Cross-eyed Mona"
"Fancy Melons"
"Maybe Rosebud"

Torture Poisons the Future

by F.T. Rea

It's been 61 years since 10 prominent Nazis were executed, having been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials that followed World War II. Their fate said for all to see that in the civilized world, torture -- even during a war -- is always going to be viewed as a crime.

Yet, it seems that perhaps a third of Americans, according to opinion polls, believe it can be proper to torture certain captives in prosecuting the so-called War on Terror. Hey, why not? If popular action television heroes can use the old thumbscrew on their foes and get results within a one-hour format, then shouldn't the USA's armed forces, spies, and mercenaries/contractors have that same tool in their war toolboxes?

No doubt many other Americans aren't so sure when it might be OK to use torture. Still others have made up their minds that torture is immoral and against law of the land. And, of course, there are those who would rather not even think about such a dark subject.

Problem is, now the mainstream media are putting waterboarding stories at the top of the news. You can see waterboarding demonstrations at YouTube. Torture was central to the recent Senate debate over whether to confirm Michael Mukasey as attorney general. Like it or not, torture has become an issue in the 2008 presidential race.

Meanwhile, since torture is illegal in America, President George Bush insists: "This country doesn't torture. We're not going to torture." Then, conveniently, the White House refuses to define torture, so its predictable denials remain something less than satisfying.

Banned by the U.S. Army Field Manual and international law, waterboarding goes back at least as far as the Spanish Inquisition. It has been a handy technique for sadistic inquisitors who want to leave no marks on their victims.

From his experience as a prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain knows something about being on the wrong end of so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques. On waterboarding McCain is one Republican who has been clear in his opposition to its use: "It isn't about whether someone is really harmed or not. It's about what kind of a nation we are."

Malcolm Nance has served as a counter-terrorism and intelligence consultant for the U.S. government. In his own military training he was subjected to waterboarding. In his recent testimony before a House committee devoted to examining torture and enhanced interrogation techniques, Nance said: "[Waterboarding] is an overwhelming experience that induces horror and triggers frantic survival instincts. As the event unfolded, I was fully conscious of what was happening. I was being tortured."

Nance was an instructor at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, so he supervised the actual waterboarding of trainees being taught how to cope with such depravities, should they be captured. The expert witness scoffed at the quality of information waterboarding produces, maintaining that since it triggers fear of imminent death, the strapped-down captive will say anything to stop the water from being forced into their lungs.

Back to politics: Watching Republicans other than McCain squirm when being questioned on this explosive issue -- inventing extreme scenarios and talking about "simulated drowning" or a "little dunk in the water" -- has revealed that torture could be a lollapalooza of a problem for many of the GOP's 2008 candidates. How long they can afford to continue to back Bush remains to be seen.

The more it is discussed the more disgusted everyday Americans are likely to become with the knowledge their president and his advisers authorized the use of such a barbaric practice. Virginians, like voters in other states, will probably become more interested in how their congressional and senatorial candidates stand on the torture issue.

Well, it says here the average undecided, somewhat apolitical American citizen is just not black-hearted enough to buy the Bush administration's absurd spin that waterboarding is not technically torture, because it isn't meant to kill or maim the prisoner being interrogated -- yes, something more than polite conversation, but something less than torture.

John Q. Public is not that scared anymore. Oh, four or five years ago he still was. Not anymore; in part because he’s grown accustomed to living on yellow alert. Moreover, regular old John Q. knows in his heart that nobody's legs are long enough to stand for torture and stand on the moral high-ground at the same time.

By the time the presidential campaigns are all over the wintry landscape in Iowa and New Hampshire, those in the game still backing a thoroughly discredited Bush/Cheney position on waterboarding could find themselves strapped to the wrong side of the torture issue. The drumbeat that would label Bush and Cheney “war criminals” could be much louder by then.

In the long run, torture is perhaps most indefensible because it inevitably poisons the future; more tortured parents and siblings means more children growing up obsessed with payback.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Dogtown Hero

Fiction by F. T. Rea

June 3, 1959: For as long as he could remember Roscoe had been in training to be a hero.

He had tested his nerve with many a daredevil stunt. At summer camp he had won every patch available from the National Rifle Association. And, he had listened attentively to his grandfather's words on being honest, fist-fighting and baseball. On this day his true test had arrived -- the biggest baseball game of Roscoe's career and the contest was on the line.

The situation: bottom of the last inning, men on first and third. With one out, his side was two runs down.

Roscoe Swift, a lean boy of eleven with sandy hair and clear blue eyes, lived with his mother and her parents in Dogtown, just south of Richmond, Virginia. Actually, his mother lived somewhat separately in her studio over the garage. She was a sometime commercial artist and didn't venture outside in any weather that didn't suit her; sometimes she wouldn't answer the phone or the door.

When Roscoe was two his mother split up with his father, who went back in the Army and subsequently died in a helicopter crash in Korea. And, since his mom refused to talk about his dad -- she destroyed all photographs of him -- the boy's blurry picture of the man had been pulled out of the air. His grandmother always said his father had "a wonderful smile."

School was easy for Roscoe. He took pride in being able to turn in a paper first and get every question right. Most of his trouble stemmed from his bad temper, which prevented him from getting good grades in conduct. Baseball was what mattered to Roscoe. During baseball season he routinely calculated the up-to-date batting averages of his favorite Major League players before he went to school.

Two of the fifth-grade classes had finished the year tied, forcing a playoff game to decide the championship. Following lunch, all four fifth-grade classes at Gittes Creek Elementary had been given the afternoon to watch the two teams settle the issue. Students with no taste for baseball had the option of watching a documentary film about Jamestown's 350th anniversary.

Thus, there was a pretty good crowd for the title game.

As he took his practice swings, Roscoe reminded himself of the situation. "No grounder," he thought as he knocked red dust off his sneakers with the bat, as if they were spikes. "Drive it out of the infield. No double play."

A group of some 15 men, fathers, uncles and a few old ballplayers from the surrounding area added a measure of authenticity to the crowd. Girls from the two classes involved were acting as cheerleaders. No one could remember that ever happening before. In 1959 baseball was still unquestionably America's National Pastime, and in Dogtown even fifth-grade baseball was important.

Swift stood in the batter's box on the first base side of home-plate. A natural right-hander, he had decided that if the best hitter in the game -- Ted Williams -- batted left-handed, that was good enough. Roscoe had been practicing swinging left-handed for months in neighborhood pickup games. Finally, he had to test it in a real game that mattered. This was it.

His best friend on the team, Bake, cheered him on as he stood touching first base. However, several of his teammates implored him from the bench to bat right-handed, since the season was on the line. Butterflies the size of eagles disquieted Roscoe's stomach.

Stepping out of the box, the batter took three slow and deliberate practice swings. He looked at the crowd on the third base line. The cheerleaders were chanting, "Ros-coe, Ros-coe, he's our man. If he can't do it, nobody can."

His grandfather, who had taken the afternoon off for the first time in Roscoe's memory, stood in the shade of a large oak tree with the other men. Narrowing his gray eyes beneath the flat brim of his straw hat the old man watched the game, as only he could.

On the first base line, the other team's cheerleaders and fans booed and hooted at Roscoe. Thinking of Williams, he dug in and did his best to ignore them.

However, there was a particular girl, with a strawberry-blonde ponytail and lively blue eyes, cheering for the other team. Her name was Susie and he always noticed her. This time was no exception. The best thing to say never came to mind when she was near. She made him feel short of breath. So he watched her from a distance with a sense of longing he could neither understand nor ignore.

Although Susie was calling for his downfall, he was glad she was there.

Back in the box, Roscoe shifted most of his weight to his back foot and turned his front foot thirty degrees toward first base. Relaxing his hands, he squinted his eyes and squared his jaw.

The pitcher threw the first pitch outside and in the dirt. It got by the catcher but a no-stealing ground rule didn't allow the base-runners to advance.

Sure the next pitch would be across the plate, Roscoe leaned back harder and prepared to cut the ball in half. The pitcher went into his stretch as the infielders behind him chattered encouragement.

Roscoe took a big roundhouse swing.

Whoosh!

Roscoe heard the laughter from his opponents and their classmates. Nonetheless, he didn't look at anyone on either baseline. He knew he'd shut his eyes as he'd swung the bat. His cheeks flushed as he pulled his baseball cap's brim down on his brow. Again, he relaxed his wrists and fingers and leaned back. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"It only takes one to hit it!" Bellowed his grandfather through cupped hands.

Working from an exaggerated full stretch, the pitcher confidently cut loose with the same pitch -- a fastball. Swinging from his heels, Roscoe rolled his wrists and tagged the ball sweetly.

Cah-rack!

Over the second baseman's glove the ball left the infield with dispatch. It was still rising as it split the seam between the right and center fielders. They chased it down the grassy slope and all the way into the winding trickle of a creek that bordered the schoolyard.

The utter perfection of the bat's perfectly-timed kiss on the horsehide's sweet spot resonated through his body. Roscoe heard the furor as he ran like a monster was chasing him. Rounding third base, he nearly caught up with Bake.

"Slow down, they haven't even found it yet," Bake advised over his shoulder with a sarcastic chuckle.

Roscoe's euphoric classmates were jumping around wildly. His grandfather smiled as he waved his straw hat. Teammates, suddenly champions, were pounding him on his back as he approached home plate. Meanwhile, his capacity to comprehend the moment was red-lining.

He looked at Susie on the quiet side of the field. The way her head tilted to the side, the position of her limbs, something about her stance or gesture made him feel disoriented. It was as though he was viewing the event from a number of different angles, simultaneously. He felt both inside and outside the scenario.

Roscoe's mind raced and the rest of the world seemed to slow down. As he strained to pull all the elements together he heard an explosion.

Boom!

For the first time in his life all that Roscoe surveyed seemed absolutely vivid. He rode the moment like an expert surfer on a perfect wave as he crossed home plate. It hadn't occurred to him to lope around the bases, almost nonchalantly, a la Teddy Ballgame. As far as the ball rolled, he could have but he'd been too excited.

More importantly, he had remembered to not tip his cap. If the batting king and ace fighter pilot of the Korean War, Ted Williams, No. 9, never tipped his cap to the public on his home run trot -- which he never did -- that was more than good enough for Roscoe, who was soaring above his dark doubts.

He was up there where a real hero doesn't have to tip his cap, or sit quietly at his desk until the last bell at school rings.

Later, when Roscoe asked around, he found out no one else had heard the explosion that to him had sounded so clear. Rather than ask too many questions, he put that mystery in the hidden place with some other mysteries.

* * *

All rights reserved by the author. "The Dogtown Hero" is part of a series of stories called "Detached." Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below:

"Central Time"
"Cross-eyed Mona"
Fancy Melons
"Maybe Rosebud"