Category Archives: life

Bobby Dean Goes Viral

The whole town was delirious. People were on their feet, cheering wildly, hardly believing what was about to happen. Gardnerville had just hit a long pass and was down 23-21 with four seconds left in the game. They just had to kick a 27-yard field goal to beat Consolidated, their oldest and biggest rival, for the first time in eight years.

Cole Daley stepped in behind the holder. Everyone knew he could make it: most of them were there a few weeks before when he nailed a 45-yarder. The snap and the hold were good, the ball rose into the cool night and seemed to be, had to be, dead on…but then it curled just left. The visitors’ bench and stands erupted, while the hometown side deflated like a dollar-store beach ball.

Cole took the blame at the postgame press conference, telling the few reporters, “It was completely my fault. I didn’t plant my other foot right, and I missed the angle.” But when Bobby Dean Glenn heard that on the radio, he jabbed the “Off” button and spat out the window of his pickup. Bobby, as everyone knew, had been on the team that won the state title in 1979. He was a reserve, slow and a little small for a defensive end, and his butt never left the pine in the big game. But no Gardnerville squad since had gotten anywhere near that far.

“The kid’s got no nerve,” he groused to his buddies the next morning over coffee at the Good Day Café. “None of ‘em have any mental toughness. Or physical toughness either, because if you try to make ‘em tough nowadays their parents and the school board come screamin’ bloody murder.”

“He’s a good kid,” Ray said. “Works at my cousin’s place. Always on time, real polite to the customers. ‘Course his old man’s not around. That might have something to do with it.”

“He hit that big one against Central, remember?” Doug chimed in. “Then he misses a short one.”

Bobby snorted. “That’s what practice is for. Back in my day, we knew we’d better be good every time or we’d get our asses kicked.” He waved irritably to the waitress for a refill. “I heard him on the radio sayin’ he didn’t plant his foot right. Well, if you’re a kicker, what else should you know how to do?”


When Cole went back to his after-school job in Ray’s cousin’s hardware store, most of the customers, if they said anything at all, said “Too bad,” or “Good season.” But a few of them gave him dirty looks and one man grumbled “It wasn’t but 27 yards.” That night as Cole rode home on his bicycle, Bobby pulled up alongside him and called “Careful on that bike! Better plant your foot!” 

A couple of weeks later, Cole came into the Good Day to get a cup to go before school. The boys were at their usual table, and as Cole turned to leave, Bobby said, just loud enough for the whole room to hear, “Don’t forget to plant that foot now.”

Cole didn’t look at them and never changed his expression as he headed out the door. “I heard he’s coming out for basketball again,” Doug said once he was gone.

Bobby shook his head. “Probably can’t shoot any better’n he kicks. There goes that season too.”

“He shot pretty good last year,” Doug replied. “And we need him for experience. We only got one other senior.”

When Cole missed a layup in the first game, someone yelled, “Hey number 12, you forgot to plant your foot!” As the season wore on, a couple of freshmen got hot and one night Cole didn’t get in the game until the last few minutes, and right away he heard “Plant that foot!” But he still played hard, hustling up and down the floor until the final buzzer.


Spring brought graduation and just after the 4th of July, Cole’s mother Suzanne came into the café. Wanda, who was running the register, asked about Cole. “He’s great,” Suzanne said, beaming. “He’s already off to college. The University of Illinois.”

“Illinois?” Bobby piped up. “Thought I heard he was going to Auburn.”

Suzanne looked at him, still smiling, but barely. “Well, he applied to different places and he liked Illinois. It’s really a fine school. He decided to take some summer classes and get settled in before fall.”

“That’s a long way,” said Wanda. “It must be hard.”

“Oh, it is,” Suzanne replied. “I never thought such a small house could feel so empty. But you have to let go sometime and he just loves it there. Thank goodness for email and texts. And Skype.”

“Well, I guess Illinois’s all right,” Bobby said. “Nothing wrong with Auburn, though. Seems like a kid’d want to stay close to home.”

Suzanne turned toward him with her mouth suddenly taut and fire in her eyes. A few tables away, Greg Burdick chuckled and took out his phone. He’d seen that look before, many times, in her fourth-grade class. This was going to be good.

“And what young man would want to stay here?” she demanded. “Where you do one thing wrong and have to hear about it for the rest of your life?”

Startled, Bobby said, “I don’t know what you mean, I –” but she cut him off. “Don’t you lie to me, Bobby Dean Glenn. He told me what you did that night when he was riding home.”

She leaned over the table, staring down at him. “I could have killed you dead but he said he’d just have to live with it. But why did he have to live with it?” No one was eating anymore. “He’s seventeen years old. He made a mistake in a game. And he owned up to it. But you and your good-for-nothing friends never gave that boy a chance.” Suzanne folded her arms. “How would you like it if everybody kept reminding you how your girlfriend ran off with that tractor salesman?”

Bobby tried to say something, anything. She held up her hand. “Not one word. But let me tell you what I told Cole when we said goodbye,” and her expression softened. “Be good, but be yourself and be happy. There’s a whole new world out there. Don’t fret about the old one,” and she picked up her takeout and left.

Everybody was looking at Bobby. “What?” he barked, then muttered, “Guess it’s the wrong time of month for her.” People looked down uncomfortably. But Kristin, the waitress, who was about to give Marge Edmonds her breakfast order, marched over to Bobby’s table. She poured the little pitcher of milk she was holding in one hand into the bowl of cornflakes in the other, and then she dumped the cornflakes right over Bobby’s head.

The room exploded in laughter. People guffawed, hooted, and clapped as Kristin emerged from the kitchen with another bowl and pitcher. “Sorry for the delay,” she said nonchalantly as she set them in front of Marge, who was about to split her sides.

Bobby sat there with soggy cornflakes falling into his collar, milk running down behind his glasses, and the bowl riding atop his head like a World War I Army helmet. With as much dignity as he could muster, he removed the bowl and stood up. “Wanda, if you think I’m payin’ for this –” he began, but she stopped him with, “The coffee’s on the house. But I’ll have to charge extra for the cereal,” and the place erupted again.

Bobby stalked out, shook himself like a dog to get rid of the milk, glared at the two bemused women on the sidewalk watching him, and got into his truck. He wasn’t halfway home before his phone buzzed. “Bobby, you old goat, you’re supposed to eat those cornflakes, not wear ‘em!” Ray howled. “I tell you what, you ought to send that to America’s Funniest Videos.”

Video? Another call: “You can’t talk like that in front of a lady, especially when she’s armed and dangerous!” Another one: “I’ve heard of breakfast to go but not all over your head!” And: “Hey Bobby, I’m buying a new tractor. Let me know if your girl comes back!”

By noon, Greg’s cellphone footage was everywhere and Bobby had 37 calls. That evening, the network news anchor said, “Tonight, we have a lesson in civility from Gardnerville, Alabama,” and the phone rang again. Bobby didn’t pick up, just walked out the back, sat in an old chair, and stared across the yard. He was still there after the sun went down, the air turned chilly, and the moon came out.


Cole was reading in the lounge of his dorm when a girl he’d recently met sat down next to him. “Hey,” she said, “what was the name of that town you said you were from?”

Later he checked his email: Dear Cole: When I saw the video, I laughed so hard I woke up the cat! I know you didn’t want me to make a fuss. I just couldn’t keep quiet.

I’m sure this will blow over. But you might save that video so someday you can show your kids that Grandma was a firecracker — and she loved you very much. Be happy.

Mom

Copyright 2018 by Dave Swan

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Southern overexposure

A problem facing writers like myself is establishing an identity. It helps if one’s homeland conveys gravitas (which sounds cool even if it’s a buzzword) and by default plants you in the same ballpark with giants like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. So by virtue of the fact that I’ve lived way down below the Mason-Dixon for a while, and have absolutely no shame about self-promotion, I hereby do proclaim my humble self a Southern Writer.

(Please don’t be put off by this topic. I know that writers who write about writing are sometimes way past running on fumes and in desperate need of a Literary Inspiration Tow Truck. But this post is a voyage of longing, self-discovery, and angst about my place on this earth, all of which are SOUTHERN to the core. Don’t click away!)

Lest y’all think it was easy, I will have you know I’ve struggled to adapt since I came down from Up Nawth. I no longer get weepy and misty-eyed from watching blizzards on the Weather Channel, and I’ve learned that a “Meat and three” is not a rock band. However, I still don’t know or care what a “restrictor plate” is, except that it’s not what they serve your meat and three* on at the meat and three. I sure haven’t morphed into one of those noxious noodniks who still haven’t figured out they lost the Civil War.

Lots of real-life stories have a Southern tinge, like the one in which a cat caused a lady to lose control of her pickup, which “traveled across the west bound lanes of Lafayette Street, onto the side walk and into a utility police.” And nowhere but the South would you hear about the amorous couple who used a fish farm as their lovers’ lane and ended up, uh, sleeping with the fishes.

Unfortunately, the phrase “Southern writer” still calls up an image of a man (why always a man?) in a Panama hat, white shirt, and suspenders, sitting on the veranda under a ceiling fan with a typewriter, a glass of hooch, and a cigar. This guy probably wrote Southern Gothic stuff, hilariously satirized by James Thurber in “Bateman Comes Home,” in which old Nate Birge sits “watching the moon come up lazily out of the old cemetery in which nine of his daughters were lying, only two of whom were dead.”

The New York Times recently posed the question, “What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?”, pointing out that the genre is changing along with the region. As novelist Lee Smith put it, “It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it.”

Oh yeah? Well, one of my relations once had a cat named Possum and I’ve heard of another Southern gent who kept an alligator named Kittycat in the bathtub of his mobile home. So here’s the first sentence of my next book: “Grandma got drunk on Cousin Junior’s moonshine and threw her pipe at Possum but instead hit Kittycat, who jumped out of the tub and chased Grandma, who was nekkid, plumb out the door of her doublewide and all the way down Dead Confederate Mountain.” Am I Southern or what?

*Vegetables. Including fried okra, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, field peas, butter beans, cabbage, corn on the cob, creamed corn, green beans, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, baked beans, Brunswick stew, potato salad, and onion rings.

An open letter to Heather

A belated Happy New Year! And how are you? It’s been a while since I heard from you, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about our relationship. This is just a friendly discussion, though if you want to be precise, you could call it an intervention. I do hope we won’t have to take things to the next level, which might include the phrase “restraining order.” But let’s get right to brass tacks, shall we?

As I said, I haven’t heard your cheery voice on my phone for some time. I so hope I haven’t somehow wounded your feelings. I know you have a very challenging — no, a demanding job. I’d go stark raving loopy if I had to dial all those numbers and sound so warm and perfectly perky. And use the exact same words and inflections on every call!

Which brings me to the crux of this little talk. As you must realize, though you’ve “reached out” to me more times than I can count, I’ve never given your proposals any positive response whatsoever. Yet you don’t seem to listen, and what’s more, you continue to contact me. My call log is chock-full of your number!

I’ve tried to get in touch with someone in your organization, just to spare you a lot of wasted  time. Despite a good bit of Googling, I can’t seem to pin down the exact “Account Services” you work for. And since we know each other well, I don’t feel it necessary to apologize for our last conversation. That exchange, if my aging mind accurately retains it, started with you saying again: “Hi, this is Heather from Account Services.”

To which yours truly responded at slightly elevated volume: “JESUS BLEEPING CHRIST ARE YOU BLEEPING KIDDING ME??????!!!!! BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP!!!!!” I was grateful for a little old-fashioned technology that morning (seven a.m., wasn’t it?) because I felt compelled to emphasize my feelings by smashing the receiver of my desk phone against the base a few times. I found bits of plastic around my bedroom for months afterward. So much more satisfying than tapping “end call” on a cellphone!

To sum up: You have developed an entirely unwarranted obsession with me. The word “stalker” is unfortunately appropriate. So for your sake and mine, I’ve decided to end our relationship. You are hereafter “blocked” on all my communication devices.

I know it hurts, but one must nip these unhealthy tendencies in the bud! I fear that if I don’t take this step, one of these days I’ll find you climbing the trellis outside my window or sitting in the back seat of my car. We wouldn’t want to be like the actors in some low-budget film noir, would we now? And you don’t want to end up like your namesakes in “Heathers.”

Brain washday

When you reach a certain age, you get tons of unsolicited advice on how to make the most out of your remaining years (months? minutes?). Half the new-old-age barkers give you the pitch that these times are magical and blessed, while the other half say, “Son, you’ve got one foot under the daisies already. Better shape up quick.” Without even trying, you run into something like this item from AARP, the print version of which was headlined, “Cleanse Your Brain.”

WARNING! DISCLAIMER! The foregoing phrase should NOT in any way be taken as an instruction to do something spectacularly ill-advised involving a cordless drill, a funnel, and a bottle of Mr. Clean. (Know what “trepanning” means in this context? Don’t even look it up.)

The article is legit science about the glymphatic system, which is what the brain uses to clear out damaged protein, dirty fluids, and other waste. It got me to thinking: what if I could purge the memory bank portion of my brain? That’d free up space on the cerebral hard drive for all the Important Stuff I need to absorb and retain, especially how to stave off wrinkles and decrepitude.  After 63 years and a few odd weeks, it’s time for a super-duper spring cleaning!

But what memories would I unload? Things like algebra, sociology, the infield fly rule, sentence diagramming, medieval history, how to drive a stick shift, and the name of the person I just met are already gone. What’s left to lose?

Getting beaten up on the playground and being hopeless at sports. Trashing those memories – several school years’ worth – would do wonders for my self-esteem. Ditto all my romantic rejections from junior high onward, job flubs, bad life choices, and other sundry gaffes like busting up my fender in the car wash. No, that didn’t happen! I’d remember if I’d been that dumb!

Song lyrics. “Satisfaction,” “Purple Haze,” “Crossroads,” “I Will Follow,” and “Once in a Lifetime” can stay. I do not ever need to recall “Don’t You Want Me,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” or anything by Madonna, the Eagles, or anyone named Osmond.

Everything I ever learned about manners and etiquette. Useless in today’s world. Go to a restaurant and see how many people never look up from their phones during dinner, even when the maitre d’ politely informs them the place is about to be engulfed by a volcano.

Sports trivia (a redundant phrase anyway). The games I saw from the stands in college? I’ll keep ‘em. The name of the backup quarterback on a 3-13 NFL team, so lousy I had to get tanked every Sunday to watch them on TV? Not so much.

Old TV shows.  I remember “My Mother the Car,” “Men Behaving Badly,” and many episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Why?

Certain web surfing moments.  Not that I ever actually checked out “Vixen Virgins of Vegas” and the like, but if I somehow got there by mistake, it’d be helpful to truthfully not recall it.

A stately DISPLEASURE dome!

One of the problems of growing older is that you’re supposed to be smarter too. People think you’ve absorbed all of life’s lessons and can face any situation with Zen-like wisdom. The senior years should be rewarding, free of the challenges that trip up the younger set (which these days means anyone born after about 1970). Sorry, but what you get from being old is a bunch of new ways to find yourself saying, “Oh, for dumb.”

The other day I wound up in an urgent care clinic at the beach in Florida. Was I there because I imbibed a few dozen too many beers, wiped out on a boogie board, scorched myself while setting off fireworks, or got slapped silly by a beauty queen from Mobile? Not in this lifetime. On a warm, sunny morning, I sat in a waiting room trying not to feel extremely foolish because part of a hearing aid was stuck in my ear.

The piece in question is the dome, a little rubber cap that covers the receiver, which slips into your ear canal. It looks like a UFO but as you can see, it’s a lot smaller.

Hearing aid dome

Rogue dome

I suddenly realized I couldn’t actually hear very well in my left ear even with the aid in place, and when I took it out the dome was missing. Cue the sinking feeling. So I headed off to the clinic, where a nurse practitioner with a blessedly steady hand reached in with alligator forceps and extracted the thing.

The sympathetic doctor said he’d taken out three or four others. I still felt like a putz, yutz, mope, and dope because after all, this is the kind of thing little kids do, lodging various objects in inappropriate places.

At least I’m not this guy, who had a toy traffic cone stuck in his lung for 40 years (or the guy mentioned in comments on the article, who had a light bulb stuck in a different spot). Nor am I one of those preening peacocks of both sexes who try to look and act like they’re 20 when they’re closing in on their second century (see Hefner, Hugh, the late).

Truth be told, even when I was younger and hopefully studlier, I never got close enough to any beauty queens to get slapped anyway. What if I somehow stockpiled my karmic klutziness for my later years? Maybe I should guzzle a couple of cases and launch a whole arsenal of fireworks while riding a boogie board! Or maybe just go look at the beach again. Yeah, that sounds good.

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Bring back the plain brown wrapper!

The other day, one of those typical catalogs landed in our snailbox.* It’s labeled Garden, Home, Pest Control, and is sort of a cheaper Skymall, with a raft of goodies to gussy up your house and simplify your life.  There’s a tool that will “Easily Cut Through Everything from Delicate Fabrics to Sheet Metal!” Want to be environmentally correct and show off your artistic vision? “Solar Frog is Also a Mosaic Sculpture!”

Another gadget “Illuminates the Toilet in the Dark” (by making it glow like a radioactive salamander).  And no home is complete without “What My Family Should Know,” a notebook for the “important details”– medical records, insurance, bank accounts etc. – in case of one’s departure from our mortal coil. This is described as “A great gift for your parents!” Unless they get the notion you’re hoping to hurry things along.

Son: “Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Look what I got you and Mom.”
Father: “What YOUR family should know is you’re dumber than mulch, and as of now you’re out of my will.”

Then you come to page 54. WARNING: For readers of a certain age, this may harken** back to page 27 of the paperback version of “The Godfather.” For readers of an uncertain age, go look it up at the library. You won’t be sorry.*** There, in the middle of all this regular, boring stuff, are two pages of the very latest adult entertainment devices.

Kid you I do not! There’s the “Adonis Extender,” which promises an extra two inches and a “comfortably articulated head.” We also have “The Climaxer” and “The Wild G” with six (!) different speeds. The one called “Butterfly Dreams” is billed as “perfectly sized for both beginners and advanced users.” How much practice does it take to become advanced?

There’s also “Triple Tease,” not to be confused with the Nipple Teaser, and last but not least the “Raging Bull Couples Massager.” It has a “dual enhancer ring” for him and I swear, for her a vibrating protrusion shaped like a bull’s head, horns and all. Who knew?

Seriously, I’m not making judgements about these gizmos. I’m just wondering what in the name of capitalism prompted the catalog company to put them in with the mops and reading glasses. With no notice or advisory of any kind, which could cause an embarrassing moment or two if the kids read it first. It’s not as noxious as what’s happening on the New York subway, involving photos of men’s, uh, turnstiles, but still.

All I want is a little truth in advertising. Instead of Garden, Home, Pest Control, it’d be Garden of Frenzied Ecstasy; Home of Stuff That’ll Get You Hot, Hot, Hot; and Control Those Pesky Passions with the Touch of a Button. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go cut some sheet metal and find my library card.


*My word for snail mail box, i.e., “all the dead-tree junk that comes by USPS.” Isn’t “snailbox” a lot snazzier?
**Do I have to define everything ? “Harken” means “to give heed or attention to what is said, listen.” You wouldn’t use it like this: “Dub had 17 beers and harkened all over his wife’s new car.”
***Or just click here and visit pages 17-18. You know you want to.

Shrinkage: the other kind

I’m not the man I used to be. No matter how hard I try to live a proper life in all ways physical, intellectual, and emotional, I am a lesser person.

How lesser am I? About an inch. Relax: this has nothing to do with the “Seinfeld” that so eloquently portrayed the shrinkatory effect of cold water on the male, uh, exclamation point. The missing inch came out of my height.

This became clear when I was going through old papers and found a medical report from my college years, which listed my height as six feet plus half an inch (6’ 0.5”). At my last visit to the doctor a few months back, I checked in at 5’ 11”. Even if that means 5’ 11” and a quarter, a half, or two-thirds, I’m going through a slow but undeniable vertical fail. This isn’t fake news! I can’t argue with cold, hard science and real-time medical technology (like a measuring stick).

Why do we self-condense? Over time, the discs between the vertebrae dehydrate and compress, or maybe collapse from osteoporosis. The spine can get curved, or muscle loss in the torso can give you a stoop. Even the gradual flattening of your arches can leave you shorter.

The loss can start as early as age 30, which is about when my hair started vanishing. I’m used to that, but this plunges me into the tar pit of male insecurity. All my life, I’ve considered myself a Tall Guy. Can I honestly think of myself that way if I no longer top the six-foot baseline? Will I get busted by the vanity police?

My wife often asks me to “come here and be a tall person for a minute” when she needs something off a high shelf. Can I still fulfill her desires? (Not THOSE desires. I already told ya this ain’t about the meat and the motion.)

The worst kind of shrinkage is the kind that’s going on in my personal hard drive, also known as my brain. After 60+ years, it’s critically overstuffed with useless facts, and seems to be sending some of them down to the minors, for recall only when needed.

Just now, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of a Cajun band I saw at a joint called Tornado Alley in suburban Washington DC about 22 years ago. I remembered other Cajun musicians: the Balfa Brothers, D. L. Menard, Bruce Daigrepont, Terrence Simien and the Mallet Playboys, etc., before finally hitting the holy grail of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.  This is what’s known as a “senior moment.”

I try to limit my cranial clutter by weeding out nonessential info, like the name of the person I’ve just met, but it’s a losing battle. Now if you’ll excuse me, whoever you are, I’ve got to go put on some high heels.