Crouching

Crouching: (v) stooping or bending low.

After all my years of human travel, experiences, lifestyle changes, enlightenments and detriments, I still can find reasons—new ones every day—to hate baseball.

You would think I would run out of possibilities and begin to repeat myself, but even now, as I looked at the word, “crouching,” a new manifestation of my disdain for “America’s pastime” has surfaced.

I must be candid with you.

The reason I hate baseball is because I never took the time to learn to like it. When I was young, kids divided into categories:

Kids who like to fish and kids who hated the smell of fish

There were kids who liked girls and kids who held tightly to the conspiracy theory about the “cootie” thing.

There were kids who liked baseball and kids who liked football. I was part of the latter group.

But every once in a while, I would find myself caught on a hot summer afternoon, when everyone thought it was stupid to play football, squeezed into a corner with a bat and glove, to play with my fellow-warriors.

Matter of fact, I even tried out for Little League because my friends thought I would be great, I was kind of funny and would be a thousand laughs in the dugout.

So when I arrived at the ball diamond and the coach met me, I didn’t even get a word out of my mouth before he ran over, patted me on the shoulders, looked into my face and said:

“You’re chubby. You’ll make a great catcher.”

I didn’t like being called chubby. Chubby was not a manly term. And God and John Wayne both knew—I was manly.

But I was willing to listen.

He presented me with some sort of padded vest which didn’t fit—well, because I was chubby. So he taped it onto me, gave me the catcher’s mask, the big catcher’s mitt, and led me behind home plate. I stood there as he waited for me to assume the correct position.

At length he said, “No, no. You’ve got to crouch.”

Did I mention earlier that I was chubby? When you have a few extra pounds, crouching is not a given.

But again, I was willing to try.

What I didn’t realize was that this crouching thing was not a one-time event. As a catcher, you not only need to crouch, but you need to stay that way through the entire half-inning and be able to get up on your feet quickly from that descended position so you can make plays.

Without going into a lot of painful detail, I didn’t have any of the aforementioned qualifications.

My knees kept hurting.

I got a cramp in my thigh.

I was always falling over onto my side.

And every time I tried to stand up from the crouch, I felt like Atlas with the world on his shoulders.

I lasted through two innings before the coach took me into the outfield, handed me a glove, said, “It’s quieter back here”—and relieved me of my misery.

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Croquet

Croquet: (n) a game played by knocking wooden balls through metal wickets with mallets.

I was totally astounded that somehow or another, with the passing of years and obvious wrangling of internal forgetfulness, I had wiped the word “croquet” from my mind as a therapeutic solution.

Because when I suddenly heard it, some horrible memories flooded my mind.

Yes, when I was a boy—a young boy—my parents decided to buy me a croquet set to play in our back yard.

I am not dedicated enough to the writing of this essay to gamble my fragile psyche by going into too much detail about the game.

Let me put it this way:

Croquet was obviously conceived by someone who only had two or three distinct abilities, and wanted to showcase them in a single gaming effort, knowing that others might certainly not have any of the predispositions to survive the damn game at all.

A wooden mallet hitting wooden balls, which must travel on grass and go through little wire tunnels called wickets that are suspended in the soil, and in doing so, step by step reaching the holy peg you must hit with your ball to make you the winner.

With football you get a touchdown.

Baseball, a home run or at least a hit.

Basketball? Swish. Two points.

Croquet? A wooden ball that barely rolls over grass through a wire container several times over to end up supposedly victoriously banging against a wood rod.

Not only is there no payoff, but the amount of frustration that goes into the process is downright demeaning.

I played with it two times—once because my parents stood over me on my birthday and made me, and the second time was when a younger cousin came to visit who thought he was so smart, and I thought surely I could defeat him at this ridiculous endeavor.

I was so pitiful at it that he beat me.

I will now try to retreat back into my sanctuary of disremembering, hoping that the word “croquet” never comes up again, and I won’t have to relive the horror of wooden mallets, wooden balls, metal frameworks and a winning peg.

I just want you all to appreciate that I went through this today just for you.

You are loved.

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Cricket

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Cricket: (n) a jumping, loud insect

The plan was to retire to our sleeping bags and have a full night of slumber—because we had hiked through the woods, played baseball and eaten our fill of hotdogs and beans.

I was ready for it. Not even the fact that we were lying on the ground was going to deter me from floating in sleeper-land.

And then…there it was.

The sound of a cricket.

I laughed to myself. So this is why people come out into the woods—to get all these natural, beautiful intonations from nature, to put them to sleep—like utilizing an electronic sound machine.

Then the cricket invited his best friend, a couple of old high school flames, and pretty soon there was a family reunion of crickets all around me. I tried to get my brain to focus away from the clatter, but it was like they were doing an insect version of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” except everybody was singing the same part.

I tried and tried to NOT think about crickets.

The more determined I was to ignore them, the louder they became, to get my attention.

I am sure I dozed off, but I cannot recall experiencing anything other than having a front-row seat at the cricket’s rock and roll show, all night long.

When morning came and our counselor realized that everybody was still sleepy, he shouted across the campfire, “Let’s all take another hour!”

I was so grateful. The sun had risen.

The crickets were gone.

Only to be replaced by the birds.


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Communion

Communion: (n) the service of Christian worship at which bread and wine are consecrated and shared.

I get the same sensation when I go to Red Lobster with a friend and he or she insists, with a giggle, as the cheddar bay biscuits arrive, and they gleefully take one from the basket, that, “This is what Red Lobster is all about!”

I nod (knowing that soon I will probably nod off.)

Red Lobster is not about the cheddar bay biscuits. It’s about the seafood.

Just like baseball games are not about the peanuts and the Cracker Jacks. There’s a ball, a bat and a game.

And marriage is not about starting a family. It’s really about how much you enjoy having sex with this one person and hope you can keep it up for the rest of your life while you have a family.

I find myself going to church from time to time–reluctantly.

I don’t like that about me. It seems jaded. In this season of agnosticism it smacks of the predictable.

But you see, in church there’s just too much emphasis on the cheddar bay biscuits, the Cracker Jacks and the family.

Many of them center their whole agenda around communion–a symbolistic representation of the blood and body of Jesus Christ, which he gave for the sins of mankind.

It’s disconcerting to me.

First there’s the thought that I am such a piece of shit that God had to kill His own kid to try to make up for my buffoonery.

Then there’s the notion that a dynamic spirit which walked in the flesh among us for thirty-three years only gained significance in the last few hours that he hung, as an alleged criminal, on a cross.

What an insult to all things loving and eternal.

Yet if you lodge an objection, somehow or another you become apostate–which, if you don’t know what that means, is the religious system’s way of telling you that you don’t belong.

The truth of the matter is, I admire the hell out of Jesus.

Long before he bled, he led me into an understanding of how we might begin to see God’s will done on Earth as it is in heaven.

 

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Chug

Chug: (v) to drink something in large gulps

My inexperience often leaves me intimidated, while my excesses are often overtly displayed in either my demeanor or appearance.

I’m not a beer drinker.

It’s not because I think it’s morally wrong or it’s associated with those who fart more than think. I just never started.

It’s almost like the scenario that if you don’t have sex before you’re twenty-one, you just might not ever have sex.

There are windows, am I right?

Everybody should hit a baseball with a bat before they’re six.

Everybody should ride a rollercoaster before they’re ten.

Everybody should probably kiss someone before they’re twelve.

Everybody should read a book which is thicker than a carrot before they’re fourteen.

I could go on and on.

I don’t know when most people drink their first beer. I was eighteen, and ended up sipping it. I can guarantee you that a sip of beer will probably prevent you from taking a gulp, and the lack of a gulp certainly forbids chugging.

There are many things I have drunk in my life that weren’t particularly sweet and tasty–but for some reason, that first sip of beer scared me away.

So when I watch movies and see teens chugging beer, only to vomit it up within the hour, I guess I just don’t get it.

Even though I have over-eaten to the point of regurgitating, I didn’t have fond memories of the barbecue ribs which instigated the urping. Matter of fact, for a season I couldn’t even hear someone say, “barbecue ribs” without dashing for the bathroom porcelain.

Yet people will drink beer, chug it, throw up and come right back for another serving.

Interesting. I just had a thought.

I wonder if that’s how recycling got started?

 

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Butterfingers

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Butterfingers: (n) a clumsy person, especially one who fails to hold a catch

It was a perfect early summer day.

I was of an age when virility still oozed from my being and I was the father of children who were old enough that playing with them was fun.

We had joined with a couple of other families to go to the park. We did races, played some basketball and even tried some silly little mind twister games.

Allowing for a bit of humility, I dominated in every category. My kids were convinced that their dad had skipped the entire step of posing as Clark Kent, and had merely exposed himself as Superman.

Then someone suggested baseball.

I hate baseball. I don’t like to watch it; I don’t like to play it. I could probably go into vivid detail about how the game moves at such a snail’s pace that your muscles have time to relax, only to be alarmed once again with the arrival of activity.

So I placed myself in the position of pitching the softball. Within eight or nine throws, I was pretty proficient. I batted pretty well, too–even though I had a tendency to over-swing at the ball, grounding out. But I picked up a couple of singles and one double. It looked like I was going to survive the horror of the great American sport with my “Man of Steel” profile intact.

Then here comes kryptonite. Yes–the stuff that turns Superman into a jellyfish.

It was the last pitch of the game. One batter left. And it was made even easier, because the young lady hit the ball straight up in the air in front of the plate.

All I had to do was step forward four paces and catch it.

I heard my family cheering in the background as the ball–now in slow motion–came tumbling toward my grasp.

In that flash, self-doubt entered my mind.

Should I catch it with my hands, or should I let it come into the bread basket of my chest and cupped arms?

I chose poorly.

As the ball descended, I cupped my hands against my chest to cradle it. It hit me just below the neck and bounced to the ground as the runner from third base scored and the other team won the game.

I received no pity from my children.

They did not say, “Nice try, Dad” or “It could have happened to anyone.”

Matter of fact, on the drive home I could have sworn I heard my youngest mutter, “Butterfingers.”

 

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Bully

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Bully: (n) a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Shakespeare was convinced that all the world’s a stage, and each one of us are actors performing a part.

It’s an interesting theory–but actually, all the world is an improvisational troupe with seven members–but only four usually show up. So rather than having a role, you end up making up what’s going to happen next, and also filling in for those who fail to appear.

That’s more accurate.

So the truth of the matter is, sometimes we may accidentally, or even purposely, find ourselves in the position of being a bully.

Was the United States a bully when it went into Vietnam? By the definition afforded us by Webster, we were certainly trying to take over a weaker people. Yes, control a debilitated nation.

Is it bullying when we ask people to motivate folks to do their best?

Does a football coach bully a player who’s not playing up to his ability by temporarily humiliating him in front of the team?

If you’re going to make a practice of finding the faults of others and pointing them out to produce ridicule, then I think you’re officially a bully.

But if you occasionally find yourself needing to motivate a friend by challenging him or her by pointing out laziness and lack of will, then you’re probably not a bully. You may be doing the work of the angels.

Over half of the things I’ve learned about life and how to treat other people were acquired in school as a child by interacting on the playground.

  • I suppose it could be said I was bullied to catch a ball.
  • I was bullied into playing two-square, even though I was told it was a girl’s game.
  • I was bullied into running faster so the hit I made during baseball could be a double instead of just a single.

It doesn’t mean there weren’t bullies on the playground, who did nothing but find the weaker brothers and sisters and humiliate them for no reason at all.

But if I had the ability to do better and was challenged to do it, that’s not bullying. That’s friendship.

If it’s out of my control–like having a fat belly or stubby legs–then that’s downright mean.

 

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