Category Archives: blog

Memoir: After All, How Big Could a Sinkhole Be?

Just heard a story about a couple sinkholes not too far from where I live that opened up overnight. One of them in a road I’ve driven on a few times, Foothill Road near Hwy 154 in Santa Barbara. Now, I’m thinking about the first time I thought about sinkholes.

So now, I’m picturing holes with cars and houses in them and remembering the first time I ever heard about sinkholes.

I was about nine. The radio newsman was talking about a sinkhole in Florida that swallowed a house and he was making no sense to me. After all, the holes in the sinks I was most familiar witha bathroom sink were pretty small, I’d dropped a toothpaste cap into the hole in the bathroom sink once, but even the kind of house people used for their model trains would be too big to get swallowed by a bathroom sink hole or even the hole in a kitchen sink. You’d have to break it up into little pieces to wash it into such a tiny hole, but a regular, full-sized house, even a tiny one like the one next door would never fit into the kind of sink holes I was familiar with.

So the next thing I wondered was what kind of sinks they had in Florida. I knew some people had swimming pools in their back yards, but would a swimming pool have a hole big enough to swallow a house and if it did, did people in Florida have sinks the size of swimming pools?

My mind was spinning trying to come to terms with this. For a moment I was pretty sure I didn’t ever want to go to Florida. Usually, my mom had the answers to things like this, but not this time.

“Mom, could a sink hole swallow a house?” I asked.

She thought a moment, probably wondering why I was asking a question that for an adult, had an obvious answer. “I suppose they could, but not very often.”

On the one hand, that was a relief. It didn’t happen very often, so I’d probably safe on a trip to Florida. On the other hand, that didn’t explain how it could happen in the first place, but it wasn’t an impossibility as far as she was concerned. Since I wouldn’t be seeing any of my teachers for a while, there was only one thing left to do.

I headed over to the library and to the encyclopedias. Of course, I found the answer, but it took a little while to understand the relationship between a big hole in the ground and the hole at the bottom of a sink.

Now, I’m sitting here, amused by my childish innocence and perception of the world around me.

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Memoir: Running Over My Cousin

My cousin was jogging alongside me. I had to pedal slower to keep pace with him. He was ten years old, I was eleven. We hadn’t been friends very long. I’d known him when I was three, so I hadn’t really known him. Then my family moved to Illinois, a little town outside Chicago. Time passed. We saw each other again when we were old enough to remember the visit.

Every year for the first five years after we moved to Illinois my father took the family back east to visit relatives. We always visited my mom’s family and someone from my dad’s family: one of his aunt’s one year, his mother another, another aunt, then when I was eight after a few days in New York he took us to Massachusettes to visit his sister and I got to see my Johnson cousins again. Not that I’d ever missed seeing them, but until then I hardly knew they existed.

I don’t remember what we did. My uncle had a target behind his house and he invited me to shoot an arrow at it. I have no idea where the thing went, but it didn’t hit the target. He helped me pull the string back, told me to look down the arrow at the target and when I could see a straight line from my eye, down the arrow, and to the target, I should let it go. My cousins told me I was really lucky because he never let them touch his bow and arrows, much less shoot them.

We all slept in a room on the second floor overlooking the street. I loved watching the cars go by in the street below. All I could see from my bedroom window at home was the mobile home across the way.

Less than two years later my cousins and I were roommates again. By then my family had moved into a house. My brother and I had an upstairs room overlooking the street, but the house was at the end of a dead-end street, so there wasn’t much to see. Four of us shared one small room. We were small, though, and it was fun, so the room didn’t feel crowded. 

So my cousin, Kenny, and I were becoming friends. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but without warning, he ran faster. In an instant, he was ten steps ahead of me. I was pushing hard on the pedals to catch up. He looked back at me, stumbled and fell. I pushed back hard on the pedals to stop. I couldn’t swerve because there was a ditch on the left and a busy street on the right. I think he’d run ahead because there was a bridge where the road crossed a creek. The space at the edge of the road narrowed to about two feet. Normally, I would have been able to stop in time, but this time my foot slipped off the pedal and as I fought to gain control the bike rolled over my cousin!

Somehow I managed to keep from falling over. Somehow he wasn’t hurt, at least not much from the bicycle. He was a little scraped up from falling on the gravel, but he jumped up and started screaming at me as if I’d run him over on purpose. Before I could say anything he stomped home, taking the shortcut I couldn’t take, through the yards.

It was two days before he talked to me again. We were watching TV and he started laughing. Then he said, “You should have seen the look on your face after you ran me over. You looked so scared, I thought you were afraid your bike was broke. I got so mad at you, ’cause I was the one who was hurt, not your stupid bike.”

“I did think you were hurt!”

“I know, but I think I was in shock or something and I was mad at you for running me over and not even falling down. Next time you run me over you better fall down, even if you don’t have to.”

“My cousins moved out a few weeks after that. The trips out east stopped about that time and were replaced by trips to visit the Johnson’s. Ken and I stayed friends until we were in our twenties. Then we both moved further away and grew apart. Still, whenever I see two kids, one on a bicycle, the other running alongside or on a skateboard I remember the feeling of bouncing on my bicycle over my cousin.

Strategically Placed Chewing Gum

TV remoteJimmy woke with a start. He checked his watch. Just in time, the game wasn’t starting for another ten minutes. He could make himself a sandwich, open a bag of chips, grab a beer and be all ready when the game started.

As he opened the refrigerator he remembered he’d been chewing a wad of bubble gum when he fell asleep. He hadn’t planned to fall asleep, but it was the rhythm of chewing the gum that lulled him to sleep. He didn’t know why that happened, but for as long as he could remember chewing any kind of gum, in fact chewing anything sticky like caramel or taffy, always made him drowsy.

He wondered what he’d done with the gum. It wasn’t in his mouth. He checked back in the living room. Not on the table. Not on the floor. Not stuck anywhere on the sofa. Jimmy felt his hair, face, and clothing. No sign of the gum anywhere. He must have swallowed it.

Back in the kitchen he peeled off a couple leafs of lettuce, spread some mustard on the bread, added four slices of ham, two slices of cheese, and just a dab of horseradish. He was ready for the game. Packers – Cardinals, should be a good game. It was in Green Bay, so the Packers had the edge, but he was expecting Arizona to win. In the pool at work, he’d picked the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl.

By the time he sat down and had everything arranged it was just two minutes to game time. He pressed the remote, but nothing happened. He made sure it was pointed straight at the TV, pressed, saw the little red light go on, but nothing happened.

“Damn, wrong time for the TV to go out,” he thought. “One way the tube TVs were better, they always started flickering when they were about to die.”

Jimmie opened the small door over the controls on the TV and pressed ‘on.’ The TV sprang to life. “Must be the batteries,” he said to himself.

First, he turned the game on, then went back into the kitchen and got a couple batteries. He pried open the remote, pulled out the old batteries, put in the new, and as he was sliding the remote battery cover back into place he found the chewing gum. Somehow he’d stuck it over the remote’s infrared LED.

Back in the living room he put the gum back over the LED and pressed off. The TV stayed on. He removed the gum, pressed off, and the TV went off.

He chuckled, not just because it was funny, but because he was already picturing his brother’s face next time Jimmy visited.

Sometime Awhile Ago, Maybe

Bradley parked the car, then walked down the driveway to the mailbox. The latest issue of the New Yorker magazine, the usual weekly collection of local advertising, a couple letters from AARP, and a letter from someone named Mitch Hedberg. Bradley studied the envelope to be sure it was addressed to him, which it was. It was handwritten, the Forever stamp was placed at an angle to the corner, and the letter was postmarked two days ago in . It didn’t look at all like a mass mailing.

Once inside Bradley poured himself a scotch on the rocks, rifled through the local advertising and recycled everything except the letter from Mitch. He opened it, expecting to see a sales pitch of some kind, maybe a pyramid scheme. Inside was a carefully written letter.

Dear Brad,

          I’m expecting you will remember me. I found you on Facebook. I signed on to it last month. Giannini is on it too. Drew told me Jerry was in Texas I thought — still in the food business. Drew’s running a golf course. Turns out I probably drove right by him last year when we were visiting my wife’s cousins in CA.

          As to what I’ve been doing. As you remember, I was in prep school (Phillips Academy, Andover, MA), only because my folks could afford it, not because that’s where I wanted to go. I did okay there and could have gone to Harvard or almost anyplace after that. Lord knows dad wanted that, but I joined the Navy and stayed in for 6 years. Then dad got his wish, but it was Dartmouth for me. Planned to be a doctor, but instead of going right into med school after getting my BS, I took a job as a Patient Service Representative at St. Lukes in New Bedford. Figured it would give me a better idea of what I was getting into before I got into it. After two years I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, much less a neurologist. I know a couple doctors here Utica, but that’s about as close as I am to being one.

          How did I get to Utica? I have spent most of the last 30 plus years in the health field. Fourteen years as a chemical dependency counselor/administrator, and the last 13 as a behavioral treatment unit manager at a long-term care facility in here.

          Been married to Maggie (Margaret) for 29 years and nine weeks. Have one son, Allen, who is 19. Been living in Utica since 1974. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve been up and down hwy. 49 between here and Rome, Vienna, Jewel and points north. I just remember it’s not four lanes like 90. My best man at our wedding, Tom Tolbert’s folks used to have a place on Oneida Lake north of Sylvan Beach just off Hwy. 13. I remember a sporting goods store in town that had a freezer case out front that held a trophy size fish. His folks sold the place about 10 years ago.

          What got me to look you up was your daughter’s art show. I noticed the name in the local paper and remembered Drew mentioning you had a daughter who was an artist. Brilliant as I am, I put two and two together, went to the show and asked her. She is indeed talented! You must be awful proud.

          I had no idea you were so close. Last I heard you were working in Jersey. Maybe we can get together sometime, maybe golf or lunch. I don’t get over there as often as I used to, but I could make the trip.

          Anyhow, that’s a brief history of me since we last met — which must’ve been in 1964, because that’s when I left for Phillips.

Be well,

Mitch

Bradley wrote back,

Mitch,

I’d love to get together for lunch sometime, anytime at your convenience.

A few corrections: I’ve never worked in Jersey, have lived here at least twenty years. I do not have a daughter who is an artist unless you consider accounting an art, but you’re right I am very proud of her. I also have two sons. One, Karl, is the News Director at a radio station in Oneida. The other, Dustin, teaches math at Oneida High School. I was a fifth grader in 1964. You sound like a person I would like to know, however. Lunch sounds good. we could meet half way. I know two or three good places in Rome unless you’ve got a favorite there. You mentioned a trophy size fish. Do you do any fishing? Maybe we could go out on my boat sometime. It’s an 18 footer, plenty of room for both of us.

Brad

The Kid Couldn’t Dunk

Tony was 6’10” tall and weight just 191 lbs. When he was young and still 6’8″ he was told he would fill out as he under the basketball hoopgot older. He never filled out, though. He tried strenuous exercise including weight lifting. Even though he was able to bench press 225 pounds with ease he hadn’t filled out much. He was still thin enough to squeeze through spaces the size of a basketball.

When he was ten other kids called him beanpole. Now he was tooth-pick, even though he hated being called that. Being skinny was not the most embarrassing, though. He wasn’t very good at sports. He could catch a football and his long legs and long arms were an advantage, but he couldn’t block and he was easy to take down. If there was a defender around when he caught the ball, it didn’t take too much to disrupt the catch. So, he spent most of his high school football career sitting on the bench.

He liked baseball and he could catch, but couldn’t hit. Getting the bat around quick enough was a problem, so he usually played at the end of the game when his coach put him in the outfield because of his defense.

The worst was basketball. Shooting wasn’t a big problem. He was about average and unlike football, he was good defensively, mostly because he was big enough to get in the way, but he couldn’t jump. Guys shorter than him often dunked over him and that was the rub. He never dunked over anyone. He never dunked. Never. For some reason when he jumped he barely left the floor. He spent hours in the gym squatting as low as he could, then launching himself as high into the air as his body would allow, but it was never very much. Now, he was 22 and he’d been trying to strengthen his legs ever since he was 12 and tall enough that other kids smaller than him were already dunking, but something was wrong. His coaches thought maybe his legs bent wrong or maybe it was his ankles or maybe he just had white guy muscles. Every 6’10” white guy he knew could dunk.

“Wish I could help one of his friends said one day. Maybe it’s your shorts. You’ve been wearing the same kind of shorts as long as I’ve known you.”

Tony laughed.

“Or maybe it’s the shoes,” his friend said. “You remember that commercial when we were little. Michael Jordan and it’s the shoes. You been wearin’ the same brand your whole life, right.”

“It ain’t the shorts and it ain’t the shoes,” Tony said. “It’s my body, God just made me wrong, that’s all.”

A couple weeks later Tony was in a sporting goods store. He needed a new pair of shoes. He picked up a pair of his usual shoes, but as he did another pair caught his eye. They had a pair in his size. He tried them on. They felt good. Most of all, they looked good. He put his usual shoes back and even though the new shoes were a lot more expensive, he bought them. He might not be able to jump, might not be able to dunk, but at least he’d look cool. 

That afternoon all the guys oohed, aahed and whistled over his new shoes. Now they felt even better than they had in the store. The first time down the court he took the ball in for a little layup and to his surprise when he went to bank the ball off the backboard he realized his hand was over the rim. He moved his arm a little and for the first time in his life, dunked the ball.

Got This Craving for Pizza

Five topping veggie pizzaSo I’m at the pizza place. I ordered a 16″ thick crust with green peppers, black olives, and tomato slices. It should’ve been ready five minutes ago, but there’s four people in front of me.

When I walked in the guy at the end of the line took a good look at me, as if he was taking my measurements. I thought maybe he was gay, but so what. Anyway, the guy at the front is placing an order. The guy in front of me who might or might not have been gay starts talking.

“I really got this craving for pizza, but I’m not supposed to have pizza. Doctor’s orders? Not exactly. Ex-wife’s orders.”

The he turns a bit and looks over his shoulder. That’s when I realize he’s talking to me and is expecting me to say something back.

So I say, “Yeah,” as if I understand.

“She says,” he continues, taking a big breath as he does. “She says pizza and pasta and almost any kind of bread product is not good for me and if I got any hopes of ever getting her back I’ll stop eating stuff like that. Says I should eat mostly vegetables and fish. So I been eating lots of Salmon and Tuna. Can’t stand most other kinds of fish. Stuff stinks and I got sick, deathly ill, thought I was gonna die, was kinda hoping I would last time I ate shrimp. Ain’t had shrimp in more’n ten years.”

Again he turns back toward me. “I’m not a big fan of shrimp either,” I say.

“Anyway, since I’m on this diet I thought just a plain cheese pizza couldn’t hurt too much, but tomorrow, you know, she’s gonna casually ask what I ate. So, I got a can of Salmon at home, gonna warm it up and put it on a five-topping pizza. Tomorrow I can tell her I had some Salmon with a side of cooked mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, onion, and tomato with a little cheese. Eh?”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I said.

“Damn straight. Fish and veggies, just like she wants.”

Short Story: Thanks for Listening

Tyler was a radio announcer. He did a three-hour live show. He tried to be funny. He thought he was funny. He worked very hard at being funny. He thought his audience loved him. After almost a year on the air, no one had ever told him he was terrible. A few people said they enjoyed listening to him.

Then the program director, his boss, called him into the office.

Radio Studio“We’ve had a couple complaints about you lately. I was going to let the first one slide, but I just can’t overlook the second complaint.”

“What did I do?” Tyler couldn’t believe anyone had complained about anything he’d said.

“Well, the first complaint was from the newspaper. It seems you were making fun of them, but they’re a competitor and I thought maybe they were just trying to cause trouble.”

“Oh yeah, they deserved it. They often end their stories in the middle of a sentence, sometimes in the middle of a word. I don’t know if it’s a copy editor or someone who does the layout, but whoever, they’re lazy. I know they’ve got to fit the story into a specific space so I pointed that out.”

“I understand, maybe lay off them for awhile. The other is a big problem. Two of the churches called, the pastors. Seems some of their parishioners are upset you said something about wanting to wring God’s neck.”

“Oh gee, I didn’t say that. I did the weather forecast. It rained all day Monday. Tuesday we had sleet and rain, and yesterday it was sleet and snow. I just said, “I’d like to get hold of whoever ordered this weather and ring his neck.’ I wasn’t talking about God. I was talking about the weatherman or whoever makes up the forecasts we read here.”

“I guess rather than saying ‘the guy’ maybe you should have said ‘the weatherman’ or something like that. I know you’re from Chicago where they’re maybe not so religious, but this is the Bible Belt, lots of Baptists and Foursquare Bible here. You can’t be saying stuff like that.”

“That’s ridiculous. If I was going to be that careful, I’d have to say nothing at all.”

“Exactly. That’s why I’m putting you on notice. Stop trying to be funny. I’m going to be listening to you every minute of your day for the next two weeks. If there’s anything I think anyone might complain about, I’ll have to fire you.”

“Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

Tyler had an hour to prepare for his show. He tried putting together some things that were entertaining, but couldn’t be construed by anyone as offensive. It took a little while, but by the time he went on the air he was ready.

Usually, by the time his show started, his boss had gone home for the day. When he sat down that afternoon, he adjusted his microphone, got his show opening, the first few commercials, and the first couple songs ready. He looked through the window across at the bosses office. As usual, the lights were off and the room was empty.

He played the recorded opening for his show, and thought, I hope I make this boring enough. He read the news, weather, live commercials, and station promos exactly as they were written. Whenever it was his turn to ad-lib, his turn to ‘do his show’ he always said some variation of this: Whenever he spoke that afternoon he said some variation of this: “Thanks for listening and thanks to everyone who wrote. Also, I want to say hello to all my new listeners. That is all. Back to the regular programming. Here’s a song you might like…” Nothing else.

That night when he got home he checked his answering machine. There was one message. It was from his boss. “I hope you thought that was funny. I didn’t. When you come in tomorrow, pack your things. I’ll have your final check ready.”

To himself ,Tyler added, “Thanks for listening.”