Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Night the Ball Let Me Down



This will be the most bloggy post I have ever put on this blog.  Tonight was a terrible night of basketball.  Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals was terribly officiated, terribly played, and basically terrible to watch.  It barely edged out Game 5 of the very same series.  I usually don't believe in NBA conspiracy theories, but tonight actually made me consider that an NBA game might be rigged.  For anyone who watched the game, Kendrick Perkins' two technical fouls will be rescinded and he will play in Game 6 on Friday in Boston.  The Celtics will win that game and go to the 2010 NBA Finals.  If they don't it will be a terrible blow to anyone who has played competitive and passionate basketball.  This Orlando Magic team is a joke. Even if they do come back from 3-0, I will always be convinced that they are soft, that Dwight Howard is a dirty and unlikeable player, and that no one will ever win a title with Jameer Nelson as their point guard.  Game 6 is where Rajon Rondo makes his legacy and where this Celtics team makes their legacy - it is that simple.

That is the worst writing that you will ever read on this blog.

Unfortunately, there will be no podcast up tomorrow as a few recording sessions had to be postponed due to my new work schedule and the holiday weekend.  However, we will be back next week with hopefully two more podcasts. I can't let my Puddlers down.

Also, thanks to whoever clicked on an ad on this blog today - you helped to give me a profit of $0.28 in one day. Thank you very much.

Now, here is the next installment of  From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. I apologize for this post - I just love basketball and using the dash as a form of punctuation.






A light wind blew across the grounds.  The priest remained by the casket and the crowd stood in the sun.  A woman removed a black hat, touched her hair with a cloth and placed the hat back on top of her head.  Jack Simmons could smell the warmth and moistness of the dirt.

“Looks like you were right,” Jack said. “She was a daughter. A sister.”

“I guess she’s still a sister, huh?” Ed pat Jack on the back.

Jack nodded. “Yeah, a sister.”

There were some  coughs amid the mourners. The priest looked out to the crowd, pleadingly, for someone to come before the casket and speak.  Jack noticed the man who had spoken nudging someone else.  It was a boy.  The kid looked to be about Jack’s age.  The boy paid little attention to the man, instead, pushing strands of his hair to the side.  The boy casually shifted his head and Jack caught his glance.  The face was thin and the cheekbones were high; there seemed to be shadows underneath his eyes.  The boy squinted and frowned in Jack’s direction holding his gaze.  He appeared to be regarding both Jack and Ed, their postures. Jack planted his shovel next to him and dug his hands into his pockets.  The boy’s glance passed.  Jack looked down at his boots and the pieces of grass that stuck to the toes. In some way or another he had witnessed the passing of the ages and the transfer of age to age.  The grass and the dirt had tasted the washes of blood that saw one life give to another. And he had thrown his spade into those layers of life and death.  He had taken sprouts and roots home with him, stuck in the cuffs of his pantlegs to dry and rest on the brown straw welcome mat of his basement apartment. The boy had looked at him with grey eyes marked with shadows.  However, Jack had seen something there.  There was no defiance or mockery – those storms, those eyes suggested something to him.  Something that rhymed with Gettysburg, something that smelled of dying roses, the taste of dried lipblood, the feel of grainy sand on a kneewound – the end and the beginning. Jack could feel a transferrence.  Jack tapped his boot against the base of his shovel’s spade.  The gravesdigger’s life.  There was a song to sing, the sun was shining in rays through the sycamores and on the blades of grass - slowly the spring of turf undertoe.

    The boy stood up and adjusted the collar of his shirt beneath his black coat.  He moved forward to the casket and the priest.  The boy made the sign of the cross before the priest. There was a small purple flower on the lapel of his coat. Jack saw the boy and the purple flower.  The flower was the same color as the dress Emma had worn the first time he’d seen her. Flowers didn’t have names to him, they had shapes.  However, she had a name and he’d called her by it for so many years.  They grew together.  They saw the horses from the neighbors’ farm die and the foals and phillies grow and ride.  They’d seen the rain pour down from the pink sky in the summer and the waves of the sound, made of ice, pull slowly in the winter.  And the smell of honeysuckles was always familiar and strange to him when he rode in his car around corners, the edges of his truck brushing the roadweeds.  And she’d been there. And he saw them bury her with a scrap of that purple dress draped across her breasts. What he’d known naked and clothed, now covered in black satin – he’d touched it – with a stretch of purple.

    “Mom,” the boy started. Jack cupped his hand across the bridge of his nose to see. “Mom.” The boy stopped talking and frowned at the mourners.  He took a deep breath. “My mother was the one who gave birth to the world.  You all know what  I mean when I say that and she knows right now.  If this is the end, then surely she will come to know the beginning of something new. Matter is neither created nor destroyed.  Dad and Uncle Connor know that better than anyone else.”

    The boy stopped again.  He ran his hands through his har.  He puffed it up, but it kept a clean shape, much like the man who’d spoken before him. The man who was his brother.

    “Yes, my mother gave birth to the world. Amen.”

    The boy held his hands clasped in front of him and bowed his head.  Strands of his hair fell further down into space.  Then, the boy raised his head.  He seemed to look over the crowd.  His eyes widened and he lowered his head and moved away from the casket.  Jack kicked the spade of his shovel and pieces of still moist dirt fell to the grass.

    Ed Verlaine cleared his throat and spit.  He felt goosebumps from immediate guilt, but it had been necessary.  What a strange speech for that kid to make.  When Ed’s mother died, he knew that it would be a sunny day like this one, but not quite as hot.  He’d wear a classy black suit and he’d see his Uncle Frank standing in front of his family next to Ed’s sister and dad.  His Uncle would probably be crying, because even if he was perpetually tan and perpetually tough, he was really soft in the end.  Ed had seen him cry more than a few times and he knew that his uncle secretly loved that movie “Terms of Endearment.”  He would stand in front of his family in the sun in his suit, sweat collecting under his knees as it was now and he would say confidently, without his voice breaking or cracking, all of the things that he felt for his mother.  The things he had always felt for her.  What those things were he could not exactly say – the words did not show themselves in his mind or begin to take shape and sound on his silent tongue.  A slow excitement began to burn in Ed Verlaine’s stomach through the bloat that he felt from the chicken cutlet he had eaten for lunch and the 16 oz Budweiser he had dranken to wash it down.  He felt the excitement rise and he thought of the feeling of being a boy at the town pool.  The chlorine from the pool was strong and it stung his eyes. His mother wore a plain black bathing suit and would hold his baby sister and cover her with suntan lotion.  Sometimes, she would put her in the daycare center in the shade and if the day was especially hot, she would jump into the pool with him.  He remembered the sensation – the excitement – of watching his mother jump in the pool just like him.  The way she held her nose as she jumped in and she would pay attention only to him in the clear and unclear aqua blue of the pool. 

He would say all of this in slow prepared sentences in front of his mother’s casket. The words would come out – he was positive they would.  His Uncle would have tear streaks down the sides of his red nose.  But what did all of that mean?  What was that feeling? Ed Verlaine rubbed his stomach; he felt his intestines pushing out, his skin taut like a drum.  Was that what the feeling of love was?  Or was love that soft spot in the middle of a girl’s thigh? The curves of the hips and the small freckles?  He did not want to think about that.  He wanted to think about the water and the pool and his mother and the speech he would give at her funeral, the speech that would make his family cry and would make a stranger come up to him and shake his hand and say, “You’re a fine American.  That was a some damn speech.” 

“Hey, Jack” Ed said. “Is your family all still around.”

Jack nodded.

“Mother? Father?”

Jack nodded again.

“Grandpas? Grandmas?”

“That’s right.”

“Oh,” Ed said.  He looked down at his shovel. “What kind of speech was that? Imagine giving a speech like that at your mother’s funeral.  I wonder what that kid was thinking.”

Jack Simmons turned to Ed Verlaine.  “Maybe it was the best he could do.”

“Maybe.  But you have to do better than that.  I mean, at a funeral?”

Jack Simmons looked at Ed Verlaine. “What would you say?” He said in a calm voice.

Ed Verlaine took the loose cigarette out of his pocket and slid it behind his ear.  He rubbed his thumb along the rough edge of his lighter’s wheel.  He thought of the pool, the whiteness of the sun on the water, and the chlorine smell in his nose, the chlorine feel on his skin, his sister as a little baby stomping on puddles on the sedimentary concrete, crying when one of the rocks hit the center of her foot, and his father driving his purple car somewhere far away into New York City to try to sell toys to rich businessmen. 

“I would say,” Ed started.  The sensation of water dripping from an icicle ran along his shoulder.  There were girls walking along the paths that had been cleared of the snow.  He thought of their boots and their legs.  Worlds were moving away from him, wrapping and unwrapping themselves.  What was that feeling?

“I would say something damn good,” he said confidently.  “I don’t know what the words would be, but I know the feeling.  I know what I would try to say.”

Jack Simmons frowned.  He shifted his lips sideways to the left.  There was an older man walking up to the casket now.  He took long steps.  The man’s strides seemed serious, they were measured, but there was no awareness to them – he stood tall, his shoulders slightly back, looking forward.  The older man brushed hair behind his ears.

“Why?” Ed Verlaine asked? “What would you say?”

The older man was tall and he was lean.  There was a weight about him, even though he held himself high and natural.  The man brought one hand up to his mouth and wiped his mouth.  Jack thought that he could’ve been exactly like the wind.

“What would you say? That man is born astride the grave? Some short bullshit like that?”

Jack Verlaine shrugged.  His eyes remained on Ed Verlaine.  Jack raised his right eyebrow and pointed to the older man.  Ed Verlaine looked behind himself and then back to the crowd and the older man.

“What?”

Jack pointed again.

“I always admired, Rose.  I did.  At first it was because she was able to know my brother so well.  That she was able to walk so much beside Ben, that in a way she was part of Ben.” The older man took a deep breath. “I suppose that is what being married is, but, to me, it seemed especially different in their case.  Maybe it was because Rose always carried herself so gracefully and never gave any of herself away.  Maybe that was why she walked the  same way as Ben.”

“What about this guy?” Ed Verlaine said.

“Listen.”

“Seems like he can speak fine.  You know these people or something, Jack?” Ed pulled his loose cigarette out of his pocket and cradled it in a limp fist.

Jack Simmons shook his head.

“You’re pretty damn interested. I –”

Jack Simmons looked at Ed.

Ed shook his head.  He eased the hand with the palmed cigarette back into his pocket.

“My brother,” the older man continued. “first met Rose while he was in med school.  He drove taxis at night.  Maybe some of you know this story already.” The older man paused.  He wet his lips and pushed strands of his hair behind his right ear. “But I like remembering it so I am going to tell it.  Rose was also originally from the Island, but she had just moved into our town. She had gotten a job at the university library.  Ben drove her home from the Park Bench that first night and he wouldn’t stop talking about her.  We used to tease him about the ‘red headed passenger,’ which is what we called her.”

The older man smiled, apparently playing images of long past memories through his head. He reached both hands into his pockets and leaned back.  The hum of a passing plane in the distance droned overhead.

“But my brother was hooked.  It really was the best thing for him because we didn’t know if he would make it through school at the time, but he meets a new girl who works in the library and who is smart and he begins spending all of his time in the library.”

A low laugh came from the mourners.  Ed Verlaine saw a few women dabbing their eyes with black veils or handkerchiefs.  The older man did not smile or laugh.  He kept his eyes forward and pushed strands of his hair behind his left ear.  Ed Verlaine felt the heat of the sun underneath the zipper of his uniform.

“It really was the best thing for him – meeting her.  She was patient during the ‘Billy’ years.” The older man focused on one point in the crowd.  Jack Simmons couldn’t follow his gaze.

“And she gave him and helped him raise his four thoughtful and wonderful children.” The older man kept his gaze on his focal point.  He squinted. “And when we lost Lucy –” He stopped.  “Yes, she really was the best thing for him.  I know that I will miss her.  I don’t know what Ben will do without her.  That is just something he will have to get used to.”

The older man nodded.  He squinted and slowly left the casket;  his posture held up and back; his steps measured, even, paced – the spring of turf underfoot.  Jack Simmons watched him as he returned to the black and white mass of the crowd.  The older man exhaled.  Jack could feel his grace – the inside of a dress pant leg, the smell of skin and the soft curl of hair after leaving the ocean.  Jack bit on his chapped lower lip – he felt the raised skin with his teeth.  That older man, his grace was made up of all of those things and still even more: the light given off by one candle in the dark, the light slanting through his living room on a Sunday afternoon when he was a child, the way Emma’s hands moved when she passed the thread through fabric, her legs crossed, her back sloped forward, her forehead smooth and round with hair pulled back and bunned at the top of her head.  That was all grace and life and the purple sash of death slung between two shoulders.

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