Saturday, September 2, 2017

Of Studies: 2017

In his essay “Of Studies”, Francis Bacon points out that studies serve for “delight, ornament and ability.” Bacon was writing at the end in the sixteenth century, but this piece seems surprisingly up to date and should be read by students and teachers alike. Back in his day, most people had very little formal education. In fact, very few people could even read. But with the advent of the moveable type printing press more and more books were being printed and the literacy rates began to grow. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the availability of books helped created a new middle class that quickly saw the vocational gold that could be mined by reading. And even more, reading could put them on equal footing with the aristocracy in a society of unbalanced scales. This new middle class knew intuitively what we now take for granted . Today, I find this work to be one of the best treatments on the long standing value of a liberal education.

Too often, the idea of a good education is equated with money. It is expensive proposition to earn a good education, and the result of a good education means more money for the person educated. There is nothing wrong with money. It is true that a well educated person can expect to earn more than a poorly educated one. All this has little to do with test scores, or academic title to be written after our names.

Bacon, an educational philosopher, was spot – on. He saw how studies had led his society to an explosion of innovation and invention. His world seemed a bigger place, an empire of ideas that quickly translated into a better quality of life. Consider his rubric.
Delight: Learning is a delightful pursuit in and of itself. The act of learning something new is one of the inherent joys of life. Let's face it. We live in a tiny corner of the galaxy. Look up! Our little out of the way place in the galaxy offers a lifetime- no – a thousand lifetimes of learning opportunities. Bacon urged his readers to pay attention: The delight is in the details. It may be found in the complex environment of a tiny nameless stream that most folks just step over and ignore And yet, this ribbon of water offer greater complexity than a novel by James Joyce. Too much of school is about simple, one dimensional ideas. Our students need to dig in and explore the complexity of the world. Teachers must allow the time and creativity for this.

Ornament: Think Christmas Trees Each blinking ornament is a reminder of the aesthetic power of light. We are enlightened by study. It doesn't mean we have to have expensive clothes or fancy haircuts. It is something more: ideas ornamented by experience. Bacon suggested that men and women can be adorned by the ideas of Shakespeare and Galileo.

Ability: Studies enable us in the truest sense. We are able to think. We are able to know. And most of all we are able to create something unique. That is because each human being is able to process ideas in a unique way. A computer can process millions of bits of data in seconds. Humans operate more slowly but the results are the rewards of time well spent.

 At the end of his essay, Bacon affirms that studies “perfect nature and are perfected by experience.” That is why an excellent education requires the learner to put knowledge into practice in the wider schoolroom of the world. To spend your life in learning is to expand our limited horizons far beyond the shadowy mornings of sun risen light.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The tractor of our dreams

In 1959, we spent the summer on an old family farm. For my brother, Brian, and me it was an opportunity to dwell in Paradise. But this Eden had a serpent, a serpent in the form of an old yellow tractor.

When my father bought the farm back in 1955, the tractor was left sitting in the barn like an abandoned pet. It was an ancient Alliance. Brian was particularly attracted to the steering wheel.
For me, its most compelling feature was the starter. To fire it up required a judicious half-turn of the crank, followed by careful nursing of the choke.
Unfortunately, my father, grand as he was, could never quite turn the trick. As a result, the machine spent most of its time locked in the barn, a comfortable pensioner graciously idling away its twilight years.
But what are locks to adults are opportunities to children. Brian and I found innumerable entrances into the barn - from sliding under the big double doors to climbing on the roof and "hang dropping" into the hayloft under a loose board. Once inside, that old yellow tractor called to us like the ancient sirens on the ocean of our imaginations.
Brian always headed straight for the driver's seat. From there he could spread his arms across that Olympian steering wheel and "drive" me on all kinds of improbable journeys.
"Where to, Tommy?" he'd call.
"Nanny's house." Even though Nanny's house was more than 60 miles away, Brian would "start" the tractor, drive it up the wall of the barn, off the roof, and over the hills until we finally settled right down into our grandmother's backyard, where we were rewarded with ice cream sundaes. It was our favorite destination.
The summer passed peacefully, punctuated by tree climbing, berry picking, and cow chasing. Then one morning we took the easy way into the barn by sliding under the big double doors. Brian headed for his customary spot on the driver's seat.
"Give the crank a little turn," he called. I had witnessed my father turning the crank a hundred times without avail. But Brian was different. He had a relationship with the old yellow tractor, and when I obliged with the tiniest of turns, the motor coughed twice and roared to life.
"Where ya going?" I shouted over the noise.
"Nanny's house," Brian answered, matter-of-factly.
Before I could reply, the tractor was backing through the barn doors. I'll never forget my brother's delight as he guided the tractor down the hill. It was the purest expression of joy I have ever seen on a human face.
He made wide, sweeping turns to the left and right. He drove around a tiny milk shed beside the barn and over a couple of nascent pines before coming to an abrupt stop in the arms of an ancient apple tree.
Even though the entire ride lasted only a few seconds, the drama that followed stretched out for hours. My mother was hysterical when she came upon the scene, while my father, perhaps out of reverence for my brother's mechanical dexterity, reluctantly shut off the engine and lifted Brian gently from the wreck.
Neither Brian nor the tractor were much damaged by the incident, though afterward I noticed that the crank had been removed from the motor.
There were no more imaginary trips to Nanny's. But ever since that day, my brother and that tractor have been linked inexorably by the everlasting bonds of family mythology. Like Icarus and his wings, like Achilles and his heel, Brian and that yellow tractor still ride on through the golden highways of all our summer memories.


Friday, August 4, 2017

In Class

Burns through the room
Fingers pointing
Teeth bared and
          Voices raised.

Better off
We're better off

Except for the dark
And a single

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Picture a line. It's black and white time but somehow everything looks a shade of grey. A rainbow of greys. Men in long overcoats searching for their feet. Women in floppy hats gazing at the horizon - somewhere, anywhere far away. Children kicking cans. On the street, hear the rattle of passing trolley cars and the ringing of bells.

I was fourteen. There wasn't much to do in those days so I mostly stood in lines and listened. Funny what people will say in front of a kid. Marie always wanted to hold my hand. I know what you're thinkin', but it ain't like that. She 's my sister after all. Too strong to be pretty, too nice to be happy. But she had a gentle heart and a soft spot for me. She always treated me like I was ten - a kid forever. Imagine. Actually she was more my mother than my sister. Ever since pop moved out. The bastard. I guess that's why Marie and me were always standin' in some line. We had nobody to take care of us.

I ought to tell you about pop. Even now my teeth grind when I think about him. Oh I wasn't the only kid ever to be deserted by his father. There was Mike Cowles down the street. Course his old man was a drunk by trade. He used to enjoy coming home screamin' about the "damn depression" and "when the hell are they gonna wake up in Washington and do somethin" and the "goddamn FDR and his ugly wife". And before you knew it he'd be layin' his knuckles all over Mike's mom like it was her fault. Mike couldn't take it no more so he threw the old man out the window one night. No one's seen him since.

Once I asked Mike if he thought the old guy was dead.
"Hope so," spat Mike. And he meant it! I remember how often I wished the same fate on my father. I was thinkin' it was kind of strange. Mike and I became best friends after that united by our mutual lust for murder. We even liked the sound of the word: "Murder". The way it rolls off you lips like a dark whisper.

But my old man wasn't a drunk. A drunk I could understand. Whiskey rots your brain till you feel no pain . It was the depression and almost no work in Lackawanna. No work, no pride, no use. But my pop wasn't no drunk. He had work, and he had pride. Enough pride for a dozen men. That's why I hated him. He thought he was the Prince of Wales and there ain't nothing worse than a stiff necked Irishman who acts like the bloody Prince of Wales.
Everyday it was the same. He dressed in a clean white shirt, silk tie ( blue was his favorite color ) gold pin and a frayed charcoal suit. Since he only owned one good shirt, it was Marie's duty to iron it out every day so it always looked fresh, new. Funny. Every time I think about Marie even today I see her pushin' that hot iron over the old man's shirt. Don't know how she ever put up with it.

Not only did Marie play mother to our broken down family, she also worked at the Basilica playing organ for the Masses. The music was a left over from the old days when mother was alive. I wish I could remember that far back. Anything. A face, a sound, a voice. Anything. I guess she was like Marie, only softer somehow. I don't know. Marie is my mother now.
Once, when I was making my first Communion, Marie played the organ. I swear I was in heaven. Such sound bouncing all over those domes. We had no money, but we had all the beauty of the Italian Renaissance right in our own backyard. Since my father moved out I got no use for that church no more, though I still see him goin' in for High Mass on Sunday. Such a leering two - face smiling in his sin. While everyone else is praying, I 've seen him take book money right next to the statue of the Virgin.

Mike and me dreamed of killing my father. It would be easy. The plans we made. We spent many afternoons plottin' all sorts of things. Death by fire: we sneak up to his room, pour gasoline over everything, and drop a match. I could almost smell the dry wood burning. But we were scared we'd roast too many innocent people so we scraped that. Catholic conscience.

Death by drowning. We'd lure the old man down to the dock at Times Beach. Get him right to the edge and just one easy shove. The splash heard round the world. Mike figured he'd sink right to the bottom with all those quarters he got for makin' book bulging in his pockets.
Or, maybe more subtle. Just a little nudge by the railroad tracks. He was always down there pickin' up money for the horses. The 5 o'clock comes rollin' by. It makes me smile just to imagine those wheels grinding that smug face to powder.
"You know, there are worse things than death," said Mike. We were sitting on the corner of Ridge Road watching a panhandler try to pry money from the tight fists of the faithful as they came out of church. Worse than death?
"What's worse than death?" I asked.
"Life. Life can be worse than death."
I must have looked like a dog trying to climb a tree. Mike explained: "Think about it. We kill your old man. Bang. It's over. Too quick. Too painless. Suppose we do somethin' better."
"Like what?"
"Suppose we make it long and painful. Suppose we transform that high and holy father of yours into someone like that beggar over there. "
The panhandler was crouching on his haunches, his face a composite that spelled the great depression in a twisted alphabet of missing teeth, swollen lips and facial hair that look like it belonged to the vegetable kingdom. I fancied my father in such straits. For a flash I even felt pity. Just a flash and it was gone. This would be perfect, a fate worse than death for this minor league Prince of Wales. I couldn't wait to get started.

It's a known fact that two things happen to people during hard times. One: they go to Church. Two: they gamble. In Lackawanna, NY it's often hard to tell where the line between gambling and religion gets drawn. There's the Basilica sitting proud on the corner of Ridge Road and South Park Avenue. It's the highest spot in town. You can see the thing for miles. The domes, the angles, the trumpets poised on the brink of judgement day. You can sit over at the Limestone tavern and watch a procession of the faithful go in and out of the Basilica all day long. Any day. Not just Sunday.

These were hard times after all, and people needed a place to go, a shoulder to cry on. And if that shoulder belonged to a saint, so much the better. Yes. The church offered hope for the hopeless and help for the helpless. A beacon to the future. A real outpouring of faith, you might say. Even my old man, with a soul black as hell was in and out of there all the time.
But take another look. Harder. The morning trolly is coming down Ridge Road from the Steel Plant. A good number of riders run into church to pay their respects. And to pray.
You might wonder what exactly they are praying for: good health, forgiveness for sins. A fast horse. That's where the line gets blurry. More than one devout Catholic will bet on a long shot, say 30 - 1 and then spend a half - hour in the Basilica praying for a miracle.

He was on his knees. Praying. We watched as he wrung his hands together earnestly. His lips were moving. I wondered what words might spill from that mouth. There weren't many people in the Basilica that day. A few old woman working their beads through their fingers whispering "Hail Marys" for their unemployed husbands, their sick children. Hail Marys for everyone. Overhead "The Slaughter of the Innocents" frozen in a painting thirty feet above the floor. Imagine a mob of Roman Soldiers, weapons drawn. Already a few dead babies are sprawled along the street. One woman has her arms raised in anguish, her still child lay across the folds of her blood stained dress. Now, two thousand years later, you could almost hear her cries unnoticed by the angels hovering overhead. The heavens looked on as the last fingers of sunset spread along the enfolding blacknesses of night.
My father was still praying in happy oblivion. The slaughter of the innocents. Again and again. Dead children littered the ground. If heaven wouldn't take their part, who would? I had to work fast, but when I walked down that aisle, I felt small, innocent, but I would suffer even death just to lay in the folds of my mother's dress.
I slid into the pew along side my father. His lips still were moving, but no words seemed to come out. I slipped closer. He was intent on his prayers all right. Only now I could see that he was arranging money in the creases of his prayerbook. I knew that a pickup was imminent.

Suddenly, the old man looked up. Somehow he didn't look his usual dapper self. The lines off his face seemed deeper, more permanent. But when he saw that it was me, he seemed to relax a bit. He almost smiled, in fact.
"What are ya up to lad. Can't a man pray in peace?"
Lad. Not son? Did he even remember that he had a son?
"I've a message."
"Well. Be quick about it, boy. I'll be meeting someone any moment now right where you are sitting."
"It's from Doherty. On the hill. He even gave me a nickel to make sure you get it. " It was Mike's nickel. I flashed it briefly . That made everything seem true. A five cent lie. My father was growing impatient.
"What would Doherty want with me?"
"I don't know. What he said makes no sense to me."
"Go on boy. I haven't the time to be blathering with the likes of you all day long. I've got my prayers to finish."
"He said to lay everything on Kansas dream."
"Doherty said that?"
"I swear. Everything on Kansas dream."
"Swear on your mother's tomb"
He had me there. To lie in the Basilica was one thing. But to swear on my mother's tomb was something else. I looked at his face. I remembered my sister ironing his clean shirts while we paraded around Lackawanna in rags. I imagined my mother voice. Sweet. Soft. Her arms enfolding me like the mother in the painting thirty feet above my head. To even mention her grave was a cruel thing. I wanted to hurt him for that. I wanted to hurt him. For my mother. I swore. For my mother I swore.

A man approached from the opposite side of the pew. He walked deliberately without wetting his hands in the holy water font. I judged him to be my father's contact. I slid quickly from my seat and headed toward the South Park exit. Mike was waiting behind a statue in the shape of an angel. Maybe a guardian angel. Perhaps if I drank the sacred water it would renew my innocence.

From our position, we could see as my father spoke to the stranger. An envelope passed , a few words whispered. If my father believed me, he just sealed his doom. It was one thing to lose money on a bet, but to change a bet was the worst kind of sin. It was the kiss of Judas. If things worked out as I hoped, my father, the Prince of Wales, will be the most hated man in Lackawanna. A fate fare worse than death for the likes of him.

The next morning I spent an hour in line to get a half stale loaf of bread and a quart of milk. Mike kicked an old soup can in my direction, but my thoughts were elsewhere. Overhead, a squadron of B - 17's rumbled in and out of cloud cover. War rumors were everywhere. All I could imagine was the beating my old man would take when the Limestone gang realized he had lost their money. Maybe the son of a bitch would spend the whole day in Church hiding behind the Virgin's apron. But he'd have to come out eventually. And they'd be waiting.

Marie was frying the bread when we heard him on the stairs. I listened for any sound if weakness. Could his leg be broken. Would he drag himself up step by step? I started away from the table. "And where are you off to?" asked Marie.
"I have to go out. Me and Mike are cleaning the stables at the police station. They said we'd get paid." I lied. Already the lies were multiplying like maggots on the rotten meat of my soul.
"Stay put till after pop is gone. "
The steps seemed heavy. Slow. For the first time I realized that he would probably kill me with his last shreds and patches of strength . Maybe he'd kill Marie too. I'd stay put. Try to protect her. If I could
The door flew open. I expected anger. Curses. Blood. Instead there was a glow about his face. He beamed like a saint. "My children. Let me enfold you in my arms.!"
Enfold? Had to be a trick. We relax. Then he kills us. But before we could elude his arms, he had us wrapped and was enthusiastically kissing us both.
Marie struggled: " Pop's drunk. "
I smelled the whiskey mixed with his pious sweat. "You're the picture of your mother, Marie. A dear picture I carry in my broken heart. And Timothy here. Reminds me of myself when I was a lad. And I was a handsome lad. I was indeed!"
I didn't like the sound of that. It showed in my face.
"Don't look at me like that, boy. I'm a new man since yesterday. My prayers are answered. My faith has saved me."
It was too much. I looked for signs of violence. A swollen lip. A black eye. Nothing.
"I put all the Limestone money on Kansas Dream. I had a hunch, but lacked the nerve. Then Timothy here walked in and told me his story. Of course I knew he was lyin'. Doherty wouldn't send a boy to do a man's job. And Doherty wouldn't ever part with a nickel. But it was a sign. I knew it was a sign there in the Basilica. It was the Lord's voice. He was speakin' right to me. And I listened."
"What happened to the Limestone horse?" I mumbled in a whisper.
"It lost. Broke its leg fifty yards from the finish. They shot the animal before it was cold. Kansas dream came in at 40 -1. All the money belongs to me. It's a bloody miracle."
I was getting sick. To see him crowing like that. The man actually thinks that God has spoken to him like some kind of race track Moses. Next thing he'll be giving us his own version of the ten commandments. This was the worst kind of nightmare. Not only was the old man not in trouble. He was happy. And all because of me. Mike was right. There are worse things than death.

He was in the bathroom cleaning up. He had to buy a round for the boys at the Limestone for the sake of justice. Justice! No mention of anything for us. Not that I'd take a red penny from the man. He'd also allowed himself the luxury of a new white shirt as a proper investment of his new wealth.

Marie was silent as she heated the iron. He was singing a pious hymn as he stepped into the kitchen. "Hurry up with that shirt, girl. I want to be on my way."
She was laughing as she held up his prize. Fresh. White. Crisp. Except for a black hole in the middle. Right over where his wicked heart would beat.
Pop held up his fist. I moved. But Marie already had the hot iron three inches from his angry face.
"Go ahead", she said. And I'll iron a matching hole in your puss. Then you can run to the Basilica and pray for another miracle. I'd like to see it myself."
The smell of burnt cotton was filling the room. Pop took it in stride. "That's the last time I'll let you iron your father's shirt. What ever happened to the fourth commandment? Honor thy father?"
For a moment I thought Marie was going to ram the hot iron into his face. The lines looked deep. I wondered if she could iron those out.
Instead, she threw the shirt, it's blackened heart still smoking, on the floor. Pop bent to pick it up. Some loose change spilled to the floor. Pennies, nickels, dimes. He crawled on his knees for all of it. And I saw him for the first time. He was a pathetic figure, full of conceit and superstition. A ridiculous man in a tattered suit and a pocket full of quarters.
Even though I never succeeded in murdering my old man, I did succeed in killing my father. He never came back to us after that day because he knew that we saw him for what he really was. He couldn't stand that. To the world he was a charmer who could smooth talk a man into laying his last nickel on a broken down old horse. He was a race track prophet with a direct pipeline to God. In my father's heaven the horses are always running. It doesn't matter who wins. Just that they might win.

To me he will always be a scared little man. I almost could feel sorry for him as he prayed for the most improbable miracles. No. I don't begrudge him his prayers. It's just that when miracles did happen, he was always blind to them. I don't mean the miracle of a long shot horse winning a race. The real miracles that happen everyday - a father's love, a child's laugh, a mother's tear. My father was so busy with himself that these things would always be dead to him.

Yes, I killed my father. And when he died he stayed dead. Nothing of him came down to me. I knew in my heart I would be a different kind of man.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Starry Night Puts Me on the Edge of Forever

Just bought a new telescope.  Below is the story of my first  telescope.  Sean and Pat were very young at the time.  That first telescope was purchased when I was 11 years old - 57 years ago! Special thanks to Owen Thomas, Editor of the CSMonitor who published this piece in 2008.  The title was his idea.
Tonight, the sky is velvet. A bright treasure of jewels splash across its horizons. There is no moon.
Already, Patrick can pick out the major constellations, including the Big Dipper, pointing toward Polaris and true north. In my imagination I picture Jim, Huck's loyal friend, following it like a beacon to the land of freedom.
Sean spots Orion, holding a noble shield before him, his belt glittering in the blackness. It conjures up images of the Greeks: the thick walls of Troy, the beauty of Helen, the craft of Odysseus. I shiver in a slight breeze that's rustling through the trees.
My eyes are wide open, and so are the eyes of my sons.
There are many stories in the night sky. Ancient astrologers claimed to read the future in the stars; astronomers peer through the dark in search of light. Forty years ago, my father and I spent many nights looking up, tracking the phases of the moon and learning to read the drama that unfolds in the heavens.
Back then, I was completely satisfied with naked-eye astronomy, until the day I passed by Breezy's Pawnshop on my way home from school. Breezy's was in a colorful section of town delineated by an assortment of night clubs, betting parlors, and diners with tiny windows.
Out front, there was an old man playing his saxophone right there on the sidewalk. I joined a small crowd to listen and sway back and forth with the music.
Across the street, a girl in a flowered dress was standing on a box decrying the danger of the A-bomb.
Then I spotted the telescope of my dreams in the window. It was a small refractor, the kind Galileo had used to study the music of the planets and redefine the universe.
In a flash, I was mapping the universe. The mysteries of the cosmos were within my grasp, but still a bit beyond my reach.
Inside, a woman in a bright-orange dress was trying on rings. Breezy sat there patiently while she spoke of the color and cut of the stones. He made comforting sounds and nodded in agreement with everything she said. I felt sure I had stepped onto an alien planet with strange customs and languages foreign to the human ear.
Then Breezy looked up, measuring me with his eyes, one eye enlarged by the thick curve of a jeweler's loupe. A card-dealer's visor graced his hairless head.
"Help ya, kid?" he asked.
"Yeah. Can I see the telescope?"
"Sure thing. It's a beauty." He went to the window, removed the instrument from its display, and set it down on the floor on the other side of the counter.
"Come on back," he waved.
It was love at first sight: a smooth gray tube, wooden tripod, equatorial mount, small black spotting scope on top.
"Belonged to an old astronomer who hadda leave town quick."
I looked through the lens and saw the musician up close. "How much?" I asked.
He studied me for a moment. I had heard that in negotiations of this sort, a droll, disinterested expression is required.
I struggled to wipe the joy from my face, which only widened my smile even more.
"How about 25 bucks? You can swing that for such a fine instrument." It was an act of kindness: more than I had, but not more than I could raise.
Two weeks later, I returned with the money. Breezy packed the scope in a wooden box lined in red velvet, and I had it home in minutes.
That night, the whole family assembled in our yard. In no time we were exploring the mountains on the moon, sailing its mysterious black seas.
No one was more excited than my grandmother, who asserted her royal position on the family tree by commandeering the telescope as soon as a new object floated into her field of vision.
Other nights brought new and glorious wonders: the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, even the polar caps on Mars.
The Earth has swung around the sun almost 40 times since that perfect first night. My family has changed, but that same sense of wonder remains in the new generations.
Tonight, we can see billions of miles above, and thousands of years back. While we stand here in silence, a shooting star bursts across the sky. An owl marks its passing from a distant tree. And for a little while, time stops.
We peer through that telescope again, and for one more evening we stand on the edge of forever.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Blueberry Picking

Today was a perfect summer morning.  At seven am Meg and I set out for Burdick's Blueberry Farm near East Otto.  As we drove down the 219 we saw wreckage from yesterday's tornado. Outside Orchard Park there were clusters of downed trees decapitated by the wind. Crews were busy with power saws along the road's edge.  It's hard to believe that so much damage could unfold in a few short minutes.

Thirty minutes later we reached East Otto.  The little town seemed exactly the same as the last time we were there.  A General store, Church, Volunteer fire Station, and a Bar.  We drove on about 3 miles  until we came to Burdicks farm.  The hill was just as steep, the air clear, and the view - spectacular.

Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented in his eulogy for Henry David Thoreau that he hadn't become a leader of his generation.  Instead, Henry was a "captain of a Huckleberry party."  Standing in this blueberry field, breathing this clean, clear air, with the one I love more than any other, I mused that being a captain of a huckleberry part was not such a bad vocation.  Not bad at all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Backyard Dreams

When I was a boy growing up in South Buffalo there were many pleasures
to be had: swimming at Cazenovia park, fshing the creek, fourth of July
concerts in the park, reading Isaac Asimov novels on rainy afternoons. But
none of these epic pursuits could really compare with a simple game of catch
behind the house with my father.

Back then I thought that I was learning to be a ballplayer, honing my skills
while dad tossed a variety of bloopers, grounders and off - speed stuff. I chased
everything down , endlessly stretching, sliding, running, diving until I felt that
sweet orb of horsehide nestle into the deep hollow of my mitt.
And the mitt. Still have it. A six fnger job - soft right out of the bag. That
mitt was my pillow for six months while I worked the pocket by wrapping a ball
inside and sleeping on it night after night. I dreamed on that mitt.

My dreams weren't big league dreams. Never played much organized
ball. Too many rules. Too many people shouting at you to "swing" or "hold up".
No place for a kid to run free and scout cloud formations from his left feld post.
No. I preferred a quieter brand of baseball. A purer form, if you will.
Most of the action is played out in the imagination where Mickey, Roger or Yogi
hit easy grounders, or looping fy balls that settled nicely into my glove. I mean
those guys were scared of me. I owned them . These games were on my turf.
We had a small yard, even by urban standards. Yet it had the sweetest
patch of grass this side of Yankee stadium.. Cut it myself to make sure it stayed
a the right length. No chop grounders; no cheap outs.

Well, I got older and dad got slower and the time between our games got
longer. Something had changed. He could still throw a nice high pop - up. I
could still hear the crowds cheer as I snagged it basket style like Wille. But the
games got fewer and farther between. My life had expanded in other directions:
the Beatles, girls, trigonometry. In those days I often felt like a rocket
ascending headlong into who knows where. One day I was ready to move to
California; the next I wanted to join a monastery. It was exciting and dangerous
and frightening all at once. But dad never seemed to change. He was a rock: a
little dull but dependable. Steady. A foundation.

And that's where I always returned when I needed that steadiness. It
wasn't a big deal. It wasn't a deep , soul searching experience. I'd simply grab
my old six finger and head out back.. "Play some catch, dad?"
Soon the ball would be sailing high overhead. I 'd track it down just as it
was about to go over the wall. Another home run taken away. Highway robbery right in my own backyard.