My First Girlfriend

I was in the sixth grade before it dawned on me that girls might have other purposes aside from being utility ball targets. The realization wasn’t something that came creeping up on little cat feet, more like a blow between the eyes with one of those same utility balls.

She was in the fifth grade and her name was Gloria, and it reminded me of glorious, and she was. Her hair was red, silky and smooth, and shone like the morning sun. A dusting of freckles marched across her nose like the first scattered stars of evening, and her eyes were so big and green you’d swear they held the ocean.

It must have been early in the school year, within the first few days, when I saw her in the hallway for the first time. She may have been a new student, or was there all along, but that was the first time I saw her as something other than a potential utility ball target. I promised myself at that instant that she would be my girlfriend. And she was, right away. And I thought to myself “How wonderful life is to have so lovely a girlfriend, and how much better it would be if she knew she were my girlfriend.” But like little green men and bigfoot sightings, it had yet to be confirmed.

I found myself loitering in the hall at the end of recess, hoping to catch a glimpse as she made her way into her classroom, or maybe hear a few words spoken to a friend, in the hope she might be talking about me. On the playground, I purposely avoided targeting her with utility balls, and may have even put myself between her and those thrown by others, as a display of my affection and my willingness to take a hit for her. I thought to approach her and nonchalantly ask “Where have I been all your life?” or “Do you work out?”. And if that didn’t work, I still had the ace up my sleeve, a question designed to elicit a response that would, I was assured by friends, do the trick. Me: “Did it hurt?” Her: What?” Me again: “When you fell from Heaven.” Her again: “Did you just call me Satan?” But I didn’t approach her, and I didn’t ask those questions, despite their obvious potential for success. Instead, like sixth grade boys do, at least the ones I knew, I did nothing. Nothing other than love her from afar, wishing that I were brave enough and suave enough to step up and bare my soul, to make my feelings known. And I would say that I pined for her, but how could I grieve the loss of something I never had?

That set a pattern for the way I would approach courtship for many years to come. I’d like to think that as I’ve grown older, and maybe a bit more swift in the way of things, I’ve learned that to never try is to never win.

And I’ve upped my standards. Red hair is ok, and freckles are fine, but to get to know someone, and discover the beauty that’s on the inside, and let it determine how I see the outside, well, that’s how all relationships should begin. I wonder how much different life would be if I’d known that when I was in the sixth grade.

Spearfishing

As children, we spent a considerable amount of time down by the river. Exploring along its banks, we would find arrowheads and other evidence of encampments by the indigenous people of an earlier time. With the raisings of the Rock Island Dam, most if not all of those areas are now submerged.

One of the things we used to do was go spearfishing for carp in an area behind the old Keokuk silicon smelter. In the picture, to the right of the buildings, you can see a small inlet of the Columbia River. It wasn’t so deep that you couldn’t see the bottom all the way across to the small isthmus on the river side. For some reason, carp would congregate there, maybe to bask in the sun-warmed water of the little estuary. We would take our bows and hand-made spears, and attempt to spear them.

I don’t recall us ever having any great success, but in our minds we were mountain men, catching what we ate and eating what we caught. Of course, had we ever actually caught any, it’s not likely we would even have attempted to eat it. Based on the location, I doubt if those fish could make it through a TSA checkpoint at the airport without setting off every alarm in the building. That’s if they were of a mind to travel by air rather by water.

The Pit

There was a place in my hometown of Rock Island, Washington, where we gathered on hot summer days, when we weren’t playing baseball. Though we played baseball nearly every day, even youngsters sometimes need a little R&R. On those occasions, we would meet up at The Pit. It sounds kind of ominous, but it was actually just our swimming hole.

It came into being as a gravel pit, many years ago, before the Rock Island Dam, a mile or so downriver from Rock Island was constructed, blocking the river and raising the water table. Some of that gravel may even have been used in the construction of the dam. Some people, not from Rock Island, or newcomers to our little town, may have called it The Gravel Pit. We just called it The Pit. I doubt if the first letters of each word were actually granted upper case status in how we thought of it, but it does make it easier to pick them out of the story.

So, the hole was there, and when the water table rose, it filled with water, deep and cold. Legend has it that people had drowned there, their bodies never to be found. Did they disappear down a hole at the bottom, to pop up in the Columbia River somewhere, eventually becoming food for the giant sturgeon that congregated below the dam? I don’t know. Could it be that it was a story, fabricated by Rock Island mothers, in an attempt to keep their children from going there, or at least to be careful? Maybe. Was it effective? Not to my knowledge.

For me, The Pit had two purposes: As a place to gather socially, and as a fishing hole. At certain times of the year, it was stocked with trout. I’m not sure who was behind that, whether it was The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, or one of the benevolent scions of Rock Island. Suffice to say that as a child, I had wrestled a decent amount of fish from that hole. My brother would take me fishing, out on a point which, if memory serves me (along with a quick check of Google Maps) was at the north end of the pond. But those occasions, though enjoyable, were irregular, and subject to my brother’s availability and willingness. I will say that when he was available, he was always willing. Besides being my baseball mentor, he also instilled in me a love of fishing.

Far more often, we were there for its primary purpose, as a swimming hole. In those days, it was just one body of water, and most of the gathering and splashing about took place on the eastern side. That was the only place flat enough and roomy enough for cars to park. The other three sides were higher, steeper, and the water was deeper. But we would gather there, and laugh and swim and play, and sometimes, catch a glimpse of the girls in their swimsuits.

At some point, I don’t exactly know when, and more than once, the water level behind the dam was raised, and along with that, the water table, creating more and bigger lakes. The golf course expanded, new houses were built, and the last time I was there, not long ago, my view from the rabbit humps showed a greener, lusher place than seen from my memory’s eye.

When strangers or acquaintances ask me where I’m from, my first answer is “Wenatchee”, because that’s more likely to be recognized by out-of-staters. Then, I usually go on to reduce that down to “East Wenatchee”, because as we know, there is a huge difference between the two. Then I end up boldly and proudly proclaiming “But I’m actually from Rock Island.” And that’s what defines me, and all the kids I grew up with. It’s why we are who we are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.   

Snoozin’ Susan and the Lemon Cookie Caper

Fast forward a few years…

Someone had been filching Susan’s lemon cookies. She always knew exactly how many she had at any given time, and of late, they had been mysteriously vanishing. The larcenous lemon lout had tried to cover up his cookie crimes by rearranging the sugar free, non-artificial sweetener, nuggets of lemon lusciousness. But Susan wasn’t fooled. Not by a longshot. And she knew exactly who to call for help with her dessert dilemma. She knew a lady that knew a guy.

“Give me a hand here” said Jake the Snake to his assistant Brother BudPie, stretching to his full four-inch height. I’ve almost got it” he muttered, as he shifted the push pins in his little mouth. It wouldn’t do to swallow push pins. Jake was attempting to hang the shingle above the door of his new office, proudly proclaiming “Jake the Snake, Super Sleuth Extraordinaire” to be open for business, when the phone rang.

“Jake the Snake, Super Sleuth Extraordinaire” gasped Jake, after his mad dash to answer the phone. “This could be my first case” thought Jake, as he struggled to catch his breath. Too many lemon jellied spiders and not enough exercise was beginning to take its toll.

“Hello Jake, this is Lemon Lady. How’s business?” “Business is good” said Jake. “It would be even better if I had some.” (Jake, always on the lookout for new career opportunities, had, at one point, considered standup comedy, but that came with its own unique set of challenges.)  Jake and Lemon Lady went way back. She was like a mother to him, from a time before he could even crawl. She actually taught him how to slither. Lemon Lady lived far away, in Apple Land, and he didn’t get to visit her often, but when he did, what fun they had! She always had a bowl full of spiders for snacks, and they would play such fun games! One of his favorite games was “Spider Fetch”. He also liked “Down the Kitchen Drain and Back up Through the Toilet”, although he was getting kind of big for that. And it didn’t help that he was developing quite the muffin top.

“Jake, I have a friend that needs your help. How soon can you get up to Apple Land?” asked Lemon Lady. The phone fell to the floor as Jake reached for a pen to take notes. “If only I had shoulders” thought Jake, as he picked up the phone. “I need to check with Brother BudPie, he takes care of my travel arrangements. But while he’s getting that set up, maybe you can tell me a little more about the case.” Jake loved official talk. And he loved the idea of being a detective. He’d considered other career opportunities before settling on being a gumshoe. At one point he thought about running away to join the circus, as many youngsters do, to become a juggler. Or going to Vegas to become a blackjack dealer. He even thought about stenography. But none of them excited him as much as being a private D, following in the footsteps of such greats as Boa Bob, Anaconda Annie, and Pete The Python. Jake shook himself out of his reverie. “No time for daydreaming boyo, there’s work to be done.”

“Sorry Lemon Lady, I got sidetracked there for a minute. Lay it on me.” (more hard-nosed, semi-dangerous, jaded but not too jaded detective talk) “Jake, my friend Susan needs your help” said Lemon Lady, with a hint of desperation in her voice. “Her sugar free, non-artificial sweetener lemon cookies are disappearing, into thin air it would seem.” Any crime involving lemon delectables was, to Lemon Lady, serious indeed. Jake would need to get right on this.

“Are we ready to go?” Jake shouted back to Brother BudPie, who was in the back room, which served as a break and conference room. “Just let me finish getting the frosting on this lemon cake” said Brother BudPie, a charming, well spoken, middle aged but still in peak physical condition fellow. Brother BudPie, besides being Jake’s assistant, was his cake decorator, personal secretary, and, more importantly, his principal mode of transportation. It can be a challenge even getting to the bathroom when you have no legs.

The airport in Apple Land, where goodness grows on trees and the Mexican food is superb, sat atop a flat hill, above what Jake now knew was a golf course. He still didn’t understand what the attraction was, but to him, it was a magical place for that is where he first met Brother BudPie, a jovial, even tempered, eye-catching, quite attractive but not in a girl-pretty kind of way, guy.

After a quick stop at Lemon Lady’s, a place that held many good memories for Jake, he and Brother BudPie headed straight to Susan’s house. Time was short, and sugar free non-artificial sweetener lemon cookies were vanishing at an alarming rate. No way was he going to allow anyone to purloin, pilfer, or otherwise swipe those tantalizingly tasty sugar free lemon fondant filled goodies, and get away with it. Especially since he’d just learned that they were also non GMO and gluten free.

When Susan opened the door of her warm, inviting, but not too ostentatious home, she saw an incredibly handsome, well dressed, impeccably groomed, really sweet looking guy. And then, as though from far away, she heard a small voice say “I’m down here. You must be Susan! I’m Jake, and the tall gorgeous hunk is my assistant Brother BudPie. We’re here to solve your cookie crisis.”

Susan looked down, tearing her gaze away from Brother BudPie’s hypnotic eyes, past his tanned, well chiseled, but not too prominent chin, down, down, until she saw the adorable little snake at his feet. Just like the salt melted the ice on her doorstep, her heart melted upon seeing the two little beady eyes that stared up at her. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she heard a little voice say “Good thing I’m not a slug”.

“I think we need to start by visiting the scene of the crime” said Jake. And so Susan, tripping on the entry rug because she couldn’t stop looking at the gallant, knightly, Brother BudPie, whose smile was so bright one could practically hear it sparkle, causing a faint but discernable ‘ding!’, ushered them both into the kitchen. “I keep my cookies in the freezer, and only bring them out, two at a time, each day, for coffee break. I love my coffee break, it’s a time to sit back and reflect on all of life’s…..” “Just the facts, Ma’am, time’s awastin’” piped up little Jake, in his most official detective voice.

“Every night, just before bedtime, I count my cookies, and arrange them just so” said Susan. “And for the last few weeks, my daily inventory shows cookies disappearing faster than I can replace them. Sometimes I try and stay awake to catch the despicable desperado, but he never shows up until after I fall asleep.”

While Jake had his own suspicions, he felt it was better to go where the evidence led. “Why don’t you two go relax in the living room while I attempt to get to the bottom of this” said Jake. And unbeknownst to either of them, he made up his mind to stick around that night and do a snakeout, for what better way to catch a cookie crook than during the commission of the crime? So, when Jake sent Brother BudPie, a faithful, dependable, compassionate man, with only a slight paunch, to the motel down the street, he crawled under the kitchen table and waited.

After Susan had gone to bed, in the wee hours of the night, Jake crept from under the table, and began to follow the trail of crumbs from their source to their destination. For while Susan was an impeccable house keeper, she understandably hadn’t been getting much sleep lately, so yes, there were crumbs on the floor. Jake followed the trail of crumbs. “Hmm,” he thought, “As long as I’m down here, and the crumbs are down here…..” Eating his way along the evidence trail, for the crumbs were truly delicious, Jake the Super Sleuth Extraordinaire soon grew full and sleepy. Before reaching the end of the trail, he thought “Just a little nap would be perfect.” And curling up in the hallway, he closed his beady little eyes, flicked his cute forked at the end tongue a couple times and went to sleep.

Rudely awakened by footsteps in the kitchen, he raced down the hall, just in time to see a shadowy figure, standing in front of the refrigerator, freezer door open. And though the only light was from a Donald Duck night light in the living room, he was fairly sure he recognized the nefarious nighttime nibbler of nutritious yet delicious cookies. Even the fuzzy tiger striped slippers, the Bob’s Burgers robe and the huge curlers could not camouflage the cookie fiend. Of course it was Susan, and of course she was asleep. A sleepwalking, cookie crunching culprit. “My work here is done” thought Jake.

And that’s how Jake the Little Snake, Super Sleuth Extraordinaire, solved the mystery of the vanishing sugar free, non-artificial sweetener, lemon cookies.

Irresistible Immovable

For some reason, while walking my dogs the other day, my thoughts were drawn to the flawed paradox of the irresistible force and the immovable object. What would happen should they meet? And what if, instead of physical bodies, they were emotions?

The force of hope
Beyond compare
Collides with objects
Of despair
Cataclysm
On such a scale
Imagination
Can but fail

On Readheads

I’ve always been attracted to women with red hair. Throw in green eyes and a scattering of freckles and you will definitely have my attention. I don’t know why that is, but it may be due to my Celtic heritage. Not that all or even most Celts have red hair, but the mental image I hold is always of a strapping individual, male or female, with flaming red hair and green eyes, a large shiny sword complete with mystic runes inscribed on the hilt.

It’s easy for our minds to lump people together and define them as a whole based on looks. Skin type, hair color, facial features, help us categorize people at a glance, and often cause us to gloss over and dismiss people as not worthy of our attentions. So often we fail to know or appreciate someone because we didn’t take a moment to look beneath the surface.

But we’re all human, and while we may think otherwise, are more alike than we know. How many times have we been in a crowd and have our eyes automatically drawn to the gorgeous but not too bright blonde, the mysterious brunette, the tanned athletic man of adventure? See how easily those labels are applied, without any conscious effort on our part? Clothing, makeup, jewelry, other accoutrements aside, it doesn’t make much sense that what’s on the outside is a window to the inside.

Except redheads. I wonder if my association of flaming red hair, green eyes and a few freckles, with a fiery personality, might not be too far off the mark. Covers and books, personalities and looks, redheads and tempers. Books need covers, to capture our attention, to protect but still hint at that which lies within. Redheads, I believe, are given their physical traits as a warning to all who might approach. Caution! Extreme heat just beneath the surface! Proceed at your own risk!

And, like moths and flame, like Icarus and the sun, the irresistible attraction of red hair and a few freckles pulls me in, oblivious to possible injury but willing to accept the risk.

The Pitch

He was weary and weak, and didn’t feel good most of the time. The old man seldom went out and even when did, he wished he were back home, in his small apartment and its tired dusty walls, the Murphy bed, the broken recliner. The only place he felt safe and comfortable, with his frail broken down body, his head full of memories that seemed to fade more with each passing day.

He would sit in his chair, a blanket folded over his legs to ward off the chill of an early spring evening, and his mind would wander, and he tried to remember the last time he had felt warm. And he would think, and occasionally nod off, only to be startled awake by the sounds that filtered through the thin walls; the horn of an irate driver, a mother calling her child to dinner, the crack of a bat, the pop of leather meeting leather. He remembered what it felt like, to hit, to catch, to throw. And his nose remembered the scent of a leather glove, how it smelled of oil lovingly rubbed in, of sweat, of summer. And when evening faded to night, the children long gone, the driver forgotten, when darkness and silence were all that remained, he drifted to sleep once more, and he dreamed.

He was on the mound, his attention focused down to a tight narrow beam, the only two things in his world just him, and the catcher’s glove. In that moment, for him, everything else ceased to exist. He didn’t hear the crowd or smell the popcorn, or see the catcher’s signals. Signals made no difference, he knew what he was going to throw, the crowd knew, even the hitter knew. His one pitch, the one that got him here, and kept him here, the one he could always count on. He’d been in situations like this countless times before, he knew the feeling well. He knew pressure, how it could intimidate, crush, make you shrink in on yourself, and he relished that, he hungered for it, for its challenge, for the way it caused his adrenaline to flow, and to him, it was only another opponent, another obstacle to overcome.

Four tenths of a second, hardly more than the blink of an eye, that’s how long it takes the ball to travel from his hand to the catcher’s mitt. Sixty feet six inches and four tenths of a second, all that stood between him and glory.

He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his glove, adjusted his hat, shook the tightness out of his arm. The ball was light in his hand, like a feather, like nothing at all. His fingers caressed the seams, intimately familiar with their feel. Rocking back on his right leg, reaching back, reaching for all he had, his left leg in the air, he pointed his toe at home plate and threw. From the moment he let the ball go, as it streaked toward home plate, a comet, a vanishing point of light, he knew. He knew. It was his pitch, he owned it. It defined him, was him. He awoke to silence, the crack of the bat a fading memory. The dream, the same one he dreamed every night, ended, as it always ended.

The old man opened his eyes. Outside, a dog was barking.

A Goodnight Story For A Little Snake

Jake came about as a result of a gift given to me by my sister at our 50th high school reunion. A rubber snake. Knowing full well my aversion to snakes, she tossed it down on the table, literally beneath my nose. Although I’m still not particularly fond of snakes, Jake has helped soften my stance somewhat.

This is the story of how a little snake named Jake came to live with Brother BudPie, a courageous, noble, stunningly handsome, soft-spoken, yet humble guy.

One time, not too long ago, not too far from here, there was a little snake named Jake. He didn’t remember being born, or much of his early snakehood, but he did remember a kind and loving person called Lemon Lady. She loved Jake, and he loved her. They went everywhere together. She even removed all the cold, hard coins from her coin purse, just so Jake had a safe and comfortable place to ride.

 Lemon Lady, wise in the ways of little snakes, would let Jake roam around the house and eat spiders, for everyone knows that snakes love spiders. And Jake was no different. Oh how he loved spiders! Big ones, small ones, green ones, brown ones. And sometimes, if he happened to catch the occasional fly, well that was ok too.

But one day, Lemon Lady took Jake aside, and in a kind, loving voice, told him something that would forever change his life. “My Jakey” she said, because that was her pet name for him, she said “Jakey, my little snakey, I need to tell you something. You’re old enough that you need to know this. I’m not your mother.”  

Needless to say, Jake was stunned. He was floored by this revelation. (He was floored most of the time anyway, being a snake and all). “You’re not my mother?” cried Jake, a tear rolling down his face, and splashing a very short distance to the floor. “My poor Jakey, no one knows who your parents are. I found you one day curled up on my doorstep, with a note, a very small note, attached just under your chin. It said ‘Please take care of my little Jake. I can no longer provide for him, as I have two dozen of his siblings that demand all of my time and resources.’ And it was signed ‘Jake’s real Mom'”.

Totally drained and emotionally exhausted, Jake went to bed, in the little woodpile next to the fireplace, where he always slept. He thought to himself, “I’ll never be able to sleep tonight.” But he did. And in the morning, when he woke up, not feeling much better, Lemon Lady was sitting on the floor right beside the woodpile.

“Wakey wakey, Little Jakey, we’re going on an adventure. Some of my very dear friends are meeting at an Old Timer’s Convention in Apple Land, where goodness grows on trees, and the Mexican food is superb. And we’re invited! I haven’t seen some of them in a very long time”. So off they went, Lemon Lady on her ten speed Schwinn bicycle that she won playing bingo at the Lemon Lovers League, with Jake, snug in her coin purse. They rode and rode, and rode some more. After what seemed like a very long time to Jake, they arrived at a beautiful, lush, parklike place, where some people were busy hitting and chasing little white balls. This didn’t make much sense to Jake, but he was young, and not very worldly. He shrugged, as much as he could, not having shoulders, and went inside with Lemon Lady.

A wondrous magical place awaited him there. Rows upon rows of tables, covered in white cloth. People walking to and fro. “Put me down, Lemon Lady, so I can crawl around” said Jake.

“Oh my baby Jake, you’re just a little snake, and a single clumsy foot is all that it would take, to turn my little boy into a skinny long pancake.” So she didn’t.

Not long after that, Jake’s senses were assaulted by a cacophony of sound, and his eyes were bedazzled by people, making weird gyrations in the middle of the room. “What madness is this?” thought Jake, for he had never seen or heard anything like it. Certainly not at Lemon Lady’s house.

But through all the noise and mayhem, Lemon Lady, in a soft, loving voice said “Come along Baby Snakes, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” And saying that, she walked over to a table, near the back of the room, and carefully placed Jake, the little snake, in front of a tall (all people were tall to Jake), handsome, strong yet gentle, kind, funny, semi bald man. “Jake” said Lemon Lady, “I’d  like you to meet Brother BudPie.”

Jake looked up, and up, and up. And all he could see were two large holes, with stuff growing inside. “A guy could get lost in there” thought Jake. But then he realized he was too close to Brother Budpie, and he scooted back. “Ah, much better”, and now his attention was drawn to the most beautiful, large, perfectly shaped, not too hairy, ears.

Jake was enchanted by the wing-like appendages protruding from the sides of Brother BudPie’s enormous head (to Jake, all peoples’ heads were enormous). “I bet you can hear everything!” blurted Jake, before he had a chance to think better of it.

“Yes I can, little snake, and I bet you’re wearing contacts.” said Brother BudPie, with a twinkle in his eye, and a chuckle in his mellow, kind, gentle voice, with just a hint of an accent, that may or may not have been Welsh. “I can hear secrets in the breeze, birds up in the trees, spiders when they talk, and even when they walk.” For Brother BudPie had the annoying habit of talking in rhyme. All the time.

“But” said Jake, with as much of a puzzled expression as he could manage, not having the benefit of eyebrows, “what makes you think I’m wearing contacts?” And Brother BudPie, without missing a beat, said “Because you don’t have any ears, little buddy. Bada bing, bada boom.”

“Hmmm” thought Jake, “sometimes you just have to roll with the flow.” But always on the lookout for a snack, Jake did not miss the reference to spiders. “Are you my dad?” said Jake, a quiver in his voice and longing in his heart. “Are there spiders where you live?” Because, as we now know, Jake loved spiders. “Would it be so bad if I were not your dad? If you would live with me, you soon would come to see, spiders all around, spiders on the ground, spiders on the chair, spiders everywhere.”

Only slightly annoyed, Jake looked up at Lemon Lady, with hope in his eyes, and seeing the loving smile on her angelic face, and the little smudge of lemon frosting on the corner of her mouth that he had come to love, he knew right then that he had found his forever home. And that’s the story of how Jake the Little Snake came to live with Brother BudPie, a staunch advocate for snake’s rights, defender of all critters, big and small, and President of the Local Chapter of Refrigerator Salesmen.