Friday, June 22, 2012

The Home Run

The other night I had a dream that I ran a home run in. Not hit a home run, mind you, meaning I did not swing like Hammerin' Hank Aaron and knock it into someone else's parking lot—even my subconscious knows that I'm a long way from doing that. But in the dream, I stood on third, a friend (Anthony, in the dream) came to the plate, he smacked the pitch high into the sky, and I ran like lightning across home plate. SCORE!


It is Friday night, The Fifteenth of June, 2012. I step up to the plate. My left leg is a knot of searing pain. We won't be able to see blood through the skin until tomorrow. For now, walking is agony, jogging is almost unbearable.

About ten minutes ago I had my first at-bat of the season, and something bad happened to my lower leg. I would have sprinted from third to home, but somehow my muscles had other plans. The rest of the game has been a blur of pain and sweat. We are five runs behind and running out of time.

Fifty feet away from me, a bright-looking young fellow in a red jersey is pitching a softball at me.

The voice in my head tells me: "Stay focused. You can do this." I listen through a haze of soreness and exhaustion.


I played three years of sports in Junior High School. Three seasons each of basketball and (flag) football, and one season of soccer—a total of seven seasons. But I never made a basket, never ran a touchdown, never kicked a goal. The only scores I made were in pickup games of sandlot baseball where we'd get the neighborhood kids together.

In the last basketball game of my eighth grade year, my coach was telling the other boys "Pass to Kellum, we have to get him to make a basket." I came close one time, I caught one, dribbled in close and shot, but it tipped off the rim and the other team got the ball.

I've never been bitter or sad about the fact that I didn't make any points for my teams. I realize I was sort of an unathletic nerd who was way more interested in reading about astronomy or peering through a microscope than I was in learning how to kick like Pele or run like Dorsett. But I've obviously never forgotten.


As I get ready to bat, my mind goes back to the batting cages yesterday. Em was showing me how to improve my stance, to shift weight from the back to the front. I shift my weight onto my left leg experimentally and instantly wish I had not.

I think back to what my teammate Sherry once told me: "most of these people can't pitch." Even with the talented team we are up against, I decide I better not swing the bat and I stand my ground as the first pitch soars past me. The second one is coming my way and I start to swing, realizing too late it is a bad pitch. A sloppy strike.

Another pitch is far too distant from me and I let it go. "Full count" the umpire says. I can't let the pressure get me. My leg is beginning to scream. Somewhere my brain wants me to just get out and go back to the dugout.

My team captain, Dennis, calls out, "Good eye, make 'em pitch  to you." It looks like a good one, but I stand back and let it pass, almost disdainfully, as if to say "You expect me to swing at that?"

"Take your base," the ump cries and I am off and jogging, bad leg and all. In slow-pitch coed softball, that means I go to second. A friend takes the bat from me as I trot past, adrenaline coursing through my veins—I head for second base.


I guess it was around February of this year when my buddy Dennis asked me what I thought about our workplace starting a softball team. It seemed a bit far-fetched, I never thought we'd get enough interest, but the idea of playing a sport, hanging with my co-workers, and having a good time...I liked it. I told him to count me in.

Soon, I was helping him write up a petition for the bosses. When the owner of our clinic, Brendan, saw our petition he was thrilled. "You can be the Massaginators!" he reportedly said.

We had interest, and a name!


I stand on second, rocking, ready to run. I try not to say aloud "Oh man, I am here again, it's that dream all over again." I look around. My friend Julie is stepping up to the plate. I try to control my breathing. Jogging to second base isn't that much exercise, but the bad leg and the excitement are getting to me. I'm trying not to hyperventilate.

I snap my eyes toward Frank, my base coach. I actually have to tell myself to run toward him...I'd die of embarrassment if I ran wide of the base or something. Watch Frank.


 Julie hits the ball. Time to run...

I can't feel the bad leg...guess it's  the adrenaline. Frank is holding up his hands. "Stop stop stop!" he calls.

I oblige, camping there on third base, pulse hammering in my ears.


After we got official sanction to start our team, I went and bought a glove, a bat, some softballs. I bought two books and read them (it's what I do when I take up something new). I watched videos on YouTube of supposedly famous people showing how to bat, slide, throw, and catch. I wasn't very good, really. I went to practice twice a week with Dennis and the gang. My girlfriend, Jen, trained to be our pitcher.

Meanwhile, I helped Dennis sort out the paperwork for the new team. Before long, I was "team administrator." Keeping track of the minutiae is the least an unathletic nerd can do to help.

Dennis, Emily, and my other experienced friends coached me, giving me pointers and tips. I learned about batting stance, how to catch, how to throw. I spent endless hours in the back yard, throwing softballs at the pole that supports our old washing line.

I'm still not very good, but I am getting better. And I'm having a great time doing it.


I am on third base. All I can hear is the pounding of my heart. The third baseman tries to make a joke...I can't hear him. Blake is stepping up to the plate. Everything is going so slowly. I control my breathing and try to stretch my bad leg.

Frank is saying "Don't move until I say so."

I try to say something like "I hear you." Not sure if it came out.

The pitch arcs toward home plate. I study the imperfections in the chalk line from third to home. The bat swings through the air. I breathe. The familiar clang of bat on softball.

I turn to Frank. He's watching the ball. Hours seem to pass, then "Go! Go! Go!"

My legs churn, tearing up the space between third and home. I'm limping but I won't stop moving.

Someone in a red jersey moves toward me. I expect to be tagged out. He ducks out of my way. Something in my brain registers that he doesn't have the ball.

Home plate is getting closer. It's just like that dream. I'm really going to do it, I'm really going to cross the plate.

I hit the plate, gasping for breath...My brain registers that it seemed a tiny bit anticlimactic. Some distant thought: "Did I do it? Did we get the point?"


I didn't play in the first game of the season. I was in full manager mode, making sure everyone knew the batting order, double checking and making sure the paperwork was right, taking about a hundred pictures. I was okay with that. I didn't feel ready to play.

Tonight, in the early part of the game, Dennis got hurt. When he got to the dugout he was limping badly. "You have to sub for me." He was almost up to bat—now there's a classic scenario. No pressure here!

I informed the umpire I was subbing for Dennis and went out to bat. I remembered not to swing unless I was sure the pitch was perfect. I got walked and wound up on second, my first time there and my first time to fight back the panic.

On third I was ready to sprint for home. I did some sprinting in high school. That was a long time ago, bodies change over the years. Two steps from the bag and my lower left leg exploded in pain. I tried to hobble onwards, but was almost instantly tagged out.

I thought maybe it was just a cramp. My colleague and friend, Rena, helped me by massaging it. I had to limp onto the field several times to take Dennis' spot in the outfield. It was punishing.

Then I was at bat again.


The dugout explodes with my friends whooping, yelling, calling out my name and my nickname (they call me "Mad Dog" because of the way I throw caution to the wind, diving after stray hits). People are smiling, slapping my back, high fiving me. I am stunned. The whole thing is very dream-like. I sit down and drink an entire bottle of water.

So THAT'S what it feels like to cross the plate.

In the end, the Massaginators played hard, but we still didn't win. And yet, I still felt as if I won a sort of a personal victory.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I Can't Draw

Here's a cartoon I did years ago, click to get a better view...

Monday, December 27, 2010

I Can't Draw, volume 1


Sorry this comes in a few days late for Christmas. I have been a bit distracted.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Girlfriend Trouble is Inspiring

Last year, (the site where I publish most of my writing) conducted a poetry contest. Now, in my entire time on this earth, I'd only written about five pieces of poetry that I would dare share with another person, but I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Using my relationships of the last ten years (my so-called 'grown-up relationships') as inspiration, I found I was able to work up four pieces. If I say so myself, I think they were pretty good.

In order to set this one up, I must digress briefly into the bizarre realm of quantum mechanics. There's a famous imaginary model physicists use to explain one of the picky points of quantum physics---it is called
Schrödinger's Cat, after physicist Erwin Schrödinger*.

Without delving too deeply into unnecessary esoterica,
Schrödinger imagined a strange situation wherein a cat would be in box, hidden from view. There is exactly a 50% chance that the kitty in question has been killed (remember, this is imaginary, no actual felines were harmed in the making of this thought experiment). Now, in the 'real' world, it would either be a living cat or one who was pushing up daisies, but in the twilight realm of the quantum, it's actually 50% alive and 50% dead until someone opens the box and looks at the cat. Then it becomes 100% alive or 100% flown off to join the kitty choir invisible.

Clear enough? Okay, good.

Quantum Physics is full of this sort of wacky uncertainty---which makes sense because it is about tiny particles interacting in bizarre and nebulous ways. One of the most famous axioms is Dr Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. It's a science of grey areas and strangeness.

So, back to poetry: at the time of the noted competition, I was in a situation where I felt approximately 50% as though I was a part of a happy relationship, and 50% like we'd be going our separate ways at any moment, pending her say-so. It was kind of confusing and disquieting. One morning, as I lay in bed pondering my strange and uncertain romance I said "it's like she's
Schrödinger's Girlfriend." And, well, how are you gonna resist that?

So that's where the poem came from.

Schrödinger's Girlfriend by me
          Back in the old days
Folks were so certain
A path of God's choosing

Along came the men
With their proofs
And their theorems
All of it got just a bit more confusing.

I really would like to create the equations
Define our relations
With one derivation
Here is my question on many occasions,
"What does she want me to do?"

It would be great if life weren't so complex
We'd make an index
Find a value for x
How can I calculate all the effects
of simply my being with you?

Newton defined things
In terms of equations
Took Aristotle and
Swept him away,

Einstein took Newton's work
Made alterations
And everything changed
In a relative way.

Part of me wants you to make up your mind
To tell me you're mine
Or leave me behind
Sometimes it feels just a little unkind
Never to know where I stand.

Sometimes I think that I'm asking too much
My questions are such:
Am I just a crutch?
I really can't tell if you're missing my touch
And nothing quite goes as we'd planned.

A teacher named Erwin
A cat in a box
Alive and yet dead
Til observing reveals

A genius named Werner
Was always uncertain
And sometimes I think
That I know how that feels.

The poem got one of the highest reputations in the contest (the highest, not counting the little awards we call "chings"). Hey, quantum mechanics and relationships, these are two things we nerds like to think about.

*To pronounce this surname correctly, one has to do something like a zombie noise there in the middle. I encourage the reader, unless s/he is a fluent speaker of German (meaning, you could order a meal at a fancy Berlin restaurant without getting more that one or two eyerolls from the picky German waiter), to anglicize the pronunciation of this to shro-ding-urr. Otherwise one runs the risk of sounding really ridiculous, not to mention pretentious.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Recite, relearn, record...

Back in High School, I took a poetry appreciation class. About 30 years ago, in case you are keeping track. Anyway, the for the final project in this class, we each had to memorize a piece of poetry. I had a real thing for Edgar Allan Poe, so I set out to memorize the Raven.

I realized, even at the time, that this was gonna be a dreadfully big thing to learn, but it is such a cool piece--plus, there's the whole 'challenge' factor. So I worked...hard. I think my classmates thought me quite eccentric, as I jogged down to the park reciting "...this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore, meant in croaking 'Nevermore.'" Of course, they always knew I was a little different.

Anyway, I managed to do it, and recited it for my final. The notoriously hard-to-impress teacher (Mr. Bickel) gave me an ovation. I felt pretty good about it.

After that, I just felt like learning more poetry. I learned some Robert Frost and some Shakespeare, and some Carroll and a few more by Poe. By the way, did you know that people "with taste" don't admit to liking Poe? He's supposed to be sort of 'pedestrian' or something. I'm often glad I'm not cursed with 'taste' and I can just like whatever I enjoy. But I have digressed.

So anyway, I also learned the song where Tom Lehrer puts the Periodic Table to music and the one where the Animaniacs sing the names of the nations of the world (more or less). I also learned the rather off-colour one by the new wave band the Nails, where the guy sings about the 44 women who have been in his life.

Roughly every other year, I'd go on a frenzy and see if I could remember all the pieces. I'd recite them in my car on the way to work (or doing deliveries for Dining In), and I even studied a few new ones. I learned Ozymandias by Shelley and a few pieces of drama (by Shakespeare...I think people with 'taste' are kind of divided on Billy the Bard too...but I think the old dude put some magic into the English language).

Occasionally, I'd record myself reciting them and challenge myself to see if I could get 90-95% of the poem perfectly...not missing or flubbing more than one or two words in 20. I discovered I remembered most of these pretty well.

In November, I decided I'd take the challenge once again. The idea was to go through each piece six times to my satisfaction, then record myself doing it, to make sure I knew it as well as I thought. It took a couple of months, but I not only did all of the ones I knew, I re-learned the opening soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet and learned more of Hamlet's exchanges with the gravedigger, so I know something like two pages of Hamlet by heart. Not a lot compared to what there is, but it's fun anyway.

So, by way of bragging, I present to you the list of stuff in my head, appropriately titled

(in approximate order of when I learned them)
Poe -- The Raven
Poe -- El Dorado
Carroll -- Jabberwocky
Shakespeare -- Sonnet 18
Poe -- Annibel Lee
Blake -- The Tyger
Frost -- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Shakespeare -- “If We Shadows Have Offended...” (closing soliloquy from A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Poe -- Lines on Ale
Carroll -- the Walrus and the Carpenter
the Nails -- 88 Lines About 44 Women
Poe -- Conqueror Worm
Frost -- Fire and Ice
Animaniacs-- Nations of the World
Lehrer -- The Elements
Shakespeare -- “Alas, poor Yorick ...” (graveside exchange from Hamlet, between the gravedigger, Hamlet, and Horatio--about 16 pieces of dialogue including the famous whopper that Hamlet says)
Shelley -- Ozymandias
Shakespeare --- Romeo & Juliet (Prologue --- "Two households, both alike in dignity")

That's about it. Next year maybe I'll finally get through The Bells by Poe. Don't tell the people with taste though.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Grammatical Goofiness: Plural Puzzlers!

In High School (quite a few years gone now), I studied Latin, Greek, and Human Anatomy. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that only one of those courses was actually offered at the tiny, private school I attended. The Latin and Greek were strictly self-study, and I prided myself on knowing the correct Latin plurals for the muscles, bones, and other parts of the body.

It was not too long before I hit a snag in my linguistic snobbery. Some of the names of body parts can not be correctly pluralized in Latin. Well, there’s a work-around, using something called the Terminologia Anatomica, but, if you are a purist for that system, you will refer to the pituitary gland as the glandula pituitaria. And we’re trying not to sound like a doofus here.

Not sounding like a doofus is precisely what it comes down to—accuracy is important, but not sounding ridiculous is also a big priority. By way of example, we often hear very educated people refer to stadia as the plural of stadium, but how far should we take that? These same educated people may sometimes say that the plural of museum is musea (although says, succinctly, “No, the plural in English is museums.”) but with that plural, we run merrily up to the bounds of silliness and perhaps beyond.

The danger increases with the less familiar, more bizarre plurals, such as those purists who insist on pluralizing index as indices. The urge to point and laugh becomes almost impossibly high when someone uses irregular plurals like that. As a snarky joke, a friend used to pluralize “Kleenex” (registered trade mark) as “Kleenices” and “Xerox” (also registered trade mark) as “Xeroces.” Of course, if Kleenex were Latin, I think it would pluralize as Kleeneges or something…but it has been almost three decades since I cracked the Latin books.

Some other hilarious plurals exist in the anatomy world: femur becomes femora, sternum becomes sterna, mandible’s plural is sometimes given as mandibula (I’m serious…although even the stodgiest medical dictionaries seem to have mandibles nowadays), larynx becomes larynges, and one of the all-time craziest, the male reproductive organ called the epididymus pluralizes out as epididymides. There are also people who insist on pluralizing the word penis as penes (pronounced PEE-neez), which is also screamingly funny to anyone who was ever a Junior High School student.

One very educated friend suggested that if something is a Latin word, it should get a Latin plural. Here, we can run into trouble too. Camera is in the Latin dictionary. But you will never catch me saying “We have three digital camerae in our house” … again, not to sound like a doofus is a priority here.

This begs the question: why should it only apply to Latin? I know there are some very smart folks who use chateaux as the plural of chateau, so should all words of French origin be pluralized exactly as they would be in the native language? Of course, most French words use –s or –es to make their plurals, but it’s a highly irregular language. By some accounts English derives as much as 30% of our vocabulary from French, we would have to use a few zany plurals.

If we are going to use Latin and French plurals, we really should probably show some love to Greek as well. Then you would have to say “The centauroi were the half-man, half-horse creatures of legend.” This also implies that the plural of hippopotamus would not be “hippopatomi” as many wags suggest, but “hippopotomia” (or something very like that) … try THAT one at your next gathering of Very Smart People and see who takes you seriously after that. (“Dinosaurs” comes from Greek too, so I guess you could say “the Natural History Museum has many dinosaures (said ‘dino-SAU-reez’)”…you know, if you are feeling like doing so.)*

German is practically one of our parent tongues, so we certainly need to be accurate there as well. So next time you are gonna get some sausages at the deli, make sure to order a few bratwürster for dinner.

Many Italian food names are plural. But please, in your quest for accuracy, we implore you not to say “We left no spaghetto uneaten.” Seriously…

Hebrew often takes the –im form when pluralizing. That said, I suspect that any non-Hebrew speaker who says something like “there were two Rabbanim at that synagogue today” is likely to be sound like aforementioned silly person

Speaking of derivations from that language, while researching this article, I came across a wonderful piece about the plural of the word bagel. Two people were arguing over whether the plural should be “bagels” or “bagel” (as it would be in Yiddish) … the authority responds:

“I might say, as the rest of us who say “bagels” when speaking English — is right. Simply stated, the rule is this: When a word borrowed from a foreign language has become domesticated in the borrowing language…it obeys all the borrowing language’s grammatical rules, including those governing the formation of plurals.”

English is a language of exceptions, and of course there are some words that will always take irregular, foreign-y plurals. I’m not going to start saying “criterions” or “crisises,” for example. I’m just saying that it’s good to think before you pluralize. We must be careful not to sound like doofuses. Erm…doofi? No, doofuses…definitely doofuses.

*The delightful Miss Annie tells me that the Danish word for dinosaur is “dinosaurus” which pluralizes in Danish to “dinosaurusser.” Rather than spitting out that mess of a word, most Danes elect to say “dinosaurs.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ferret Jacket Moments

I was reading some of my old Everything 2 work before bed and encountered this essay. It seemed apt as our little friend Nick passed away barely a month ago. It can still bring tears. Loving can hurt so much sometimes.

Ferret Jacket Moment
An incidence of strong sadness or tearfulness inspired by a silly or seemingly humorous artifact. A ferret jacket moment is brought about by the context or juxtaposition of the funny item in question with respect to other circumstances.

Davey was our first pet ferret. We had wanted to get one for a long time, but we had to do the research, ferret-proof the house and otherwise get everything in order, like good, pet-loving nerds will do.

September 1996—our local Petco store got a big shipment of silvery-white ferret kits. They danced and squirmed as we played with them at the store, and they made that hilarious little chuckle that ferret lovers call "dooking." One little guy in particular, the friendliest and most gregarious of the whole bunch, caught our attention. He wrestled with our hands and chewed on Suzi's rings. He shoved his brothers and sisters aside as if to say, "Me! Me! You know you want me!"

That was our boy.

Susan, who has a very mild form of slight autism, can sometimes pull really perfect names out of thin air (we suspect that these two things are related). She looked at the little rascal for a very long time ... "Davidson. Davidson Fitzweasel," she said. The name was perfect for some strange reason.

Everything that we had heard from people, books and web pages came true: Davey escaped from everything, he got into seemingly impossible places. Anything and everything was a potential plaything. He stole stuff—he stole a lot of stuff. Wee Davey stole lighters, snacks, socks, just about anything he could carry. The funniest were the bagel thefts, when Suzi's brother, Carl, would bring us fresh bagels from his job. It is one of the great sights of the animal kingdom to see a tiny animal dragging a bagel that appears to be as big as he is, hoping to hide it for later. We always caught him, or so we thought.

Davidson charmed most everyone he met. Whether he was trying to steal Carl's Twizzler candy (we have a great picture of the ferret, determinedly hanging from a Twizzler), biting feet, playing with our cats (we had four felines at the time, two of which seemed to like the little guy, two of which tolerated him), or resolutely chasing ping-pong balls around our hardwood floor like a turbo-charged soccer player, he was a charismatic little mustalid.

His mischievous nature earned him the reputation of being a loveable troublemaker. We even bought him a tiny black leather jacket–obviously, he could not wear it, but it looked cute hanging next to his mirror in the two-story cage. We thought of him as a tiny, silvery-furred juvenile delinquent with eyes the colour of sapphires.

Davidson died at the age of four years, fairly young for a pet ferret. A combination punch of cardiomyopathy and kidney tumour came on fast, hitting the little guy as if some cruel, antique god had blasted our little pet with a lightning bolt. The surgery was a success, but his little system could not handle the stresses and he never recovered consciousness.

The loss of a beloved pet is an incredibly hard thing. This one hit us especially hard. Largely, it was the speed—there was scarcely a month between our first inkling that Davey was sick and the time when he was gone. There was no time to steel ourselves, no time to plan for potential outcomes, just hang on and watch the ship sink. Suzi doesn't cry much—the child of unemotional, German Lutherans and the product of the Lutheran school system, she can be eerily stoic.

She cried this time. In our near quarter-century together I've never seen her heart so thoroughly broken. I suppose I must have cried some too, it is hard for me to remember.

We could not immediately deal with the depressing chore of cleaning out Davey's home, so we let it sit for over a week. We just emptied his litter trays and food bowls and left it. The rays of perhaps a dozen sunrises slid through the windows in Susan's room and lit up the tiny hammock where our little scamp had slept while the hearts of his adoptive human "parents" mended.

One evening we finally set to the task. We opened his cage and found his toys, shredded cloth and paper and countless petrified bagels (how did he do that??)—all his humble treasures ... and there was his little leather jacket, on the tiny coat hanger that Susan made for it. Then came the tears.

After our shared catharsis, Susan smelled like grief. I don't know that I've ever encountered that before. Grief is an odd fragrance, sort of like sweat and tears and a dash of some strange musty musk.

Suzi made a little crypt for the ashes of our first ferret. A clear acrylic box holds his miniscule urn, a thoroughly fossilized bagel, a couple of toys and that little biker jacket. Carl added a Twizzler to the box later.

...and that, my friends, is a ferret jacket moment.