A Sad Sad Short Story

August 6, 2018

 My Wife Thinks You’re Dead

Story and photo-illustrations by Jim Sizemore

When Betty stepped off the bus the first thing she did was corner Bernie on Main Street. Betty was a stringy-haired blond with a thin firm body decorated in tattoos—some of which were visible only when she danced naked in your living room. She had just been released from Goochland Correctional Institute. She was the sort who spent her short life involved in the wrong kind of sex with both sexes. Betty had planned to “accidentally” run into Bernie on his way to the post office, a workday chore he made like clockwork. When he turned off Main onto Market, they collided before he had a chance to avoid his fate. He was hooked like a fish that exists for one purpose—to be pan-fried for supper.

“Damn, girl” Bernie said. He stepped back to look her up and down.

She batted her eyes and played him out. “How you been doin’, Bern?” She knew damn well how he was doing—that the second he saw her he got a boner on.

“I’m not bad for a failure,” Bernie said. “And you?”

“Whatcha doing this evening, Mr. Man?”

“Now, girl, you know I’m happy married. You’re off my radar. I told my wife you was dead.”

“O.K.,” Betty said, “if that’s how you want it.” She flounced off down the sidewalk with that swaying-butt movement Bernie loved to see. But with Betty on the loose again he needed a strong reminder he had a family. Bernie went straight home.

Bernie appears old for his age, not all that much to look at, chubby-soft, balding in the worst way—front to back—and has mild prostate trouble which points him to the bathroom a bunch of times a day. His wife, Helen, loves Bernie more for his kind nature than anything else. Just picture it, here’s this forty-seven year old auto parts store manager who lucks-out and lands a beautiful young wife to share his bed and keep the house spotless. He and Helen have two kids—boy and girl—just the cutest things. Each Sunday morning he drops his family off at the Holiness Church and waits in the car, reading the sports pages. Bernie considers himself reformed from his wild days, but not yet ready for religious instruction.

When Bernie walked through the door, Helen straightaway asked him what he was doing home in the middle of the afternoon. He came up with a nervous story about needing to get some work stuff. Bernie’s jiggly behavior, plus a telephone call Helen had received only minutes before, put her on a Mean-Green Betty alert. She didn’t let on, though, just allowed Bernie to think he had lied his way out of the situation. Bernie was sunk. That phone call had alerted Helen to the younger woman’s resurrection.

“Your buddy Fred called,” Helen said, telling part of the truth. “Wants you to drop by the police station tomorrow first thing. Some kind of special project.”

Fred, the town sheriff, was Bernie’s best friend from high school. At one time Fred also was belly-bumping close to Helen, but she had kept that fact from Bernie, it being a bit of deception she allowed herself out of concern for his feelings. Without another word, Helen went back to work on a complicated tuna fish concoction she was whipping up for supper, her mayonnaise-covered hands deep in a big yellow mixing bowl. Bernie picked up some papers and walked out.

Helen was whistling as she worked, but she had murder on her mind. She had confessed as much to Fred earlier when he called. Helen told him straight out that either Bernie or Betty had to die, and she was at the point where it didn’t matter which one. Fred laughed, of course, but he also felt uneasy—not being sure if Helen was joking or what.

Monday was Helen’s bowling league and her mom kept the kids, so Bernie was free to do as he pleased, within reason. He went out for a ride and stopped at Jigg’s Drive-In for a beer. Before long he got to thinking about old times. The Jigg’s crowd provoked it, most of them being real young, and Bernie realized he didn’t really know anyone enough than just nod and say “Hi.” On an impulse, he decided to cut out and visit his old friend Chuck. That turned out to be a bad idea of the first rank. He and Chuck were a duo that went back to the days of the booze-pill-and-sex bunch that featured Betty as the main attraction. In those days the three of them were—well, let’s just say they got to be very close.

Chuck is your basic small burg bachelor, a big rumpled guy with a small neat apartment over the pet shop on Main Street. He’s the sort of fellow who gets along by going along, satisfied to spend his days working part-time in an auto body shop, selling weed or a handful of pills to take up financial slack. Chuck would never intentionally harm a soul but he’s not above providing the means for folks to screw themselves over.

That evening Chuck and Bernie were in Chuck’s living room, shirts off, drinking beer, toking on a fat spliff passed back and forth, and yelling at a two week old football game Chuck had recorded on his VCR. Three minutes into the fourth quarter there came a knock on the door. Chuck opened it and Betty glided in on what seemed to be air currents. Whatever it was that she had ingested also produced an aura of sensuality that glowed off her like yellow-green neon. Bernie and Chuck could tell she was there for one purpose only, big-time party tag.

It being hot and no AC, the first thing Betty did was take off her blouse and head for the fridge to, “get a beer and cool my tits.” A tad high, Bernie somehow thought he was capable of resisting her charms and followed her into the kitchen. Betty was stationed in front of the open freezer door fanning cold air onto her chest with one hand and sipping from a Coors can with the other. As in times past, Bernie felt himself instantly attracted to the incredible muscle definition in her back.

“Goddamn it, Betty,” he said, “one of us is gonna have to leave this town.”

She turned around, smiling, with one perfect breast cupped in her free hand. “Really, Bern? You mean that?”

“Good to see you, baby—been a long time—but I can’t afford to play them games no more.”

“Your choice, hon.” Betty slid past him and headed for the living room where the amiable Chuck waited in ecstatic anticipation.

Bernie stayed in the kitchen for several beats, feeling what resistance he had ebb from his body like brackish water from a swamp. By the time he got to the living room Betty was completely naked, astride Chuck in the classic lap dance position, him smiling over her bare shoulder like it was Christmas and he was more than willing to share this gift. Bernie watched those two go at it awhile, then shrugged. “What the hell,” he thought, moving toward them, “Helen thinks she’s dead.”

Next morning Bernie showed up at the police station and Fred laid out his plan. He explained that his drug enforcement department had a federal grant to conduct a sting which he hoped would nail the town’s top drug dealer, but he needed help. Fred knew that Betty was fresh out of Goochland, knew Bernie’s history with Betty, and Helen had updated him on Bernie’s progress becoming a model husband. In Fred’s view, all this made Bernie the natural candidate for undercover police work. Betty would be the bait to set up the sting. Fred was sure Bernie would go along with it for the many times Fred had kept Bernie out of the can. So he was surprised when Bernie refused to get involved. “Trouble’s not what I’m looking for,” Bernie said, sounding like a country song lyric, “trouble’s where I’ve been.”

Fred just smiled, waiting for the right moment to play his ace in the hole. He told Bernie that his assignment would help rid the community of the illegal substance operation fronted out of Rexton’s convenience store. His task would be to lure Betty to Chuck’s apartment, then have her call Rexton’s and instruct the contact to deliver some fine white party powder. Once the viper showed up with the goods, and they had the transaction on videotape, his squad of highly trained cops would take it from there.

“Things are different now,” Bernie said to Fred. “It’s not like the old days. I don’t have nothing to do with that woman.” He was getting more and more upset. “When Betty went to jail I expected it would be the last I seen her. Honest. Especially when the rumor got around she was stabbed dead in a lesbo love triangle. That’s what I told Helen, and she believed it. Shit, I believed it myself. And that’s how I want to leave it.”

Bernie was almost like a brother of Fred’s, but for himcommitment to law enforcement was stronger than blood. He would have nabbed his mother for dealing, too. Without a pang of conscience he smiled at Bernie and played his trump card. Fred informed Bernie that Chuck was already in on the sting, had been deputized. He described the tiny surveillance camera they had planted in Chuck’s VCR. When Bernie heard that he went as pale as an Allman Brother and sat down. Fred asked Bernie if he would like to see a playback of the threesome action the camera had recorded the night before. Bernie barely had the strength to shake his head. Then, Fred asked if Bernie had changed his mind about cooperating with the investigation. All the defeated man could do was nod.

A week later, as the trio of Bernie, Betty and Chuck await the drug drop-off, Betty’s last words are recorded by the camera in Chuck’s VCR. Later, those words will be presented as evidence at the inquest into the killings. In the grainy, slightly out of focus image, we see Bernie and Betty on Chuck’s davenport. Chuck is off to one side, only half in frame, sitting on the arm of the sofa. Bernie says to Betty, “O. K., girl—it’s true—we’ve seen a lot of miles together, and it’s still fun, but after this, that’s it.”

Betty smiles. “Whatever you say, Bern.”

Leaning into the frame, Chuck points at Bernie and says to Betty, “He might be my buddy but he don’t speak for me.”

Bernie ignores Chuck and continues to Betty. “Even good times have to end—from here on you’ll just have to find another ex-sweetheart to party with.”

“Right you are,” Betty says. “After today we will all go our separate ways.”

At this point in the surveillance tape there is a knock on the door.

Betty’s grave is on a lovely maple-shaded slope in Cedar Hill graveyard. It’s early autumn in the mountains, leaves bright red and yellow, a Kodachrome-blue sky. As mourners dismount from cars parked along the paved path winding through the hilly setting, a soft breeze stirs the leaves. It’s only fair that Betty’s final resting place is so serene—considering her short life of constant action. Betty’s service is attended by local friends and family, plus several strangers, mostly men, all of them from small towns within a fifty mile radius. More of Betty’s good-timing friends.

To Bernie’s surprise Helen encourages him to attend Betty’s funeral. She volunteers to come too. She even brings the kids. Helen reassures Bernie there are, in her words, “No hard feelings considering how the situation turned out.” If Bernie is suspicious of Helen’s behavior he doesn’t let on, realizing that it’s best not to go into too much detail about her sudden interest in seeing his “old friend” off to the hereafter. Either he completely misses Helen’s sarcastic tone, or just assumes that his wife is being her usual forgiving self. Chuck is at the funeral, too, crying full-out like he does when anyone dies. Chuck, for all his wastrel ways is, as Fred says, “a sensitive dude.”

The newspaper account of Betty’s death had speculated that it was open and shut, “a simple drug bust gone bad.” This, despite the fact that rumors around town suggested Fred may have used unnecessary deadly force in the exercise of his duties. The mere sight of Fred, the lawman responsible for the demise of their childhood playmate, inflamed several of Betty’s male cousins and there was a brief scuffle. Those boys were escorted off the cemetery grounds by three of Fred’s uniformed deputies.

Fred’s version of what happened during the raid at Chuck’s place is simple, at least on the face of it. At the inquest he testified that the drug dealer had reached for what he—Fred—thought was a gun. (It was later determined the only “weapon” the dealer had on him was an Italian sausage he was bringing home to his wife in a paper sack.) Fred claimed that, fearing for his life, he had fired in haste, and was most apologetic about Betty standing where she was, directly in the line of fire. The police department impounded Fred’s .38 and assigned him to desk duty for the duration of the internal investigation. At the time of Betty’s interment they had not found any holes in Fred’s story—no smoking gun, so to speak—so the consensus in town was that he would be restored to full duty in a week or two when passions cooled.

The last prayer is recited over Betty’s grave, and a handful of dirt is dropped on the casket lid. The funeral party and guests head to their cars so the professional grave diggers can close up. Going up the shaded path, Bernie holds the hand of his son, the boy holds his younger sister’s hand, and Helen has the little girl’s other hand in hers. Fred passes the family on the way to his unmarked patrol car, and for a brief instant Bernie thinks he sees his old friend wink at Helen. He does see Fred smile at her, and Helen smiles back. Bernie says nothing. In the car on the way home, Helen says, “Bernard, sweetheart, I don’t feel the least bit like cookin’ tonight. What-say you take your little family to Carvelli’s for pizza and then to see a picture at the Visulite?”

THE END

Story and images copyright 2018 by Jim Sizemore

This tale was inspired by a country song by Junior Brown. (This shorter version is a reprint from a post in four parts dated July 28-30, 2008.) When I originally heard Mr. Brown’s lyrics (Curb Records), it occurred to me that the best country songs tell a condensed story which may inspire characters and incidents for a short story. Or a novel. Perhaps even a play or movie.


Today’s Gag

February 15, 2018
Copyright © 2018 Jim Sizemore

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Penny Postcard

February 9, 2018
postcdf-b-blog(Click image to enlarge.)
(This is a re-post from 2017.)

This poetic Valentine’s Day card was postmarked Perry Ill., 4 p.m., Feb. 13, 1911. The man who mailed it could expect that his beloved, “Birdie,” would have it in her hand the very next day—Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. In those days, first-class mail was delivered morning and afternoon and postcards required only a one-cent postage stamp. Note also that in this case the card was mailed and delivered sans street name or number. Small town—everyone knows everyone else—therefore, no street address required. What ever happened to that wonderful postal system? Well, for one thing, Time happened.


Three-Minute Memoir

January 29, 2018

Lost Coast

By Barbara Kaplan Bass

(Click images to enlarge)

We found ourselves at a crossroads: which route should we take from Humboldt down to Sausalito, the next stop in our California adventure? 101 would be faster, more direct and purposeful, but we had just come from communing with the Giant Redwoods, which left us—so to speak—peaced-out. And it was Thoreau who said, “The swiftest traveler is he who goes afoot.” We weren’t exactly “afoot,” but we were open to exploring, taking the slower route, Thoreau’s spirit of exploration and Robert Frost’s “road less traveled” were guiding our way: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.”

We chose Route 1, a winding two laned road that would take us along the Pacific Coast. It was about an inch and a half on the map, not much out of the way. The few towns mentioned sounded alluring: Shelter Cove, Westport, Mendocino. We looked forward to breathtaking views of the Pacific coast, opportunities to explore virgin territory. Feeling adventurous, and maybe a bit overconfident, we headed away from the highway and drove south to the sea.

As we descended into this northern coastal forest, we discovered that we were farther from the ocean than expected. We would have to wait to glimpse the Pacific. When I put the nearest town into our GPS, we had another surprise: no cell service. What if there were an emergency? As we drove on, we noted sparsely placed call boxes located in small pull-off areas. Suppose we needed help and weren’t near these links to civilization?

Engulfed by the forest, we saw the last of the afternoon light filtering hazily through the towering trees. Then we noticed that the road had no shoulder. We hadn’t seen another car —or a place of business —since we began our descent. We soldiered not so merrily along, no longer feeling to be intrepid explorers out for an adventure.

As the sun began to sink behind the redwoods, we also realized that there were no streetlights on Route 1. Once the sun slipped below the horizon, we would be driving in pitch dark on a two-lane road with no shoulders, no cell service—only the occasional call box. It was then that our fuel gauge light began to flash on and off. We’re out of gas?

My husband put the car in neutral and let it coast on the downhill slope. Our little adventure had become a scary trip into the unknown. In the 51 years that we have known each other, we have never run out of fuel. “We ‘re not empty yet,” my husband said, as we coasted into the next pull-off. He pushed a few buttons on the callbox and the Highway Patrol answered. Hooray! Wait, what? “You won’t come until we are completely out of gas? What if we hit empty and we’re not near a callbox? How long will it take to reach us?”

As I think about this, we may have overreacted. What was the worst that might have happened? Anyway we could have flagged a passing motorist after perhaps an hour or two, then waited for the Highway Patrol to show up—or just spent the night in the pull-off. But these possibilities only occur to me in retrospect. Back in the forest, things looked bleak. However, right before we began scratching our last-will-and-testament into the paint on the car door, and drafting a final farewell note to our children, two “angels” appeared in a late model Ford: Claudia and her daughter, Christine. “Can we help you?” Why is it that when someone is kind to me, I start crying? I had been dry-eyed, but when these two Samaritans stopped to help us, I broke down in sobs. They didn’t have extra gas, but they promised to follow us to Westport, the first town on the map, just twenty miles away.

Their presence calmed us enough to continue, still mostly in neutral, still panicking on every upgrade, checking every few seconds for Claudia and Christine in our rear-view mirror—but we finally made it out of the forest and were treated to the magnificent view of the North Pacific Coast. I would like to say that the view made it worthwhile, but it didn’t. I still get palpitations thinking about what could have happened on that treacherous stretch of highway—bandits , Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers—they all haunt by dreams.

When we coasted into Westport, our sense of relief began to wane: a few scattered houses and no downtown. We may have been literally out of the woods but not figuratively. We pulled up alongside a lone citizen walking along the road and asked if there were a gas station in town. “No gas station,” he said, “but there’s a pump outside the general store,” and he pointed across the street and down the road. “There’s not another pump for 40 miles. That’s why they call it the ‘The Lost Coast.’”

Gas was $4.99 a gallon, but who cares? Hearing the gurgle of fuel through the hose was pure music, worth every penny. We waved goodbye to Claudia and Christine, blowing kisses of gratitude, and headed toward Mendocino with a full tank, relieved and now confident we would survive.

And we can still say that we have never run out of gas. We also learned that an inch and a half is not always an inch and a half—at least not on a map—and that there are helpers out there when we need them.

I must return to Robert Frost here – a different poem, but an insight into our experience: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.”

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Barbara Kaplan Bass was a member of the English Department at Towson University for 43 years, teaching writing and American literature before retiring last June.  She is now enjoying the luxury of spending time reading and writing and traveling.  She is currently working on a book of essays—one for each year of her life—for her three granddaughters.


Three-Minute Memoir

January 17, 2018

Feminism Surges With A Third Wave

By Jo-Ann Pilardi

This is a slightly shortened version of the original essay titled American Feminism Surges On With a Third Wave, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins, Fall/Winter 2017, Vol. 27, No.2.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an activist women’s movement arose in the U.S., then internationally; it would later be labeled “the Second Wave,” and our 19th century movement—ending in 1920 with the suffrage amendment—would be called “the First Wave.” Reflecting the spirit of the ‘60s, the movement called itself not a “wave” but a liberation movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement: liberation fighters for women’s rights. I was one of them.

In fall of 1969, when I moved to Baltimore and started teaching Philosophy at then “Towson State College” (now Towson University), I jumped right into the movement, joining an energetic collective of women who’d started the magazine Women: A Journal of Liberation. We worked from a modest second story office on Greenmount Avenue. I was active in Baltimore Women’s Liberation (BWL) as well (office: same building—3028 Greenmount Ave., Waverly, also home to the People’s Free Medical Clinic). BWL formed coalitions (e.g., with Welfare Rights); engaged in projects (e.g., Red Wagon Day Care Center; Women’s Growth Center); published a newsletter (Cold Day in August); and created the Speaker’s Bureau, for the numerous requests we received, e.g., from the Kiwanis Club, high schools, community groups.

So much was accomplished during the ‘70s: women’s studies programs were created; rape crisis centers and women’s law centers were founded; critical issues were fought in the courts—reproductive rights and pay equity, to name just two. One of the most famous, the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade (1973), paved the way for full control by women of their bodies. Sadly, its power was immediately weakened by the Hyde Amendment outlawing the use of federal funds for abortions, meaning poor women were denied that right.

Then came the ‘80s backlash—caused by the Religious Right; Falwell’s Moral Majority and Schlafly’s Eagle Forum were central. New books praised the traditional secondary role of women, some suggesting they use sexual traps to achieve their goals. During this, the Reagan era, many Americans came to share his conservative views. The women’s movement eventually went underground; there was no longer a strong activist presence, though there were important court cases, successful litigation, ongoing projects—even federal legislation: the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, the product of years of activism during the 80s and early 90s. In ‘80s Academia, feminist theory tackled motherhood and incorporated gender difference into its claims of gender equality.[i]

The 1990s saw a re-surgence of feminism develop into what is now called the Third Wave. Twenty years after the women’s liberation movement, and when some said we were post-feminist, our daughters created their own space, issues, and methods. Mothers and daughters don’t always agree, and these daughters disliked the Second Wave’s overriding analysis of oppression; they called it (wrongly, I think) “victim feminism.” They also faulted it (rightly) for its lack of attention to race and class. “Intersectionality” became one of the touchstones of this wave: seeing interlocking connections between race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, abled/disabled, and more. Just before the great Women’s March of January 21, 2017, a Huffington Post article described the Third Wave: “The new feminist icons must include women of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities . . . (because) the remedy for the age-old criticism of feminism is so simple—the third wave . . . must be this: when all women (not just the ones that happen to be just like we are) are more equal, we are all more free.”[ii]

Inspired by the success of the gay rights movement, a critical area of this wave has become sexual preference, eventually to be labeled “sexual diversity.” No longer a question of accepting lesbians into the movement (Betty Friedan famously refused to do that in NOW’s early days), today we celebrate sexual diversity—bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, transgendering—even asexuality, as “LGBTQIA” replaces “LGBT”: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.

Raised in the rigid ‘50s and early ‘60s when “the madonna and the whore” (Doris Day/Marilyn Monroe) were girls’ only options, Second Wave women objected to the sexual objectification of women as embodied in fashion, makeup, and film, as well as in the behavior of males. But now its daughters decide which fashion, makeup, body decoration (including tattoos and piercings) they’ll use, leading to a “Girlie Culture” of uniqueness in decoration, hair, clothing. And as young women have changed, so have young men; many (not all) are no longer stuck in the “women are sex objects” mind-set of the Mad Men era. They’re more willing to move beyond macho masculinity, allowing themselves to develop as sensitive human beings. Unfortunately, online dating culture is undoing some of this progress.

The Third Wave also influences popular culture, as some performers (indie and mainstream) work out their own brand of feminism, e.g., Le Tigre, Ani DiFranco, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Regina Spektor. The feminist blogosphere is phenomenal as well. (I was introduced to much of this developing my last course before retiring: “American Women and Popular Culture.”)

If you’re looking for a good introduction to the Third Wave, read Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future (2000), the “bible” of the Third Wave, now almost two decades old. Authors Baumgardner and Richards, both born in 1970, fairly credit the Second Wave for its accomplishments but also express the Third Wave’s disappointments in it.

SO: While there have been conservative setbacks in the U.S, there is also a body of feminist accomplishments and legislation that will continue to grow—out of the First and Second Waves, and through the Third Wave, Fourth Wave, and beyond, into what we hope will be a happier and healthier future for all.

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[i] The Feminist Majority website contains massive documentation of Second Wave history: http://www.feministmajority.org, and click “Research Center.”

[ii] Jennifer Rand, (2017, Jan. 4). The Third Wave of Feminism is Now, and It Is Intersectional. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://huffingtonpost.com.

Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years.  A working-class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for Johns Hopkins and TU’s Osher Institutes, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano.


Today’s Gag

December 20, 2017
Copyright 2017, Jim Sizemore

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Three-Minute Memoir

December 6, 2017

Me and the Big Guy

 By Jim Sizemore

It’s the early1960s. I’m driving home west to east on Northern Parkway from my GS-2 clerical job at SSA Headquarters in Woodlawn. We live in a small apartment in a new duplex on a street of old homes in Hamilton. That “we’ includes my wife and toddler son, but I’m also talking about “The Big Guy” who lives downstairs. That’s my nickname for him. He and his wife moved in after we did. My wife and I have a one-bedroom and she’s pregnant with our second son. Once home, my little family and I will sit down to a pleasant dinner. But, as usual, I’m really looking forward to later in the evening when my son is in bed, my wife relaxing and watching TV. That’s when The Big Guy usually calls me down to his apartment for several games of darts. He has his own dartboard and we play almost every night.

The Big Guy, who is 6’ 4’’and 230 pounds, is super-competitive. Me, I’m 5’ 8” and 150 pounds on a good day, but I can be pretty competitive myself—depending on the game. And I love darts. I get the idea that the Big Guy has too much time on his hands—which in his case translates into to plenty of time to practice darts. That’s because he’s sort of out of work—recovering from an injury to his shoulder. (Not the shoulder of his dart-throwing arm, thank goodness.) I guess being home with very limited physical or social activity all day, he’s ready for company—sort of lonely, you might say. So he asks often and I often agree. After many months, “competitive” or not, he still hasn’t managed to beat me at darts.

My darts friend is Jackie Burkett, a Baltimore Colt rookie. You may have heard of him. His wife, a very attractive “Southern Belle” is also a Jackie. They’re from Alabama. They met as kids in high school and both graduated from Auburn University. He was a star in all kinds of college sports, especially football—big-time famous at that. He was drafted by the Baltimore Colts as a linebacker, but was injured in a pre-season game. Jackie had surgery on his shoulder at Union Memorial Hospital on 33rd Street. My wife and I visited him there. We are all about the same age, so young, so very married, and we are pretty close. In fact, my wife’s parents are godparents for one of their kids. So what is he doing in my neighborhood at all? Well, rookie footballers don’t make a lot of money, so they tend to live in modest local areas with the rest of we civilians. Which is kind of nice.

Tonight’s dart game begins as usual; Jackie is full of fun and fire, joking around. It always starts this way. I’m thinking he’s over-confident as usual, despite or because of all of his lengthy practice sessions. I have no reason not to think that it will end as usual, too—after three or four games, me the big winner. But tonight the first game is very close—too close for comfort—and I only pull it out at the very end. The second game I also win. Game three? There is no game three tonight. Jackie has lost interest. This has not been his evening, and it’s even worse than usual. His stance is off, lower arm not level, his release point inconsistent, his follow-through nonexistent. So of course he loses again. After only two games, Jackie seems to somehow shrink in size. Not really sink, of course, but his shoulders slump when he loses. And with me he always loses at darts.

The next night Jackie suggests another activity altogether. He loves golf almost as much as football, and is really, really good at it—as I come to find out. Out of the blue, Jackie asks me to go along with him to a local driving range to, as he says, “slam a bucket” of balls. I have never hit a golf ball in my life, but with my natural physical ability/agility—darts, of course, and military marching moves: Right Face, Left Face, About Face, etc.—I figure I’ll be right at home. At least I’ll not make a fool of myself with the golf challenge. Long story short, I make a fool of myself. Jackie’s golf balls, even the weak drives, travel 200+ yards. He slams some in a straight line 300+ yards. All of mine, if I manage to make contact at all, trickle off the tee.

Many years have passed since we lived in Hamilton. My toddler and his brother are now grown men with their own families. I have Grandchildren and even a couple of great-grandchildren. My wife and I split up after a too-short marriage and I’ve lived many places and worn a number of hats in the interim. Jackie Burkett, well, he went on to play for the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys. He co-owned a restaurant in New Orleans and was the marketing executive for an engineering firm. In politics, he became the Fort Walton County Commissioner. And his marriage remained intact throughout his life, his children and grandchildren close. Anyway you look at it, Jackie proved to be a winner.

As for me, it’s still all about the darts.

Thanks to Florence Newman who helped me shape this essay—suggesting changes and additions to greatly improve it. She understood what I was trying to do and helped me do it. Flo is another big winner in my life.

Postscript: It saddens me to report that Jackie Burkett died from leukemia, September 1, 2017, age 80.