Tag Archives: short story

The Sport of Writing

‘I mean, c’mon. It’s his focus. I mean look at him. He’s really flowing you can tell. it’s in his posture. Some people say body language doesn’t mean anything, it’s all hokum. But fuck that. He’s on fire. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this.’ Flip Barton pronounced.

Burt Hartley, arms folded let it fly past. Who’s to say, really. Without anything else to go on he could be right. And there was no denying the motion. That was fact. It might all be gobbledygook, but it was certainly coming out pretty quick and fairly steady. Still, he wouldn’t concede. For all that the talking heads credited to ‘process’ there was not real direct line you could spot in the moment, especially watching on TV. In a crowded bar no less. 

‘I don’t know man. Maybe.’, said Burt with the air of an arbiter entitled to an opinion on the matter. ‘I mean there’s no denying the pace. That said, pace is not correlated with quality. Some guys have both, but it’s a fools game to presume causation. More often it’s correlation. That said, I’m more struck by the focus. He seems oblivious to his own context. A passenger on a journey of his own making. If nothing else, he’s certainly lost in it.’

  They’d been arguing the point for years. Simple analysis versus informed interpretation. More often than not the odds favored Burt. He was the one with some context after all. His novels weren’t trendy, though they had an audience. Not a consistent one, but a big enough one to be sure. Besides, his two short story collections had won awards and were nearly perfectly scored on the aggregating sites. 

‘A passenger on a journey of his own making? Really.’ Flip wasn’t one to let that kind of puffed up nonsense just float. 

But before Burt could even turn his head to try to save face the air left the room. The noise had stopped and the afternoon crowd here for the Scriptships were stunned. 

‘Well, that’s a first.’ Flip said, eyes locked on the screen over the bar.

Liston Maize was frozen at his keyboard. 

‘Listen to Parnell. If anything I think his pace is picking up.’, said Burt. ‘I mean, shit. That’s focus. Show him.’ 

‘Are you kidding me. Maize has never edited in a first draft before. Is he reading or deleting? Jesus. What a disaster.’, said Flip.

After a few minutes the ambient noise of the day drinking revelers who had hoped to see a truly competetive match succumbed to the simple pleasures of day drinking with like minded friends as the network scrambled to make the analysis of a match already decided compelling. 

Back in the booth Flip and Burt continued the dance they had been dancing for years.

‘Truth is there’s been signs.’, argued Burt.

Flip laughed. ‘You’re going to try the ‘called it’ maneuver on Liston Maize melting down in the Pen Ultimate. Honestly man, come on.’ 

Burt chuckled. ‘No, but that’s fair. I’m just saying, he hasn’t been ‘Liston Maize’ in years. I’m not saying I saw this coming, but come on, we can’t be that surprised. I mean, he’s out of shape, he’s drinking again and did you see how early he went to the glasses. He’s like late 80’s Kareem or mid 80’s Stevie Wonder. His best days have been behind him for a while is all I’m saying.’

Flip had long since given up their fantasies of writing competitively. Or rather they had put them away in their drawers and on their desktops. Still, it was a national pastime to imagine yourself on that stage. 

‘I just wish they’d move it from Oxford. The south is rich with writers but putting it there permanently dismisses the New England School. And even the suggestion that it is insulting to the Yanks is laughable when you consider the western traditions. Sure they ain’t as long, but Hollywood was recruiting early and that sweep spread the word out west. What about the cowboy poets.’

They both smiled. The long days journey had them now squarely in the midst of the night. Boozy and bored they knew that when the ‘Cowboy poets’ were argued for they’d reached the end of their evening. 

It was like that every year. Not the extraordinary and disappointing fall of a great like Maize. No, this competition, this historic day for watching creative intellects perform was a part of the fabric. No amount of stories about PED’s and drug fueled creative binges was ever going to stop the masses from indulging in the sport of it all, the pageantry. And surely, for Flip and Burt a night like this would fuel weeks of midnight toiling, play acting like the masters. It would fuel months of hope as they worked to create anything that might give them a moment in the sun. A moment that would never happen for the tens of millions who dreamed. But the dream was the prize. The work was enough. And until next year, well, they’d have a lot to talk about. 

High Stepping Out of Toddlerhood

They know its ‘daddy’s car’ that they get into to go to school. They are three and one so it is definitely daycare, but it’s a truly great one and they learn a ton and have the chance to interact endlessly with all kinds of kids and they do so more naturally than kids who aren’t fortunate enough to have this opportunity. It would be nice to spend the whole day with them, everyday, but I could never give them what they get at the Y. Sometimes the days are longer than you’d wish and by Friday all that play and fun can add up to some tired and cranky kiddos, but all in all, its great.

This is because, every morning after me and the older boy drop off the younger boy, getting him to his favorite teacher that got him past those tough early days when it was all confusing and scary, I get to walk to the end of the hall, the other side of the daycare center and drop off the older boy with his teachers and make small talk as we put his special meal away (food allergies) find and move his nameplate from the out board to the in board and ask him if he needs to go potty. Then I take a knee and say, ‘I love you, buddy. Have a great day.’ and he hugs me and I hug him back and tell him I’m proud of him. Finally I get up and once again, more publicly say, ‘have a great day buddy. Bye.’ And he says ‘have a great day, daddy.’ See ya later. There’s really nothing cuter than a 3 year old talking, trust me, its adorable. I tell the teachers to have a nice day and I head out of the room.

Unlike any of the other dads, I turn right out the door, take two steps and go through another door. This brings me to the corridor stretching about a fifty feet or so from the welcome desk to the right, and the doors that are closed all winter but open all summer as they are the point of entry and check in for all staff and campers in the summer day camp program at the Y about fifty feet to my left. I’m 5 feet from the door to Charlie’s classroom, I step directly across the hall to my office. That’s right, I work maybe 20 feet and two doors from my kid all day.

Recently it’s become okay for him to see me and it doesn’t ruin his day if we happen upon each other. So I do my best to happen upon him whenever I can. I sneak onto the mezzanine around the pool he learns to swim in and I spy on him, until he sees me and refuses to do anything other than to wave to me nonstop saying ‘Daddy, daddy.’ I have to leave once discovered. All his friends know who I am too, so they do the same and let him know that his daddy is there. Cover blown I blow him a kiss and he returns the kiss to me and I wave bye bye and leave. In the halls we slap high-fives on the occasions we run into each other. I even have a window in my office that looks out on the gymnasium where he plays an hour a day in the winter months and I sneak peeks when I can and worry when he’s sitting or playing by himself, or if I think he’s sad. Until I look around and see about ten kids playing independently like this and I remember that I was much the same way, still am, and while like everyone I sometimes wish I had opposite characteristics to my own, I’m a decent and well adjusted human and it would be weird if he weren’t somewhat like me.

All these things are highly valued by me. I took a big risk to be sitting here with these perks that I rarely talk about. We’ve only been here for a year. Not even. I dropped a fully formed career (I’m a forty year old dad of two toddlers) that had consisted of two stints, roughly a decade each, at two prominent nonprofits in the city and with not enough education had managed to become a middle management type through doing what I loved to do, doing it well and trading a certain amount of recognition and upward mobility for a level of independence and freedom. I didn’t love all aspects of it, but it was good and it allowed me to essentially be very part time while still getting the benefits of being full time in the early years with the little ones. It was a hard decision to leave a place where everyone did what I did, namely work to provide opportunities for more full and fully integrated lives for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to a place where I was the one guy fully in that boat. Where special needs was a dept. and not the entire mission of the entity from the very very top all the way to the 2 hour on weekend bus aid. I’m still a bit of a fish out of water here at the Y.

But it’s all good. Because, at the end of the day I get to pick up the guys! These days its from the small fenced in playground just outside the winter-locked, summer camp doors. At least that’s where I pick up my Charlie, my three year old. Inevitably he is first picked up since the one year old is at the wildcard stage of development and I kinda need to have my hands and feet free to keep him in check. For the entire time I’ve been working there I’ve walked in, teachers or kids have let Charlie know that I was there to get him, and his knees have started bouncing like crazy as he’s high stepped it over to see me, yelling 3 times, daddy daddy daddy. He runs to me. I get down and we hug and smile and hug and smile and eventually I ask how his day was and he eventually says it was good and that he had fun. It’s our moment before we head in and get his little brother, the kid he has called, affectionately, ‘baby’ for most of his life. His name, Teddy, was already taken by Charlie’s bear by the time ‘baby’ arrived. This reaction of Charlie at the end of the day is something I’ve never taken the time to think about, something I’ve taken completely for granted. Until today.

Why, you ask. Well, my boy is growing up. We still had our moment at the pool, and I’m sure he’ll give me a high-five the next time I see him in the halls. But today he didn’t have his ‘daddy daddy daddy’ reaction. The knees didn’t pop up and down above his waist like they always had. His smile was tepid and not beaming. He was happy to see me. It was still wonderful. But it’s slipping. I suspect it’ll be slowly at first. It was a strange day as I came from a different angle than normal. And he saw me from a distance and it was going to be some time til I got there. But ultimately it won’t last forever. I hope I get even one more reaction like this from him. His brother is starting to run smiling and I love that he recognizes me now, and I look forward to his excitement. But I can’t help but feel a touch of the melancholy as Charlie so easily shifts between stages and grows up so fast.

It’s a day later and the halting greeting I received yesterday was once again replaced by the ebullient and buoyant energy I’ve come to rely on, though I didn’t know it until it skipped a day. I’m relieved to know it’s not gone forever. Terribly relieved. But I’m also awakened to how much it has meant to me and I cherish it even more.

I’m told that I should make little movies of these things. Of the times they are so excited by there favorite show coming on that they can’t help but run to the floor to dance. Of the times they choose to be our playmates and they make us 3 years old right beside them as we melt in the glorious glow of their exuberant and uninhibited joy. Surely some of these I have recorded and some I will. But this moment of excitement will have to be remembered here, like this. Watching it after it’s a thing of the past would simply hurt too much.