It has been a while since I’ve written about the new house, primarily because the process has been slow and steady. I may have mentioned before that this is the third time we’ve done this, the last time having occurred almost twenty years ago, and each time reminds you of the the highs and lows that go with the territory of such an endeavor. I had forgotten about the myriad of decisions that have to be made, about the emotional swings, and how the progress can feel like it is zipping along one week, then slow to a snail’s pace the next.
Memories of the first house we built are near and dear to my heart, primarily because it was the first, but also because we fired the contractor before we were under roof. With the help of my father-in-law, a retired carpenter who could, with perhaps the exception of pouring a foundation, build a house from top to bottom, we became our own general contractors and finished the job in less than four months. That experience is a story in itself.
Each house is different, and this one has the distinction of K being the general contrtactor from the start, and because we started in late autumn. It has been an interesting process so far. When we initially broke ground, it was easy to measure the progress because clearing the site, pouring the foundation and floors, framing the structure and installing the roof were all visable markers.
It was exciting to witness, but the project was still in its infancy, and didn’t feel real in many ways. That may seem a little silly because the eyes don’t lie, and you could see the drawings on a blueprint come to life, but we were still making tweaks to the design, and the idea of actually moving felt distant, at least for me. True to form, I compartmentalized the entire concept of what I knew would eventually arrive. After all, why fret over something that isn’t imminent?
Since then, it hasn’t been as easy to chart the progress, yet the progress has been real and is now moving quickly. Once the shell was up, the roof on and the windows in, the indoor work began. Once that occurred, the structure really began to take shape, although it might not have appeared to looking at it from the outside. But as we speak, the inside has been competely framed, all of the interior plumbing has been roughed in and so has most of the electical wiring and interior duct-work. The siding is more than half-way completed, and the deck that will also have a screened-in porch is almost done. Every time I go on site I see something new and different. You can see the rooms take shape, and see how everything fits. It is beginning to look like a real house, and I am beginning to think of our current home in the past tense.
We still have a ways to go. The garage floor needs to be poured, the sheet rock needs to go up, all the cabinetry and fixtures need to be installed, the finish carpentry needs to be completed, the heating system installed, the plumbing and electrical work finished, the floors installed, the walls painted, the driveways created and the exterior grading finished. But most of the decisions have been made in regards to the materials and subcontractors, and it is a matter of lining them up and getting them in. I am hoping that we will be able to move into the new place before July is over, but have no idea how realistic that goal is.
Nonetheless, the move is imminent, and therefore very real. As exciting as that prospect is, and as much as I want it to happen sooner than later, we are also in a state of limbo, and I find that very unsettling.
Why? Well, an endeavor like this has a lot of moving parts, and while you try to plan for the choreography of events that never ends, it never goes according to plan. There are always glitches and unexpected costs that need to be addressed. I knew from the beginning that as this project neared completion, the bills would begin to mount, and that things would be tight until we sold our current house. That has always been my hot-button, and it is on the verge of being pushed.
While the thought of being settled into a house that I know is well built and tailored to our specifications is comforting and brings a smile to my face, the idea of moving makes me want to curl into a fetal position. This will be our fifth move, but I was a lot younger, more able-bodied, and full of piss and vinegar during the previous four. Perhaps I was also a more naive about what the move actually entails: packing boxes, unpacking boxes, setting up the new house, and getting the new lawn and landscaping established. I know better now.
Then there is the process of getting our current home ready for the market, which in my mind is worse than the actual move itself. We have some cosmetic work that needs to be done to make the house look its best, and have to inventory every single item we own, deciding what to keep, donate, pawn off or take to he dump. It is a time consuming, tedious and mind-numbing process. I am very impatient when it comes to this shit, and want to devote as little time as possible to it. I don’t want to debate the details of what stays or goes, so my impulse is to throw a lot of stuff away, consequences be damned! K attaches more emotion, sentimentality and careful thought to the process, so I am going to have to do my best to meet her half way and not become irritable as we comb through the history of our life in that place.
Once all that is done and the move is completed, the final hurdle is to sell the house for the price we want. I am feeling the pressure of time, because common sense dictates you want to sell your house during the peak selling seasons of spring or summer. Waiting until the fall or, God forbid, winter, would not be ideal. We’ll be up to our eyeballs in debt by then because we will be carrying what amounts to two mortgages, and when that occurs I will be a basket case of worry until the house is sold.
How the MS is going to factor into all of this is anyone’s guess. I know I don’t do well in the heat of the summer, which is theoretically when all of this will occur. I also know a lot of stress isn’t good either, but I don’t see how that can be avoided. I have no idea whether the MS is going to allow me to be as involved and engaged as I want to be and, assuming it does, what my body will feel like when this is over. This was not a factor before, and brings an another layer of anxiety to the process. I want to roll up my sleeves and do as much on site as I can instead of paying others to do it, but will my body allow it? I’ll probably be sucking on that vape pen quite a bit.
These were all realities last fall, but they were theortetical. It’s an entirely different ballgame when they are on your doorstep. Between dealing with the day to day issues of getting the house built, dealing with cost overruns and planning for the actual move, the new house has taken a life of its own and consumes most of our time and energy. The strain is worse on K than for me because she is the general contractor. She is on the front lines every day, and has to deal with a myriad of personalities and other crap that is too long and complicated to get into. She is really good at this and has done a remarkable job, but it is sometimes painful to witness.
We are on the verge of entering the final stretch, where everything comes to a head. Critical mass is approaching where we prepare and transition from one place to another. I feel it approaching. It is an unstoppable force, a test of endurance, stamina and nerve. The feeling is exciting and terrifying, exhilarating and draining.
Summer has always been my favorite season. I have always enjoyed this carefree time of year when when I’m lounging by the pool, enjoying evening fires on our patio, and hanging out in shorts, t-shirts and bare feet. I’m always saddened when September rolls around because I know the cold winter months will soon be approaching. I never imagined a day would come when I’d wish the summer away, but here we are.
When I wrote about turning sixty a couple of months ago, I talked about not obsessing about age, being on the home stretch of life, looking forward to retirement, and things of that nature. All of that is and remains true, but something interesting has happened in the weeks that have followed, as I begin my voyage on Route 60 and beyond: I have become introspective about what that milestone means, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
This isn’t going to be a maudlin, woe is me lament, because I’m not sad, depressed or in any way discouraged. But for some reason a light bulb has gone on in my mind about life going forward, and I’ve embraced it.
I knew retirement was a place on life’s map I would eventually reach, but I never gave it much thought because it was beyond the horizon, not even a blip on the radar. It was more conceptual than real. Oh, I planned for it in terms of 401Ks and things of that nature, but it was more conceptual than real, out of sight and out of mind. Reaching my seventh decade has changed that narrative, and not in a bad way.
Once this house is built and we have moved, I suspect this will become the next big thing to actively plan for. I need to work for as long as I can because the MS makes me a heavy consumer of healthcare services, I want to keep my health insurance for long as possible, and get most if not all of the social security benefits I am eligible for, assuming it is still solvent. The time frame I’m working with is six years, and the one thing I have learned about aging is that time seems to pass a lot more quickly than it did in my youth. So it will be here before I know it.
There might have been a time when I looked at this scenario with doom and gloom. I could have viewed it as the beginning of the end, when I had one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. I don’t see it that way now. Instead of it being the beginning of the end, I consider it the end of the beginning.
What is not to like about your time being your own, about not having to get up early to get ready for work? What downside is there to planning ones day with stuff that you want to do, not stuff that you have to do. How can one not enjoy hanging out with your spouse and doing what you please. Granted, these years will also bring advancing age, and all the aches, pain and challenges that come with it, but I’m guessing they also bring a freedom that we only dream about when we are entrenched in a life dominated by kids, career and running a household.
I also know that being retired begins our final stretch of road in life, which can be unnerving. But that destination is like retirement was decades ago, a blip on the radar far beyond the horizon. So like the idea of retirement, I’ll mull that reality over when the time comes. My parents were both blessed with long life, passing at 96 and 92, so I am assuming longevity won’t skip a generation, the MS not withstanding. So maybe I’ll dwell on how much remains of that final stretch when I really am old. Like when I am in my eighties.
Meanwhile I am all in and looking forward to an empty nest to not having to shave if I don’t want to, and staying up as late as I want or sleeping in as much as I want. Maybe nothing will change as far as my grooming and sleeping habits are concerned, but it will be my choice.
I enjoy doing absolutely nothing, but that gets boring after a while, so I know K and I will need to find something to meaningfully occupy our time. I can see myself writing more, having all day at my disposal instead of the bits and pieces I grab now. The possibilities are endless, and I’m looking forward to having to having to make those decisions like a kid looks forward to seeing what Santa brought on Christmas eve. It’s a liberating thought.
Of course there is the issue of being able to afford retirement, but we have a good start on that front, and it will give me something else to plan for, which I enjoy doing. Even though I know the foundation in place will continue to grow, it’s hard to concentrate on that now as we burn through cash while the house is being built. I will focus on it like a laser beam once we are in the new house and have sold our current one. A clearer picture of our needs, and how much more can squirreled away while I remain a working slug, will emerge by then. There will no distractions or restrictions getting in the way of planning and preparing for building what we need to have our unfettered time together.
Six years should be more than enough to accomplish that. Getting reestablished in the new place is the first hurdle though, and that has created a separate vibe that grows as the house nears completion. More on that next week.
I’ve been thinking about my Mom a lot these past few days, perhaps because Mothers Day is this weekend. September will mark the four year anniversary of her death, and it’s hard to believe she has been gone for that long.
I wasn’t devastated when she passed of a cerebral hemorrhage. Don’t get me wrong, I was sad and distraught, but she was in her nineties and blessed with pretty good health most of her life. Her end was a quick one and did not involve any suffering, which she always hoped for. So while her passing saddened me, I couldn’t help but be happy for her and the full life she enjoyed. She exited this world the way she wanted, and wouldn’t have to grieve over the death of my Dad any more, who had passed four months prior. They had been married for 58 years, and she was devastated by his passing, which surprised me a little because he annoyed her to no end, and they constantly fought like cats and dogs.
Mom was a paradox. My biggest supporter and biggest critic, I cared about her opinion more than any other but also hated her at times because they could be very blunt and, from the perspective of a kid and young adult, her words and tone were insensitive. I don’t doubt that the reason for any success I have achieved in life was because of her pushing, prodding, encouragement, and support to do my best, for never allowing me to do things half-assed, and her belief that I was capable of achieving anything. There is also no question that she is the root of the self-doubt and insecurity that is my Achilles Heel.
I once heard someone describe their boss as a comfort and a curse, and the same could be said of Mom, although the balance of that is skewed heavily towards the comfort side, and the curse reference, while harsh, is from the perspective of a young boy. Mom could be rough and insulting, and not give two shits about what anyone might have thought or felt if she thought she was right about something. I suspect that was the product of her own insecurities and the tough road she had to navigate.
Her father, an alcoholic, abandoned his family when she was young, and she had to help my grandmother with running the house and helping raise her younger sister. Her first husband died of aplastic anemia shortly after they were married, leaving her with a young child, my half-brother, to raise by herself. She also had to deal with a myriad of health issues my brother had that continued throughout his life.
Mom had come very close to alienating K and her family to the point of no return in the weeks leading up to our wedding, but subsequently realized the error of her ways and apologized, swallowing a heaping slice of humble pie in the process because she knew she was wrong, and that it was the right thing to do. Age was good to her in that sense. It mellowed her, and she showed her softer side more often. Perhaps Nidan’s arrival had something to do with that, as she was absolutely smitten with him, becoming his biggest supporter and confidant.
Somewhere along the way, we became good friends. Oh, she still had her moments, but by then I had my own life and family, and let those things slide. Having a child made me realize that no matter how old they get, they always remain your little boy or girl, and it’s difficult not to treat them that way. It’s hard to let go because you simply care too much.
I also understood that parents are just regular people, doing the best they can and often learning on the fly in terms of raising kids and running the business of a family. I learned how life’s pressures can seep into family life. Kids are frustrating as hell, and can be a real pain in the ass. Adding that to the mix of a particularly bad day/week/month can create a combustible mix. But I also realized that no matter how difficult, intimidating or mean parents might seem, their depth of their love is bottomless, and the intensity of it is blinding and pure. They will take a bullet for their kids without thinking twice.
Kids are inherently selfish and ego-centric, and don’t understand or care one iota about any pressures Mom or Dad are dealing with. In fact, they often aren’t even aware of them, especially if Mom and Dad do a good job of shielding them from it, which mine did. All we feel is their wrath, and don’t understand why. Perhaps this understanding and general maturation allowed me to cut her some slack.
It was a pleasure having an adult relationship and adult discussions with Mom, and getting to know her as a person, not this mythic figure. It was a comfort knowing that she always had my back, would always be there in times of need, and would continue to offer her guidance upon request. Well, at least most of the time. She was still my mother, after all, and she still couldn’t help offering unsolicited advice if she felt compelled, but I was better equipped to filter it. I learned to appreciated how smart, talented, creative and tenacious she was, and am happy I was able to enjoy that type of relationship for much longer than I ever expected.
Mom could make me happier and feel more confident than anyone in the world, but she pissed me off faster and made me feel worthless more than anyone else I have ever known. She could be a pleasure to be around, but also make you want to run away screaming. There is no one, other than perhaps K, that I would rather have in my corner. Conversely, there is also no one whose shit list I would least like to be on.
We don’t choose our parents, but become the product of everything that is them: their good and bad, their beauty and warts, their ying and yang. I have no complaints, and feel truly blessed that Mom was in my life. In many ways, I miss her more now than I did almost four years ago. But I also know she never left me, because I am who I am because of her, and many of the philosophies I live by came from both her and Dad. I am an extension of them, and because of that they are never truly gone. I also see her picture that opened this post every day. It is one of my favorite pictures of her because she is at a stage of her life where anything was possible, it shows how stunningly beautiful she was, and because I wasn’t even a twinkle in her eye when it was taken.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I love you.
Happy Mother’s Day K. I love you too! You are a wonderful Mom, and partner in life. I’m lucky to have you.
And Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms reading this post. May your special day be filled with the happiness and joy you deserve. You have a tough gig!
About month ago, while I was in the midst of writing the WaitingRoomtrilogy, I experienced something for the first time. It wasn’t a fun experience, but it was educational. The only thing I hope it had in common a bucket list item is that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I was involved in a automobile accident that involved five vehicles. Three of them, including mine, incurred heavy damage, one suffered moderate damage and one didn’t look to incur much damage at all. I am fine, and was fortunate enough not to have been injured in any way, shape or form. But when the shock of what transpired wore off that evening, and I had a chance to reflect on what actually happened, it was clear that I was lucky.
I was returning home from work and had just pulled off the highway. There is a stretch of road that spans a couple of miles off the exit, where the speed limit winds down from 60 to 40 within that span. The last half mile of that section of road is on a downhill grade, with a four way stop light smack in the middle of it. There are four lanes at the stop light, the one on the left is for a left hand turn, the one on the right is for a right hand turn, and the two middle lanes are for those of us who are driving straight ahead. I was in one of those middle lanes, the one that was next to the left hand turn.
I was at a complete dead stop, and had been for around fifteen seconds or so. I don’t remember what I was doing, but think I was just looking around between glances at the light. I do remember being surrounded by vehicles, which is not uncommon for that intersection on the way home when the light is red. I was just chilling, not thinking about anything in particular, Then, without any warning, something violently slammed into my rear. The sound was loud, and the jolting impact was fierce. No airbags deployed, and the seatbelts did their job. Good thing too, otherwise my head would have hit the steering wheel, if not the windshield.
I wasn’t in any pain, and didn’t feel any panic. I was more dumfounded than anything else, not believing what had just happened. I remember two distinct thoughts. The first was “I’m okay.” The second was “This isn’t good.”
Stepping out of the car after calling 911, I saw the carnage. What looked like a fairly new blue GMC stuck was intimate with my back left quarter panel, which was destroyed. The door to the rear cargo area was visibly bent, the left back tire was punctured and the wheel well was shot. Glass, plastic and other car debris was everywhere. The right front of the offending truck was crumpled, and it was then that I noticed the other vehicles that were involved.
The right side of a Ford Transit that was behind me and to my left, was scraped and dented across both passenger doors, and its right side view mirror was sheared clean off, a solitary item sitting in the middle of the intersection about twenty feet ahead. A sedan, which was apparently behind me, had his right quarter panel caved in, but the vehicle was drivable, which I discovered when it was eventually moved out of the way to start letting traffic through. The car in front of me looked liked it was hardly scratched, but that probably wasn’t the case.
Everyone except the driver of the GMC that caused the accident was out their vehicles, milling about, checking to make sure everyone was okay, before the authorities arrived on the scene. After I walked to the back of my car so see what it looked like, I called the auto body shop that has done some prior work for us to let them know what happened and to get a wrecker on the scene, my insurance agent, then K.
This is what I had pieced together after inspecting the damage and talking with the cops and other drivers: the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident, a seventy year (or so) old gentlemen, apparently was driving down that stretch where the speed limit tapers from 60 to 40 with his mind on something else. He was in the lane for the left turn at the light when he looked up and noticed the light was red, a cluster of cars had stopped, and he hadn’t. Talk about an Oh Shit moment!
The Ford Transit was directly in front of him, so he swerved to his right in an attempt to avoid a direct hit, but sideswiped it instead, thus the pushed in right side and missing side view mirror. As he swerved, he hit the back left of the car behind me at a glancing angle, pushing it away, before plowing into me. The driver of the Transit said the GMC pushed my car ten to twenty feet forward into the car in front of me. I had left some space between me and that car, and didn’t notice any damage to my front end, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
I don’t think the driver of the GMC had a chance to slam on his breaks because I didn’t hear any tires screaming before impact, and I didn’t see skid marks. I don’t know how fast he was going when he hit the first vehicle, but I’m guessing it had to be close to 40 MPH. Thank God he hit two other vehicles before landing on me, otherwise I think I would have had to accept the assistance of the emergency vehicles that arrived on the scene with law enforcement. I don’t think I would have had a choice.
When the wreckers arrived and they started clearing up the site, a good portion of the quarter panel fell off my vehicle when they separated my car from his truck, which made a loud clanking sound on the road. K was on the scene by then, suggesting that I go to the hospital and get checked out. I declined because I felt fine and didn’t feel like waiting in the ER all night long, but had to sign a document saying I refused treatment. As we were leaving the scene, I saw my Ford Escape sitting atop the wrecker and wondered how long it would take for the repairs.
I had an inkling getting it back wasn’t going to be an option the next day when I spoke to the owner of the auto body shop. I had called to see if the insurance adjuster had set up a time to inspect the damage, and the first words that came out of his mouth were “Man, you really got creamed. Are you okay?”
He also warned me that he thought the car would be totaled, explaining that happens if the cost of repairs exceeded 70% of the car’s value. He had a similar car with less miles and damage several weeks prior that barely came under that threshold. He proceeded to explain that not only would the quarter panel and rear door need to be replaced, but so would the front end, which was cracked from stem to stern and had damaged headlights. He also said this assessment was the result of a quick visual inspection. He hadn’t crawled underneath to see what goodies he found under there, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if he found something. The frame might have even been bent.
His assessment was confirmed within the week, so now I am without my car. I had a loaner for several weeks and pondered what to do because the last thing I can afford right now, with all the expenses of the house we are building piling up, is a car loan. The timing of this couldn’t have been worse from that perspective. I was discouraged because I really liked my Escape, and because it was fully paid for. My plan was to buy a good used car with the money I received from the insurance company but, no surprise here, I can’t get what I want with the check I received. And, I didn’t want to spend one dime more than they gave me.
I hate hate hate car shopping, and am pissed with the entire situation. Fortunately, I have another car at my disposal, and we ultimately decided that I would drive my parents old 2004 Accord. It has low mileage and is in really good shape, so that will be my primary vehicle until we are in the new house and have sold our current one. At least then most of my loans will have been paid and I’ll have some liquidity to buy a new car. I wasn’t planning on having to consider a new vehicle for at least two or three years, having recently replaced K’s, but as the saying goes, life is what happens when you are busy making plans.
It weird what you think of in a situation like that. I remember being calm and proceeding in a matter-of fact manner. That might have been different if I was injured, but I instinctually knew what to do and who to call. I remember taking inventory of my body to make sure the reason I didn’t feel anything was because I was in shock. I hindsight, I regret not going to the driver of the GMC to see if he was alright. My lasting memory of the gentlemen, besides his age, is that he was a disabled veteran. I believe this because GMC had a custom paint job on the payload hitch that said “Freedom isn’t Free – Thank a Veteran” and as he left the vehicle, he needed a cane to walk and had to be helped to whatever ride awaited him. I wish I had, and let him know I didn’t hold any grudges. For all I know, he did a hell of a job the limiting damage that could have been catastrophic once he saw what was about to happen.
I am curious about what this entire episode cost his insurance company. His truck looked brand new and sustained a lot of damage. Then there was my vehicle, the Ford Transit, the car he first hit, and whatever damage the car I hit sustained, if any. It would not surprise me if his insurance dropped him.
So my wheels are gone, I’m driving an old car, I have to take out a car loan for a new vehicle much sooner than I ever wanted to, and I have to dance the dance with car salesmen within the next several months. Swell! I miss my Escape, and am frustrated with an industry that gives you a check for the “market value” of your loss that doesn’t come close to the replacement cost of an identical vehicle.
But I really can’t complain. This could have turned out much worse.
Fanatic – aka fan: A person filled with excessive and single minded zeal. A person who is extremely interested in something, to a degree that some people find unreasonable.
I’ve been a sports junkie all my life. Football, basketball, hockey, golf (sometimes), NASCAR (even less than golf), it doesn’t matter. I enjoy the real life drama, the underdog stories, and the unpredictability of the each game and how a season unfolds.
Baseball has always been the center of my sports universe, and is my king of sports. I played the sport from little league through (Division 3) college, and loved the competition, comradery and esprit de corps involved in performing as part of a collective group striving to win a game and attain a seasonal goal. With the other sports, my interest will wane if my team is in the midst of a down year, but not with baseball. I follow and watch my team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they are exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or falling below expectations.
The Red Sox sit atop that kingly throne, and have since the Impossible Dream year of 1967, when I was eight years old.
Fandom is a double edged sword, however. When your team wins the ultimate prize, you experience a joy that is pure. The problem is that teams flame out or outright suck a lot more than they win, and my journey with the Sox over these fifty two years has been the ultimate test of loyalty, sadomasochism, and orgasmic bliss.
Any long-term Sox fan will cringe at and mourn the memories of 1967, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003. Eighty six years of cruelty, where every time they were on the precipice of ultimate triumph, they found a way to lose in the most unbelievable and macabre manner, with each new defeat surpassing the cruelty of the previous episode. It was torture, so much so that I not so kiddingly told a friend who was taking his young children to Fenway Park for the first time that he could be charged with child abuse if he raised his kids to be Red Sox fans.
Then came 2004, where all the ghosts were exorcised in the most deliciously unexpected way against our historical nemesis, the Yankees. I remember wanting to put my foot through the television after the 19-8 drubbing that put the Sox in a three games to none hole. This was supposed to be the year, and the Sox were a powerhouse team. But they shit the bed badly in the championship series, which culminated with that drubbing on their home field.
I was angry, embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, and absolutely dreaded the prospect of being force-fed a truckload of shit from my Yankee friends, who took perverse joy in ripping open the old wounds and pouring a ton of salt into them when the Yanks finished us off. Then the miracle happened. The self-proclaimed idiots won the next four games, the only team in baseball history to accomplish that feat, to win the pennant, and then polished off the Cardinals in four straight to win the World Series for the first time in a lot of people’s lifetimes.
Not only was the curse suddenly lifted, but my beloved Sox won the World Series three more times since then. I would have been happy with that one in 2004, but this generation of Red Sox fans have known nothing but success. The little the bastards don’t know how good they have it.
So why aren’t I happy?
Ah, that’s the thing about being a fan. Our memories are short, and for Sox fans of my generation, the scars from those years preceding 2003 never go away. That’s irrational, I know, but there is nothing rational about being a fan.
This year is a perfect case in point. Last year was historical for the Boston nine. They won more games than any Red Sox team in history, had an angst free season, which is almost impossible for the die-hard Sox fan, and rolled through the playoffs, which culminated in their fourth title in the last fourteen years.
I had been looking forward to this year more than any year I can remember. I wasn’t expecting another title because that is extremely hard to accomplish, and hasn’t occurred since 2000. But I truly believed that if any team could do it, this was the one because virtually everyone on from last year’s team was returning. The team is young, hungry and humble, and I fantasized about a more difficult year, but one where they ultimately prevailed and made history. I even went so far as purchasing a partial season ticket plan so I could see my dreams unfold into reality. Then the season started.
My Red Sox lost eight of their first ten games, and looked like complete horseshit in the process. It hasn’t gone much better since then. Their record currently stands at 10-15 as I write this, and it could easily be much worse. I’ve been muttering the same thing over and over to myself for the last two weeks: how can a team that was simply awesome last year and finished with a record of 119-57, including the playoffs, look like complete doggy-doo? I still don’t have an answer, other than it is the nature of the sport.
You can’t always tell how bad a team is playing on television, but you sure as hell can in person. I’ve been to two games so far this year where they played teams they wiped the floor with last year, and they have lost both of them. They weren’t even competitive in the first game I saw against an Oriole team that lost 115 games last year, then graduated to mediocre in the second against the Tigers, who had the worst offense in the league going into the series.
This is where the insanity of fandom comes in because everything about the Red Sox is personal to me. I’m soooooooo pissed right now I can’t see straight. I’ve vowed not to watch them on television until they get their act together, which will never happen. I’ve written the season off on at least three occasions already, which is nuts given they play for six months. I see the them falling father and farther behind the other teams in their division and openly wonder if they will even make the playoffs this year.
It’s at times like these that I ask myself, why? Why do I get so invested in a game where, as K is fond of saying, all the players do is spit and touch themselves while making insane amounts of money? Why is my mood so influenced by the team’s performance? I mean, if they were expected to suck it wouldn’t matter, but these guys are really good, so it does. But why? It’s just a fucking game, after all. Nobody is dying, so what’s the big deal?
Ahhhh, but to the true fan, the fan who fits the definition that started this piece, it is life and death. Otherwise, how can a normally calm, level-headed, rational and intelligent guy like myself be reduced to a sulking five year old when the season isn’t even a month old? The answer is simple. Once it is in your blood, all rational thought goes out the window, and one is led by their emotions. My emotions are that of a kid and young adult that had his heart continuously stepped on until 2004, so when things don’t go my way with the team, I go back until that sad, hopeless place. Every….single….time!
So while the pleasure and euphoria of winning a championship is exquisite, the flip side to that coin is times like these, which, if the truth be told, happens nine times out of ten.
I must be nuts putting myself through this, but I have no choice. I am as hooked on the Red Sox as an addict is to their favorite drug. So in many respects, being a hard-core fan of any team is a sort of mental illness.
Maybe I should get a copy of the DSM-5 and see if it’s listed among the other abnormal psychology diagnoses.
I have been tagged by Billy Mac, who was supposedly charged to finish this story, but decided not to and passed the baton to me instread. Please check out his blog as well as all of the other bloggers who collaborated on this project.
Here are the rules–
1. Copy the story as you receive it.
2. Add to the story in some fashion.
3. Tag another person to contribute to or finish the story.
4. Please use FTS as a tag so I can find it or link back to part 1.
Alexander and Alistair waited in line to check on their flight. It didn’t matter how long the line was, or how tired they were of waiting in it, they were happy to be getting away for a week. Life had not been difficult, but it was still nice to finally get away–alone.
Alexander couldn’t wait to show Alistair around Pompeii and Alistair couldn’t wait to show Alexander around his old home. They enjoyed people watching in the airport and passed time telling stories of the old days.
Finally, it was their turn to check in. Alexander sat his luggage in the bin and watched as a scrawny kid retrieved it and threw it on a conveyor belt. He cringed and crossed his fingers that his cologne didn’t break.
It wasn’t until they were standing by the large window at their gate watching their luggage be thrown around like last week’s trash that they noticed it. Something was not right.
“Hey, Alistair,” Alexander said, pointing out to the luggage cart. “Do you see that?”
Alistair followed Alexander’s finger and squinted. “Yeah. What is that?”
The luggage on one of the other carts was all black with a lightning bolt logo. And sure enough, a black stretch limo with the same logo pulled up directly to the plane and out tumbled the crazy rockers the Zappers and their entourage.
“Oh no,” Alistair moaned. “Those lunatics will be on our flight!”
Alexander sighed. “Horrible. They always get up to some ridiculous shenanigans, but surely they’ll behave themselves in the air?”
“It’s too late to change our tickets?”
“Well, yes. Our luggage is being flung into the bowels of this tin can as we speak.”
The men stared glumly out the window, their previous good mood soured. When they were called to board, they stood in line without speaking, having mutually decided to stoically bear the flight and have fun after landing, when the nutty rockers had gone.
Women chatted behind them in line. “Oh my God! Did you hear that the Zappers are on our flight? I’m totally gonna sneak into first class to see them!”
“I have such a crush on Nikki Zapper! I bet he does something wild and we have to make an emergency landing!”
Alistair and Alexander looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
But all went smoothly during takeoff, and then as one of the flight attendants was giving the safety presentation, a blond man dressed in black leather popped out of the first class section, grabbed her, and kissed her.
Several people in coach lifted up their cell phones to record Nikki as he laid one on Myra, the flight attendant, ooh-ing and aah-ing as they did. Myra was torn, as she was supposed to rebuff any advances by the passengers, no matter how famous; but on the other hand, she had been a global fan of Nikki and the Zappers for years, using her bene of free flights to see them dozens of times. She even had a likeness of Nikki tattooed in her cleavage. Throwing caution to the wind, she kissed Nikki back and soon they, locked in an embrace, were stumbling towards the bathroom – where they would be the newest members of the Mile High Club.
As they often synched with each other over the years, Alistair and Alexander looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
“Well, I never!” huffed Alistair.
“Indeed!,” puffed Alexander.
“Let the shenanigans begin. Where are those sleepers you packed? Time to take a snooze until the show is over,” said Alistair.
Alexander reached for his carry-on, which was stuffed under his seat, and retrieved enough for both of them. They asked another attendant for a handful of the little booze bottles to wash them down with. Soon they were fast asleep, snoring to beat kingdom come.
Neither one knew how long they had slept, but both were awakened by the throbbing bassline of the latest Nikki and the Zappers tune, “Don’t Harsh My Buzz.” They were shocked to see….
…that the lights in the plane’s cabin had been turned off. Being that it was night time, they couldn’t see a thing in the dark. The bass guitar was still pounding out the beat so loud it shook their insides.
Suddenly an explosion of neon-like lights began flickering all around the plane’s interior, as the Zappers launched into their current number one song. Passengers were crowding into the narrow aisle, and even just standing at their seats, dancing and singing along to the music.
The captain came on the loudspeakers: “Welcome to the party of the year…we present the Zappers for your inflight entertainment. Free drinks for everyone!
A big cheer rocked this unusual concert venue.
“Can you believe this?” Alistair asked as he busted a move right there in his seat.
Alexander looked at Alistair. They were grinning from ear to ear but didn’t roll their eyes at this exciting turn of events.
Cocktails and cups of beer were passed around, as the party continued through the night, 32,000 feet above the ground, but a sudden lurch of the plane made everyone gasp. The plane yawed to the left, then to the right. People screamed and tumbled into each other.
This is your captain…please everyone…sit down and fasten your seat belts…
……..we have a pick of air turbulence. It took repeated announcements from the caption to quieten down the passengers who were still hyped up from all the drinking and dancing. Eventually, everyone was seated, the belts fastened and a hush descended on the plane. Suddenly there was a jerk as the plane lost a lot of height very quickly. It was an air pocket that caused the loss in the plane altitude. There were quite a few screams and shrieks from many people.
The pilot came on air again.
I am sorry ladies and gentlemen we are in the middle of a storm right now. Please keep the seat belts on. I am afraid that we have lost power in one of our engines. I am trying to make an emergency landing………..
…the oxygen masks dropped from their concealed compartments above the passengers.
Alistair and Alexander helped each other putting them on and then they squeezed hands.
The atmosphere had gone from one of enjoymentto panic. A few people had begun to get hysterical. Myra the Stewardess was trying to comfort one particularly distressed woman who couldn’t stop crying.
Then there was a loud bang and a hiss as the cabin filled with smoke. Alistair could just see Alexanders face through the haze. His eyes were scrunched tightly together and his grip on his hand was threatening to cut the blood supply from his fingers, but they were together and that was some comfort.
It was the impact of the plane hitting the water that sent luggage pouring out of overhead compartments and a few chairs broke loose, tumbling bodies around like they were dummies.
Myra lay at an impossible angle. Her legs bent backwards and her head twisted.
A figure lay face down in a black leather jacket and the strings of a broken guitar wrapped around his neck.
After the terrific noise of the impact, everything seemed deathly quiet. Alexander’s eyes opened, tears streaming down his face but he fixed Alistair with a desperate blue stare.
They had survived the crash but so many hadn’t.
A panicked voice suddenly came from over the tannoy system.
“This is the Navigator speaking. If there are any other survivors, please come to the front of the plane and make yourselves known.”
Together Alistair and Alexander got up from their chair and slowly made their way down the plane.
The navigator stood there, in a right mess, another steward was desperately trying to stem the blood flow from his left arm, well what was left of his left arm anyway! They could see by looking into the cockpit was not a good move – the Captain and the Co-pilot were missing. The navigator was mumbling about the fact that the two pilots had suddenly just disappeared into thin air and then all hell broke loose! That the aircraft lurched and then plummetted to the earth.
Alastair and Alex looked at each other in complete disbelief and utter astonishment. Behind them the screams of agony and anguish were filling the small space of the aisle .. and yet when they looked behind them, something was amiss, not quite right, it took them a few moments to comprehend that the loss was actually people. Before the crash, all the seats had been filled with passengers and yet now, if you included the dead, the dying, the subdued expressions of those in shock and the few others still, looking bewildered at them, they came to realise that, a good 50% of their part of the cabin was emptier than it had been?
“Well where, did they go?” Alex said to himself almost as much to the others?
“Which is what l have been trying to say!” mumbled the Navigator, “poof gone! Where who knows, Frank and Thomas were laughing and joking one minute and then l was disentangling myself from metal! Which is why my arm is not right. We didn’t hit the sea, we are not sinking which is good news. From what l could gather as l looked out of the windows as we were skewing across the surface, if anything we were skimming across a swamp!”
“Right!” Al said, “I think we should start to disembark, does this plane have one of those things that are like a Bouncy castle slide?”
“Yes of course.” Answered the Navigator, and with a small cursory move to the steward, he motioned towards the door. The steward after a bit of rough manoeuvring, managed to cast the door open and then aside and for the first time the four of them looked out into the world before them.
An overgrown jungled swampland greeted them, very mangrove looking Alex thought and said as much “Charming, just what we need a bloody jungle!”
“Right, well you must have a passenger list. I suggest we get everyone off the plane as best as we can, there must be other stewards throughout the aircraft? There must be first aid and medical equipment. We need to check the state of the craft itself to see if we are in any immediate danger of blowing up, and then , well then we will have to figure out where the bloody hell we are and what we do?” Alastair said officially.
Alex looked at his friend in confusion, “How do you know all of this?”
“Well l was huge fan of the disaster movies from the 70’s, l am just repeating what they said and it’s common sense surely?”
“Right, well l am very impressed Al, must be said”
“Thanks Alex, however now is not the time for praise, now is the time for action.”
At that moment in time, as the four looked out into the darkness of the surroundings they were now in, they heard something very heavy crashing through the undergrowth! If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the screech was!
“Oh my lord, what the hell is that?” The Navigator moaned.
Before any of them could answer, the undergrowth parted and crashing out towards them was ……..
And here’s my contribution:
an enormous metal beast; it had wheels at the rear but at the front were giant clawed arms which served to change the direction of the machine but also to clear the dense forestation. It halted before the terrified survivors, the massive throbbing engines creating an illusion of life; a black heart of block and pistons beating. In their bewildered state the passengers didn’t see an internal hatch opening, they saw a giant gaping maw that they were certain was going to swallow them whole.
The screaming began and quickly turned to mass hysteria as people fought each other in an effort to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the machine that had so terrified them. Alistair and Alex clung to each other; they too were afraid but their desire not to be separated in this awful moment overrode their natural flight response. Their breath came in short, sharp gasps and Alex could feel Alistair’s knees start to give way.
“Alistair!” he hissed “Come on, you can’t collapse on me now”
Alistair shook his head and tried to lock his knees, he couldn’t let Alex down, but he could still feel the violent trembling that coursed through his body; he clung tighter still and hid his face in Alex’s jacket. Alex’s eyes, meanwhile, were fixed on the hatch in the machine, it was now fully open and someone, or something, was emerging from it. The hairs on the back of his neck rose up and he was aware of being exposed; a quick glance around him confirmed that all the other passengers had fled into the forest. He and Alistair would, it seemed, face this thing alone.
“What do you want?” Even to his own ears, his voice was unsteady. At the sound of his voice, Alistair turned his face away from Alex’s shoulder and looked at the emerging figure. He fought to maintain control of his bowels as it climbed down from the machine and slowly walked towards them; the last thing he heard before his terror overwhelmed him was the voice of the creature saying……………………………………
A blinding spotlight was suddenly trained on them. Unable to see and afraid to move, Alex and Alistair stood frozen, as if chained to the damp forest floor. The two men exchanged furtive glances and Alex nodded slightly to Alistair that he would answer. He put on a brave face, took a deep breath and said, “I am Alex. And this…”he motioned to his right, “is Alistair.”
“I am not interested in what you are called!” The voice was louder. Closer. “I am asking you what is your species!”
“What?” Alistair stammered. “What the hell is this?”
“Shut up, Alistair,”Alex said. “Let me answer.”
“We are…”, he paused as if he was unsure of his answer, “Human beings”.
Suddenly, the blinding light vanished. They struggled to focus as their eyes began to recover.
The figure was standing before them, a mere 5 feet away. The approach seemed implausible because they had heard no footsteps or any sounds that would betray movement of such a large body. It towered over them at a height of at least 8 feet. Glowing, reptilian eyes pierced the darkness, revealing a enormous, bulbous head perched upon a thin but sturdy frame, supported by strong haunches not unlike a T-Rex. Short but strong arms extended towards them as if to strike anytime. It appeared to be hovering an inch above the damp, mossy floor of the forest.
The two men were paralyzed with fear.
“Human beings”, the figure replied, the voice calm, even, but not at all reassuring to the terrified men. “What makes you think you are welcome here?”
Alex and Alistair turned to stare at each other, certain that their answer had better be a good one. Alex again took the reins.
“We didn’t have a choice. We landed here by accident.”
“Yes. We see that example of primitive technology lying in ruins.”
“Primitive technology?” Alistair blurted out. “That’s a state of the art airplane.”
Alex gave him a shot to the ribs as a reprimand and gave him a look that clearly said shut up.
“Human, to you it may be, as you say ‘state of the art’, but it is most primitive in comparison to our advanced technology.”
Alex, garnering courage asked, “You say ‘ours’. Who, if I may ask are you?”
“We are the rightful owners of this planet. We have been away.”
“How long ?”, asked Alex
“That is not important. What is important is why we are here. We are at the beginning of a rejuvenation process, one that wouldn’t be necessary without you ‘humans’. This was once a fertile, bright planet. Then, you ‘humans’ destroyed it. Over population, pollutants and the weapons used to fight useless wars, all because you can’t get along, have nearly destroyed it.”
The figure moved closer, the glow of its eyes intensified.
“You can’t be trusted to be on this land. It is the last refuge from your infestation.”
The two men backed away a few steps, cowering from the intimidating figure.
“Again”, Alex stammered, “It’s not like we had a choice. We crashed here by accident!”
Alistair, feeling brave, chimed in. “If you tell us where we are, we can try to use the radio on the plane. You know, to call for help. We’ll be out of here and you won’t see us again.”
The figure silently advanced towards them and stopped mere inches from the men, towering over them and said in a flat, mocking tone.
“It’s not a matter of where you are human, it is a matter of when you are…”
My turn – Part 9
Alex’s survivial instinct kicked in as the alien continued to pontificate. Grabbing Alistair’s hand, he lept from plane into the swamp, pulling his friend with him. Their feet sank into the soft, murky bottom as they found themselves in shoulder deep water.
“Hold your breath,” he whispered to Alistair, as he dove below the surface and tried to drag his friend with him. Momentarily opening his eyes, he searched for an escape path , but the twilight and muddy water made it impossible to see more than several inches in front him. Alex kicked his legs and tried to swim forward but couldn’t budge because Alistair remained frozen in place. Desperately tugging Alistair’s arm, hoping by sheer force to pull him into the safety of the opaque water, Alex remained anchored in place.
Turning his face upward, Alex saw the sky above the water illuminate, then felt Alistair slowly elevate from the water, threatening to take Alex with him. Alex dug his heels as deep as he could into the swamp’s soft bottom until he found a tangle of roots. Bracing himself against the roots for leverage, Alex grabbed Alistair’s ankle with both hands, and held on as tight as he could. Struggling to remain in the safety of the water, Alex managed to keep Alistair in place, but his lungs started to burn and soon felt like they would explode. Instinct took over as he let go, thrust himself out of the water, and gulped deep breaths of air before hunkering back down to where the water met his neck.
Surveying the scene, he saw Alistair floating several feet above the water’s surface, consumed in a beam of light that emanated from the alien’s vehicle. In fact, there were dozens of beams projecting from what looked like a rotating turret at the top of the strange craft. Each one possessed a body, and slowly pulled them forward. Alex mouth was agape as he saw several bodies gently disappear into the hatch before noticing that that Alistair was beginning to slowly drift away to join them.
“No!” he screamed, and grabbed onto one of Alistair’s ankles and tied to pull him back the water, but his feet could not could rediscover the cluster of roots, and he therefore had nothing solid to brace himself against. Alistair’s leg popped from his grasp like a greased pig, and Alex helplessly watched his friend float away.
Mesmerized by the sight before him for several seconds, Alex suddenly realized he was a sitting duck, and would be next if he didn’t do something. With a sudden turn, he tried to knife back into the safety of the water, but was bathed in light before his head broke the water’s surface. Enveloped in a white cocoon, he felt as if he were floating in zero gravity, unable to control his movements or direction as he felt himself leave the water, float into the air, and slowly drift towards his friend. Watching Alistair disappear into the hatch, Alex understood he would soon joining him to an unknown fate, and that the scene before him might be the last thing he ever saw.
Two weeks ago I had an itch to write some fiction, and an idea that developed into this story popped into my head. After last week’s post, one of my good friends enthusiastically asked if this was part of the “new book.” That was never a consideration, but this has been an easy and enjoyable piece to write. I am definitely feeling it as my fingers fly across the keyboard, which I can’t say for the story I started over a year ago that has sat dormant for a very long time. Thanks for the suggestion Sharon.
This will be the last episode of Kyle’s experience, but be warned, it won’t provide closure, and you will have to draw your own conclusions. After all, if this is going to be the premise of my second novel , which I guess I am committing myself to, why not give you something to look forward to? Of course, there is that minor detail about getting published, but that is a different story for another day.
“Can we go over this one more time please?”
“Sure Kyle, but do me a favor and please try to relax. I know this is a lot to absorb, and it’s important that you are at peace with whatever you decide. So take a deep breath, and fire away with whatever questions you have.”
“Thank you,” Kyle said. Taking Sarah’s advice, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and cleared his head of the incoherent jumble of thoughts that were swimming in different directions. Reopening his eyes, he continued.
“To start, how can I possibly return back to that?” he asked, pointing at the tablet that lay face down on the table. “I thought you said I was already gone.”
“Time is different here, remember? They just started working on bringing you back and haven’t declared a time of death. If you walk through that door, you’ll survive to live another day.”
“But didn’t you also say I have a terminal malignancy? Why would I want to suffer through that if I don’t have to?
“It isn’t terminal, yet. Not even close. It will be however if you don’t listen to your body and your wife for a change. But you also need to remember that if you do go back, you won’t remember any of this. You aren’t going to wake up, have a Mr. Rogers moment and change your ways.”
“So why offer that as a choice?”
“Because you’ve earned enough points to have that option.”
“And the other option is to be reborn into a different life and start from scratch? What kind of life would that be?”
“I have no idea, but based on the points you’ve accumulated so far, I’m pretty sure you wont have to deal with the kind or hell you dealt with as a child and adolescent in this life. You’ll have different challenges, of course, and they could be very painful in different ways. Life is always full of challenges, but I suspect you won’t have to deal with anything like that again.”
“There’s three doors, so why don’t I have three options? I saw you escort the last guy that was here through that door, ” Kyle said, pointing to the one on the right.
“That door is the end of the line, and it isn’t an option for you right now. Anyone who enters that door has either failed miserably and has not met the minimum point threshold, or has earned enough points to relax and enjoy eternity.”
“That’s the door to Heaven or Hell?”
“I thought you weren’t religious?”
“I’m not. But I also never thought I’d experience anything like this.”
“Let’s put it this way,” Sarah said after a thoughtful pause. “If you’re wondering if that door will either lead you to a place with pearly gates, angels and harps, or a hot, flaming abyss with demons and pitchforks, think again. Everyone has their own idea of what Heaven and Hell might be, and that door will take you to whatever your version of those are.”
“I take it the last guy didn’t like where he was going.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s really none of your business.”
“Fair enough. So can you give me a good reason why I should consider going through the door that will take me back to the emergency room?”
“You mean besides your wife and kids?” Sarah asked.
“C’mon Sarah, I’m not that big of an asshole! But you did say I don’t have the points necessary to reach whatever the end of the road is, and that if I do go back I will have to deal with cancer. That prospect has always scared me to death, no pun intended. You also made it sound like if I start over and eventually do what what’s necessary to earn the points, I’ll see them again. So why put myself through all that pain and suffering?”
“Because,” Sarah answered, “there are no guarantees what kind of life you will have, what you will be confronted with, or how you will do if you start over. The first part of the life you just left was horrible, but you admirably made it through that gauntlet and did something positive with your life when it could have easily gone the other way. That by itself put you over the top to go through that third door.”
“But you said that wasn’t an option. What happened?”
“Well, you weren’t the most faithful husband or devoted father, were you?”
“Oh,” Kyle said, feeling the embarrassment warm his cheeks. “You know about my, um….my indiscretions?”
“We know everything about anyone who comes here.”
“So why are you here then. Didn’t you have the same choices?”
“No,” Sarah answered with more than a tinge of regret. “If you don’t earn the option to go through that last door one way or another after ten lives, you’re required to serve here indefinitely.”
“That sucks. Then what?”
“It’s like any job, except you are always on probation. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but at some point, the second or third door becomes available. It’s all predicated on how I perform here.”
Kyle sat back for a minute to ponder everything Sarah had patiently explained, and contemplated the most important decision he remembered ever having to make. It appeared he was close to what he thought of as winning the race, but going back would force him to confront a fate that had always terrified him. Yet, he did love and miss Mary and the kids. Why did it take something like this to make him realize that?
“I can’t emphasize this enough” Sarah volunteered. “Regardless of what you do, keep in mind you will not remember any of this experience or our discussion. So don’t plan on having this in your back pocket as motivation as you move forward.”
“Just like in my previous lives?”
“Exactly. Sometimes however, things temporarily sneak through and percolate to the service, but they are like smoke. You recognize something and try to grasp onto them, but they dissipate quickly. You’re familiar with the concept of deja vu?”
Kyle nodded. “Can you at least tell me how many lives I have lived so far? It would really be helpful to know how many more chances I have to get this right.”
“Of course it would,” Sarah said with a knowing smile,” but unfortunately that can’t factor into your thinking.”
“So you can tell me.”
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said, sounding like she meant it, “but no.”
Kyle looked past Sarah to the three doors and pondered his fate. Did he really want to go back and possibly suffer a fate he feared above all others? Since he wasn’t going to remember anything about this experience, there were no guarantees he would become a better husband, father or man, which meant he would be back in this room, having the same discussion, confronted with the same decisions when it ended.
He also couldn’t escape the feeling that if he did return, Mary would learn about his infidelities. How he handled that lovely situation would provide another test upon which he would be judged. Why put himself through all that?
Then again, Sarah did imply door number three, the one that lead to his version of Nirvana, would have been an option if he hadn’t ventured down that path. Plus there were no guarantees he wouldn’t fuck up a new life if he chose that option, and he had no idea how many more chances he had before he got stuck here. That prospect didn’t thrill him either. Kyle kept mulling his options over and over, a seemingly endless loop of internal debate, when Sarah’s muffled voice brought him back to the present.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I said our time is up, Kyle. I’ve answered all your questions and provided all the information I can. I understand this is a terribly difficult decision, but, as you know, others are waiting, so we both need to move on. You need to make a decision, so what’s it going to be?”