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Aethlon: THE JOURNAL

OF SPORT LITERATURE

XXXIV:2  Spring 2017 / Summer 2017


ii Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Aethlon (ăth-lŏn):  the original form of the Greek word meaning “prize of
the contest; reward, recompense.” We like to think of it as also including
the notion of the contest or struggle itself (aethlos), and skill or excellence
(arete) that wins the prize.
iii

Aethlon
iv Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
v

AETHLON:  THE JOURNAL OF SPORT LITERATURE


Aethlon:  The Journal of Sport Literature is published biannually by the Sport Literature Association.
The journal is available to individuals and institutions through membership in the Sport Literature
Association or by subscription from the Association. Single copies and back issues are also available from
the Association. As a condition of membership, members in the Association receive a subscription to
Aethlon, conference proceedings, discounts for the annual conference, occasional publishing discounts
and membership in Arete, online discussion group. Membership rates for one year are:  individuals
$70, students and retirees $30, international individuals $80 and institutions $150. Single issues
may be purchased for $25. Life memberships are available for $400. All subscriptions begin in Fall
with issue number one. Memberships and subscriptions are for one academic year (August-July).
Correspondence concerning membership and/or subscription should be addressed to:  Joyce Duncan,
Sport Literature Association, P.O. Box 70270, ETSU, Johnson City, TN  37614.
Inquiries concerning permission to quote or reprint from Aethlon should be directed to Joyce Duncan,
Managing Editor [joyced1001@cs.com]. Books for review online should be sent to the Book Review
Editor, Duncan Jamieson, Department of History, 401 College Avenue, Ashland University, Ashland,
OH 44805 [damieson@ashland.edu]. Fiction manuscripts should be sent to Scott D. Peterson,
Department of English, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 470 Lucas Hall, 1 University Boulevard, Saint
Louis, MO 63121 [sdpeterson1890@gmail.com]. Poetry manuscripts should be submitted to the
Poetry Editor, Ron Smith, 616 Maple Street, Richmond, VA 23226 [smithjron@aol.com]. Critical and
Creative Nonfiction should go to Michele Schiavone, Marshall University, 1224 7th Street, Huntington, WV
25701 [schiavon@marshall.edu]. The author’s name should appear on the title page only to facilitate
refereeing. Manuscripts should be double-spaced, should avoid footnotes and endnotes, should follow
the MLA Style Sheet (classics manuscripts excepted) and should be accompanied by a self-addressed,
stamped envelope. Electronic submissions are preferred. Except for non-English quotations, manuscripts
must be in English. Submission of .pdf illustrations is encouraged but not required. Authors are
responsible for obtaining copyright permission for all items in their manuscripts. Articles published
do not necessarily represent the opinions of, and are not the legal responsibility of Aethlon, The Sport
Literature Association, or East Tennessee State University.

EDITORS
Editor Book Review Editor Jeremy Larance
Mark Baumgartner Duncan Jamieson West Liberty University
East Tennessee State University Ashland University
Don Morrow
Managing Editor Founding Editor University of Western Ontario,
Joyce Duncan Lyle I. Olsen Canada
East Tennessee State University
Production Editor Mark Noe
Fiction Editor Richard D. Phillips Pennsylvania College of
Scott Peterson Technology
University of Missouri- Editorial Board, Emeritus
St. Louis Robert J. Higgs Michael Oriard
Eric Solomon Oregon State University
Poetry Editor Don Johnson
Ron Smith Michelle Sanders
St. Christopher’s School Editorial Board Abilene Christian University
Susan Bandy Jeff Segrave
Nonfiction Editor The Ohio State University
Michele Schiavone Skidmore College
Marshall University Judy Hakola
University of Maine

Printed by:  Sport Literature Association with support from


East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN 37614-1000
Indexed by the Modern Language Association, The Humanities International Complete,
ThomsonGale, Ebsco, Proquest, and LA84
vi Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
vii

Editor’s Note
JANUARY 2019. The end of an old year and the beginning of a new always
seems an appropriate time for reflection and particularly so as we enter our
thirty-sixth year. Thanks to the consistent financial support of East Tennessee
State University, our philosophical home base, and the loyalty of our
members, both individuals and university libraries, we continue to maintain
and, occasionally, thrive. With that support and long-suffering patience, the
journal is slowly catching up to the calendar. Without sounding like one of
those interminable award shows, thanks also to our contributors, our editors,
and all the behind-the-scenes folk, particularly Rick Phillips, who turn out a
product of which we can be proud.
The end of 2018 brought the sad news that two of our longest serving members
were no longer with us: Eric Solomon, one of the founding members of SLA,
and Glynn Leyshon. As a memorial to their contributions and achievements,
the next issue will feature pieces dedicated to them.
On a happier note, we continue to add younger members to our roster, primarily
through contributions made by our members and one outstanding, albeit
anonymous, “angel.” Those funds support travel to the annual conference for
graduate students and recipients continue to enrich our meetings with new
perspectives and enthusiasm.
This summer, the Sport Literature Association will hold its first meeting
in Europe. On June 19-22, we will gather in Limoges, France with our host
Thomas Bauer. Proposals are being accepted. See http://www.uta.edu/english/
sla/index.html
As we enter our thirty-sixth year, we thank each of you for your continued
interest in sport literature, and commit to our continued endeavor.
Joyce Duncan
Managing Editor
viii Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Aethlon: THE JOURNAL


OF SPORT LITERATURE

Contents

The Cyclist
James H. Hibbard 1
Kimbo Slice (Poem)
Maximilian Heinegg 11
The Subplot as A-Plot:  The Function of Baseball in
Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor
Andrew Hazucha 13
Hikers’ Shock of Red (Poem)
Charlotte F. Otten 21
The Fearful Hurler
Bill Baynes 23
The Hill Workout (Poem)
Ross Peters 33
Birthing the Girl in a Bubble
Shelley Blanton-Stroud 35
To Himself (Poem)
David Cappella 50
Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans
2018 Lyle Olsen Graduate Student Essay Contest Winner
Kasey Symons 53
Paul Short Invitational:  Bethlehem, PA (Poem)
Herbert Plummer 69
Fifty-Four
Chad Senesac 71
Last of the Ninth (Poem)
Robert Hamblin 80
ix

The Best There Ever Was? Reappraising Bernard Malamud’s


The Natural
Andy Harvey 83
The College Punter (Poem)
Henry Hughes 100
Jogging Around My Old High School Football Field
at Night (Poem)
Henry Hughes 101
The Sleeping Idol
Roberto Fontanarrosa 103
Repair (Poem)
Matt Robinson 109
Street Fighting Young Men:  Hickle, Spike and Bobby
Harry Reed 111
Nick of Time (Poem)
Ron Smith 120
Uncle Otto
Richard Luftig 131
That’s the Way of It (Poem)
John B. Lee 143
No 3 Knockdown Rule
J.G. Sarmiento 147
The Rugby Suite (Poem)
David Lander 154
Don’t Look at Me
Charles Holdefer 161
For The River Riders (Poem)
Derek Kannemeyer 171
Contributors’ Notes 173
x Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
The Cyclist

James H. Hibbard

“… to dope the racer is as criminal, as sacrilegious as trying


to imitate God; it is stealing from God the privilege of the spark.”
—Roland Barthes

A thick pre-dawn fog still blanketed the alpine valley when the two men
pulled their sedan across the gravel parking lot of the hotel. It was near the
border, and during the summer months, the squat building that was nestled
into the gentle slope of a hillside would swell with tourists—Swiss and
Germans and the occasional French family that had made the long drive. Now,
though, in the early spring, it was almost deserted, and would have remained
anonymous but for the team bus and the row of red and white station wagons
with hoods, hatches, and quarter panels emblazoned with sponsor logos.
For the riders, each day of the camp had been nearly identical until, after
a few weeks, the days bled together in a haze of riding, eating, and evening
massages—the passage of time punctuated only by calls home to wives and
girlfriends. Yesterday, the rain had cleared and the cyclists had climbed hour
upon hour in the high mountains, past the tree line and into the sweltering
heat of the rocky lunar landscape. As Adam and the last few riders struggled up
the steep final kilometers, the team director had pulled beside them in the car,
urging them on, screaming venga, venga, venga from his open window before
accelerating and disappearing around the next switchback.
Once he was back at the hotel, Adam had fallen asleep early—sleeping
soundly through the night and scarcely stirring as the men shut the doors to
the car in the lot just outside his room. Hoping to surprise the cyclists, the two
men made their way in silence through the lobby and down the dim hallway
of the hotel. They always arrived before dawn for samples. Not just urine
2 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

anymore—now they came for blood too, and the riders started to call the men
who arrived under the cover of darkness vampires. “Nah,” they would say to
justify a bad day on the bike, “I’ve got bad legs today—the vampires came early
for me this morning,” and when Adam was awakened by the quick staccato
knock on the door to his room, he knew immediately what was happening.
***
The first time had been at a race in Belgium, and that night Adam had been
too terrified to sleep. It wasn’t just that he was afraid of being caught—it was
that he was afraid that he would fall asleep and never wake up. Everyone had
heard the stories about the Dutch riders, at least a half dozen of whom had
died in the early days, before things like dosages and timing and monitoring
were taken seriously—their blood so thick that their hearts had stopped in
their sleep. But, as Adam watched the team doctor and the soigneur shuffle
syringes and IV bags from one Styrofoam cooler to another in the tiny hotel
room that smelled of mildew, it had felt as if he didn’t have any other choice.
No one was forcing him to do it and, at least in theory, he could have said no—
he could have quit on the spot, telling them that he was sick or that he simply
didn’t want to, but if he had, he knew there was no coming back.
The doctor had been calm and assured him that it was safe, “As safe as
orange juice,” but when he had, his helper, the team’s soigneur, who’d retreated
to linger in the relative darkness near the door, suddenly looked up from the
screen of his phone and smiled in a way that made Adam think the doctor said
something like this to everyone.
In the silence born of well-worn routine, Adam waited by the open window
that looked down onto a cafe on the street below while the soigneur helped
the doctor set-up for whatever was to come. Through the thin walls, Adam
could hear the rhythmic screams of a crying baby in the adjoining room mix
with the din of the conversations from the cafe. Before cycling he’d never been
further than a few hours’ car ride from wherever it was his mother and sister
had been living, and as he watched the people sitting and eating dinner in
the dying afternoon light, he imagined coming back here, back to Europe, as
someone who was comfortable on the other side of achievement. Each race
held the promise of resolution. In victory he could create himself anew—a
better version of himself, perhaps, or at least one he was certain that he’d like
more. As he looked down onto the street, he saw a beautiful girl at the cafe
brush back her dark brown hair and raise her sunglasses to look the boy across
from her in the eye. After a moment, the boy took her hand in his and in a flash
of insight Adam realized how much he envied the carefree boy at the cafe who
had no concerns of making the breakaway or if his climbing would improve
enough to keep his job. Waiting for the doctor—for whatever this procedure
would be—Adam projected himself into some hazy future in which he’d won
enough, or made enough money so that, at long last, he’d be at peace in his
Hibbard/The Cyclist 3

own skin, but why he’d wanted all of this in the first place seemed unclear to
him now.
When he turned back around, Adam saw clear bags of what he assumed
was saline, along with several needles spread across stiff white sheets of his
unmade bed. It was rare, but other riders had quit rather than do it, telling
whoever would listen that the whole thing was rotten. Some had written books
and said that the drugs were endemic, but Adam knew that taking some sort of
a moral stand wouldn’t change anything. Exposing it would only invite ridicule
and cast him as someone who was bitter—as someone who hadn’t quite made
it and was looking to excuse and justify his own failures. He’d already played
out saying no and going home—back to working at a bike shop and to riding
the same desolate country roads he had trained on for years as he dreamed
of being a professional. Going home would mean neighbors who couldn’t
possibly know what it all really was and would naively ask if he was going
to ride the “Tour day Frants,” and with the sort of emotional calculation that
happens in an instant, Adam realized that he didn’t know who he’d possibly
be without cycling.
He saw the soigneur struggling to loop a saline bag over the headboard
and tried to help finish setting up, but he waved Adam off dismissively, “no,
no, you just wait—is okay.”
Realizing that the curtain was open and the door unlocked, Adam decided
that the most he could do was to at least make sure that no one saw anything.
It seemed improbable, but he’d heard of raids—of police barging into riders’
rooms at races, riders and doctors fleeing and jumping from windows, and he
decided that the soigneur and the doctor had grown too careless. He walked
to the door and turned the deadbolt, and then back across the room where he
scanned the street below—just for whom or what he wasn’t even sure—before
pulling the curtains shut. With the blackout curtains drawn, the room took on
an eerie orange glow and with seemingly nothing left for him to do, Adam sat
in a chair, fidgeting and watching in silence as the baby-faced doctor scribbled
something in a black notebook while the soigneur, whom he’d grown used to
getting massages from or seeing wash the team cars, looked out of context as he
delicately tapped an amber vial with the back of his fingernail before handing
it to the doctor.
“Okay, Adam. All ready, come sit here.” Hearing the doctor say his name
unnerved him, and for the first time he felt as if he was actually choosing to
do something. His cool hands working dexterously, the doctor examined the
veins running up the inside of Adam’s arm and then firmly tied a tourniquet
across his upper arm. Adam wanted to ask more questions—how long would it
last? How would they know what his hematocrit would be and when it would
no longer be detectable? But he knew anything he asked—anything that made
it so they had to spend more time or energy on him, would get back to the
team manager. So instead, he sat in silence on the edge of the bed, knowing
4 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

that there were scores of desperate riders who were not only docile enough to
do it in the first place, but also savvy enough not to ask any more questions
than necessary.
“So this,” the doctor said, holding up the needle, “is a pediatric needle. It
makes it go slower, but it also only leaves child-sized marks, and these days it’s
very important cyclists don’t have needle marks on their arms,” the doctor said
with a coy smile. “Sounds easy, but I’m first one to think of this.” Adam nodded
and smiled but rather than being grateful, Adam thought of the television
commercials that he’d seen that showed the bald children with cancer, smiling
in spite of IV needles in their arms and tubes up their noses and, afraid that
he would start to cry, Adam looked away and feigned queasiness at the sight
of his blood.
“Not all the others are using the pediatric ones,” the doctor added, tapping
his own temple with the universal sign for if not intelligence, at least a certain
type of foresight.
Bent over his arm, the back of the doctor’s balding head obscured Adam’s
view of the needle being inserted and he hardly even felt a prick before being
surprised by the darkness of his own blood as it quickly rose in the clear tube
before being forced back into his arm. The doctor muttered something in
Spanish to the soigneur but Adam didn’t know enough to understand what
he’d said. He felt his pulse rise with the adrenaline as he imagined the red
blood cells damming up like sludge in a river—clogging the intricate valves
and meandering crevices of his circulatory system. As it went on, Adam fixated
on the word sludge. A doctor—a real doctor, would say his blood was sludge—
tell him that he’d seen really sick people die and you—you’ve done this to yourself,
and as Adam listened to the incomprehensible banter of the doctor and the
soigneur, he realized that he was terrified of dying in a strange country. He
imagined his mother coming for him, trying to negotiate and explain things
in pidgin Flemish gleaned from a phrase book to the bureaucrats charged with
dealing with death at wherever it was that one’s body went in Belgium. “This
won’t take too much longer,” the doctor told Adam, at last looking up from his
arm and still wearing the fading smile from something the soigneur had said
seconds ago.
“Few more minutes and poof, like it never even happened, and you will be
strong like ox on the bike. It’s healthier this way too. Day after day, year after
year, it’s bad to ride the bike without help—bad for the hormones. The idiot
journalists, say it is bad for the health and blah blah, but you know what’s bad?
It’s bad to ride a three-week tour with nothing but bread and water. That’s bad.”
“That makes sense,” Adam said, “Just back to baseline.”
“Exactly,” the doctor said, looking up at Adam with an approving smile of a
doctor who suddenly has realized that he is talking not to a patient but perhaps
to an intellectual equal, “Just back to what a normal person’s body does.
Nothing is black and white, good and bad—that’s the American mentality,
Hibbard/The Cyclist 5

but things are always more complicated than that. Now you’re thinking like
Italian—like professional,” the doctor said, as he untied the tourniquet from
Adam’s slender arm. “You have my room number from the list. You call if
anything feels off.”
“Okay, thanks” Adam said. Reading the apprehension on Adam’s face, the
doctor leaned over and repeated, tranquilo, tranquilo—do not worry, quickly
kneading Adam’s tight shoulder muscle, before giving a nonchalant wink and
following the soigneur out of the room.
Once the doctor and soigneur left, Adam thought that he would have been
relieved that all of the evidence was gone, but instead he was in a near panic—
the long night stretched out before him with the seemingly imminent threat
of sleep. As he lay face down, smelling the ground-in dirt of the threadbare
carpet, he realized that he wasn’t even sure how many chambers or valves his
heart had. Groping for something rational—for some way to make sense of it—
he likened it all to a motor. Adam and his father had once rebuilt an old Ford
and he remembered how shiny black sludge had been lodged along its gaskets
in the engine’s valves and heads, and as it grew dark outside, Adam decided
that he simply needed to stay calm. He rummaged through his duffel bag and
found a bottle of aspirin that he placed squarely on his nightstand, telling
himself that all he needed to do was to make sure that he remained awake and
moving enough to keep his blood circulating.
He thought of the girl he’d seen earlier at the cafe and went to the window,
but found that the tables were empty but for two waiters sitting and talking
after their shifts—the lit tips of their cigarettes cutting the darkness as they
gestured to one another. Adam pulled the curtain back and sat at the desk
trying to compose himself, but after a few minutes, the sound of the crying
child from the other room became unbearable and to drown it out, he switched
on the television. He scanned through the channels, looking for something
in English, before finally finding the BBC news. He could feel his stomach
anxiously churn and was paralyzed by the thought that if his pulse dropped
too low, the last thing he’d ever see would be leak-stained walls of the run-
down hotel in a country that wasn’t his own. He debated praying but decided
that if there was a God—a god that let the little children on the ads get cancer
and die, then the prayers of a bicycle racer to not die for something he’d done
to himself would almost certainly go unanswered.
Adam stayed awake all night, and to push sleep away, he alternated
between jumping jacks and push-ups to keep his heart rate up and the blood
flowing through his body. When it was nearly morning, he opened the blinds
again and surveyed the deserted street below. The cafe was empty, and the first
warm light of dawn shone through the streaked window of the motel, casting
an orange glow across the stone and glass of the city. It felt as if he had been
born again and, not for the first time, Adam’s life came to be characterized
more by what he tried to not think about than by what he did.
***
6 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

After a few weeks, doing it became as routine as pumping his tires or filling
his water bottles. The doctor and one of the soigneurs would come to each rider’s
room in the evenings after they had gotten massages and ask a few questions
about how they had been feeling before topping off their tanks. The drugs made
him feel as if nothing could ever hurt him again. People talked about talent
in cycling—about how many watts a rider made and how aerodynamically
someone sat on a time trial bike, but Adam had always known that his real
talent wasn’t physical but psychological—that he was unique in his ability to
endure the pain. When he’d been young, after his dad left, he and his mother
and sister had moved what seemed like every year. There had been new schools
and kids that had called him fag for shaving his legs and wearing tight cycling
clothes, but now it seemed like nothing could hurt him. Somehow, everything
else was okay as long as he was strong on the bike, and with the drugs, he
found that he was stronger than he’d ever been before. He could ride harder
than he’d ever been able to, attack again and again, and then recover well
enough to do it all over. Before, there were times that no matter how hard he
pushed, how badly he wanted his body to go harder, it simply wouldn’t, and
he could only watch as the race rode away from him. With the drugs it had
all changed. His body at last was able to comply, and he knew that there was
no going back—that there could be no return to racing clean, and not even a
month after the first time, his first professional win had come.
He’d been in a small breakaway of five or six riders that had split from
the main field in a cross wind, and as the small group entered the final few
kilometers, Adam had sensed that he was the strongest—that it was within
his power to not just change the outcome of the race, but to impose his will.
Before he attacked, Adam had glanced across the agonized faces of the other
riders, their eyes sunken and helmet straps caked with dried sweat, and in
their weakness he’d sensed his opportunity. As the road steepened, he shifted,
rose out of the saddle, and almost to his surprise, he had been able to simply
ride away from the rest of them. As he crossed the finish line alone, his arms
raised in victory, he had hoped that he’d feel like a new person—that he’d
feel justified, but as he changed in the team bus after the race, he merely felt
relief. He wondered just what the riders he’d beaten did—if they were on the
program too, but he told himself that if they were even here that they had
to be and if everyone was doing it then it wasn’t cheating. Cheating was an
advantage. Cheating was unfair. Whatever this was, it might not be ideal or
what he’d imagined being a pro was like, but it didn’t feel like cheating either,
and as he stood on the podium that day, Adam thought of his father. His father
hadn’t ridden, but he’d been a good runner—the state champion in 1968—and
even after his parents had gotten divorced, it had been his father who’d cared
about his cycling, his father who somehow had made sure Adam had bikes
and helmets and clothing. The last time he’d seen him, he’d been living in
a rented room in a run-down house next to the highway. He had introduced
Hibbard/The Cyclist 7

him to the people he lived with—people Adam knew he’d never see again,
and said proudly, “This is Adam, this is my boy, he’s a professional cyclist.
Gonna be racing in Europe,” and as Adam looked down into the small crowd,
he wondered what his father would say if he knew, if he’d still be proud of him,
and what he’d tell people if he knew what it all really was.
Adam worried that there would be some future reckoning—some day
when he, along with everyone else, would be found out. For now at least,
though, he was one of the chosen—it was he alone who had even gotten to
the position where the drugs were a question and rather than walk away, he’d
simply done what was necessary to be among the best. In the pecking order of
the team, he was a helper, a domestique, protecting the leaders from the wind
and bringing bottles up to them from the team car. When they were in Madrid
or Sevilla, Barcelona or Pamplona, places where cycling was second only to
soccer, they could scarcely walk down the street to dinner without fans yelling
for them or stopping for autographs on caps and bottles and posters. It was at
once better than he ever could have hoped for and lonelier, and as he suffered
up a mountain pass or made his way back through the caravan of team cars
after a puncture, he kept thinking of a phrase he remembered his father saying,
be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.
***
As he got out of bed to answer the door, Adam debated if it was best to say
something—to call out I’m coming or be right there, but decided that anything he
could possibly say would sound either guilty or contrived. He quickly dressed,
pulling on warm-up pants with his team’s logo stitched on it before scanning
the room for evidence—for coolers or needles or the clear blood bags, but
almost to his surprise, the room was devoid of anything incriminating. The
only sign that this was even his room was his duffle bag and a lone pile of
cycling clothes nestled in the corner. He took a deep breath and tried to think
through what they’d told him to do if the vampires came before tentatively
calling out, “be right there,” but as soon as he had, he regretted it—Marco or
Miguel or any of the best guys would have known better than to say anything.
As he walked towards the door, Adam tried to do the math—to work backwards
from the last dose, trying to figure what the half-lives were and to play out
every possible scenario, but now that they were actually here, everything he’d
been told seemed suspect. He wondered how he’d been foolish or desperate
enough to believe any of it. This was the same doctor who had told him that
air conditioning would ruin your lungs and that it was bad for your blood flow
to sleep on your left side, and yet he’d believed that he knew enough to ensure
that he wouldn’t get caught.
On the other side of the door, two men stood in the dim light of the
hallway, both wearing collared shirts that said WADA.
8 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Hello—Mr. Reid?” the taller one said, motioning to the man standing next
to him, “We are here to test. May we come in?” The one who spoke and seemed
to be in charge of the paperwork had a strong Nordic jaw and blond stubble
while the other one—who Adam guessed was the actual phlebotomist—
nervously shifted a small red bag from one hand to the other. As Adam led
them into the room, he tried to remember if either of them had ever tested him
before, and was relieved once he decided that he was certain that he’d never
seen either of their faces before in his life.
Adam thought that he should have been surprised, but as he watched vial
after vial fill with his blood, he realized that part of him had always known
that this would happen.
“Almost done,” the taller one said, “Just one more and then urine.” As he sat
on the edge of the bed, Adam imagined how people he knew would react if he
was caught and tried to formulate how he’d explain it. They had to understand
that it hadn’t really been a choice. It hadn’t been some isolated pathetic attempt
on his part—it hadn’t been cheating. Adam had tried to ask the other riders
how they did it and stayed so calm, but they all just laughed. For them, it was
like cheating on your taxes or speeding, everyone simply did it without the
pangs of either regret or guilt. It just was. As he watched the vampires, Adam
wondered if they believed in what they were doing—if they believed it was all
black and white or if they understood that it was more complicated. Maybe
they were just doing what they’d been told to and thought nothing more of it.
Once they left, Adam quickly showered and joined the rest of the team for
breakfast. The small room was off the main lobby and filled with riders and
staff wearing matching track suits and caps—laughter and the clank of plates
and utensils rising above the noise of the television.
“Ciao, ciao, ciao,” his teammate Marco said, “Did the vampires come for
you too?” Marco asked, his white track jacket offset by the tan skin on the
backs of his hands.
“Yeah,” Adam replied, “Early this morning. Probably sounds silly, but I
was nervous for it. I’ve only had pee tests back in America before—nothing like
that.” Adam wanted to tell Marco that he hated it all. He hated worrying about
drugs and testing and wondering who else was doing what. He hated worrying
about dying from it—if not here and now, then from some unknown cancer—
something that he’d never be certain if the drugs had caused or not.
As Adam looked at Marco next to him, he wanted to ask him why it had to
be like this. It didn’t seem like there was anyone to blame for what it all turned
out to be—for why it was like this when it so easily could have been otherwise.
As he ate, Adam remembered the races his father had driven him to—how he’d
pick him up from his mother’s house when it was still dark, and ask about
“how things were,” before allowing a knowing silence to settle between them
as they drove through the darkness. Adam had been so much stronger than
the other young riders that he didn’t just win—he’d win by such large margins
Hibbard/The Cyclist 9

that he’d destroy the morale of the other riders, and when he crossed the finish
line, he’d immediately look for his father—hoping to read approval on his face.
Marco looked up from his plate and craned forward toward Adam, “You
know, I’m not like some of these other guys,” Marco said, motioning towards
the others who were sitting in the front of the room and out of earshot, “I’m not
one of these rich guys who could do something else. My papà, he raced too—
good junior, but he crashed badly and back then that was that. He worked
thirty years in a carpet factory. He’d come home and I still remember how he’d
smell of the shit they’d spray on the fibers. He got me a job there one winter
when I was a second year junior, just a few months and I knew I had to get out.
I said, no matter what it takes, no matter what I have to do, I’m not going back
there. I’m not spending my life in the goddamn carpet factory.”
“Just have to do what you have to do to make it, huh?” Adam said.
“You do. All the rest of it is just a distraction,” Marco said, before taking a
bite of a runny egg yolk. Adam wanted to explain more to Marco, but decided
that maybe he’d already said all he could—or at least all that Marco could ever
understand.
“Nothing’s black and white, I guess.” Adam said at last, hoping for some
affirmation of solidarity, but his teammate was distracted as he looked over his
shoulder towards the television that was mounted on the far wall.
“You ready for today?” Adam asked Marco, as he got up from the table. “It’s
gonna be a hard one.”
“I know. I know. Brutal. What’s the saying? It never hurts less—you only
get faster.”
“I don’t know if I believe that,” Adam said, “If you’re winning it sure seems
to hurt a lot less—makes you think maybe the hurt’s all in your head …”
“The hurt’s all in your head?” Marco replied, “I think I like that.”
As Adam rode alone that afternoon—chasing the team car down a
mountain pass in the rain, his narrow tires barely keeping him from plunging
down the mountain, he realized that the incessant noise in his head—the
chatter of plans and success and schemes and what to do next, had finally
receded. No matter what he tried to do, no matter how hard he had tried to
will or imagine a better version of himself, he somehow never really felt any
different. The changes that he could recognize had been slow and insidious,
contingent and seemingly having nothing to do with his own effort—the result
of circumstances and chance impositions that he could never have fathomed
or accounted for from the outset. It all just was, and as he plunged toward the
apex of a corner, he felt the sting of the rain drops on his legs as his frozen
hands struggled to apply enough force to the brake levers. He stood up and felt
his own strength as the bicycle surged and carried him over a short steep climb.
Before he had even crested the summit, the sun broke through the clouds—the
sudden heat bringing the distinct odor of water evaporating from wet tarmac,
10 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

and for the first time in as long as he could remember, in spite of it all, he felt
something like happiness.
It was nearly a month before Adam received the paper in the mail that said
the test “showed no irregularities,” but by then, he’d already become certain
that there wouldn’t be.
11

Kimbo Slice
For Kevin Ferguson

From Bakimba in the Black Bahamas, the name


for his armed stance. The King of the Web Brawlers, the dark alley
himself, 6’ 2” 235 lbs. from Miami by way of Nassau,
& his bare-knuckled cleft of Big D’s eye. He terrified
in unmown yards & parking lots. His entourage

of handlers, thrilled to be affiliated, folded his chain


& medallion gently in a white tee blazoned Team
Kimbo. In his thirties, bearded, bald, an odd half-moon
of chest hair on one pec only. Ten million suburban
& urban eyes, watched him roll up out of the cut

of the Range Rover, & everyone got bubbled up,


from poor Big Mac to Afropuff. Few lasted a minute,
but as an Ultimate Fighter, his game was porous,
the wrestlers knew a striker’s worthless in the grip
of a farm-boy with a year of jiu-jitsu. He slipped

& fought through Elite XC, ancient Tank Abbott,


the star of a sorrowful pornography, dimming.
I followed him until the end, the night he was
knocked to sand in seven seconds on live TV,
then turned, our bad hearts no longer in the brawl.
Maximilian Heinegg
12 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
The Subplot as A-Plot:
The Function of Baseball in Yoko Ogawa’s
The Housekeeper and the Professor

Andrew Hazucha

Y oko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor was first published in
Japanese in 2003 to great acclaim, winning the 2004 Yomiuri Prize, one of the
most prestigious literary awards in Japan. In 2006 the novel was made into a
movie in Japan under a title which, translated to English, reads The Professor’s
Beloved Equation (Or 71). Virtually unknown in the U.S. until early 2009,
when Picador published an English translation of it by Stephen Snyder, the
narrative is ostensibly about the relationship that develops between a young
housekeeper and her brilliant client, a math professor who has been forced into
early retirement because of a debilitating brain injury that leaves him unable to
remember anything that happened more than eighty minutes ago. Although
the novel is set in 1992, the Professor’s short-term memory effectively ended
in 1975, the year of his accident, the final year that Yutaka Enatsu, the most
dominant pitcher in professional Japanese baseball history, played for the
Hanshin Tigers. And while neither the housekeeper nor the Professor is given
a name in the novel, it is Enatsu who appears and reappears among the pages,
like a ghost out of time, a figure from the Professor’s long-term memory who
can be summoned up with vivid clarity from a period prior to 1975.
Strangely enough, American and British reviews of Ogawa’s novel in
translation rarely mention baseball, and when they do they seem unable to
discern the centrality of baseball to the narrative. Both The New Yorker and
Kirkus, for example, published one-paragraph reviews on February 9, 2009, and
neither one mentions baseball. Later that month, on February 26, the Sunday
14 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Book Review section of the New York Times published a review of Ogawa’s novel
which briefly mentions the protagonist’s admiration for Yutaka Enatsu, and
then adds rather dismissively, “One subplot revolves around the effort to take
the professor out to a baseball game” (Overbye BR9). Three months later The
Guardian published a review with this solitary reference to the game:  “There
is a subplot about baseball, which may excite American readers more than
British ones” (Poole). In review after review the topic of baseball is either left
out of consideration or mentioned only in passing, as if the game plays no
considerable role in the narrative.
What these reviewers seem to have in common is tone deafness to the
significance of baseball in the novel, for the relationship between the math
professor and his housekeeper’s ten-year-old son, Root (so named because the
top of his head is flat and reminds the Professor of the square root sign), hinges
on their joint experiences of rooting for the Hanshin Tigers and attending a
crucial game together during the 1992 pennant race. The events of that game
trigger a conflation of mathematics and baseball, as the Professor, who avoids
crowds in favor of solitary contemplation of numbers, starts to revel in the
cheers of the other fans and begins a series of audible computations that
intrigue those seated around him. “The height of the mound is 10 inches, or
25.4 centimeters,” the Professor announces to no one in particular upon taking
his seat. “The infield slopes at a rate of one inch per foot for the first six feet
toward the plate” (Ogawa 91). The Professor keeps up a running mathematical
commentary throughout the game, such as this monologue when an opposing
player steals second base:
It takes 0.8 seconds from the time the pitcher begins his windup
to the time he releases the ball. In this case, the pitch was a
curveball that took 0.6 seconds to reach the catcher’s mitt, and
then 2 full seconds for the catcher to throw it to second base,
which means the runner had 3.4 seconds total to run the 24
meters from first to second base without being thrown out,
running at more than 7 meters per second, or 25.2 kilometers
per hour. (91)
That the Professor is talking at all is highly unusual, as his daily routine involves
studying numbers for hours while sitting in silence, filling up the room, as
the housekeeper notes, “by a kind of stillness,” an utterly mute quietude that
she likens to “a clear lake hidden in the depths of the forest” (14). Only at
certain periods of the day, when he has a chance to talk about numbers and
mathematical formulas with his ephemeral audience of one or two, does the
Professor transform himself into a conversationalist.
It is no coincidence that the best review of The Housekeeper and the Professor
was written by Koji Fujiwara, a professor of mathematics at Tohoku University,
Japan, who seizes on the theme of baseball in Ogawa’s work and suggests that
Hazucha/The Subplot as A-Plot 15

the Professor is a version of Enatsu the historical figure. As Fujiwara notes,


“Enatsu is a legendary pitcher who retired in 1984—which means that the
professor does not know that Enatsu has retired, so he keeps asking how Enatsu
is doing … Enatsu was really an excellent pitcher, at least when he was young,
and he would remember all the details of his games and talk passionately
about baseball for hours … I think what baseball is to Enatsu is a bit like what
mathematics is to the professor” (Fujiwara 635).
What Fujiwara recognizes, though he doesn’t state it explicitly in his
review, is that the exquisite beauty that the Professor finds in numbers and
mathematical equations is akin to the beauty that he and the housekeeper
and her son Root discover together that day at the ballpark while watching the
Tigers’ starting pitcher Shin Nakagomi take a no-hitter into the ninth inning
against the Hiroshima Carp. Even though the intensely rational Professor
observes no superstitions relative to no-hitters in progress, loudly proclaiming
to the hushed fans seated near him that “The odds of pitching a no-hitter
are 0.18 percent” (Ogawa 95), he is visibly transported by the excitement. As
the housekeeper says, “the Professor looked positively elated” as Tigers fans
cheered wildly with every strike that Nakagomi threw late in the game (92).
Days earlier, when the Professor had confessed to Root that he had never
attended a baseball game and Root had asked him how he could call himself a
Tigers fan, the Professor had this reply:
But I am—a big fan. When I was in college, I went to the library
at lunch to read the sports pages. But I did more than just read
about baseball. You see, no other sport is captured so perfectly
by its statistics, its numbers. I analyzed the data for the Hanshin
players, their batting averages and ERAs, and by tracking the
changes, even miniscule shifts, I could picture the flow of the
games in my head. (55)
To create a narrative out of numbers—to look at the statistics of a baseball
player, embedded in the box scores of individual games, to see changes and
shifts over the season, and in those shifts to discern emerging trends indicative
of prowess and power and beauty, even a kind of perfection:  this is what the
Professor can do. He is performing mathematical fiction, and baseball is the
vehicle that allows him to do it. He’s a sabermetrician par excellence.
In a talk entitled “Creating Baseball Fiction with Numbers,” Bill James
endorses this view that baseball statistics lend themselves to the making of
narratives. Often referred to as the father of sabermetrics, James argues in his
talk that baseball statistics are “entirely unlike other statistics” in their ability
to tell a story. “Each single number on a player’s record has meaning,” says
James, “and therefore a chart of numbers, tracking what the player has done
over a period of years and in 12 to 20 different areas, has the capacity to tell a
story, in the same way that a paragraph of words has the capacity to tell a story,
16 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

only, I would argue, more so” (James). He goes on to say that when we look
at a player’s statistical record we are searching for a story about that player, a
narrative that is in effect created by the numbers themselves; and the narrative
meaning emerges from numbers that, over the span of a player’s career, arrange
themselves in a pattern that chronicles the player’s attributes and allows us to
make sense of them. As James suggests, we implicitly ask questions about the
player that are based on the numbers we view:  “Is he learning, is he improving,
is he getting better, or is he going backward? Is he figuring out the league, or
is the league figuring him out?” (James). Like the Professor in Ogawa’s novel,
James is able to picture the flow of a game by reading a box score—and he can
also picture the arc of an individual career by gazing at a page from a baseball
encyclopedia.
If Ogawa’s protagonist is Jamesian in discovering statistical meaning and
splendor in the game of baseball, it is also true that the details of the game
frequently elude him. He doesn’t know why a small white bag rests on the
pitcher’s mound, he can’t understand why the catcher runs down the first
base line on a grounder to the infield, and he is befuddled by people in plain
clothes in the dugouts, who, it turns out, are interpreters for the foreign-born
players. His bewilderment deepens the bond between him and Root, as the
teacher-pupil relationship is inverted and Root, whom the Professor has been
tutoring in math, now becomes the Professor’s teacher about the vagaries of
baseball. As the housekeeper observes at the baseball game, “The Professor
turned to Root with his questions. He could tell you the kinetic energy of a
pitch traveling 150 kph or the relationship between ball temperature and the
distance a hit would travel, but he had no idea what a resin bag was. He had
loosened his grip on Root’s hand, but he still kept close and relied on him
for reassurance” (94). This connection between the two gets cemented in the
bottom of the ninth inning. With Nakagomi on the mound for the Tigers and
vying for a no-hitter, a pinch-hitter for Hiroshima lofts a foul ball into the
section where the Professor and housekeeper and Root are seated, and the
Professor throws his body onto Root’s, shielding the boy from harm. The two
remain frozen for several moments, with Root pinned beneath the Professor,
an image of a father figure protecting a son from danger.
This almost filial bond between the Professor and his pupil continues to
develop after the game and is equally driven by baseball, as Root searches every
antiquarian shop in the city to find a rare Enatsu baseball card to give to the
professor as a tangible emblem of their enduring friendship. Root’s decision to
present this premium card to the professor at his own birthday celebration is
the final plot twist that allows the professor, enfeebled by more memory loss, to
center himself in a world that has lost its center. Two days before the Professor
moves into a long-term care facility, the result of his 80-minute tape being
broken and his decreasing ability to store any short-term memory, he receives
the Enatsu baseball card in a state of euphoria. And all the notes that were
Hazucha/The Subplot as A-Plot 17

previously affixed by pins to his suit, including the one reading “My memory
lasts only eighty minutes,” are replaced by the single image of Enatsu encased
in plastic, hanging from the Professor’s neck like a conference nametag. Enatsu
becomes the sole anchor for the Professor, the name and career that can never
be forgotten (178-79).
Ogawa’s novel ends with narrative descriptions of visits that the housekeeper
and her son make to the assisted living facility to see the Professor. On the
grounds of the facility Root and the Professor play games of catch, with Root
wearing the baseball glove that the Professor gave him for his eleventh birthday.
The last visit occurs when Root is twenty-two years old and has just passed
his qualifying exam to teach mathematics at the middle-school level, so the
Professor’s tutelage and friendship have taken root, in a manner of speaking,
and blossomed in the protégé. But it’s baseball as much as math that binds
them, and the most lyrical passages in the book are reserved for descriptions
of baseball, memories of baseball, images of the game including players and
fans and the fields where baseball is played. When the housekeeper first enters
the stadium at the Tigers game, for example, she describes the experience of
moving from the interior portion of the building out into the open-air section
where their seats are located:
As we reached the top of the stairs that led to the seats above
third base, all three of us let out a cry. The diamond in all its
grandeur was laid out before us—the soft, dark earth of the
infield, the spotless bases, the straight white lines, and the
manicured grass. The evening sky seemed so close you could
touch it, and at that moment, as if they had been awaiting our
arrival, the lights came on. The stadium looked like a spaceship
descended from the heavens. (88)
What is notable about this passage, Ogawa’s first description in the baseball
game episode, is the way in which baseball transcends time, inscribes memory,
and, as Keats might say, teases us out of thought as doth eternity. Reminiscing
about the game two paragraphs later, the housekeeper discusses it as if it were
a favorite poem committed to memory:
… those moments we shared, the sights and sounds of the
game, haven’t faded with the years. If anything, they seem
brighter and more vivid as time goes by, indelibly etched in
our minds. The cracked, uncomfortable seats, the egg salad
sandwiches with too much mustard, the lights of a plane that
cut across the sky above the stadium like a shooting star. We
remember every detail, and when we talk about that night,
we’re able to conjure up and bring back the Professor, as if he
were sitting right next to us. (88)
18 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

To conjure up the Professor, to bring him back from the dead, to fix him in the
freeze-frame of memory against the background of celestial spaceships and
shooting stars, is the province of art. But it is also the province of baseball
in this novel, and nearly every American review of The Housekeeper and the
Professor seems to have missed this crucial point.
Ultimately the question this novel raises is whether math and baseball
are both art forms, and the answer is a definitive yes. The American novelist
Norman Maclean tells a story about watching the famous physicist Albert
Abraham Michelson play a game of pool at the University of Chicago’s faculty
club in 1928, when Maclean was a beginning graduate student in English. In
1907 Michelson became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Physics,
but when Maclean met him he was 76 years old and just a few months shy of
retirement. Despite his age, Michelson was the best pool player Maclean had
ever seen, and after playing him in one memorable match, Maclean observed
Michelson perform the following:
He locked his cue into the rack on the wall, and said, either to
me or himself or the wall, “Billiards is a good game.”
He made sure that his tie was in the center of his stiff collar
before he added, “But billiards is not as good a game as painting.”
He rolled down his sleeves and put on his coat. Elegant as
he was, he was a workman and took off his coat and rolled up
his sleeves when he played billiards. As he stood on the first step
between the billiard room and the card room, he added, “But
painting is not as good a game as music.”
On the next and top step, he concluded, “But then music is
not as good a game as physics.” (Maclean 89-90)
Like Michelson’s stated relationship with billiards, the Professor believes that
baseball is a good game, a beautiful game, and much of its beauty lay in its
association with numbers and number theory. As the Professor reminds the
housekeeper one day, the mathematical order is intrinsically beautiful and
capable of expressing what William Faulkner termed in his 1950 Nobel Prize
address “the old verities.” “Eternal truths are ultimately invisible,” the Professor
declares, “and you won’t find them in material things or natural phenomena,
or even in human emotions. Mathematics, however, can illuminate them, can
give them expression—in fact, nothing can prevent it from doing so” (Ogawa
116). In lauding the beauty of math the Professor occasionally uses baseball
metaphors, as when he discourses on his favorite subject, prime numbers,
while tutoring Root. After Root exclaims that the number two is the only even
prime number between zero and one hundred, the Professor congratulates
him, saying, “You’re right. Two is the only even prime. “It’s the leadoff batter
for the infinite team of prime numbers after it” (63).
Hazucha/The Subplot as A-Plot 19

Ultimately the relationship between math and baseball is inviolable in the


Professor’s mind insofar as baseball lends itself so perfectly to mathematical
analysis while mathematical formulas so frequently invite baseball tropes. This
notion is established in the opening pages of the novel, when the housekeeper
first comes into the Professor’s employ and he tells her that a math proof must
be elegant or it is not worth solving. She says that she had no idea a proof could
be either beautiful or ugly; he responds by asserting that it is truly correct
only if it “strikes a harmonious balance between strength and flexibility.” The
Professor adds, “There are plenty of proofs that are technically correct but
are messy or inelegant or counterintuitive” (16). In the Professor’s view, an
inelegant proof is no proof at all.
At the end of the novel it is the graceful Enatsu who best exemplifies a
harmonious balance between strength and flexibility, and in that sense he’s
a walking emblem of the most elegant mathematical formula. With a career
record of 206 wins, 158 losses, 193 saves, and 2,987 strikeouts, the left-handed
Enatsu set the world record for strikeouts in a season with 401, which is 19
more strikeouts than Sandy Koufax recorded in his best year, 1965. Enatsu
began his career as a starter and ended it as a reliever, and over the course of
it he threw 45 shutouts and won five Fireman of the Year awards. In a career
that spanned 17 years, he was a 16-time All-Star and won two MVP awards
(“Yutaka Enatsu,” Baseball Reference; Toraho!). He also wore number 28 on his
uniform, the second smallest perfect number, and the number that serves to
end Ogawa’s novel. Her final paragraph invokes an image of Japanese baseball’s
most famous pitcher in the prime of his career:
The sky is dark, the spectators and the scoreboard are in
shadow. Enatsu stands alone on the mound under the stadium
lights. The windup. The pitch. Beneath the visor of his cap,
his eyes follow the ball, willing it over the plate and into the
catcher’s mitt. It is the fastest one he has ever thrown. And I can
just see the number on the back of his pin-striped uniform. The
perfect 28. (180)
This perfected Enatsu comes through the ether here as a vision from another
time and place. He comes from a period with which neither the housekeeper
nor her son has any acquaintance save through the old baseball cards and
stories of the Professor, whose long-term memory has preserved him through
eighteen years of brain trauma. As a man who is fast losing his memory,
the only claim he has to the numbers he loves and the game he reveres, the
Professor clings to his Enatsu baseball card just as the narrator holds fast to the
moments she and her son have shared with the Professor through Enatsu. Like
a perfect number with mystical powers, Enatsu is the straw that stirs the drink
in this lyrical novel about damaged people and the passions that bind them.
20 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Works Cited
Fujiwara, Koji. Review of The Housekeeper and the Professor. Notices of the AMS [American
Mathematical Society], vol. 57, no. 5, May 2010, pp. 635-36.

James, Bill. “Creating Baseball Fiction with Numbers.” Baseball in Literature and Culture
Conference, 1 Apr. 2016, Ottawa University, Ottawa, KS. Keynote Address.

Maclean, Norman. “‘Billiards is a Good Game’:  Gamesmanship and America’s First Nobel Prize
Scientist.” The Norman Maclean Reader. Edited by O. Alan Weltzien, U of Chicago P, 2008,
pp. 78-92.

Ogawa, Yoko. The Housekeeper and the Professor. Translated by Stephen Snyder, Picador, 2009.

Or, Victor. Review of The Housekeeper and the Professor. Library Journal 1 Apr. 2009, pp. 71-72.

Overbye, Dennis. “You Must Not Remember This.” New York Times, Sunday Book Review sec., 26
Feb. 2009, p. BR9.

Poole, Steven. “Prime Reading.” The Guardian, 1 May 2009, n.p. https://www.theguardian.com/
books/2009/may/02/housekeeper-and-professor-ogawa. Accessed 17 July 2018.

“Yutaka Enatsu.” Baseball Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Yutaka_


Enatsu. Accessed 20 July 2018.

“Yutaka Enatsu.” Toraho! Hanshin Tigers English News, http://www.thehanshintigers.com/team-


history/legendary-players/yutaka-enatsu. Accessed 20 July 2018.
21

Hikers’ Shock of Red


Halfway up the trail, we found a beaver pond
severed from its gurgling source, sullen,
strewn with swelling logs that kept the creek

from singing. The beavers slept, comfortable in their


covert cove, heedless of the derelict dam,
of beaver-blight they left upon the hillscape.

We climbed, watching the creek create its


own new path—it broods, burrows underneath the soil,
becomes a trickle, shoulders mud,

bulges into a narrow stream, gets a life


richer than its pre-dammed state—
grasses dip their feet deep in its gurgle,

and rising from the damp,


a shock of red (bee balm), a fire flashing
brighter than fireweed

in London’s war-blitzed craters.


Charlotte F. Otten
22 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
The Fearful Hurler

Bill Baynes

H e ambled in behind his Oakleys and the noise level lowered like an
officer had entered the enlisted men’s barracks. The starter had arrived in the
clubhouse.
No one could see past his tight smile. No one could see how scared he was.
Nate Burnam saw himself as a soldier and the playing field as a war zone.
The fear was everywhere. Any sane person would be afraid. Any pitcher,
anyhow. Most of the position players didn’t have a clue.
But he knew one that did.
Catching Jefferson’s eye across the room, Nate nodded and proceeded to
his locker at the end of the row. He undressed, cinched a towel around his
waist and went straight to the trainer’s room.
He spent fifteen minutes with his arm in the cold whirlpool. He could
feel his body waking up. When Jefferson appeared, he dried off and stretched
for a few minutes, getting the blood moving in his back and shoulder. The
trainer helped him reach further and hold longer than he could by himself.
Jefferson gave him some soft tissue massage, concentrating on the tightness in
his elbow. The soreness retreated.
His throwing arm felt like glass. Nate was careful not to bump it.
Back in the locker room, he always got his space. Other players left him to
himself. The starter’s due.
He swiped lather onto his face and shaved, his habit before every one of
his games. Others affected the two-day beard, trying to look tough, but Nate
liked to be clean and neat. For him, a smooth chin was part of being prepared.
Most days he was able to forget about his dread, to fill his mind with all
the details he needed to master before he took the mound. But some days he
couldn’t stop thinking about it and this was one of them.
24 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

He knew why. He stared at his face in the mirror. Jackie Favrel, his one-
time roomie.
They’d played together in the minors before Jackie was traded to Texas.
Fresh out of school, their first time in pro ball, they’d become close friends.
Drilled together. Visited each other’s homes. Shared everything, all the
personal stuff, the hopes, the hang-ups. Shit Nate had never told anyone else.
He should’ve kept his mouth shut about some things.
Now he and Jackie had drifted apart. Playing in different leagues in
different parts of the country, they never spoke any more. Their teams had
only met once before and Nate hadn’t pitched in that series.
He paused. You can cut yourself to ribbons when you take a razor to your
jaw, he thought, but you do it anyway. You keep your cool. You try to be careful.
He went back to dragging the blade across his face.
It wasn’t the game that frightened him. He loved the competition, looked
forward to it. It wasn’t the pain he knew he’d have to push through on every
pitch. He was used to that. It was the risk of getting hit. Anyone could see it, if
he knew what he was looking for. Whenever the batter swung, Nate flinched
and brought his glove in front of his head.
When he finished his follow-through, Nate was fifty feet from the plate,
off-balance and totally exposed. The ball came back at more than 100 miles
per hour. Pitchers were struck by batted balls every season. It was one thing
to deflect it off your back or your foot, even your knee. But pitchers got
concussions. They got their noses broken, their teeth smashed, their careers
ruined, their lives.
He thought about Cousin Bobby and how their high school classmates
had made fun of him when his eye wandered like a lost marble, calling him
Cyclops when he wore a patch. Nate had hit the ball that hit that eye. He
figured he was owed one.
He wiped the lather off his face, went back to his locker and dressed.
Slowly. Methodically. Making sure his stockings were straight, he pulled them
up outside his pants. He tucked in his shirt. He checked that the stripes on his
uniform trousers were straight.
He found a cup of coffee and Maxie, his catcher. They spent a half-hour
going over the hitting charts again, talking about how they wanted to attack
each hitter. Who’d been hot lately? Who was a first-pitch swinger? Who took a
lot of pitches? What did they strike out on? Did they stand in the front or the
back of the box? Slow hands or fast hands?
Then it was onto the field for warm-ups. Nate jogged to center and back
to the dugout. He did a few wind sprints and then a couple longer ones. Some
dynamic stretching of both arms and legs, loosening up.
He paired up with a reliever to play catch. Starting close, about 45 feet
apart, they threw soft line drives to each other. They backed up until they were
long-tossing the width of the outfield. Nate could feel his arm coming alive.
Baynes/The Fearful Hurler 25

He went to the bullpen, where Maxie was waiting, and took the mound.
Starting easy and gradually throwing harder, he threw his fast ball, focusing
on location and command. He went to each of his other pitches—the curve,
the slider, the sinker, the change—thinking about his mechanics, his release
point. He knew that a scout from the opposing team was watching. He tried to
convince him that he had all his weapons for this outing.
He threw the last ten pitches from the stretch.
He put on his jacket to keep his arm warm, had a long drink of water and
ate a few aspirin. Then he took a seat on the bench. He was the only one there.
He thought about which pitches were working today and which were
giving him trouble. How did that change the game plan?
His mind drifted back to Favrel. The only person he ever told about his
fear was batting against him tonight, the first time they’d faced each other in
the majors. It made him uneasy. A wild card on the table. It was an important
contest with both teams battling for spots in the post-season. How much
would Jackie do to win?
***
The anthem over, thousands settling into their seats, Nate led his team
onto the field. It was mid-September, late in the season, and the fans were
excited. Nate ascended the hill and Maxie tossed him the ball.
It fit his hand like an eye fits its socket. It calmed him like a musician
picking up his instrument. His fingertips tingled, rotating the ball, feeling the
seams, putting it in position.
Nate took a big breath. He bent his head back and rolled it back and forth.
The crowd noise receded. He took his place on the third-base side of the rubber.
He believed it gave him a better angle, more of the plate to work with. He put
his ten warm-ups in the middle of Maxie’s mitt to show he was ready.
As the first Ranger stepped into the box, Nate stood alone, hardly hearing
the clamor surrounding him. This was his moment. This was his game. He
glared down at the batter.
Maxie signaled for the heat. Nate brought his hands together in a set
position in front of his chest, pumped and raised his hands over his head,
leaning back and bringing his leg high. Then he rolled forward onto that same
leg, his arm trailing his torso, his elbow in a contorted position. He pushed
down with his index finger and snapped his wrist, spinning the ball and
releasing it, as his other leg whipped around and his hand nearly touched the
ground.
For an instant, pain blanked everything else.
The batter swung and Nate winced behind his glove. The ball scooted
toward third, where Jose scooped it up and threw across the diamond to first
for the out.
26 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

The first inning is the most vulnerable time for most pitchers, as they
struggle to get each pitch to work, to find their control and to learn the ump’s
strike zone. It was no problem for Nate. Not tonight. He struck out the second
hitter and got a soft fly to right from the third.
Favrel was the second batter next inning.
Nate sat by himself, while his team had its ups. No one spoke to him. He
went over Jackie’s tendencies. The Rangers shortstop had always liked pitches
low and inside, where he would turn on them and pull them into left field. If
he knew a curve was coming, he would time it and scald the ball.
In the top of the second, Nate couldn’t do anything with the first batter.
Four pitches in a row missed Maxie’s mark by two inches. A lead-off walk.
Nate chalked it up to distraction.
Favrel stepped up, knocking dirt off his cleats, snugging his batting gloves,
taking fierce practice cuts. Not looking at Nate. He dug in with both feet and
swiveled his hips into a comfortable position. Only then did he finally turn to
the mound and he flashed a wide-eyed, slack-mouthed zombie stare, just for a
split-second—they were both avid undead fans—before his game face snapped
into place.
Nate was startled, a little disarmed. He couldn’t smile at his opponent. He
knew he was live on the local sports channel. He covered his mouth with his
glove and walked down the back of the hill. He picked up the rosin bag and
shook it, looking toward the outfield, the stands a blur in the background. If
Jackie was trying to unnerve him, it wasn’t going to work. He’d never shown
his feelings on the mound and he wasn’t about to start now.
Regaining his position, he put his foot on the rubber and stared in. Jackie
cocked his bat, and Nate noticed he kept his rear shoulder down. That meant
he was looking for something low. He stood with his feet together, set to hit
toward left.
Nate shook off Maxie’s call for a curve. He wanted to throw number one.
He reared back and put everything into it, loosing a vicious fast ball that started
at mid-thigh and rose as it approached home.
Jackie swung under the pitch and Nate jerked. He wondered if his old
friend even remembered his fearful secret.
Nate assumed that most, if not all, hurlers felt the same way he did. He’d
seen others ducking or trying to protect themselves when they saw the bat
come across the plate. He knew they were terrified. But they never spoke about
it. They never admitted it, not even to each other. So much of pitching is
mental. The man on the hill could never show his fear. He had to dominate, to
be superior, to sneer at every batter. Certainly not to cower.
Nate arched his back, hitched up his pants and returned to the rubber. He
agreed with his catcher, a breaking ball away. He wound up and delivered a
sweet spin, but the pitch didn’t clip the outside corner, as it was supposed to. It
slid into the heart of the strike zone.
Baynes/The Fearful Hurler 27

Jackie watched it go by for strike two.


Nate knew he’d gotten away with one. That pitch could’ve gone a long way.
The throw hurt his elbow, but not nearly as much as the heater. That had lit up
his entire arm.
Two wasted throws, one in the dirt and the other way wide. He held back
on both, guarding his arm. An easy toss to first.
Then a slider tailing in, a dangerous choice to Favrel with his short,
controlled swing. He took a rip (Nate ducked), but he barely clipped the ball. It
was a routine grounder to second that turned into a double play.
Nate turned away and walked around the mound, avoiding eye contact as
Jackie trotted back to the dugout.
The next batter popped up to the infield. Nate could tell by the sound that
the ball was not solidly met.
***
In the third inning, Nate had given up a double and a two-run homer. The
Rangers were ahead 2-0.
He was angry at himself, but he wasn’t about to let that interfere with
business. On the contrary, Nate became cunning. Pitching is upsetting the
hitters’ timing. He became a consummate clockmaker.
A breaking ball that snaked backward and crossed the outside corner at the
knees. A filthy slider to the batter’s back foot. A little more speed. A little less.
Nate rode his rage to get an extra two or three miles per hour on his heater on
selected throws. Using assorted arcs and angles, he delivered the pitch to the
spot, a square inch in the center of Maxie’s mitt, again and again, as precise as
an arrow. He’d found his rhythm. He made quick work of the first two hitters
in the top of the fourth.
Then Favrel settled into the box and a wave of fatigue swept over Nate. He
was tired. Beyond tired. He’d never pitched so many innings before in a single
season. Skip had really leaned on him in the last half of the season. He fought
to keep his focus.
As he watched Favrel go through his routine, images flickered through
his mind. They’d been inseparable, the shortstop and the pitcher, for the two
years they’d played for the double-A San Jose Giants. They’d bunked together.
They’d eaten together, partied together. They’d gone over the opposing teams
together, talking deep into the night about each player. The two friends had
expected to climb the ladder together, but Jackie had gone to the Rangers. Nate
had made it to the San Diego Padres seven months later. They hadn’t talked to
each other in nearly three years.
Favrel looked out at the mound and raised his eyebrows. Well? What are
you waiting for?
Attuned to non-verbal communications because he couldn’t hear much on
the mound, Nate snapped out of his reverie. He consulted with Maxie and then
28 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

went into a big windup, all arms and legs, and released a fat one heading right
for the center of the plate. But it was a change-up, slower than it seemed, a tease
to an impatient batter. Favrel swung before it got there.
Nate felt another twinge in his elbow. He shied when he saw the bat move.
Favrel cocked his head and narrowed his eyes at his former roommate.
Still spooky on that swing, huh? He looked down at the plate and shook his head.
Nate quick-pitched him. Without waiting for Maxie, without a full windup,
he hurled a stinger right down the middle for a second strike.
Favrel backed out of the box. He took off his gloves and carefully put them
back on, adjusting each finger. He took two practice swings. He’s trying to
aggravate me, Nate thought. It wasn’t working.
Nate tried a sweeping curve, ignoring a lance of pain, aiming for the
outside corner. Maxie caught the ball and stood, ready to walk off the field, but
the ump missed the call. He signaled that it was a ball.
Favrel smiled at the plate. Nate looked toward the sky. He plopped his
glove with his fist, turned around and walked to the mound, his head down,
thinking about the next pitch.
The stadium noise was deafening. Tens of thousands of fans were screaming
at the top of their lungs, but few of them noticed the game within the game.
The Padres infielders caught on. Maxie knew there was something between his
pitcher and this hitter. He called for a high, hard one, like the one that struck
Jackie out in the second inning.
Nate tried to comply, but it got away from him. The catcher had no chance.
He had to chase the throw to the backstop.
The count was two balls and two strikes. Nate grimaced at a twinge in his
elbow.
The next pitch was a slider, running down and away. Jackie took a mighty
cut and topped the ball off the plate, a foul.
Nate found himself struggling for footing. Struck an eighth of an inch
lower, he realized, a ball like that would come right at the pitcher.
Favrel glared at him and Nate felt his pulse spike. He’s trying to hit me,
he thought. He’s hunting me. An image of his cousin, falling to the ground,
holding his eye.
Nate looked away and tried to collect himself. The noise from the crowd
poured in and, for the first time, he noticed someone in the stands, a woman,
a flash of light on her sunglasses, her smile. He sighed. She was beautiful. As
she turned away, she fell out of his mind.
Nate decided to go with the change again. It’d worked before. He wound
his body like a spring, uncoiled and heaved another ball that seemed like it
moved through molasses. He fell into a crouch facing the plate and Jackie
waited and whaled at the pitch.
Baynes/The Fearful Hurler 29

The bat sounded like a gunshot. There was no time to get out of the way.
Nate twisted and threw up his arm. The ball hit him high in the back and
caromed toward second base. Nate went down, his leg buckled under him.
The Padres shortstop managed to grab the ball in the air for the final out
of the inning.
Nate felt like he’d taken a punch, a hard one, hard enough to knock him
down. Son of a bitch, it hurt, but no one would know it. He popped to his feet,
waving away the trainer coming up the dugout steps. He willed a casual walk
off the field.
***
Seventh inning, Padres trailing 4-2. Nate was working on fumes. He did
not want to see Favrel again, but here he was.
Nate knew he was near the end of his night. His arm felt like it belonged
to someone else. He observed it objectively. How many more pitches could he
get out of it? He knew that skipper had nowhere to go, no one else to go to. The
bullpen was already overused. So was he.
He’d already been hit by a batted ball once. He ought to get some sort of
dispensation, a pass for the rest of the game. But no. Here he was back in harm’s
way. Unless his career was over, he had to find the grit to make another pitch.
He believed that other hurlers must feel the same way, but he still felt
alone. Ashamed. Show no pain. That was the code in baseball. Show no fear.
Never waver. Never admit to weakness.
He stared in at Maxie, who pushed one hand toward the ground. Keep
calm? Keep it down?
Favrel brought the lumber over the plate deliberately. Once. Twice. He
wore a smug smile. Nate hated him. He was afraid of him.
He reared back and loosed a high, outside pitch. Maxie had to jump to his
feet to grab it.
Nate caught the return throw, took a long trembly breath. He had to recover
his control. Of his pitches. Of his emotions. Maybe his arm knew more than
his mind, he thought. Maybe the solution to his own safety was to throw balls
that Favrel couldn’t reach.
Favrel was joking with Maxie. What was that about? Laughing about his
last throw? Trying to piss him off, no doubt.
Nate tried again. He quieted himself, found his poise and threw as hard as
he could, his whole body straining, his arm contorted. But he was a little ahead
of himself this time, dragging his arm a little too far behind as he drove toward
the plate, torqueing his shoulder.
Nate gasped in agony as his back leg landed. His entire arm went numb
for a moment.
The pitch went in the dirt. Maxie had to hop to the side to block it.
30 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

He trotted out to the hill. He knew Nate was hurting and wanted to give
him a short break. Catchers know a lot about pain.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.
“Son of a bitch got in my head,” Nate answered, rubbing the feeling back
in his arm with his other hand.
“Get in his,” Maxie advised.
As he crouched behind the dish, he got a signal from the bench, which
he flashed to Nate. Skip wanted him to walk Jackie. Then the manager would
make that long trek to take his pitcher out, Nate thought.
The hell. He’d do what he wanted.
He looked in at Favrel. The batter made a face. He pawed the dirt at his feet.
Any friendship was forgotten now, lost in the intensity of the contest.
Nate gripped the ball. Did he have the guts to bust him inside? Did he have
the command to back him off the plate?
One more time, maybe the last time, he went into his windup, bringing his
arms up, finding his rhythm. Back and then forward with the full force of his
entire torso, every muscle in his being. Up and in.
Favrel threw himself backward onto the grass. The crowd roared.
They can’t take me out now, Nate thought. Not with the fans worked up.
They’ve got to let me throw at least one more.
Favrel picked himself up, dusting himself off and adjusting his helmet.
He faced the mound. Nate returned his look. For a long moment, the two men
stood staring at other. It had gotten personal and now everyone in the stadium
knew it.
The Rangers were halfway onto the field. The umpires were screaming to
restore order. The crew chief issued an official warning:  a hit batter meant
ejection. Or worse.
Nate leaned his head back and swiveled it left to right, right to left. He
rolled his shoulders and stretched both arms. Then he stood tall, looking down
at the plate. Everyone was paying attention. It was still his game.
Favrel had his weight back on his heels in case he had to get out of the way
again. He couldn’t be sure that the last pitch was on purpose.
The next pitch was head-high and Nate could see the hitter hitch, just an
inch. Enough to be out of position when the ball hooked left and spun down
across home. No way Jackie was ready for that strike.
Three and one.
Favrel kept one foot out of the box, fussing with his gloves, avoiding eye
contact. He stood at the plate and concentrated on his own slow-motion swing.
Nate ached everywhere. He assessed his arm. Buzzing like it had been
asleep, it felt elastic. If he threw hard enough, it would reach all the way to the
plate. He could wait until Jackie swung and then drop the ball at his feet. He
shook it and his elbow pinged. He figured he had one, maybe two throws left.
He snugged his cap lower.
Baynes/The Fearful Hurler 31

Unexpectedly, he experienced another flush of fear. It’d be just his luck to


have lightning strike a second time, right in the kisser. He picked up the rosin
bag, bought a few seconds to reset. He caught the second baseman’s eye, gave
him a short nod.
Back on top, he pumped and rocked, imagining the amazing, lengthening
limb, the arm that never ends, never quits. He gave it everything he had left,
every ounce of his strength.
Nate’s last pitch came in with a visible spin and, for a moment, it looked
like it would hang at waist level over the center of the plate. As Favrel began
to move his bat forward, the bottom dropped out and the ball fell like a rock.
Favrel topped a weak grounder to the first baseman, standing on the bag.
***
Afterward.
Icing the shoulder and elbow. Getting props from the guys, pats on the
back. “Way to fight.” “You kept us in the game.”
Taking a long shower. Trying to let the effort wash off him.
The Pads lost, but Nate was feeling a lot better as he toweled off at his
locker. It was five days before he had to wear the target again. He could kick
back.
He gulped a few more aspirin, heaped his platter at the post-game spread
and sat down next to Maxie, who was carving a steak.
“How d’ya know that Favrel guy?” he asked, his mouth full.
“Played together in the minors.”
“You got some problem with him?”
“Not really.”
Maxie wasn’t buying. “Not like that with the others.” He turned back to
his sirloin.
Nate pushed back. Weary. Truly whipped. But the pain pills had kicked
in and he felt mellow. He didn’t want to go home yet. He usually had trouble
coming down after he pitched.
He didn’t want to go on the town either. He’d seen pitchers cut their careers
short trying to dull the edge with booze or drugs or girls. He thought of giving
Jackie a call. That lame bastard, it would be good to catch up. He knew where
the visiting players stayed.
No. Not tonight. Too much energy. He needed to be alone. Take a long
walk and clear his head. It was becoming his routine after home games.
He drove out to the coast and left his Porsche in the visitors’ lot at a nearby
beach. It was completely empty at this time of night, nearly two in the morning.
Nate trooped up the shoreline, moving into the wind. He found firmer
footing where the surf pulled back, but he had to dodge the incoming surge.
His hair blowing, he pulled his jacket around his neck.
32 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

He listened to the ocean and he tried not to think. He pushed on until his
legs stung from sinking in the sand and pulling up again, from dancing with
the waves.
Still he kept going and after a time the throws spilled out of him, one by
one rising in front of him—the happy accidents, the mistakes, the bullets that
had missed him on the field of battle, the one that didn’t. He was able to look
at them all and to learn and sometimes to mourn before each splashed into the
surf behind him and swept out to sea.
Then he could go home and sleep.
33

The Hill Workout


Livid cheeked, schoolboy phalanx,
(Cotton gloves, turtle necks, red shorts
Mud splattered socks,
Soaked mustard and blue Nike LDVs)
Struck mute, oxygen desperate,
Numbness expanding
From fingers to sternums.
Below low cover,
They drive up the brown rough,
Rising steeply to the third tee box—

They jog at the top,


Breath smoke catching them
Long enough for single-syllable expletives
As they accelerate over the edge,
Falling quickly beyond comfortable speed,
Strides stretched so their feet thump
Back into the flat.

Spotting silver on the swale’s crest,


The pack turns wide around number four
Before they lower their chins,
Pull apart, and focus inside
To reach for race speed
Along the thick, arterial privet.

January training—
Exhausting, careening, looping—
Like a geriatric’s remembering
Replete with harbingers of what is next.
Ross Peters
34 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
Birthing the Girl in a Bubble

Shelley Blanton-Stroud

I f you want to know Bela Steinhart’s true story, not just what you’ve seen
on TMZ or 30-for-30, or read in the unauthorized biographies—Love, Fault,
Break or Big Time Loser, you have to start with Bela’s mother, Edie. No hero
or villain emerges complete, herself, at birth. First there’s the womb and the
prostate. Every Tiger has his Earl. Every hero, every villain, has parents, who
were themselves heroes or heroines of their own fairy tales. For Bela Steinhart’s
true story, you have to go back to Prague in the eighties.
Edie’s own mother, Andula, was a pencil-thin woman who suffered a
nutritional condition that thinned her pale hair to patchy baldness, adding to
Edie’s impression of her evaporation from family life. She was so often away
at her bookkeeping, bartending, and eldercare jobs that her influence on Edie
was more abstract than concrete. Work a lot, was her influence. Her dream, it
seems, was to pay the bills.
In Andula’s absence, Edie developed her competitive philosophy at the
knee of her father, Kirk, a faithfully ambitious tennis coach and newspaper
deliverer. Kirk drove his patched-up Škoda sedan through sleeping suburbs,
window down, throwing rolled copies of the Prague Post with an athlete’s
arm to one stony doorstep after another, spying into night-lit windows at the
interiors of the downtrodden and successful and all points between, from
three to five every morning. Then he headed home to get his children ready
for school before beginning his real job at a neighborhood racket club. He was
devoted to this work, coinciding as it did with his dream of creating a perfect
tennis hatchery for his children.
“Story time!” Kirk would call to Edie and Karl, after two or three glasses of
lager in the evening.
36 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Papa, we know the story,” Edie would answer.


“God, not again.” At eight, her brother Karl was two years older and degrees
more disrespectful.
Kirk continued over their complaints, beginning in a whisper and building
to great volume by the time he took his first breath.
“Deep in the Bohemian Forest, a tailor named Krejčí—like us, Krejčí!—too
poor to feed his ten hungry children …”
“Also like us,” Karl said.
Kirk stepped over that.
“Poor Krejčí climbed up to Obří Hrad—the Giant Castle—to beg nine
giants who lived there for charity. But instead of giving him food, the giants
mocked his incompetence!”
Kirk grimaced, miming cruelty.
“Then eight giants rolled Krejčí down the mountain.” Kirk spun his big
hands. “At bottom, the ninth giant threw a rock at his head. A perfect round
rock!”
Kirk pulled a tennis ball from his pocket and squeezed it in front of
their eyes. “Like this!” He drew his ball-holding fist behind him and made a
throwing motion without letting go of the ball. Though she knew this gesture
was coming, Edie flinched, as usual, feeling Krejčí-the-Tailor’s pain and
humiliation. Karl yawned.
“When Krejčí woke up, he saw underneath his blood, the round rock was
gold! Gold!” Kirk squeezed the tennis ball hard, so the muscles in his forearm
flexed with emphasis. Then he dropped his fist to his lap. “Krejčí put the rock
in his pocket and walked home. And because that rock hit him in the head,
and the rock turned out to be gold, he never had to work another day!” He
raised his fist and pumped the ball at the money shot—Krejčí-the-Tailor never
worked another day.
Kirk told it like it was more than a fairy tale, like it was family history,
lineage, genetics. Like it was his cellular religion, an explanation for everything
that had happened or would happen to the Krejčís.
Six-year-old Edie, however, was agnostic.
Work your way to the top, the story seemed to say, and you won’t have
to work anymore. This didn’t make sense to Edie, who liked to work, liked
making her numbers line up neatly in columns, liked cleaning her room just
so, with her hand-me-down tennis rackets in formation against the wall, in
a chorus line of tools. She certainly liked returning every single serve to her
father in that last hour of practice before potato soup and bedtime. She liked
the sense of accomplishment work brought, not just knowing she’d mastered
useful things, but being rewarded for it—“Good volley, Edie! Nice footwork!”
She especially liked thinking of the heights she’d reach because she’d worked
so hard.
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 37

Edie also disagreed with the moral of the story, from a practical point
of view. If Krejčí hadn’t stopped working, maybe, one hundred generations
later, the current Krejčís, last of the tailor’s descendants, might have had a little
something to show for the whole gold rock episode. What was the point if there
wasn’t something to show at the end?
And there was one more thing. She could never quite understand why
Krejčí-the-Tailor worked so hard to get to the top of the mountain just for the
chance to beg. Beg? Why didn’t he sneak into the castle, steal some golden rocks
and hustle down, buy new needles and thread, paint a new sign, attract new
customers? Why would he embarrass himself, risking death at the feet of the
giants? To Edie, even then, Krejčí-the-Tailor seemed softheaded and inefficient.
At night as she dreamt, her imagination took the story’s dissatisfying
plot and protagonist as a starting point, stretching them in new directions,
mostly turning Krejčí-the-Tailor into a plucky teenage girl—Krejčí-the-Actress,
Krejčí-the-Pop-Vocalist, Krejčí-the-Tennis-Star. That last was the one that stuck,
supported as it was by her father’s fundamentalist belief that the golden rock
was a tennis ball. Kirk was a very literal person and once he’d figured that
symbolism out in his youth, he took it as fact and arranged his life around it,
watching tennis, playing tennis, coaching tennis and, now, fathering tennis. It
was convenient for Edie to build on Kirk’s focus by practicing every bit as hard
at the game as he asked her and Karl to do, always picturing herself at the top
of a podium.
If not exactly inspired by the game itself, Edie was inspired by its
promise of upward mobility based on the accumulation of points through
winning matches, points which allowed one to compete in better and better
tournaments. With this ladder in mind, she pushed herself hard, following
Kirk’s most minute directions, whereas her brother Karl, a naturally talented
laze-about, had to be dragged, moaning and grousing, to practice, to matches,
to new clubs forever escalating in reputation, clubs where their father was hired
due to Karl’s undeserved record of wins. But Karl’s petulance would ruin him,
Edie knew, so she was patient and waited for his comeuppance, at which point
she would have had years of preparation to take his place as best in the family,
a more significant competition than you might think.
Edie worked harder than any other child in their tennis orbit, longer hours,
more deliberately, following all the directions, all the guidelines. And so, of
course, she became incredibly, reliably proficient. Any coach would be glad to
have her on his team, such a good example for the others. Kirk certainly acted
glad to have her herding Karl, nipping his heels, pushing him up the slope. But
for some ineffable reason, all that work didn’t add up to the level of success
Edie expected. Something was missing. What was it? Though it bothered
her, of course, she continued to believe in the power of mind over matter, in
practice and persistence. Edie played the long game. So that was what she did,
38 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

improving Karl and all her team members with the example of her habits,
expecting it to pay off in the end.
Things went on this way for a decade, her brother winning tournaments in
spite of his shameful work ethic, which wasn’t supposed to happen, according
to everything everybody ever said about winning, and Edie coming close
through diligence and height—she was five-eleven, so promising!—though
she always finished in semis, never a final. Another girl might have been fine
with things as they stood, but the situation tore at Edie, the wrongness of her
brother’s success and the fact that her father, who claimed to value effort and
attitude, blissfully celebrated Karl’s wins and barely seemed to notice anymore
Edie’s near-misses.
Kirk did often compliment her on her shiny hair and sparkly blue eyes, but
that was a too-weak ointment, failing to treat her underlying condition. But
Edie understood. Wins mattered.
By 1992, twenty-year-old Karl was winning enough pro matches—his
playing career actually at its peak, poised to begin its downward tumble—to
keep their parents working now six jobs between them to fund his activities.
(Andula added office cleaning to her resume.)
In the month before the Franco Pros, as Edie finalized her travel plans—
she didn’t ask her father to do that, as Karl did—Kirk came into her room and
sat on the edge of her bed, near her desk, where she was entering details into
a calendar.
“What are you doing, Edie?”
“What do you think? Training plan, food, transportation …”
“Edie, stop.”
“What?”
“Look at this room.” He gestured at her walls, papered with posters of tennis
stars—Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Martina Navratilova, Jennifer Capriati.
And over her desk, the greatest, Chris Evert, beaming, blonde, holding over her
head the Wimbledon Ladies’ singles trophy, which was not really a trophy like
the men got, but a plate, the Venus Rosewater Dish, which rankled Edie. She’d
prefer a trophy. But still, Chris won that plate and held it up like the sun over
Edie’s private shrine to achievement.
“It’s like tennis is all you have,” Kirk said.
She put down her pen and gaped at him.
“Of course it’s all I have.”
“I’m saying you should have something else.”
She thought he meant money, which she certainly could use. They all
could.
“Well, I’m going to get that. With the tennis.”
“How are you going to do that? You won’t date the other players.”
“How would that get me money?”
“Love! You should get a husband! You shouldn’t just have tennis!”
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 39

Edie snorted. “I’m eighteen.”


“That’s what I’m saying. You’re too focused on tennis to do what you
should be doing. You look good now, the best you’ll ever look. But you have no
prospects. No man on the horizon.”
“What? What about Krejčí-the-Tailor?”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“The gold rock is tennis!”
“Not for you! For Karl! For Karl the gold rock is tennis. For you, the gold
rock’s a ring!”
A ring?
Edie thought of her mother, working four jobs, never home. She couldn’t
even picture her mother’s ring. Could barely picture her mother! Was that what
he wanted for Edie?
“Have you had a stroke? You’re making no sense. You never said this
before.”
“I didn’t think it needed saying. It’s obvious. You’re eighteen. You’re not
going to be Chris Evert. She was far beyond you at this age. She was in U.S.
Open semis at sixteen. You’re no Chris Evert! You need to find a man while
you can.”
Blood pounded so hard in her ears she thought they would shoot off her
head to her postered walls.
“This isn’t about me! This is about money! You don’t want to pay for me
anymore.”
“This is about what’s best for you.”
“Tell me the truth!”
“It’s best for you to find a man.” He took a big breath. “And we’re not going
to pay for your tennis anymore. If you want to continue, you’re going to have
to do it yourself.”
“How would I …”
“You could do night work at the racket club. Work like Mama.”
“That would give me no time for practice! Zero chance of winning!”
“That’s why it’s best if you …”
“What about Karl? Are you cutting him off too?”
“Obviously not,” he answered, simply.
“You’re sexist!” she yelled, using a word she’d heard mumbled by a circle of
un-groomed women at an Old Town cafe.
“Sexish? What does that even mean?” Kirk got up and gripped her shoulders.
“Edie, you’re beautiful. You’re a good girl. You’ll find a good husband. But Karl,
he won’t make it without tennis.”
Had she spent thirteen years working this hard at tennis in order to find a
good Czech husband? That was never her plan!
“You used me to make Karl better! You used me like you use Mama!”
Who was this man? Why had she loved and honored him?
40 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

She ran out of her room, downstairs to the phone to call the butcher shop,
where her mother was bookkeeping in a chilled back room, and told her what
was happening. “Mama, do something! Please! For once!”
Edie thought she could hear the scratch of a pencil, the rub of an eraser
in the pause before Andula answered in a voice cool and flat as a slab of beef.
“Darling, it doesn’t add up.”
Edie had never asked anything of her mother. This was her chance, when
she might be a hero on her daughter’s behalf, and this was her response? It
doesn’t add up?
Edie slammed the phone, cutting the connection. She’d never forgive Kirk
for backing the wrong Krejčí, nor Andula for failing to rise in her defense.
Edie’d done everything she could but they’d not done what they should. She’d
given them a long leash, an eighteen-year leash, but they’d finally snapped it.
She knew well enough that the parents of most of her school friends would act
in exactly the same way, but that knowledge didn’t help. This was happening
to her, to Edie Krejčí, and she wouldn’t take it. She wouldn’t stop due to this
parental humiliation. She would stand up for herself if no one else would stand
for her. She didn’t need them. She could do what needed doing. By herself. Edie
Krejčí would get to the top of that podium, alone, which was the way it had to
be, she thought. Winners got there alone.
As a non-star player, she was in a pay-to-play situation. No coach, no
agent, no endorsements. Sleeping on the sofas of tournament club members,
riding red-eye trains to suburban courts, brown bag meals tucked in her duffel.
Going home always before semis. The life of a backpacking student, not that
of a world class athlete. She didn’t mind hard work, obviously—not at all, she
relished it—but she needed to know it would lead somewhere, and she was
beginning to see that tennis would not. It would shoot her right back into the
same neighborhood where she was already living, hoping for a job like her
father’s, which wasn’t good enough. Edie was not a girl for lost causes.
Though it was awful at first to accept it, after a year without backing, Edie
saw the truth in her father’s humiliating assessment. She would have more
options than Karl. Just not, as her father thought, because she was pretty. She
was much more than that. She would use her intelligence and her practical
knowledge of the world gained through a lifetime of tennis to create a future
where she’d be recognized for her excellence. The recognition was the important
part. It didn’t matter whether it was for tennis or something else.
Every afternoon, Tom Steinhart took the center treadmill at the Univerzita
Karlova tennis center where she worked. A California boy visiting Prague for
his semester abroad, Tom was loose-limbed and fluid, shoulder-length, sun-
bleached hair curling up in the back when he sweated, a runner with a big-
throated laugh. He stood half a head over Edie’s nearly six feet, taller than
almost all the men in the center, so that when she passed him, she felt a
rightness to their relation. He was higher, but within reach. On the treadmill,
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 41

his long arms pumped forward and back, forward and back, his chin up,
sweat slicking his delts. Watching him move that way warmed her through.
He looked like he could go wherever he wanted, running on that conveyer
belt. He laughed and waved whenever Edie passed in her tennis skirt, toting
towels or disinfectant bottles, though honestly he waved at most of the athletes
and staff—it seemed to cost him nothing to be friendly with everyone. Edie
liked that in him, especially as friendliness felt like work to her. There was
something so warm, so golden and reflective about him.
She’d not focused on the romantic arts in her teens, as busy as she was
with tennis. She had very little experience in how to attract a boy like Tom.
Obviously she was pretty, with high, round cheeks and a charming cleft
chin, but the club was filled with pretty university girls, every kind of pretty.
Brooding, coppery, Amazonian, pocket-sized, frightening, cheery. All of them
smart, she assumed—they were in college. What did she have, beyond that?
Finding no answer, she stopped asking that question and asked instead, what
does a boy like this want? And then she found it.
One afternoon, from behind the desk, Edie handed Tom a towel, looking
straight at his green eyes, whites streaked red from the night before, and asked,
“You’ve been here a month, but you haven’t been to Střed Terče yet, have you?”
His brow wrinkled. “Strut …?”
“Střed Terče—Bulls Eye Bar. None of your friends, none of these—she
jerked her head to the room of students—go there, I assume. You go to college
bars, tourist traps, beer halls, right?”
She’d aimed at a slim target and felt it hit. He leaned in an inch.
“It’s authentic Czech. Not like places you go. It’s cool.”
She’d gleaned from eavesdropped conversations that insider knowledge
of unknown but essential bars was the curriculum a certain kind of American
male was reputation-bound to gain in his semester abroad. In a pre-Yelp era,
this was the bait Tom would bite.
“Take me,” he said, hopeful, a belly-up puppy.
They went to Bulls Eye Bar together that night and then almost every night
that month for drinks, until they were a recognizable pair. Each night more of
the friends Tom had told about it were there to greet them, which pushed him
even higher than he’d already been among his set, though it no doubt ruined
Bulls Eye for the regulars.
She saw he was wealthy, the way he spilled korunas out of his pocket,
loosely, buying rounds for the rest of them. But he’d dress for the bar as if he
didn’t care what he threw on, sometimes wearing ripped jeans, moth nibbles
at the edge of his polo collar, which confused her at first. Edie recognized the
brands he wore as expensive, so his disinterest in their upkeep began to set
off their quality. Of course, if she’d taken this logic further, she might have
seen that his wearing of such tattered things was every bit as self-conscious a
decision as ironing them might have been. American class was hard to unravel.
42 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

But she was a good student and vowed she’d break the code. She wouldn’t wear
dilapidated clothes herself—the rules were different for females than males,
Czechs than Americans. She knew not to choose the garish, primary colors
of the American girls, which made her look cheap, nor the utilitarian clothes
of the girls in her neighborhood—depressing. She settled on simple, muted,
one-color outfits—tans, ice-blues, creams—which worked like a neutral mat
around the shimmer of her moonlight hair, the unlikely blue of her eyes, her
pearly skin. She had a talent for costuming, she saw.
She liked the way people looked at her when she arrived at Bulls Eye on
Tom’s arm after they’d burrowed through twisting ancient tunnels to the lowest
lounge below the city, where skunky smoke mixed with the yeast and bitter
herbs of beer and spirits. Together they were so bright and beautiful the crowd
parted when they arrived, opening a path to the cave’s final bar, stitching up
again behind them, so that together they were insulated by a thrumming body
of admiration.
Even in 1993, a nineteen-year-old girl like Edie could see that marriage
was a valid way to gain status and she felt herself finally beginning to put
down tennis. She believed she had what it took to snag this American prince,
to escape Prague and her insufficient family. The air around her thinned, just
thinking of that, making her dizzier each night with the beer and the pot and
her hand entwined in this big, warm palm, her cheek near this broad, muscled
shoulder.
Tom would open doors to entirely new rooms, to palaces, for her, as she’d
opened this tunnel to the bar for him. Maybe she’d go to college in California.
Become a doctor, a lawyer, a TV personality. Tom was the route to new
opportunities she now wanted. In return for all he’d give her, Tom would win
the ideal wife—beautiful, smart, practical—so that would be very nice for him.
This is what Edie thought.
They spent every spare moment together when Tom wasn’t in economics
classes or drinking with friends, and when Edie wasn’t working at the club.
She made herself indispensable, meeting needs he hadn’t yet expressed, coffee
while he dozed, fellatio as he studied. Thinking always of him, pleasing him,
winning him. But she began to see that one semester might not be enough time
to establish her merit as a wife. So much of Tom’s interest in her still seemed
to turn on her skin and eyes and breasts, rather than her intelligent sturdiness,
the thing that would actually make her an excellent partner.
His winter days and weeks and months in Prague flew off the calendar,
Edie’s opportunities dropping like icicles.

Alone in her family’s house between work at the university and Bulls Eye
with Tom, Edie would tune the TV to reruns of American soap operas playing
on the Top Hits in English time slot—General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, One Life
to Live and, most importantly, All My Children. This TV study time taught her
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 43

not only the proper conjugation of cheat and lie and love but also the many ways
in which a modern Cinderella might clinch the deal.
One such afternoon she sat eating popcorn on the linoleum before the
flickering black and white screen, watching her favorite character, Erica Kane,
a practical dreamer, strong woman in a man’s world, conspire to abort her
unwanted baby without revealing her pregnancy to the father. Erica was so
misunderstood, Edie thought, constantly accused of irrelevant things by the
jealous mealy-mouths of Pine Valley, who were always aiming to block her
happiness. Edie yearned for Erica to get what she wanted. Staring into Erica’s
eyes, moist but resolute at the moment of her decision to abort, Edie saw it.
Even post-tennis, her body was still the source of great power. She made a plan
to use it in a new, purposeful way.
She pierced her diaphragm with an upholstery needle pilfered from her
mother’s gold-stitched needlework supply purse—Tom always watched her
insert the diaphragm, would have known if she hadn’t—and began to escalate
their sexual activity even above what had been required to keep Tom at her side
all semester. She acted thrilled, actually made herself feel thrilled, to indulge
in all manner of sex, so long as it culminated in vaginal intercourse protected
only by the pierced rubber membrane. As a result, all through the months
of March and April, Prague must have seemed a fairytale landscape for Tom,
existing almost entirely indoors. Edie hid her exhaustion from the effort.
But near the end of his semester, he may also have begun to feel the pull of
his home in California or his dorm in Providence or perhaps he began to sense
an odd level of desperation in Edie that may have made him uncomfortable.
He was someone who didn’t have to try hard. He was effortlessly appealing,
which was not true of Edie. Standing so close to her, he may have detected
the effort shimmering on her forehead as she chuckled at his jokes, even the
obvious ones, or softening her eyes while he shared his economic philosophies.
She’d leveraged such garden-variety effort with other, more superstitious
tactics, wearing the same lacy bikini panties every night, rinsing them every
morning, drying them in the afternoon, arriving before him at his unlocked
apartment, putting his favorite Lou Reed song—Candy Says—on the turntable
when she heard his step in the stairwell.
But she felt called to do more, leave no stone unturned. So she phoned in
sick at the club one morning and went to Josefov, the Jewish Quarter, to the
home of her mother’s childhood friend, Tereza, a fat old woman who was just
the latest of many generations of inhabitants who had idiosyncratically tended
her thirteenth century home, un-persuaded by koruna-waving opportunists.
Tereza admitted Edie, kissing both cheeks, offering her tea in the warm
kitchen.
Polite, not rushing, Edie answered her questions.
“Yes, Mama still does books for the baker whose yeast caused the sickness.”
“No, she doesn’t mop floors at Jedová Chýšeat at closing anymore.”
44 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Yes, she is too old for that now.”


“No, Karl hasn’t quit his carousing, the young girls.”
Having sated Tereza’s curiosity, Edie said she was there for the alchemist.
Tereza nodded. “Yes, I guessed so. Help with the tennis?”
Edie blushed that Tereza thought her game needed alchemical help but
nodded the lie.
Tereza waddled ahead of her down a hall to a closet door, which she
opened to a small anteroom, turning a stone knob, which caused the back
limestone wall of the closet to pivot open into dark.
“I’ll leave it ajar for you,” Tereza said. “I’m cleaning the oven. Sausages
make such a mess when they burst.” She handed Edie the flashlight that hung
on a hook in the closet.
Edie stepped alone into the stone passage, flashlight revealing her path
down into a tunnel, cool and damp, which lead to a rubble-filled alley
running through the underground city, hidden since the thirteenth century,
when Praguers buried it all, building anew, higher, to protect themselves from
the overflowing Vltava River. For many decades, devoted citizens like Tereza
and her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents had secretly undertaken
the clearing out of these tunnels, which connected Prague’s most important
government buildings.
Edie ran her hand along the wall to steady herself, shivering at the wet on
her fingers. She passed through the first room, covered in glass tiles, without
stopping to admire. She’d seen it before, many times, on family visits to Tereza.
She had business to take care of now.
She passed into and through the old torture room as quickly as she could,
so she wouldn’t hear the moans she remembered from childhood. (Her father
had said they were the sounds of traffic above, but Edie knew he was wrong.)
She passed prison walls, etched with prisoners’ names. Even a game of
tic-tac-toe.
She passed under Old Town’s clock tower and town hall, and was
surrounded underground by Gothic and Romanesque arches. She kept moving.
Finally, she reached the stretch Tereza had described as a hidden laboratory
in the reign of Rudolf II, Europe’s greatest promoter of occult arts and sciences.
She saw scattered remains of equipment, a crucible used to turn lead into
gold. This was where Rudolf ’s alchemists had worked and sold their elixirs,
where he himself, King of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor, murderer, father of
dozens of bastards and no legitimate heirs, had established his own laboratory,
concocting and collaborating underground with likeminded men.
She saw a glow ahead, around the corner, and turned into an alcove lit
by kerosene lamps, which made the space look hot, the center of something.
Lamps hung from the ceiling. Others sat on the floor along the edges of the
alcove and within small crevices in the stone. In the middle of the room, several
card-tables were set up, side by side, in a long work surface. Here sat a man in a
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 45

rolling office chair. He looked to be in his thirties, wiry red hair pulled into a
ponytail, wearing a black tee shirt that read Nine Below Zero, Live, Europe 1992!
He looked up from his work, whisking chemicals in Tupperware.
“Dobré ráno. Who sent you?”
“Same. Tereza Černý.”
“You sight seer or customer?”
“Customer,” she squeezed the thin stack of korunas in her pocket.
He revealed gray teeth too big for his small mouth. “Love potion, right?”
“That is correct,” she said, defensive.
He bent below the table to bring up a box of small bottles, taking one out.
Its stopper was candle-waxed in. He pulled off a label with numbers and letters
written in pen.
“What does that say?”
“It’s the formula. Since we found the original stuff down here, it wasn’t too
hard to reverse engineer.”
She picked up a bottle, turning it under the light. “Is this real?”
He rolled his eyes and exhaled dramatically. “It’s not magic. It’s science.
Somewhere in the middle, maybe. It’s a mix of seventy-something herbs—
top-secret combination—macerated in alcohol and opium. It stuns the senses,
makes a person … susceptible. It won’t work without your doing work yourself.”
Edie thought, Yes, that’s how. Some magic. Some work.
She wouldn’t rely on the potion. She’d continue to do the work, but this
would at least boost her confidence in what she planned to make happen.
In the end, the alchemist charged her what she’d brought but threw in a
small bottle of extra.
“For the road,” he said.
It cost her a week’s pay, but she wasn’t going to let Tom go home to America
without her. She wouldn’t be stuck in this place where she had nothing and no
one.
***
Every morning Edie arrived at Tom’s apartment before work, letting herself
in so she could add potion to his coffee, which was not hard to arrange as he
was so comfortable with her serving him. She plunged dark grounds in the
press, poured it, adding cream and sugar, as he liked. Then she added drops of
the elixir, one, two, three, before giving it a final stir. She stood in front of him
as he drank it, hoping to see it take effect in his gaze at her, but often enough
he’d grab the English-language newspaper she’d brought him and begin to
look at the stock reports as he sipped, tracking his inheritance.
She began to wonder if she was using enough, though Tom had started to
act differently.
By early May, when they were in public, he often stood apart from her,
failing to wrap his fingers in hers, looking past her at the door, as his friends
46 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

snickered in their mugs. He took afternoons off from answering her calls,
would miss an arranged nighttime meet-up. And when they did connect,
he rushed through sex, seeming sweatier. After, his sloppy clothing looked
exaggerated, suspect.
Edie was no idiot. She accelerated their sexual activity when he did come
around, no longer bothering to angle for shared nights out for a movie or runs
in the morning or visits to museums. She added more love potion—four, five,
six drops, seven—into his drinks.
When he stood her up, not returning her calls or answering her midnight
knocks on his newly-locked door for a week, she returned to Bulls Eye and
learned from his sniggering crew that he’d flown back to California early with
some sort of medical ailment, a poison in the blood.
“Or maybe it was psychological,” one of them said. The group laughed at
that.
She was slapped breathless. How could he do this to her? She rushed up
and out of the bar and the cold spring air braced her, anger flooding her veins.
Everything she’d done for him, for them! Rushing home, as she passed his
sneering friend’s Volvo, she scratched her key along its driver side.
She’d seen a life for herself in California, married to this man who could
launch her. He was the only way she could get herself somewhere she wanted
to be. She had to get out of Prague, to the future. Now she felt more trapped in
her home than she ever had before. There was nothing for her here in this old
place. Her need to get to California throbbed.
The feeling didn’t abate. She suffered weeks of the blues, struggling to get
out of bed, to work, to go on. She couldn’t hear or see straight. When she’d spent
several mornings weaving dizzy through treadmills and weight machines,
vomiting in locker room toilets, she finally bought the stick, took over a stall
for an entire work break in the wait to see the plus sign, which she won. It was
a validation that part of her effort had succeeded, which did her great good.
Edie was a rigorous planner, but she was also adaptable. The baby was the
important thing, more important than Tom.
When it was not even a bean in her belly, she decided she’d raise it with
or without him. She would improve the Krejčí line. Her parents had been
awful, failures. All the way back to stupid Krejčí-the-Tailor, she was trailed by
incompetence. She would change that into the future. She would be the mother
her child needed. The very best mother. She knew she could do this without
Tom. But it wouldn’t be without his money, his effortless money.
Edie spent weeks in the evenings in the Univerzita Karlova library,
researching Tom’s family—only child of Lester and Olympia. Their home—
Amberton. Their work—banker and philanthropist. Their press clippings—
photos at the opera opening, the ballet board meeting, the library foundation
ball. Towns near Amberton, but less expensive—Riverdale, Sweet Valley. The
college he went to—Brown University. And the distance between Brown and
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 47

Amberton, a world away. She made plans, recording them in her notebook in a
timeline that included her idea of her baby’s due date.
After she’d done all this, she emptied her family’s communal bank account,
reserved for Karl’s tournaments—into which she’d made her own weekly
deposits for years—and bought a ticket to San Francisco, without telling her
parents she was leaving or that she was pregnant.
As she boarded the plane, she closed the door on the Krejčí family and
Czechoslovakia. Her homeland split behind her, as if broken-hearted, into
Czech and Slovak Republics. She traveled the firmament from one condition
to the next without wasting a moment of useless tourism. By the time her
plane taxied at SFO two days later she had in her mind that she’d already made
herself American, though perhaps that was premature.
She bathroom-bathed at the airport and took a cab directly to the Amberton
address of Tom’s parents, gray-browed Lester and statuesque Olympia, blonde
still at her advanced age of fifty or so. On their doorstep, she introduced herself
as Tom’s girlfriend from Prague. She told them she had no interest in disturbing
his trajectory.
“He’s nice boy,” she said, “who’s been good to me. But now your son needs
to be good influence for our baby.” She patted her tummy.
“Please,” Lester said, slight bend at his knees, as if he were focused on
staying upright, and gestured her toward their lemon-smelling library.
Olympia’s blonde brows lowered as she stared at Edie. Rude, Edie thought.
In the library, Edie looked around at leather bound books in green and
gold, at a silver tray with an amber-filled crystal decanter circled by heavy
squat glasses. At a crest, three feet in diameter, carved into the wood over the
stone fireplace, a great bird, wings spread wide, head in profile.
Edie breathed in the furniture oil and said, “Bring Tom home or send me
to him at college so we can marry. Our child needs proper father.”
There was a silence before Olympia answered.
“I see you are a smart, obviously competent girl.”
“Yes,” Edie said, glad to be seen. “I am.”
Lester leaned back like a man who didn’t want to get splashed at a curb.
“But that is not going to happen. We’ll pay for medical care and basic living
expenses for you and your baby, within reason, as long as needed. But you will
remain silent about your history with Tom.”
Lester got up and stood before the window, back to the women, facing the
long view of lawn and redwoods.
That offer wasn’t going to be enough.
Edie wanted not just a guarantee of more than the implied minimal
money but also the family connection. Sitting in their woody home, she saw
how useful it would be to have this kind of family, having abandoned the
insufficient Krejčís.
“This is unacceptable offer,” she said.
48 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Best of luck with your pregnancy.” Olympia rose and pointed her long,
crepey arm at the door.
That night, from the bed of a windowless attic room in a student-filled
boarding house, Edie cried in humiliation. They’d rejected her. Thrown her
down the mountain. But it wasn’t over!
The next morning she sent Tom’s parents a letter dictating again what she
wanted, to which she received no answer from them, but one instead from
their lawyer instructing her to stop harassing his clients. “You have their offer,”
it read. The following week, she sent a letter directly back to their lawyer, who
answered again by repeating the limitations of the offer the Steinharts had
made.
When she returned to their home three weeks after the first visit, their
maid wouldn’t admit her, handing her an ecru linen envelope labeled, “Miss
Krejčí,” with the enclosed cursive message, “Offer stands,” no signature.
She’d already used almost all the money she’d taken from the Krejčí
account on the flight and renting a room, so she got herself work at a Riverdale
racket club coffee counter, an inferior club, really. But still, there she was able
to study the differences between Czech and California tennis ladies. She didn’t
talk much, mostly listened, which made her a pet of the fun-loving women.
She saved every penny, working all the extra shifts they offered.
In her third trimester, Edie traveled again, belly-first, to the Steinharts’
porch to negotiate a new point—that pending tests, the Steinharts would
confirm the baby was their grandchild. Edie would now agree not to divulge
that connection publicly until Olympia, Lester, Tom, his future wife and all his
other future children and grandchildren had passed away. That chain of events
seemed reasonably distant and so the Steinharts signed the documents.
Nightly, Edie fantasized Tom’s arrival on her step, overwrought in love and
apology, but that knock on the door never came.
In the week before Christmas, the Steinharts drove home from San Francisco
in Lester’s Mercedes after seeing the Nutcracker, a show Edie also attended,
having ingratiated herself to a rich team captain at the club, who gifted her a
spare ticket. Edie sat quite a bit back and up from the Steinharts, eyes trained
on them, not the dancers, clutching a tiny gold-stitched needlepoint purse,
which she dropped in the trash as she exited the ballet, too far away to catch
up to Tom, too late to make him look at her that night.
Lester suffered a massive heart attack on the drive home on the Junipero
Serra freeway, steering himself, Olympia and Tom—last of the Steinharts—
over the edge of Highway 280, into a ravine, where they were all killed on
impact. Edie read the details in the San Jose Mercury News two days later from
her bed, where she cried and ate ramen and read library books about child-
birth and parenting, single parenting.
She delivered her baby herself in that boarding room bed. Her baby slid
out between her thighs, floating inside the thin, filmy bubble of her amniotic
Blanton-Stroud/Birthing the Girl in a Bubble 49

sac—behind the veil. Edie knew this marked her child as lucky. Everything
she’d done, everything she’d been through, had created this luck, for this
special girl. She held her that way for a few moments, preserving the magical
protection, watching her baby’s perfect fingers flex and paddle. Then she
rubbed her thumb on her baby’s forehead, taking the glistening tissue between
her own fingers, and pulled at it, tearing it away to reveal the most beautiful,
perfect child ever born, to a world in which her father and grandparents were
dead, her mother permanently divorced from her own family. All the girl
would have was her mother. As a girl born in a bubble, she would always be
protected from the worst events. Yet if Edie hadn’t rubbed her thumb against
her beautiful daughter’s forehead, if she hadn’t seen exactly when to pull away
the veil, her baby Bela might have suffocated and died alone, untouched.
Sleeping beauty.
Edie met soon after with an attorney from the legal aid clinic, who arranged
for the test that proved Bela’s biological connection to Tom. He helped her set
up a financial structure for their future, making sure Edie was ready to do every
last thing she needed to establish herself and her daughter for a respectable life,
from which Edie could pivot to who knows what. She could do anything she
wanted.
Naturally she bought a charming ranch style home in Menlo Park, near the
El Dorado Racket and Swim Club—she’d heard it was the best. With the last of
the Steinharts gone, their relation to Bela confirmed, and no prospect of any
other Steinharts being born to contest it, Bela inherited their fortune, which
Edie managed for them both. They would never lack funds to achieve their
destiny. Edie changed their last name to Steinhart, after the famous aquarium,
making their transformation complete, launching Bela on her own perfect,
fairy-tale arc. Edie’s little princess.
50 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

To Himself
He kept to himself:  reading,
nose in a book, scribbling
in that journal he hid deep
in the hay loft.

He skated that way, too –


self-contained, fluid strides,
carrying secrets with each rush.

He’d visit home a stranger –


nervous, his anger a hunger
to strike, to hip check me
into the boards.

Lying rigid in a hospital bed


clothes cut off by the orderly
his limbs numb, pointless –
will he hold a pen again?

Fate’s a cheap detail –


a poorly sharpened bevel
on a skate blade.

I look down at him,


as paralyzed as he is,
stunned, grinding teeth
conjuring a memory

of that first pair of skates –


how he laced them, then
stepped onto black ice
so clear, so smooth
51

the cranberry plants


trapped below seemed
like museum pieces –
motionless, glass versions

of themselves – and he
kneeled down, almost
kissing its surface
mesmerized by them

his mittened hands excited,


polishing the ice, his laugh
splintering winter air.
David Cappella
52 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
2018 Lyle Olsen Graduate Student Essay Contest Winner

Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans

Kasey Symons

I n May 2016, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo created a Kickstarter


campaign to publish a picture book that featured biographies of exceptional
women in history aimed at young readers. Their goal was to create new types
of fairy tales for young girls that shone a light on history’s often overlooked,
under-appreciated or forgotten women. The campaign broke Kickstarter1 records
for publishing, the book became a reality, and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
(Favilli and Cavallo, 2017) was an instant sales success.
The authors set out to counter the way children’s books still tend to reinforce,
legitimize, and reproduce a patriarchal gender system (McCabe, Fairchild & al.,
2011, p. 198). In other words, to counter the persistent “symbolic annihilation”
of strong girls and women in children’s literature (Tuchman, 1978) and instead
to make girls and boys aware of resilient and resourceful women. Rebellious
women. I myself was inspired by Favilli and Cavallo’s work. When I picked up
the beautifully designed Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls2 in my local bookshop,
I flipped through the pages and I couldn’t stop smiling. This book would
change the world.
But would it change my world as a female sports fan? Reading Goodnight
Stories for Rebel Girls brought me back to questions of the representation of
women in traditional male sporting spaces such as sports fandom, especially
in the literature of Australian Rules football that I am studying. In particular
it took me back to three fictional accounts of Australian Rules football written
by women. When I began my research into the field of the representation of
women in sports discourse and discovered these books, I was elated. I had
consumed so much content written by men that finding these, no matter that
there were only three, was exhilarating. Books about Australian Rules football
54 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

written by women. Finally, I had found my fairy tales. I wanted these authors
to be my inspiration as I set my personal goal toward being a published female
football fiction writer. But I hated them.
In this paper, I want to explore why I hated them, and what this revealed
of the unconscious biases that structure significant parts of my complicated
relationship to (other) female Australian Rules football fans. Drawing on the
tools of autoethnography and studies of female sports fans, I want to open
up the question of how female sports fans read sports fiction that is written
by women. More specifically, I want to explore the structural prejudices faced
by women writing about predominantly male sporting cultures, while also
still critically engaging with these texts. How do sports fans who have not
been exposed to the varied roles of women in this environment, due to their
omission from the discourse, actually read female characters? How do adult
fans, particularly female fans, absorb and relate to how women are depicted in
a modern sports literature that seeks to add women back into it? (Pope, 2012).
Australian Rules football, colloquially referred to as “footy,” is a beloved
national sport, occupying a similar role to those held by American football and
baseball in the U.S. The game’s fans are enamored with it and are frequently
celebrated as mad, fevered, obsessed, fanatical, and addicted (Klugman, 2009,
p. 67). Matthew Klugman argues that the seemingly pathological, though feted,
devotion of fans is grounded in the love of their team, as well as the specific
love of certain players, and a more general love of the game (Klugman, 2009).
Despite its immense popularity, the game has not inspired much notable
fiction. The most renowned work is David Williamson’s play The Club, which
was written forty years ago (Williamson, 1978). Most of the literature written
on Australian Rules football is directed at boys, with the adventures of Specky
Magee being the most popular of these (Arena & Lyon, 2014). More recently,
Radio personality and comedian Jo Stanley has published a four-book series
focusing on Australian Rules football for girls (Stanley, 2017), while another
series, Fox Swift, features a girl playing with a team of boys (Lawrence & Rioli,
2013).
In contrast, the three books that this paper focuses on are the only fiction
books published to date written by women about Australian Rules football for
an adult audience. By illustrating my own experience of reading these works, as
a self-identifying female Australian Rules football fan, an autoethnographical
analysis will address how the tendency to identify with the male-led fan
behaviors learned while inhabiting a fan space creates an unconscious bias,
thus affecting how female fans of elite male sports experience other women in
that environment. This is primarily exemplified by self-identifying female fans
still considering women occupying the space as “other,” and by placing the
same negative stereotypes upon women that they, as female fans, are also in a
constant battle to defend (Pope, 2012 & 2013; Jones, 2008; Mewett & Toffoletti,
2011 & 2012).
Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 55

Autoethnography is an important tool for me as a researcher and


participant in sports fan culture and will assist in my understanding of my
multiple experiences of reading these three texts. It will become evident later
in this paper why I needed to experience multiple readings of each book.
“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe
and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural
experience” (Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2010, p.1). The reading of these texts and
this subsequent paper is practice-led, a process noted in Smith and Dean in
which “the artist intuitively adopts the dual roles of the researcher and the
researched in a ‘reflexive process’” (Smith & Dean, 2009, p. 28).
A central aspect of this process is the mining of my past and present as
my football fan identity has developed and been shaped by the cultures that
I am embedded in. Author and researcher Enza Gandolfo notes her approach
to the craft of writing with reference to writer Joan Didion:  “For me, writing
is first of all an act of exploration. Joan Didion puts it best when she says:  ‘I
write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and
what it means. What I want and what I fear’” (Gandolfo, 2014). This sentiment
by Gandolfo and Didion captures the process I am engaging with through my
own work. This process is aided by an understanding of theory and the process
of reading these fictional football texts written by women. Through the act of
reading, and writing about my reading, I will expose and explore thoughts and
feelings that directly relate to answering my research question in a way that
cannot be done without such a reflexive process.
The three texts of sports fiction based on Australian Rules football that I
address in this paper are The Family Men by Catherine Harris (2014), Game Day
by Miriam Sved (2014), and The Whole of my World (2013) by Nicole Hayes. It is
interesting to note that they were all published around the same time; however,
no others have followed them as of yet. I will also note that Hayes’ text is
technically young adult fiction as it features a teenage protagonist; however, I
consider it separate enough from texts written by women in this genre that are
aimed specifically at young girls that primarily focus on participation in junior
sport. The protagonist is sixteen and the book deals with adult themes.
So why did I initially hate reading these books? When I first read them, they
didn’t seem to ring true. They felt inauthentic. There were factual inaccuracies
that any football fan should know. I could not believe editors had let these
errors go to print.
Upon reflection months later, I found this to be an interesting reaction
after exploring the research on unconscious gender bias (Blair and Banaji,
1996; Kunda and Spencer 2003; Ridgeway, 2009) and gender performance
in female fans of elite male sports (Jones, 2008). I had to ask myself if this
position I held by not enjoying these three texts was in fact framed by these
predisposed biases. “Research shows that sex categorization unconsciously
primes gender stereotypes in our minds and makes them cognitively available
56 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

to shape behavior and judgment” (Ridgeway, 2009). But I thought this meant
unconscious bias toward women was something only men did to us, to me.
When I made comments about the game or sat in the stands cheering, feeling
self-conscious, when I felt like my own authenticity as a fan was on the line all
the time—how could I also be participating in this bias toward other women?
I am a woman. Was I unfairly critiquing these texts because they were sports
texts written by women?
On my initial readings of these texts, my “footy fan” position was
unconsciously unrelenting. My love for the game placed me as a guardian of it.
I wanted to protect it from anything some primal sense within me interpreted
as an attack. The flaws I noted in these narratives ranged from small factual
inaccuracies to what I deemed to be completely impossible situations
comparative to the context of elite and professional Australian Rules football.
One example of a small error in Sved’s text is when she indicates a senior
player’s distaste for some of the newer and more exciting players coming into
the team who could threaten his position. The character is bitter that he has
missed an award that might have made him stand out against the young
players, the Mark of the Year award. In the AFL, this award is given to a player
who takes the best mark1 of the season as voted by fans, and is awarded at
the conclusion of the regular season. Sved’s character is upset that he missed
this award; however, the “mark” he is referring to was taken in a finals game.
Marks taken in finals games are not eligible for selection, as voting has already
concluded.
It seems like such a small thing but this incorrect piece of information
instantly pulled me out of Sved’s story. This incident is a small, innocuous
comment made by this character. It’s a device to help frame his disgruntled
nature toward the new recruits on his team and his missed opportunities.
It occurs early on in the book and because of the error in the technicalities
surrounding how votes for the award work in “real life,” I was prepared to
discard the entire text.
In Harris’ The Family Men, my criticism of her narrative is based on her
central story as opposed to Sved’s small inaccuracies within her text. Harris
depicts a horrific scene that takes place at an end-of-season team awards night.
This is where the football club awards its players with individual honors such
as “Best and Fairest” (Australian Football term equivalent to the MVP), most
improved player, best first year player, etc. At this event, the football team, in
some sort of hazing ritual, encourages the young star player and protagonist to
sexually assault the exotic dancer that has been hired as entertainment. This
incident then sends him into deep emotional turmoil as he is haunted by his
actions and the attitudes and culture of the football club with which he has
become complicit.

1 Catch of the ball on the full delivered by a kick


Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 57

While the writing in this text is powerful and Harris’ prose is elegant and
engaging, I was furious while reading it as I was indignant in believing these
events exist. Harris was writing lies. Elite football clubs hold their Best and Fairest
(MVP) events at large public venues with hundreds of people in attendance.
Family, friends, partners, and even average fans can purchase tickets, though
they are expensive. These events, additionally, are filmed and live streamed on
team websites and social media services; there are mainstream media doing
live crosses to the six o’clock news and photographers that chronicle the night
in a rapid series of flashes for the newspapers. There are certainly no strippers.
The scene Harris depicts where a modern day elite football team could
be secluded away from the eyes of the public and the media and behave in
such an abhorrent way is impossible. It reads like it could have happened at
an amateur football club based in the middle of nowhere, away from prying
eyes and morals. It could perhaps be a “Mad Monday” celebration.2 While I am
not naïve and do not deny that there could be some depravity still evident in
professional sporting environments today, the advent of social media makes
such audacious acts restrictive. And Harris is not depicting a secluded, secret
football club event or ritual; she is not indicating that this is an amateur
organization and she is not describing the past. She is depicting the behavior
of an elite, national football club based in Melbourne in modern times and for
that, I could not allow myself to believe in her story.
Hayes’ story is equally unbelievable to me. The Whole of My World is
the story of a sixteen-year-old girl being denied the opportunity to play the
game herself in 1980s Melbourne. She then shifts her passion for the game
to the stands as she becomes a devoted fan of her AFL (Australian Football
League) club. This narrative is somewhat engaging and I am empathetic to
the protagonist’s heartbreak at not being able to play the game because of her
gender. How her relationship then develops with a senior player at the club
who is married with children, however, is entirely incredible to me.
While reading this text I asked myself, “Why would a thirty-year-old father
and elite athlete continue to drive a sixteen-year-old school girl ‘super fan’
home after she had lingered at the football club while the team trained and
loitered around the change rooms until he left? Would he really then try to
have sex with her on the front lawn of a stranger’s home after a Grand Final loss
to ease his pain?” I wondered if these thoughts were naïve. I knew footballers
were (are) not saints, but this was a sixteen-year-old. She was not depicted as a
football “groupie” on a quest to bed footballers, she was just a young fan. She
loved the game. Did athletes really behave like this with young fans?
The important thing to note is that these texts are all fictional. The question
I needed to ask myself was, why was I so intent on discrediting them due to
small factual inaccuracies or my predispositions on how I believed football

2 These are a tradition in Australian football and are a player/coaches only end-of-season celebration involving heavy drinking
and often inappropriate costumes the Monday after the last game of the season.
58 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

clubs operated or players behaved? Why couldn’t I have agreed that, in Sved’s
fictional world, the Mark of the Year could be awarded for a “mark” taken in the
finals series? Why couldn’t I have allowed myself to imagine Harris’ created
world where a team’s end-of-season celebrations could have occurred in the
way she described? Why couldn’t I give Hayes any credit when depicting the
football fan culture of a time when I was not even born?
I realized that I could have been reacting to these texts much as I have
discovered female fans relate to other women in the sports fan space when they
are in fear of being classified as “inauthentic fans” (Pope 2012 & 2013; Jones,
2008; Mewett & Toffoletti 2011 & 2012).
In her study of female soccer fans in the UK, Katherine Jones notes that her
female respondents
looked down on female fans who practiced different versions
of femininity and fandom then they did; these femininity and
fan practices did not conform to their notion of correct attire,
behaviour, knowledge, and desires. Their rejection of these ways
of doing fandom suggests that the interviewees thought these
women were not proper fans (Jones, 2008).
Was I looking down on these women writers because I thought they did not
conform to what I believed a “proper fan” should be? Had my predisposition
to align myself with male-led behavior in the sports fan environment by
criticizing other women given me a license to be overly critical of these texts
just because they were written by women? How would I have read them if
they were written by men? I needed to re-read them with this in mind,
acknowledging my ingrained football fan as well as my unconscious gender
bias that my whole life has put women outside the game despite the fact that
I am also one of them. These women needed a chance. That is all that I am
asking for as a female fan, too, is it not?
I am afraid of reading these books again based on my initial reactions.
I am afraid I cannot give them the chance they deserve not just because of
the ingrained prejudices I have but also because I am so desperate for these
books to be more than what they are. I want to see myself in them, to see
women how I see women in sport today. And maybe that is unfair, but that
is the insatiable demand I have for football content now, especially from the
women who are providing it because the men are not giving me what I want. I
want these women writers to give me something that I have been missing from
football writing my whole life:  adequate representation. However, it appears
that no matter how much they do give me, I am not ready for it; my instinct is
still to tear it down. Maybe I do just want it from the men?
As Hoeber and Kerwin (2013) state in their research paper in which they
employed an analytical technique called “collective self-ethnography” using
Alvesson (2003), biases in this type of research method are also the reason why
Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 59

this information is beneficial. The biases point to problems in a specific way


which begs for further reflection and action.
We argue that we should not dismiss or ignore our own
personal interests and experiences as a means of informing
our research. We, as women, researchers and sport fans, may
be particularly credible sources in that our trained ability to
critically reflect on our own experiences can contribute to
knowledge regarding female sport fans. Further, self-reflexive
methods allow for more evocative writing and representations
and thus can provide alternative understandings of what it
means to be female sport fans (Hoeber and Kerwin, 2013).
This points to how important it is for me to be as aware as possible of my
prejudice while still critically reading these three texts written about Australian
Rules football by women. I know my bias is there and now I am exploring how
I can move past it to read women in an unbiased way.
Hoeber and Kerwin’s position on bias in ethnography should embolden
me and strip away the fear that I feel about writing in a biased way on this
subject. The fear I am feeling is part of the research. But it is still there -- this
black ball of fear sitting in the bottom of my lungs that makes it hard for me
to breathe sometimes. I do not feel that it is fear based on my scholarship. I
know the research and I know my position. It is the fear that I will experience
the same prejudice that I am showing toward my female cohort, that I will be
seen as yet another fraudulent female fan who doesn’t know what she is talking
about. My fear is always central to my self-identification as a female fan and
is complicated and contradictory, as I also participate in the discrediting of
other women. Joan Didion was right. In writing in this way, I have uncovered
my fears. Am I a big enough football fan to be writing about my experience
as a female fan? Would a real fan even be engaging with this research at all?
Shouldn’t I just shut up and watch the game?
Upon re-examining the three texts I have found myself exploring the
authors themselves. It feels important to me to know their motivation for
writing a football novel, which is also something I would not necessarily do for
writers of other genres of fiction, or perhaps even male sports fiction writers.
But football fiction is overly personal to me. There is some sort of proprietary
relationship I have with football as a fan that makes me feel extremely
protective of it. I am in love with it. This is almost a vetting exercise and I
know how unfair it is for me to be asking if these women writers are qualified
enough to write on the subject. I expect them to be well researched and versed
in the game as well as having a thorough understanding of what it is like to be
a fan of it.
I discovered each author is on a different fan scale. Nicole Hayes is a self-
proclaimed fan of football. She is part of an all-female football podcast, The
60 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Outer Sanctum, and has collaborated on additional football texts, A Footy Girl’s
Guide to the Stars of 2017 (2017) and From the Outer (2016). Miriam Sved is a new
fan to football. After moving to Melbourne to live with her partner, she quickly
fell in love with the game. Catherine Harris is not a fan at all and has no desire
to be one. At the Williamstown Literary Festival in 2015 after the publication
of The Family Men, she acknowledged her aversion to the sport and explained
that her motivation for writing the novel came from the need to expose an
inner sanctum story she had learned. However, her main goal was employing a
writing technique that she was critiquing in her Ph.D. thesis. Harris was elusive
when addressing events in the text that she was depicting through the guise of
fiction, though she was not defensive when it was suggested that it could be
based on a famous footballing family connected to Geelong.3
Harris also expressed a small regret in writing her text as fiction, stating
that it appeared readers had an easier time dismissing the content through
the fictional gaze and not wanting to acknowledge that it could be reality.
This indicates that there was, in fact, an element of truth to her story. Despite
knowing this, I still place myself as part of the audience who has discounted
her tale.
I wondered, while reading these texts, why I was not responding to them
in a more positive way. Why was I not supportive of women writing about my
favorite sport? Do I dislike these books because I am protective of the sport
I love, because I am afraid they are speaking some kind of truth that will
threaten it? I tried to force these thoughts out of my mind in my critical re-
reading. I was determined to look at style, how women were represented, and
avoid falling instantly off-side with the narrative if some small comment about
the game stood out as incorrect.
Miriam Sved’s Game Day depicts a season of an AFL football team and is
told through the perspectives of multiple characters. Each chapter gives a new
voice to the story and moves the narrative along. Sved portrays a variety of
participants in the football club environment throughout these chapters. She
depicts the usual suspects whom you would expect to hear from in a football
text such as different players, the head coach, a talent scout, and a former
player. What she also gives us is the voices of those who might be thought of
as having peripheral roles in the sport, and these provide new and interesting
insights. They include the team’s (female) media manager, the young daughter
of a cheer squad member, a female fan determined to “hook up” with players
despite having bad prior experiences with them, an umpire whose deteriorating
relationship with the game causes him to purposefully change the outcome of
a match via his officiating, a VFL (professional league below AFL in Victoria)
player trying to take his career to the next level while dealing with the fact that
his girlfriend is a more successful athlete than he is, and the team doctor who
has been hiding his sexuality in fear.
3 Large town outside of Melbourne with a successful AFL team, the Geelong Cats.
Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 61

These latter characters are a fascinating addition to the sports literature


landscape as they are seldom represented and have complicated and significant
contributions to the sporting narrative. It is frustrating reading Game Day in that
these characters are represented only in small vignettes and the story moves
on. We do not know how their plights are resolved or left unresolved. This
could be considered clever by Sved; this tactic could be read as a representation
of how little consideration peripheral characters are given, not only in sports
literature, but in the sporting landscape as a whole. In commentary, analysis,
and discussion of the game, we tend to only see and hear voices from the same
types of people. By portraying these outside voices only fleetingly, Sved shows
us that these stories are worth hearing and proves her point by leaving us
wanting more. However, my preconceptions keep me from being completely
convinced that this was her initial strategy.
My other criticism is that, although Sved attempts to give voice to more
than just the usual suspects in sports literature, her chapters are still dominated
by the male experience. Of the fourteen chapters, ten depict male characters
and only four are dedicated to a female voice. Again, this makes me wonder if it
was Sved’s intent to accurately mimic the current landscape, as male voices do
dominate the conversation of sport, but it also makes me think an opportunity
has been missed. This is particularly true when there are female characters we
are introduced to through the eyes of some of the male narrators; I would have
loved to see them have their own chapter.
The daughter of the head coach who is passionately studying gender theory
at university and questioning her father’s hegemonic working environment,
the daughter of the male media manager who is sleeping beneath a poster
of the player whose sex scandal he is trying to cover up, the female media
manager who takes his place when he throws in the towel after the scandal, the
girlfriend of the VFL player who is likely to head to the next Olympics. There is
so much these characters could have given to this story and, again, I question
whether this is the point:  that these people involved in football’s fan culture
we seldom hear from have stories that we not only need to, but want to hear.
But again, I tried to discredit Sved when she depicted something in dialogue
that didn’t sit well with me. In Chapter Five we experience the world through
the perspective of the head coach. When addressing his young recruit, he uses
the term “forward corridor.” In Australian Rules football, the “corridor” refers
to the passage down the middle of the ground. It effectively is between the two
fifty-meter arcs which act as the offensive/defensive zones. These are referred
to as “forward fifty” or “back/defensive fifty.” Reading this term “forward
corridor” was jarring for me. I had never heard anyone use this term before
and I could not imagine a head coach using it in a conversation with a player. I
asked some of my fellow fans about the term to see if I had missed something.
“Would you ever use the term ‘forward corridor’ to describe an area of the
field to a player?” They all said no. They said things to the effect of, “You would
62 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

say ‘inside fifty’ or ‘forward pocket’” or “You would still just say ‘corridor’--
not ‘forward corridor.’” I felt validated but also confused. Why was I being so
picky? Was it because I was pre-judging Sved as a new fan to the game? She only
took an interest after moving to Melbourne and living with her partner who
was a big football fan. She became interested in the narrative of the sport and
wrote Game Day—was I punishing her for these tiny inaccuracies because she
was an outsider?
Through fleeting glimpses that are interesting but move on quickly, Sved
has drawn attention to the problem of the underrepresentation of women in
football narratives by continuing to represent them in this way, which can be
read as quite a powerful statement. If this is indeed Sved’s intention, it does
miss the mark as there is not enough nuance in her narrative to convince me
that this is what she was trying to do. An opportunity has been missed to really
highlight this problem within the culture. Its impact is then lost.
Harris also uses multiple narrators in The Family Men. She has a dual
narrative where we see the fallout from the sexual assault through the eyes
of the player, and we are then shown the lead up to the night through the
eyes of the young exotic dancer. The narrative is split by voice and time and is
elegantly constructed and executed. I could not criticize Harris’ writing. She
is a beautiful writer. But I still have a problem with her story; it is still too far
away from what I believe to be reality.
In The Whole of My World, Hayes uses elements of her experience growing
up as a passionate Hawthorn (an AFL team based in the eastern suburbs of
Melbourne) supporter and the disappointment she experienced in not being
able to continue playing the game along with her twin brother after she reached
early adolescence. I do not dismiss Hayes’ text due to factual inaccuracies in
football jargon, as she seems perfectly adequate in describing the passion for
the game her protagonist, Shelly, holds. However, my issue is my inability to
identify with Shelly and my passing of judgment on her when she behaves
in certain ways with the players. My unconscious gender bias is almost ‘slut-
shaming’ her, a teenage school girl who is hanging around the football club at
every opportunity, and I find myself asking aloud while reading, “What does
she think she is doing? Does she really think these men respect her as a fan?”
I find I am putting myself into Hayes’ text as the “better fan” to further
discredit Shelly’s experience. I class myself as a female fan who knows how to
be compliant and not want to play with the boys. I know my place and keep out
of their way like a good fan is supposed to do; a good fan participates in fan
activities but does not “hang around” too much to get a name for herself. I was
comparing Shelly to myself and thinking how much better I was than her, thus
deeming her story irrelevant.
I want to conclude this paper by turning to one final text and exploring it
in light of my reading, and then re-reading, of the three texts written by women
about Australian Rules football. This is a fictional book based on Australian
Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 63

rugby league, Playing The Field, by Zoe Foster-Blake (2010), which acts as a
point of difference from Australian Rules football. I wondered if reading a
fictional account of a sporting code that I was not so intrinsically connected
to and protective of, that was also written by a woman, would be a different
experience.
Zoe Foster-Blake was the partner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs star Craig
Wing for almost a decade before they split in 2009, after which she wrote this
novel. It is a fictional tale of a young woman navigating through the world of
WAGS (colloquial term given to the wives and girlfriends of athletes - in this
case Rugby League players) in Sydney. While the account is fictional, we can
assume her protagonist, Jean, is a somewhat reflexive representation of the
feelings and experiences Foster-Blake had while experiencing the culture first
hand in her high-profile relationship.
Foster-Blake’s text is quite disappointing considering the access she had
over such a long period to the inner sanctum. Additionally, her characters are
underdeveloped and express poor dialogue. Most disappointing is how she
has portrayed a sporting culture, bringing down a confident girl who never
recovers her power, ultimately portraying Jean’s submitting to her athlete
boyfriend as a happy ending. In “real life,” Foster-Blake walked away and has
become a successful businesswoman, mother, and celebrity in her own right.
Why did she not give this dignity and strength to her protagonist? Or why was
the ending not left as an honest representation of the many women who are
caught up in this world and left cold by it? It would have been so much more
powerful if Jean either walked away or was left destroyed by this experience.
This is interesting as Jean is left broken and completely changed as a
person from the vibrant and ambitious young woman we are introduced to at
the beginning of the book. Yet this is not acknowledged. Jean chooses to stay
with her footballer who has lied and disrespected her, and moves with him
to France, giving up her life for him. This is subsequently packaged for the
reader like the happy ending Jean always dreamed of. It reads like the end of a
romance novel.
Despite the poor narrative, Foster does give some brief moments of key
insights into the psyche of the women who occupy the “WAG” world. When on
their first date, Jean is incredibly eager to please the star footballer, Josh. The
waiter suggests a red wine to which Josh agrees enthusiastically. Jean smiles in
complicity but reveals via her internal monologue,
The truth is I don’t like red wine, but I didn’t want to look like
hard work. I’d drink straight ouzo from a gumboot in order to
appear the easy, non-fussed girl who could roll with whatever
she was given; for whom nothing was a drama. Guys loved
those girls (Foster-Blake 75).
64 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

This is a recurring theme in the book as Jean fights for Josh’s affection by
effectively not fighting at all, remaining as indifferent and “non-fussed” as
possible. In one instance, after being stood up and not being contacted by
Josh for a week, upon hearing a long-winded explanation about “a crazy ex-
girlfriend,” Jean forgives Josh instantly for the whole mess:  “‘Relax,’ I said
casually, trying hard to be the no-fuss, no drama girl I thought Josh would
like” (Foster-Blake 92).
Just after this moment Jean allows him to go drinking with the boys.
Upon this suggestion, Josh is elated at her “coolness,” comparing her to his
ex-girlfriend who always complained when he went out drinking. Jean further
performs her role of the easy-going girlfriend at this faux compliment, rather
than challenging his behavior. Jean is, in a very self-aware way, playing the
role that she knows will eventually get her what she wants. This is an audition;
she is being tested with these ridiculous situations but she knows that how she
responds to each one will determine if she lands the lead part.
Another aspect of performance is portrayed in the way Jean changes the
way she dresses and does her hair and make-up while spending time with the
other wives and partners of the players. She spends most of her small wage
on revealing clothes, lightening her hair to be blonder, and blow-waves at
the salon before games. Josh mentions at one point that while he likes the
blond hair, he still likes the way she looked when they first met. So why is she
changing her appearance if he doesn’t seem to care? She has customized her
performance to appeal to the other women as she knows that their opinions of
her are just as important as the men’s to be accepted in the culture.
When Foster-Blake finishes her text with Jean leaving the country with Josh,
I felt deflated. Not just because I had finished reading a book I didn’t enjoy, but
I felt so angry that this woman could still be with him after everything he had
put her through, everything she had changed about herself to be with him and
somehow, as a reader, I was meant to be satisfied that they were still together.
I went back to my feelings towards Sved and Hayes and Harris and thought,
was I not giving Foster-Blake the credit she deserved here? Was this narrative
more about the toxicity of sports culture for women who are in romantic
relationships with athletes? Was the ending where Jean stays with Josh a
metaphor for how broken Foster-Blake was at the end of her “WAG” experience
that she felt she might as well have stayed in that world? I have an aversion to
giving her that credit. I still find that ending highly problematic.
After experiencing these emotions and trying to answer these questions
while engaging with these texts, I find I am still looking for answers which I
am quite fearful of. My fear of re-reading these Australian Rules football texts
written by women is the same fear I have about not being prepared enough to
be an advocate for women who are football fans. A fear that I am not enough
of a football fan myself. A real fan would be quiet. Complicit.
Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 65

This dichotomy of fear is essential to the understanding of how women


experience the cultural world of sports fandom. The constant denials of
authenticity, disregard for legitimacy, and blatant sexism cause one to retreat
to a place of safety, and the only safe place is in a bubble of silent compliancy.
Despite how vocal women can be while cheering on their team, they remain
silent in regard to calling out sexism and poor moral behavior committed by
the male fans and still judge other women just as harshly in the space for not
“doing” fandom in the appropriate ways (Jones, 2009).
What I wanted from these texts is something that they’ll never be able to
give me. I want them to be my good night stories. My beacons, my bibles. My
examples of women in football who I can aspire to be or who I can recognize
myself in from my experience as a football fan. I want to see my struggles, what
I have had to learn along the way and, more importantly, what I can still learn.
I want the stories I was denied as a young girl trying to find my place in
a patriarchal society and see how I can make my own fairy tale by getting my
happy ending as a female football fan. However, as I come to these texts in my
later years with my gender bias from a lifetime of being told that I needed to be
“one of the boys” to be accepted, that bias is keeping me from embracing them
as my survival guides. I needed these read to me as I fell asleep dreaming of
my future and now I fear it is too late. I am reading these texts as a Gone Girl
(Flynn, 2012), lost within a discourse of cool girls and compliancy. There are
no goodnight stories for gone girls like me and I do not know if I am strong
enough to break the spell and save myself from the deep sleep of gender bias
I am in.
Re-reading these texts proved a valuable exercise where I believe I was
able to give each a thorough and critical reading with awareness of my
prejudice toward women writing on my sport. I can categorically say that re-
reading them in this way with the tools of autoethnography was essential
to understanding them and understanding how women are placed in sports
literature. A second reading may in fact be an essential approach to sports
fiction written by women while we operate in a heavily gender-biased society.
From my second reading, I acknowledge the strength in the writing and the
offerings of different representations of women to the sports discourse, but I
still did not enjoy them. And, unfortunately, I do not think I will be able to
trust myself to decide if that is because of my bias or because of their content.
I may have to wait for the young Rebel Girls to come along, armed with positive
representations of women, their goodnight stories, from the outset to teach me
how to read women so I can know for sure.
66 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

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Blair, Irene V. & Mahzarin R. Banaji. (1996). Automatic and controlled processes in stereotype
priming. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70 (11), 42-63.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

Delamont, S. (2009). The only honest thing: autoethnography, reflexivity and small crises in
fieldwork. Ethnography and Education, 4, 51-63.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. & Bochner, A. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview, Forum Qualitative
Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1).

Esmonde, K., Cooky, C. & Andrews, D. L. (2015). “It’s supposed to be about the love of the game,
not the love of Aaron Rodgers’ eyes”: Challenging the exclusions
of women’s sports fans.
Sociology of Sport Journal, 32, 22-48.

Favilli, E. & Cavallo F. (2017). Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. London: Penguin.

Favilli, E. & Cavallo F. (2018). Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2. Venice, USA: Timbuktu Labs, Inc.

Flynn, G. (2012). Gone Girl. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Foster, Z. (2010). Playing the Field. Melbourne: Penguin.

Gandolfo, E. (2014). Take a walk in their shoes: Empathy and emotion in the writing process.
Text 18(1).

Harris, C. (2014). The Family Men. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Hayes, N. (2013). The Whole of My World. Sydney: Woolshed Press.

Hayes N. & Sometimes, A. (2017). A Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Holman Jones, S. (2016). Living bodies of thought: The “critical” in critical autoethnography.
Qualitative Inquiry, 22(4), 228-237.

Jones, K. (2008). Female fandom: Identity, sexism, and men’s professional football in England.
Sociology of Sport Journal, 25, 516-537.

Klugman, M. (2009). Passion Play. Melbourne: Hunter Publishers.

Klugman, M. (2009). Footy: The season of love, faith and agony. Meanjin, 68(3), 67-75.

Klugman, M. (2012). Gendered pleasures, power, limits, and suspicions: Exploring the
subjectivities of female supporters of Australian rules football. Journal of Sport History, 39(3),
415-429.

Kunda, Z. & Spencer, S. (2003). When do stereotypes come to mind and when do they color
judgment? A goal-based theoretical framework for stereotype activation and application.
Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 22-44.
Symons/Goodnight Stories for Female Sports Fans 67

Lawrence, D. & Rioli, C. (2013). Fox Swift. Melbourne: Slattery Media.

Leicester, D. & Mackieson, P. (2003). Real Women Love Footy. Melbourne: Lothian Books.

McCabe, J., Fairchild, E., Grauerholz, L., Pescosolido, B.A. & Tope, D. (2011). Gender in twentieth-
century children’s books: Patterns of disparity in titles and central characters. Gender and
Society, 25(2), 197-226.

Mewett, P. & Toffoletti, K. (2011). Finding footy: female fan socialization and Australian rules
football. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 14(5), 670-684.

Mewett, P. & Toffoletti, K. (2012). ‘Oh yes, he is hot’: Female football fans and the sexual
objectification of sportsmen’s bodies. In K.Toffoletti and P. Mewett (Eds.), Sport and Its
Female Fans (pp. 99-114). London: Routledge.

Perry, E. (2017). Ellyse Perry: Pocket Rocket. Milson’s Point: Random House Australia Children’s
Books.

Perry, E. (2017). Ellyse Perry: Magic Feet. Milson’s Point: Random House Australia Children’s
Books.

Perry, E. 2017. Ellyse Perry: Winning Touch. Milson’s Point: Random House Australia Children’s
Books.

Perry, E. (2017). Ellyse Perry: Double Time. Milson’s Point: Random House Australia Children’s
Books.

Pippos, A. (2017). Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport. Melbourne: Affirm
Press.

Pope, S. (2010). ‘Like pulling down Durham Cathedral and building a brothel’: Women as ‘new
consumer’ fans?. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 46(4), 471-487.

Pope, S. (2012). ‘The love of my life’: The meaning and importance of sport for female fans.
Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 37(2), 176-195.

Pope, S. (2013). “There Are Some Daft People Out There!”: Exploring female sport and media
fandoms. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 17(2), 254-269.

Richards, J. (2015). ‘Which player do you fancy then?’ Locating the female ethnographer in the
field of the sociology of sport of ethnography. Soccer & Society, 16 (2-3), 393-404.

Ridgeway, C. (2009). Framed before we know it: How gender shapes social relations. Gender and
Society, 23(2), 145-160.

Smith, H. & Dean, T. (2009). Practice-led Research. Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts (pp.18-
37). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Stanley, J. (2017). Play like a Girl: Bring it On. Sydney: Bonnier Publishing Australia.

Stanley, J. (2017). Play like a Girl: Smashing It. Sydney: Bonnier Publishing Australia.

Stanley, J. (2017). Play like a Girl: Totally Epic. Sydney: Bonnier Publishing Australia.
68 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Stanley, J. (2017). Play like a Girl: Dream Team. Sydney: Bonnier Publishing Australia.

Stanley, J. (2017). Play like a Girl: High Flyers. Sydney: Bonnier Publishing Australia.

Sved, M. (2014). Game Day. Sydney: Picador.

Toffoletti, K. (2007). How is gender-based violence covered in the sporting news? An account of
the Australian Football League sex scandal. Women’s Studies International Forum, 30, 427-
438.

Toffoletti, K. & Mewett P. (2012). Sport and its Female Fans. New York: Routledge.

Wedgwood, N. (2008). For the love of football: Australian rules football and heterosexual desire.
Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 32, 311-317.

Williamson, D. (1978). The Club. Woollahra, NSW: Currency Press.

Notes
1. Favilli and Cavallo launched their online campaign with the goal of making $40,000 USD
and printing 1,000 copies. With hours to go before the thirty-day cut-off, their total was at
$624,905 USD. Breaking the Kickstarter record for publishing. Reference The Guardian online
May 26, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/25/good-night-stories-for-
rebel-girls-is-dream-kickstarter-success

2. https://www.rebelgirls.co/pages/about-us
69

Paul Short Invitational:  Bethlehem, PA


It was a cross-country race in October,
salty-hot, a few runners collapsed
on the side of the course like shot horses,
bleeding and humble, feeling a little death
burn their guts, as the rest of us charged
past dream-like, a herd of stallions,
holding on, holding to each other without touching,
the heat packed in our throats, our spikes
ragging sprays of dirt across the land,
between corn fields and over rolling hills
that heaved and dropped like ocean waves.

In the 6th k. a stranger sidled beside me,


our strides finding a common rhythm,
and we ran as a pair, no longer strangers,
the grunt and gasp for air our only utterance,
galloping into the relief of shaded woods,
into the shadows cut in front of us, into time
as time wrapped its abstract hands around us,
and the mind gave way to the unexpected voice
of the body, the animal within us learning to speak
without speaking—and then he was gone.

Later that day, driving home in the rain,


I could see them all in a dream,
every drove and pack, flock and yoke,
those beasts I now perceived as my own kind,
ambling across the lush earth, whispering
without the debilitating maelstrom of words,
without past or future, only sweat and flesh,
the heart beating wildly, alive and eternal.
Herbert Plummer
70 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
71

Fifty-Four

Chad Senesac

H is monogamy he held like a baseball bat. Held it invisibly over his


shoulder and stared down the people loaded with young years and the
towering memories he’d long since tried to segregate. The early years watching
his mother at the stove, him hoping to hear about her next petition to go to
the white school. The long empty hallways, empty in their embrace, yielded
to nightly dreams of ax-handles awakened by maternal skepticism, how she
would keep silent eyes on him while she popped corn kernels for dinner,
because it was all she had and with a cold voice would say that once again she
had tried to petition for him to go to the other school—though why would he
want that foolishness?—because he wanted to be like them? Foolishness!—all
this while he would color her a three crayon picture late at night. Parched by
her indifference, he would not be doomed forever and instead quenched his
thirst, placing his lips on a minister’s daughter; who kept out of streets with
ax-handle mobs; who dreamed of integration, of dancing in the white light
of a day and sleeping peacefully under trees at night. She was Rachael at the
well—no, the very well itself—and he would have paid any Laman seven times
seven to have her again.
Fidelity. Johnson held it, slung it over his shoulders and gave his best
immutable tough-guy stare, the impression of an indefatigable posture even
with the reality of his old-man slouch. For a long time, he thought he would
always be able to swing the pine of his monogamy at any racism because it was
better than any freedman papers of the past or any despicable welfare check
of the present.
And now Marguerite was gone.
72 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

The loss of his wife at home and his relevance in the classroom made for the
intolerable dregs of a retirement looming. He was on its verge, the state pension
was nearly in hand, and now he gazes into a kitchen opening where no woman
stands and feels what men of his age feel when a slow power has come their
way all their lives, but then is gone, only to show ghostly through the kind eyes
of administrative assistants and bank tellers, cashiers and deaconesses.
Marguerite was gone.
That left Everett Johnson atop a high school football stadium for a Friday
night. For distraction, he observed the masses below him. They muddled
around the concrete-block concessions building on the corner of Brentwood
and Main and purchased sugary candy, greasy popcorn, and Coca-Colas. The
crowd was segregated—most of the white kids sitting in the stands and the
black kids milling around the walkways and the concession area. Funny how
they do that all on their own, thought Everett.
The students had come from all over Jacksonville by bus. It was a magnet
school and students—of any color!—could apply. And Everett gazed at the
white students who made the choice. He chuckled. Whites leave, and they
come back. Never thought he’d see it. Never indeed.
Turk, a math teacher and track coach at Jackson, stood next to him. This
other man cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted at the players on the
field.
About the segregated students, Everett spoke up, saying, “Why are they
here?”
“Who?” asked Turk.
“The white kids. It’s Brentwood. Don’t they know it’s not safe at night.”
“I guess not. They must be here for some good football.”
“No, they’re here for the kid who’s wearing number fifty-four.”
“Who’s that?”
Everett wrinkled his nose. “The white kid, Turk. I know you know. The
only white kid on the field. They’ve come out to cheer him on.”
“Maybe … or they could be here cause we’re winning. People turn out for
winners, you know.”
Everett folded his arms and stared at his hefty friend.
“They’re students of this school,” Turk said. “So they have some school
spirit. Nothing wrong with that.”
“They do show spirit. I can’t argue that they don’t. I’m concerned with the
kind of spirit they’re showing.” Everett shouted the question because the crowd
cheered at the result of the next play, a hand-off to Fifty-Four. “They were
students last year, those kids. And where were they last year?”
“Who cares? It ain’t like all these black students come either last year. They
come, now everybody come because we’re winning, winning solves everything,
Everett. Everything.”
“Sports clichés aren’t helpful.”
Senesac/Fifty-Four 73

“Sports what?”
“You sound like a damn Sports Illustrated when you talk, Turk.”
Turk laughed. “That’s all I read, man.” He patted Everett on the back and
then growled at the play on the field. “And hey, get this. They should be giving
the ball to your boy, Fifty-Four all the time. Every play, man. You know it, and I
know it. This crowd knows it. Black. White. Everybody. Best man gets the ball,
nobody can help that.”
“You don’t see any issue here?”
“Everett, what you sayin’? They ain’t got nobody stronger. Boy’s like a bull.”
“I’m not talking about football.”
Everett marveled and despaired at the student body who cheered at the
play on the field. He could measure nothing, no hints of prejudice, no gestures
of favoritism. A bird perched on the highest bough, he observed a sweeping
mass of heads—red, kinky, skin, strawberry, shiny, afro. Perhaps white rappers
and black Presidents made their world immune to a system of ugly, hidden
prejudices. Perhaps Turk was right to be indifferent.
Everett couldn’t believe it. Any movement and the embedded splinter may
hurt, may impale. Forty-three years of marriage, something open, something
rich. Gone. And he was left to attend Friday night football games—football
another trapping he could not embrace. He listened to the clack of pads and
the grunting like laborers when he yearned for the sweet slider, the precision of
a pitcher’s heavenly kick, the clockwork motion of the infield and the outfield,
the attention to detail, to deliver something so small to the sweet leather. Now
approaching retirement in an era when King Football reigned, he had tried and
searched the diamonds in the neighborhood and only found lumpy outfields
filled with lonely clumps of nutsedge and he could not abide the sight of the
high school baseball team whose pitcher appeared a monolithic man of stone,
nothing of beauty, nothing of skill, nothing of the sweet American pastime
that Everett adored, once hugging a transistor and tracing his finger along
the edges and across the dimples of the amplifier covering. His belly full of
popped, white corn, his head full of diamond dreams.
“We tread dangerous ground,” he said.
“We’ll be fine. Our defense will hold,” responded Turk.
Everett could only stare and stick his hands into the pockets of his polyester
slacks hanging from faded suspenders.
He considered leaving. Might as well. That way he could beat the uncertain
crowd before the turn lanes of Main Street became metal medians. The parking
lot promised a traffic jam at the end of the game. He could see the lot from his
high perch in the stadium. There was his car among the others, a jalopy yard as
diverse as the crowd below him.
And it was then, as he gazed longingly at his old Buick, the means of his
escape, that he noticed some slow strollers on Brentwood Avenue. Two black
young men walked the uneven sidewalk. They were headed toward Main
74 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Street, long athletic arms wrapped in bunched cotton sleeves, gaits unhurried,
waddles affected by the low-ride pants Everett despised. The taller one Everett
thought he recognized:  Ralph, in a bunched sweatshirt and thick hoodie
roping his neck, a former student, who might be nineteen or twenty now. The
other kid wore a striped shirt and a hat whose straight-hard bill drove cock-
eyed into air.
Ralph pulled at his hoodie, sliding it partially up on his head; oh, thought
Everett, if only he knew what robes he had exchanged for the rags he now
wore. There was that History of another Continent. Together, crowned in the
falsehood of a hoodie and a cockeyed-hat, they were amnesiac princes of that
land they knew not. What tongues they once spoke! Rich and ancient tongues
that spoke of rivers. Everett dreamed of everything such young men had been
given and everything they could be. Visions. Dreams. Mountaintops. Yet these
boys rapped not rivers, but roads. Like urban conquistadors, they dreamed
of sacrificial blood and golden tribute. The so-called bling. Self-faithful and
married to violence in a war for their own glory. Had they known humiliation?
Had they known the terror? These young men could build, and they could
destroy, liberate and oppress. What these particular young men would do
Everett didn’t know and couldn’t know …
Until Ralph and his friend veered right.
Until they eased through the parking lot and then walked back along the
chain-link fence to the distant end where the county school board had parked
a few portable classrooms for pregnant girls and drop-back-in students.
But Ralph and the young man in the hat weren’t dropping back in a quarter
to nine on a Friday night.
They were heading for the portables and for two figures loitering
conspicuously next to the last one:  a white boy in a white t-shirt and a white
girl in a gray halter top. She leaned against the wall of the farthest portable, and
he leaned close to her. They seemed oblivious to their surroundings, hiding,
but awkwardly not.
Almost to the first portable, Ralph and his cockeyed-hat friend angled for
them.
Everett moved.­
Despite the resentment of his bones, he moved, urged on by loneliness that
crept out of the darkness of his own heart. He knew loss, and he could see it
coming again, for he had been endowed with a gift, that splinter wedged into
the dark place. A muscle pulled that wrapped around his back and hurt when
he breathed too deeply. He was like someone who divined the future, for his
wife Marguerite had paid the price for his third eye. Something got him going,
maybe it was the girl, maybe knowing that if he ignored them all, he would
return home and what he had seen, its potential, would make permanent the
curse of silence. The long hallways and the air that didn’t move. The clicks and
Senesac/Fifty-Four 75

the ticks and the sighs of an old house that was now audibly gnawing away at
itself with aging.
He shuffled in rapid, precise movements, muttering his apologies first to
Turk, then another teacher:  he bowed to a gaggle of newer English teachers.
On his way down, his breath quickened. His knees creaked. His imagination
roared and drowned out the crowd. With the last five stadium steps, Everett
could feel his twisting tendons and crunching cantankerous cartilage, so
emphatic in their resistance. He deliberately focused on moving as fast as
he could as the crowd growled and screamed at whatever was happening on
the field. He no longer cared because possibilities filled the alleyways of the
portables, so terrible that in his imagination they became probabilities.
He turned right, passed under the stadium and began a long slalom
through a maze of cars between him and the portables three blocks away.
Easing between the first line of vehicles, he turned sideways to avoid the car
mirrors.
Like he would around the land yacht Plymouths many years ago. On his
bike. Leaving the diamond worth more than any real jewel, studded with good
friends in its field, and he leaned back and reached his hands to the ceiling of
the dark sky and could believe that his arms were long enough to touch it, to
rake his extended fingers sweaty and grimy from flexing the hot and wonderful
mitt. He rode in freedom, eyes to the stars, hands happily throbbing from the
impact of the ball in the mitt, whose palms were callused from the grip of the
bat. His finger tips tingly from riding roughly and from the seam of the curve.
And then there would be school. Segregation. Questions never asked on the
dark faces of sullen black girls who stared daringly back at him from across the
aisle. His guilt for thinking of the school on the other side of Main only blocks
away. To be there. In those hallways. And he was nonetheless bold to ask his
momma, over the popping corn. Late night.
Momma says, What you want to go to that school for? What you think they
gonna do?
The questions continued and exploded into his present vision of the
portable scene:  the straight-billed hat stands over a huddled figure. His leg
swings like a pendulum, the tick-tock of a tit-for-tat, his feet planting firmly
in the figure’s side, a white t-shirt smeared with gray grit. Everett is present,
only one in a large crowd which includes Ralph who laughs. Everett, the old
man, tries to get in, but he cannot see over the people around the brawl. He
tries to get a look at the figure on the ground to see who it is, to glimpse a color
of skin. But cannot. And more cops come and the next night more hands rest
uneasily on holsters and someone else dies, and Everett is done with death,
and it weighs heavily on his brow on a Friday night.
… it’s all too easy.
76 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Pinks and reds swell and spread in a color photo of a white face on the front
page. Out of context. The high school’s on lockdown as tired cops hang on
corners. Hands on batons, fingers on triggers; everyone a little more anxious.
But he’s finished with death, he reaches the portable lot.
He enters the gate and rounds the corner of the first portable. Yet no one
is there.
The alleyway is empty. Maybe Ralph and his friend had kept walking.
Maybe the white kids didn’t notice. Maybe they had passed each other, sailing
indifferently on through the night.
Maybe it was okay to laugh again.
He turns to go when a shriek stabs the air. He jumps, a good six inches,
and then bounds—like a lead-off man aiming for a double—to the end of the
alleyway, the last portables, where he takes the final corner.
There is the grotesque tableau that he feared—the girl is leaning into the
straight-billed hat, against whom she leverages her weight, clutches his wrist
held high. He just smiles. White teeth.
In his fist, above her desperate hand, he holds a long, curved object.
The old man cries out, grabbing an elbow, a fistful of shirt. He yanks hard,
the shirt stretches, and the boy spins, straight-billed hat falling from his now-
naked head. There is anger and now shame and …
Everything slowed down with the white girl. Freed, she stared meagerly,
a faint wince in her brow, and he could not escape her look. She wrapped
her arms around her torso, the back of them a forest of pimply rash. She was
prepubescent, not yet taken the weightiness of womanhood, and somehow
this fact embarrassed Everett.
During that brief moment, Ralph silently stepped between Everett and
the boy who’d lost his hat. He casually stooped down, lifted the hat from the
ground, and handed it to its owner.
The strange congress—the two young black men, the white boy and girl—
surveyed the older man. In the calm of the pause, Everett took his eyes away
from their inspection and cast them down at the curved object in the black
boy’s hand. It was a dollar bill, crinkled, at an angle. Smaller now that the
terrible tableau had erased itself with moving, human flesh and easy, relaxed
stares.
“Does that … does that belong to you?” Everett said.
“She lost it,” said the boy who gripped the hat and the dollar bill tightly.
“It’s mine, now.”
“This ain’t finder’s keepers, son … Nobody wants—”
“I ain’t yo’ son, and I ain’t find it. I won it.”
“Alright, Jamal, it’s cool,” said Ralph. His voice was deep and relaxed and
recognizable. “Nothing been done wrong here.”
“Ol’ man accusin’ me—”
Senesac/Fifty-Four 77

“Shut up, Jamal. He sees what he sees.” Ralph spun his lanky fingers
around philosophically before pointing one at the white boy. “Go ahead.
You’se caught, too. Go on ‘head and show the man what you got.”
The white boy shrugged, turned his closed hand over and open, pouring
out its secret:  dice tumbled to the asphalt ground and bounced still. Snake
eyes. Two black divots on the flat white surfaces.
Ralph laughed, turned his head as if to look to a far off place, and then
looked at Everett. “You’se lucky, Mr. Teacher.”
“Or unlucky,” said Jamal, “ ‘pends what games he’s playin’.”
Ralph leaned against the portable and stroked his chin. “It do, it do.”
Everett looked to the girl. He felt she was out of place, yet too relaxed. Her
round features pulled tight into the center of her face as if she was holding
something in. Her face was white, pink and red, splotchy, even ugly, Everett
thought, and wondered why these boys would converge on her. Then, her eyes
flicked to Jamal, and her lips sputtered before becoming shrieking laughter.
Jamal began laughing, too.
Everett became dizzy; he could fall over at any second.
Then, from every direction, a voice boomed. “Whatever it is, I don’t want
none of it!”
For a second time Everett jumped:  it was Turk, his fists on his hips.
“I know you—and you,” he said to the black boys as he slung a meaty
finger. “We don’t let students back here, and I know you,” he said to the white
kids. “Get back to that game.”
“And you,” said Turk back to the black boys, taking a step forward. “Y’all
get on, and I don’t need to say it again. Yuh go on about your way.”
“What about my dollar?” said the girl, lightly, lyrically.
Jamal made an exaggerated face and smiled. “I won it, little girl. Off you
go.”
“Nah, gamblin’ ain’t allowed on school property among these students,”
Turk said. “Give it back and get on your way.”
Jamal gave a half-hearted frown that turned to a smile. He handed the girl
her dollar, and she danced delightedly away.
They all finally left Everett, but they left for pity, not power. Taking one
glance at the frozen old man, Turk decided to follow the white kids who
crossed the parking lot for the stadium. The black boys dutifully retreated with
the same leisurely pace with which they’d arrived. Everett was alone with the
dice because no one bothered to pick them up, and the snake-eyes stared up at
him. He scooped them and dished them into his pocket.
It was the only evidence of the ridiculous tableau, the sham that had been
the fearful image of his mind.
The adrenaline had evacuated and now left torpor in his limbs. He crossed
the parking lot slowly, and the ink black dome of the sky became higher, more
curved, and far too expansive, without detail. The artificial light of the field
78 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

had extended an artificial day into night and eradicated any traces of stars, the
jewels of the universe and the promise of space and of motion and of eternity.
Everett rubbed the faces of the dice in his pocket, the perfect circles under
his thick thumb, black concave dimples themselves.
What he feels on himself now are Marguerite’s eyes. He had come home
to find her on the floor at the foot of the sofa, popcorn bowl overturned
and white clusters all over the floor. Rolling her onto her back, feeling the
pounding of his own heart, checking for her breathing on his cheek, his own
ragged breath drowning all sound, so all he could do for the sign of life was to
stare into her widening eyes, two dark expanding pools. Then:  palms down,
overlapping. Into the sternum. Bouncing and rhythmic. One. Two. Three …
Then:  pouring forth his lungs into hers, attempting to move the heaviness of
death off her chest with his own aging lungs … Then:  pounding the heaping
flesh that wrapped her lovely body, pounding it with more desperation than
he ever felt through his hot sneakers, running from the ax-handle mob that
day many years ago, having minutes before poured out from the Woolworth’s
like insane ants from a violated pile; and he, knowing nothing but fear, feeling
the need to flee, taking the railroad tracks northwest for freedom and College
Gardens only to swing open the screen door to his mother alone in the kitchen,
seeing her shaped by the frame of the door like an isolated, mute idol, flaying
her flesh on a washboard before a door that would never frame his father’s
face, and he—the son—could not even imagine it. Father’s a railroad man, is
what she had said without pride, without pleasure. And he knew in his racing
mind carried by his racing feet, that the tracks he ran were that man’s tracks.
Then:  with each thrust of his palms the body before him moved involuntarily
on its own track, a heavy freight car teetering back and forth going where he
could not, and not staying in spite of his labor upon her sternum, the place
where he believed he would rest his head for an eternity of earthly summers.
In the end, he was alone with the dark discs against the white surfaces of
her big eyes.
“Let me get you something. From the concession,” said Turk.
Everett had reached the stadium absent-mindedly, and was standing with
Turk in the grass south of the field’s end zone.
“I think I should go home,” was what he said.
“That ain’t dangerous ground, Everett?” Everett looked at his friend.
“Dangerous ground. That’s what you said earlier—dangerous ground.” Turk
said it again and again, both surprised and then not at the same time. Turk
looked from Everett to the football field and to the stands. “It’s the only ground
we got. And that ain’t from Sports Illustrated.”
Everett waited a moment. “It’s so exhausting.”
Turk nodded, though he kept his eyes on the field.
Fifty-Four cradled the ball in his white arms. He dashed left, then upfield,
and bounced against a lineman. His right arm held the prize; his left arm, a
Senesac/Fifty-Four 79

missile, clobbered the other players. One body fell. Then another. But not him.
The cheers grew with each body. His legs whipped freely through arm tackles
while the defenders moved in slow motion, legs shackled with invisible irons.
Finally, three defenders brought the boy down.
“Been a long time since I seen that,” said Turk.
Everett grasped the dice in his pocket. “Maybe it’s been long enough.” He
watched the next play.
The Tigers and Fifty-Four with them were close to a touchdown. Another
snap, and Fifty-Four raced again with the ball into the endzone. His speed
and his power carried clutching defenders with him and the mass of bodies
collapsed under its own weight. Beneath that mass, the young man fell onto his
arm, the ball between his ribs and his forearm, and the momentum dragged
his body across the turf in a spray of grass and dirt. They all came to a stop only
a few feet from Everett and Turk.
The wreckage of bodies un-piled slowly. Opposing players came to their
feet and trotted away in defeat. Last to stand, Fifty-Four tossed the football to
the referee.
From under his helmet, the boy’s eyes were brilliant, dark and alive,
two dark stars eager to pull entire galaxies into themselves in a spectacular
implosion of ambition.
The boy turned and jogged back to the sideline and as he did so, Everett
noticed a wide abrasion that ran across his elbow. From the wound, a thick
garnet streamed, meandering around the length of his forearm and into the
palm where it dripped from an index finger like a pen poised to write.
80 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Last of the Ninth


I well remember the grueling
two-a-day practices
in the stifling Mississippi heat,
when I played football
only because a coach
I greatly admired thought I should.

And I remember the hot gyms


in the cold winter nights
where I spent most of the time
riding the bench.

But most of all I remember


walking confidently to the plate
with the bases loaded
and the game on the line,
fearing no man’s high hard fastball
or sweeping curve,
knowing the outcome even before
I watched the line drive
fall beyond the reach
of the diving outfielder
and the runners racing home.

But none of that prepared me for this.


Nothing I learned from sports,
about victory or defeat, success or failure,
comes to my aid as I watch my beloved,
my greatest fan,
forfeit her memories one by one.
Today she no longer knows my name,
and tomorrow she may not know her own.
81

And we are left standing at the plate,


bat still on our shoulder,
as the umpire calls strike three.
And no one to say it’s only a game.
Robert Hamblin
82 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
The Best There Ever Was?
Reappraising Bernard Malamud’s
The Natural

Andy Harvey

T he Natural, published in 1952, is Bernard Malamud’s first novel and one


that is sometimes considered to sit rather uneasily with his subsequent body
of fiction. As a mid-twentieth-century Jewish-American novelist, Malamud is
most often thought about alongside writers such as Saul Bellow and, later,
Philip Roth, as a pioneer of an exuberant use of demotic language that marks
their work with an excitable linguistic timbre that helped to produce an idea of
what it might mean to be Jewish-American. The overflowing comedy routines
of Jackie Mason and unrelenting dialogue in Woody Allen films continue the
same lineage:  to be Jewish-American is to be invested in, and psychically
identify with, an edgy and highly-strung, neurotic, language. In his subsequent
work, Malamud explored in great depth the social and psychic condition of
“Jewishness” in the United States and how that, in turn, influenced what it
might mean to be American, culturally, ethnically and linguistically. Yet, as
Sidney Richman observes, in The Natural “nowhere is there a Jew or a mention
of one” (28). Instead, Malamud offers up a baseball novel, constructed out of
the “scraps of Homer’s Troy, Malory’s Britain, and Ring Lardner’s New York”
(28-29). This is not to say that the Jewish-American subject matter that he was
later to develop does not make an appearance in The Natural. In fact, as Marcia
Gealy has argued, the Hasidic theme of suffering for salvation is more than
hinted at, but, nevertheless, it is very much underplayed in comparison to his
subsequent work.
In this article, I assess the position of The Natural within its context of
literary sport fiction, Malamud’s own subsequent work, and the work of other
significant novelists who followed him and explored the place of sport in
American culture. I argue that Malamud’s novel occupies a space of ambivalence,
84 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

a fulcrum between the past and the future in both its linguistic style and its
approach to sport as a literary concern. Occupying a position as a Janus-type
figure, looking back and to the future at the same time, Malamud’s debut
novel has attracted a significant critical commentary from scholars of Jewish-
American fiction and those interested in sport fiction as a genre. A further
significant strand of literary criticism has focused on Malamud’s abundant
use of mythic and historical references that offer a rich source of antecedents,
literary and sporting, that burst out of the page in a rowdy explosion of allusive
delights. After reviewing this already well-trodden ground, I turn my attention
to a theme that has been under-developed in previous criticism—the structure
and style that Malamud adopts that situates the novel as a liminal site between
fantasy and reality, drawing on Freudian psychoanalytic interpretations and
Macbethian allusions to unpack the “uncanny” narrative in order to consider
how Malamud’s exploration of the Freudian unconscious might offer clues to
the novel’s enduring capacity to speak through the ages to a twenty-first century
reader. In a personal reading of the novel, I argue that the text resists an easy
positioning within the literary canon but, in refusing to be easily categorized,
welcomes new interpretations that reveal as much about the reader and our
present time as it does about Malamud and the past.
Literary context
The Natural needs to be located within a number of different literary
traditions. Looking back, it can be placed in a long line of sports novels that
commenced a hundred years earlier with the publication in Britain of Thomas
Hughes’ evocation of an idyllic, if robust, middle-class childhood, Tom Brown’s
Schooldays (1857), of which the influence on the development of team sports
on both sides of the Atlantic should not be underestimated.1 Not only did Tom
Brown help to shape a sporting culture, it also initiated a literary tradition of
some notable significance:  the schoolboy sport fiction novel that proliferated
toward the end of the nineteenth century. According to Michael Oriard, the
“first known American novel devoted exclusively to sports was Noah Brook’s
Our Baseball Club, written in 1884” (27). However, by far the most popular of
these “dime novels” was the Frank Merriwell series, mostly penned by Gilbert
Patten under the nom-de-plume of “Burt L. Standish,” and which ran for twenty
years from 1896, producing well over 200 book-length editions, and in which
the “athlete hero” became a staple pulp literary figure.
In his would-be athlete hero protagonist, Roy Hobbs, and his regular use
of dime novel style, Malamud consciously draws upon this early sports fiction
heritage in The Natural. But in Malamud’s more skillful hands, he adopts a
more ironic stance toward his subject matter than his pulpy predecessors had
ever allowed. It is for this reason, among others, that The Natural is viewed by
scholars such as Oriard as marking a distinctive break with the established
low literary tradition of sport fiction. Not only did Malamud cast a sardonic
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 85

eye over the culture of baseball that he observed, but he was the “first writer
to clearly see that the character of the hero, and the relationship of country
and city, youth and age, masculinity and femininity in American sport are
explicitly mythic concerns” (Oriard 211). Hence, in producing his baseball
novel, Malamud mines both the ancient myths of Western culture and the
more modern folklore of baseball history in one of the many ambivalent
tensions that the novel creates.
In appropriating for himself the stories of Arthur in particular, with Roy
Hobbs as Perceval the errant knight, both restlessly wandering and falling
into foolish traps, many of his own making, Malamud consciously exploits a
hinterland of the highest of high literature, drawing explicitly on T.S. Eliot’s The
Wasteland, and Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, which itself was a critical
pre-text for Eliot’s famous poem. In a breathtakingly original intertextual
interpretation of The Natural, Deanne Westbrook traces the mythic parallels
between Malamud’s novel and its illustrious predecessors. Contrary to some
commentators who had viewed his “dime novel” as a “false start or an exercise
in mythic madness” (Richman 28), Westbrook argues that, instead, it takes the
fragments of the whole of Western mythic tradition and shores them up, as
Eliot would have it, against the folklore-history of America’s favorite pastime
to produce an innovative and deeply critical reinterpretation of the precarious
place of the hero in modern America.
Weston and Eliot may have been Malamud’s explicit literary sources, but
he was clearly also influenced by the innovative literary techniques of James
Joyce, making regular use of internal consciousness dream sequences, which
also hint at Malamud’s documented interest in Freudian psychoanalysis. The
Natural is written in a basic fractal style. The second longer section, “Batter
Up!”, which tells of Roy Hobb’s exploits for the Knights with his magical bat,
Wonderboy, is a larger unfolding of the first part, “Pre-Game,” where we meet
Roy fifteen years before the events of “Batter Up!”. Roy’s early encounter with
the murderous Harriet Bird, who wounds Roy in the belly with a gunshot,
acts as an ambiguous prophecy or warning for Roy, the young man who, like
Macbeth, wants to be king. Characters from “Pre-Game” reappear in different
form in the second part of the novel. Roy’s mentor, Sam, whom Roy accidentally
kills in a pitching contest, re-emerges as Pop Fisher, the coach of the Knights.
Roy’s would-be assassin Harriet Bird resurfaces as Memo, Pop’s wayward
daughter and object of sexual interest for Roy. A question Malamud poses is
whether Roy has learned the lessons taught in “Pre-Game” when uncannily
similar situations reoccur in “Batter Up!,” for The Natural is a morality tale
in which Malamud begins to sketch out the ethical universe that he would
develop in his later works.
Looking forward from the critical juncture of 1952 when The Natural
was first published, Malamud’s reimagining of the sport novel inspired a
generation of American writers to take up sport as a legitimate cultural concern
86 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

through which they might offer their commentary on the state of their nation.
Malamud’s ironic tone, his vibrant use of language, the intertextuality, the
overflowing allusiveness, and the fragmentation of narrative technique mark
him out as a critical source for postmodern novelists who have taken up the
challenge of writing about sport, notably Robert Coover, Philip Roth, Richard
Ford, and Don DeLillo, to name a few of the more illustrious authors. As Robert
Detweiler observes, these novelists “use the various sports almost exclusively
as metaphors for some other reality […] Philip Roth’s The Great American
Novel (1973) is a mythic-satiric epic that ridicules conservative politics, and
Don DeLillo’s End Zone (1972) becomes a metaphor of the dangers of nuclear
warfare, among other things, but these novels are also masterful portrayals of
the sports themselves” (51-2).
The deployment of sport as metaphor has led to the phenomenon that
much of the academic commentary of these novels has focused on their
literary qualities and has largely overlooked their sporting content. Perhaps
this is to be expected, as Malamud himself commented that “baseball when
described realistically as a game is boring” (cited in Cheuse and Delbanco 41).
Consequently, in The Natural baseball has sometimes been thought to be “only
the background from which Malamud draws his real subject:  the plight of the
mythic hero in the modern world” (Hershinow 16). There is no doubt that
Malamud’s debut text establishes some of the recurring themes that he would
become renowned for exploring in his later, more explicitly “Jewish” novels.
Most significantly, and a theme he returned to in his second novel, The Assistant
(1957), and especially in The Fixer (1966), is the notion of the suffering hero,
or what Helterman calls “the moral courage of fools and idiots” (2). If The
Fixer took the idea of one man’s suffering to its zenith, perhaps to the point of
absurdity on a par with the stoical Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy
Grail (1975), Deanne Westbrook points out that the term “natural” also carries
the double meaning of easy talent and foolhardiness, qualities that Roy Hobbs
displays in abundance and for which he is destined to suffer.
The Natural, therefore, occupies an ambivalent place in literary
history:  from the past, the novel recalls the cheap dime sports fiction while
simultaneously consciously drawing upon high modernist literature. The
novel is written in a plethora of contrasting styles, sometimes trashy while at
other times hitting literary heights, or at least with pretensions to do so, with
his conscious appropriation of Eliot’s poem, Weston’s folklore, and attempts at
Joycean narrative techniques. Looking to the future, Malamud’s text initiates
a rich subsequent literary tradition of his own and is influential upon other
significant novelists, especially in the Jewish-American literary tradition.
Although it is now often regarded as something of an oddity, somewhat out of
place in both Malamud’s own work and of more celebrated subsequent sport
fiction, The Natural is worth revisiting from the vantage point of the twenty-
first century for its unique position within these disparate traditions.
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 87

Critical reception
Unsurprisingly, given its heavy mythical overtones, many scholars have
unraveled the numerous references from the Western tradition. Notable
among these commentators is Deanne Westbrook, who offers an intertextual
interpretation, interspersed with Freudian psychoanalytic insights, from the
myth-criticism school. Locating the novel within the literary landscape crafted
by Eliot and Weston, Westbrook uncovers a plethora of mythic allusions,
including from Tarot, fertility rituals, Arthurian and Homeric legends, with Roy
as a wandering Odysseus and Perceval with his Excalibur, his bat Wonderboy,
his external soul, according to Westbrook, ready at his hand. Malamud’s
allusions to the mythic literary past have been well documented by numerous
previous commentators.2 However, with Roy as would-be king, temptation in
the form of Memo, prophecies of greatness, and a style that oscillates between
the natural and the supernatural, a previously overlooked allusion to Macbeth
reveals additional insights into Malamud’s enduring themes of the individual
caught in a corrupt and all too carnally and financially enticing world.
As if all this were not enough, The Natural is also a modern myth, a baseball
story, and Malamud’s tale borrows freely from the sport’s history which he
interweaves with the ancient legends. In an account of non-fictional events and
sources that informed the novel, Henry Harley identifies the critical incidents
from baseball’s own folklore. These celebrated tales that helped to install the
game as a mythic enterprise in the American imaginary, include the shooting
of Eddie Waitkus in a hotel in June, 1949, and the sporting trajectory of Babe
Ruth, who converted from pitcher to batter, allegedly hit a home run for a
child sick in a hospital, and suffered from a giant bellyache. Also featuring
as a critical aspect of the novel in its concluding chapters is the tragic story
of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, implicated in the so-called “Black Sox” corruption
scandal of 1919 and to which I will return in some detail.3
However, despite these and many other references to baseball’s own history,
Malamud maintained that The Natural was not a baseball novel, or so he wrote
in 1950 to Paul Brooks when he was just 5000 words into his first piece of long
fiction. This might explain why, in a spectacular polemic, Gerry O’Connor
found the novel to be wholly unsatisfactory, claiming that Malamud had made
elementary errors in his depiction of the game, and that his “omniscient voice,
hopelessly unnatural, travesties the rich, colorful language of baseball” (38-39).
From the foregoing discussion, however, it should be clear that contrary to the
implication that Malamud did not understand baseball, O’Connor’s problem
is that he is reading the text too literally as a baseball novel in the tradition
of the Frank Merriwell stories, rather than the caustic satires of Lardner from
which Malamud also drew inspiration. Far from showing “total ignorance of
the game, its rules and strategies, its players and its records, its language and
its culture,” (37), Malamud’s “errors” or “slips” are clearly quite deliberate in
intent and are central to an understanding of the novel as one that oscillates
88 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

dialectically between reality and fantasy, always deferring to decide exactly


which it is.
Not only did Malamud draw upon the myths of Western culture, high
literature pretexts, and baseball’s own history, but he was also inspired by the
work of the founders of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. The
Jungian psychological references have been well described, most notably by
Earl Wasserman, whose thematic analysis of the myths and archetypes that
Malamud incorporated into his text is regarded by Marcia Gealy as a “classic
of its type” (24). For Wasserman, Roy is a universal questor seeking his own
fulfilment. From Joyce, also influenced, though not persuaded, by Jung, Roy is
an Everyman in the tradition of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, fallen hero
of Finnegans Wake, as he carries Excalibur to his fateful destiny. Other early
commentators on the novel have explored the explicit Freudian content, most
significantly Leslie Fiedler, who was not only an early admirer of Malamud
but also contributed, from the position of critic, to the construction of Jewish-
American identity in the mid-twentieth century.4
In a collection of interviews edited by Alan Cheuse and Nicholas
Delbanco, Malamud acknowledged his explicit use of Freudian symbolism
such as imagining the magical bat Wonderboy as an obvious phallic symbol.
However, as Mark Schorer maintains in the same volume, to think of
Malamud’s symbolism as simply a form of translation or disguise would be to
underestimate its powers of revelation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in
Malamud’s explicit exploration of the Freudian unconscious and its ferociously
manifested motivations, such as Roy’s overeating as a symptom of his guilt
over Iris (Cheuse and Delbanco 42-44). It is now well established that analysis
of thematic content as practiced by Wasserman and others through a Freudian
and Jungian lens has been superseded by a shift of focus, inspired by the
teachings of Jacques Lacan, on to the text itself, language or, more accurately,
to the absences and gaps within language. However, notwithstanding the
outpouring of critical literary interpretations centered round a ubiquitous
“lack”—much ado, it might be thought, about nothing—it is to Freud, and
particularly the Freudian unconscious that fascinated Malamud, that I propose
to return in a light psychoanalytic reading of the text that respects and mirrors
the playful exuberance of the novel itself.
The Natural as dreamscape
In uncovering how the novel works, I draw inspiration from another line of
thought that has often been alluded to but not always fully developed, which is,
as Jeffrey Saperstein notes, “Malamud has created a strange, dream-like world”
(85). The Natural offers a dreamscape that takes baseball as its subject and turns
it into a beguiling compound of myth, history, mock-heroic yarn, comic turn,
social commentary, and sports psychology. In Jonathan Baumbach’s words,
“Malamud’s baseball world is fluid and magical” (108) and is one that conjures
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 89

up a thrillingly enchanted tale. The overall structure of the novel resembles


that of a dream, with its Joycean Wake style of distorted repetitions and circular
motions. As already noted, characters and events from the first segment of the
book, “Pre-Game,” reappear in different forms in “Batter Up!” and, as in all
dreams, there appears little chance for escape, simply the illusion of agency,
the hero in our own fantasy, as cast and action reoccur endlessly. Time is
compressed with the fifteen years between the two parts unaccounted for, a
comically accentuated and attenuated Lacanian “absence” represented only as
a blank page. With mythic and historic events entwined in an exaggerated
present, the novel recreates the strange eternal temporal suggestiveness of a
dream. This is quite deliberate on Malamud’s part, as he clearly states that “one
effect of fantasy is to give a feeling of timelessness, another of universality”
(cited in Cheuse and Delbanco 51):  for the unconscious, empires rise and fall,
events turn to myths, and legends pass out of history, all in the strike of a ball
or the turning of a page.
If the overall structure of the novel resembles that of a dream, the individual
parts also have an illusory quality. From the first pages of The Natural we are
presented with Roy’s bat, Wonderboy, disguised physically as a bassoon (TN
4), but also, of course, as the most thinly veiled of all phalluses. The dice are
“bewitched” (8) and the mirror is “cracked” (TN 12). In a recurring motif,
the ball that Roy uses to strike out The Whammer takes the form of a bird
with “white flapping wings until it suddenly disappeared from view” (TN 22),
which will not be the only tricks of magic that Roy will perform as he later
deceives, at least in his own mind, the evil-eyed bookie, Gus Sands, in his
hellish nightclub, the Pot of Fire. Within the dream and among the illusions
are further dreams:  the novel opens with a dream that Roy recalls of “him
standing at night in a strange field with a golden baseball” which itself
followed hard on the heels of Roy’s illusion of a “long-boned boy” hurling a
ball, to which Roy “shut his eyes … because it wasn’t real” (TN 3). Illusions
recur fitfully throughout the book, constantly blurring the lines, as in Macbeth,
between reality and fantasy, myth and history.
For Malamud, the dream is “only one aspect of reality. If a man dreams,
then dreaming is real and thus gives, in the dreaming, a fuller picture of the
person” (cited in Cheuse and Delbanco 45). In The Natural, dreams function
as a metadiegetic narrative, offering stories within stories, maintaining a
tension between realism and fable where insatiable desires, the materials
of the unconscious, are constantly erupting into life. At one point Sam and
Roy are both dreaming at the same time—Sam that “he had gone thirsty
made for a drink” while “Roy was dreaming of an enormous mountain”
(TN 30). Malamud’s book can be read dialectically as both a fantasy and
simultaneously as a quasi-realist baseball novel, and thus a novel of America,
of the whole of Western tradition, and of its/our illusions, misrecognitions and
90 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

transformations, where nothing, and no one, especially our own self, is quite
what it seems.
Roy Hobbs:  would-be hero and everyday schmuck
Malamud constructs a dreamscape populated with outlandish characters
that are larger than life yet all too human in their frailties and desires. Nowhere
is the ambivalent tension between reaching for the stars while condemned to
walk with feet of clay more clearly illustrated than in the central character of
Roy Hobbs, the man-child who would be king. In his reading of the novel,
O’Connor believes that “the legendary, cultural, and mythic personalities of
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Shoeless Joe cannot be resolved in one character”
(41). As we have already seen, he might have added, amongst others, Odysseus,
Perceval, Macbeth and, as Gealy argues, the schlemiel-schlemazel character
that Malamud would develop in his later novels. If, as Freud maintained,
“the construction of collective and composite persona is one of the principal
methods of dream-condensation” (152), then Roy occupies a textual place
between fantasy and history that escapes O’Connor’s literalism through the
compaction of these celebrated and mythic characters into the one persona
of his flawed hero. Roy’s world, the borderland of hypnagogia between
dream and reality, is one of pure sensory experience and, as Thomas R. Hersh
writes, “every experience we have is packed full of meaning and feeling and
thoughts and associations.” Malamud unpacks those experiences to explore
the “royal road to the unconscious” or, at the very least, an understanding of
Freudian unconscious motivations that animate his characters and with which
he was especially interested. It is now well established that there can be no
psychoanalyzing of characters in a novel which exist only as text, or the mind
of the novelist to which there is no access. However, given Malamud’s explicit
concern with the unconscious lives of his characters, there is an insistence that
we should at least consider these matters even in the knowledge that it will
only reveal something about ourselves as readers, who, as we read, become
fully implicated in the text.
According to Sidney Richman, Malamud figures Roy as a selfish hero
whose whole desire is simply to be “the best there ever was in the game” (TN
27), to which Harriet Bird responds, “is that all?” (TN 27). For Westbrook,
Roy’s failure is not to recognize that baseball is life and life is baseball and that
he has something to give to both. Given Malamud’s later themes of trials of
love through suffering and that success “can only occur when it is incomplete,
sealed in irony and in a continuing, hallowing pain” (Richman 41), Hobbs
is a hesitant hero with whom we identify and simultaneously disavow. Our
roving Roy of the Knights embodies the contradictions we might feel about
other people and ourselves. Hersh argues that “you can hate someone and
love them, despise them and admire them, feel like obeying them and feel
like resisting, look down on them and look up to them, envy them and feel
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 91

superior to them, feel angry about them and sorry for them, want to yell at
them and feel like crying about them—all at the same time.” The relationship
we have with our sporting heroes is at once slavish and cruel. We want and
believe them to be perfect but delight in their frailties. The pedestal is erected
tall, so much the better to facilitate a fall from grace. As much schadenfreude
as Freud, we revel in the misfortune of others blessed with more talent than
ourselves. We celebrate their victories as our own while we are envious of their
success, fame, and riches even as we say to ourselves “it ain’t so.”5 Roy lives up
to and exceeds all these expectations, because, as Saperstein states, “when Roy
succeeds, he succeeds mightily; when he fails, he fails abysmally. He is both
a Superhuman and an Everyman, an uber-mensch and a schlemiel” (85). The
same might be said for David Beckham, Magic Johnson, and countless other
sporting “heroes.” The same can be said for us all as we navigate precariously
through the triumphs and disasters of our lives.
Roy as a modern-day sports star
Malamud paints Roy as a flawed, perhaps even an empty, hero as he
pursues his sporting goals at the expense of relationships with others or taking
responsibility for himself. With his later works in mind, it seems that Malamud
created Roy as an object lesson in the pitfalls of infantile irresponsibility with
an interest only in trivial pursuits. Such an interpretation has been advanced
by Field and Field in a collection of essays on Malamud’s work where they
identify his enduring themes as “a search for a new life in the manner of the
Bildungsroman, i.e. a focus on growth and development from boyhood to
manhood; the prison motif; the necessity for moral involvement, or freedom
vs. responsibility; the value of suffering; the ritualistic and mythic elements in
life; the search for a father or a son’s displacing of a “father”, or the scapegoat
or orphan motifs; and a consuming concern with Love, Mercy (Rachmones),
Menschlechkeit” (1). In this sense, The Natural is a direct successor to Tom
Brown for its moralistic themes of spiritual development as much as for the
sport. As Frank LeBlanc suggests, The Natural is more parable than myth, the
lesson being that, to be successful, discipline is needed alongside talent. No
doubt that is true, but how many sporting heroes do we worship for their
“discipline”?
Contrary to these readings, Roy might also be seen as the very epitome
of the modern sports star. What other goal is a player meant to have but to
want to be the very best there ever was? Arguably, it is the most glorious and
honest goal there can possibly be in the sporting world. In attempting to load
responsibilities outside of sport on to Roy, Malamud seems to validate one of
modernity’s more ludicrous inventions, the sporting “role model” who is meant
to embody virtuous and noble qualities simply because he or she (mostly “he”)
happens to be good with a bat and a ball. But Roy, going against the grain of
popular wisdom that hero status can only ever be conferred from without,
92 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

loudly announces it for himself. With pure childlike reasoning, and all the
more admirable for it, he realizes that the sporting hero is only a temporary,
fragile and precarious thing, as the crowd’s affections swing violently one way
and the other:  one minute the hero, the next a zero. Roy wants to be a hero for
himself and himself alone. But his honesty is disconcerting:  top sports stars are
supposed to declare that any hero status is “for other people to decide” or make
similar protestations of false modesty. Yet, occasionally the mask slips and we
see beyond the bland banality to a more profound truth. When Portuguese
and Real Madrid galactico Cristiano Ronaldo boldly stated that he was the best
footballer in the world, the world sat up and took notice, not because it might
well just be true but because he was not meant to say that.6 He was supposed
to say that he will leave such judgments to his peers or something similarly
hackneyed and dishonest.
We consider Roy to be far too full of himself, but he is simply giving voice to
the beliefs we all have about ourselves, but have learnt to suppress out of fear of
ridicule. Don’t we all, deep down somewhere in our psyche, see ourselves as the
dashing hero in our own life story? That part of our psychic constitution is not
called the ideal ego for nothing as we attempt to recuperate a sense of infantile
omniscience through our dreams and fantasies. For Freud, a dream was not so
much one of wish fulfilment but of the fantasy of a fulfilled desire. However,
unlike most of us, but similar to Freud’s Bismarck or Cristiano Ronaldo, for
that matter, Roy tries to make his wish materialize. In his celebrated essay,
“Two Ways to Avoid the Real of Desire,” Slavoj Žižek provocatively argues that
the femme fatale in hard-boiled detective fiction “embodies a radical ethical
attitude, that of ‘not ceding one’s desire’” (Žižek, “Two Ways” 122). To the
extent that he always wants more and tries to make his dream come true, Roy
acts not as the irresponsible infant Malamud would have us believe but as the
ethical man in the drama, true to his desire to be “the best there ever was.” Roy
fails, not due to his “selfish” desire or because he allows it to overwhelm him,
but because ultimately he gives up on his desire and does not see it through to
the bitter end. And it is to the end that I now turn.
The Natural, corruption and Macbeth
In a novel that has revealed a multitude of fictional and historical allusions,
it may seem redundant to infer more than those already well documented in
the critical literature. However, with its tale of a would-be king who commits
regicide and also kills a rival to achieve his obsession to be regarded as the best
player ever, thoughts turn “naturally” to Macbeth, another story of temptation,
corruption, visions, and hallucinations that conspire to end in the tragic fall of
its aspiring protagonist.
To ground the suggestion that Malamud has drawn upon Shakespeare’s
drama of doomed ambition, we might recall that Macbeth is a work that unsettles
both epistemological and ontological understandings of the world, constantly
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 93

disrupting, in the words of Catherine Stevens, the “distinctions between reality


and illusion, or the inner world of the subject and the objects that he perceives”
(3). Like Macbeth the play, The Natural teeters perilously at all times on the ridge
between the real and the unreal, the familiar and the alien, with the uncanny
return of characters and events and the ambiguous distinctions between myth
and history. Like Macbeth, Roy believes he is destined to be “king of the hill.”
When Harriet Bird asks witheringly, “is that all?” to Roy’s ambition to be the
best at baseball, is she not replicating Lady Macbeth’s scorn of her husband’s
faltering determination to seize the crown? When Memo reveals that one of
her breasts is in some way malformed, this reminds us of Lady Macbeth’s
refusal of the role of nurturer of her child in favor of rearing demons to satiate
her ambitions when she says “come to my woman’s breasts, / and take my milk
for gall” (47-48). In Macbeth, as in The Natural, “corruption of the flesh,” Jared
Johnson notes, “takes the form of lust, blood—and otherwise” (103). And, like
Macbeth, Roy, having fallen in lust with Memo, is fatally tempted by a woman
with greater ambition than his own.
If Malamud’s novel is only one thing, which it is not, but if it were, then it
would be a novel about corruption—of the flesh, of the spirit, and, of course,
of the game of baseball, standing in for the American dream itself. The myth
that America likes to tell itself, or at least which some Americans like to present
to the outside world, is that, in the “land of the free,” anyone can succeed, that
anyone, however low their birth, can rise to the top. It is not a myth unique to
America; it pervades the whole of Western culture. Roy is that man who, from
a familial background that would make humble look luxurious, claims his
right to embody the dream that he might, with talent and endeavor, become
the best there ever was. As the novel draws to a climax, Malamud’s themes of
personal ambition, corruption, sex, money, and gambling are bound together
in the concluding chapters that have their historical counterpart with the
notorious “Black Sox” World Series-fixing scandal of 1919 where a number of
professional players were charged with, though never convicted of, corrupting
the sport.
First, however, it is worth recalling how the game-fixing scenario plays out
in The Natural. Roy, suffering from a terrible bellyache after encouragement
by the object of his sexual desire, Memo, to gorge himself the night before
the big game, is informed by doctors that the pennant-deciding match must
be his last due to a damaged heart. Now financially more vulnerable than
ever, Roy is approached first by Memo and later by corrupt club owner The
Judge, who, working with Gus Sands, the Supreme Bookie, wants Roy to fix
the upcoming pennant-deciding game. He agrees to help fix the game as he
believes the money he is promised will help set him up in business so he can
then marry Memo, who has, in fact, been grooming him all along at the behest
of the corrupt partnership. Roy, taken in by her deception, and feeling weak
from his illness, succumbs to the temptation to play badly in order to ensure
94 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

that his team, the Knights, lose the game so The Judge and Gus can make
corrupt money on the betting markets.
Roy is torn between the need for money, his lust for Memo, and his loyalty
to Pop Fisher. He initially deliberately misses with Wonderboy but, as the game
proceeds, Roy’s cognitive and emotional crises become more pronounced and
are brought into sharp relief by “a stream of jeers, oaths, and horn hoots that
burned Roy to the bones” (TN 217) emanating from the stands in the shape
of Otto Zipp, who has always been (more than) sceptical about Roy’s heroic
deeds. As only Macbeth can see Banquo’s ghost, haunting him with reminders
of his murderous past, so only Roy can hear with crystal clarity Zipp’s damning
judgment, because, according to Jacques Derrida, “the spectre first of all sees
us” (cited in Johnson 8). Suffering from such an intense epistemological and
ontological predicament, Roy aims foul balls at Zipp’s head. “Carrion, offal,
turd—flush the bowl” (TN 217), cries Zipp as a foul ball ricochets off his head
and accidentally hits Roy’s former lover and bearer of his child, Iris Lemon.
Shocked by what he has done, Roy vows to win the game, but he finds his
Excalibur, his Wonderboy, split, as he has been, in two. Forced to use a normal
bat, he tries to win the game but, without his magic weapon, he flails and
misses, striking out to the new pretender, Youngberry. The Knights and Pop
lose and the Judge and Gus win their crooked bet. Full of remorse for yielding
to corruption, Roy angrily rejects the bribe. As in Macbeth, the moment of
anagnorisis is a moment of tragic horror, arriving as ever a fraction too late
because rumor of Roy’s fraud has made the newspapers via a Max Mercy
column and his reputation and records lie in tatters. The novel ends with Roy
replaced by new “hero” Youngberry on the field, but off it he has the chance to
take up the rest of his life with Iris and their unborn child.
Daniel Walden comments that “Malamud believed that if a writer
is lucky ‘serious things seem funny,’ and in his best work, including The
Natural … ‘life to him [is] always on the edge of both tragedy and comedy,
of reality and fantasy’” (172). The novel contributes to an understanding of
corruption through a technique that melds comedy and tragedy with fantasy
and reality. It is here that Malamud’s off-centered descriptions of the game
become important. What O’Connor thought of as naïf faux-pas turn out to be
symbolic of how a fixed game, that seems to be legitimate to the visual gaze,
is, in fact, like the ghosts seen by Macbeth, or the dreams we all experience,
purely spectral. Or, to be more accurate, a fixed game occupies a position of
epistemological uncertainty between the real and the fake. Corruption never
reveals itself directly, but only as a phantom sense of suspicion and unease
that something is not quite right—an unexpectedly poor pitch or miss here, a
dropped catch there.
The problem with detecting game-fixing in sport, recognizing ghosts,
remembering dreams, or grasping the fullness of language is that spectral
refractions are the sine qua non of each. Match-fixing is often only glimpsed
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 95

through the oblique means of gossip, hearsay, and rumors; ghosts are only
caught in the corner of an eye; dreams escape the waking mind just before they
can be remembered; and language slips away at the moment of definition.
Malamud conveys the sense that we are looking at a game that is slightly off
kilter, but does so by distorting the language of the game. The reason that he
has adopted this technique from the beginning of the novel now comes into
sharper relief—The Natural is both/neither baseball novel and/nor masquerade,
but an exercise in destabilization of the text itself, revealed as always already
real/fake. Using the technique of an omniscient narrator, alongside an ironic
stance to the narration itself, Malamud allows the reader to see the corrupt
core of sport while showing how it is covered up and presented to the public as
the real thing. From the perspective of the fan, the corruption is disguised as
they place their bets and cheer on their team, accepting the anguish of defeat as
the inevitable result of sport in which there must be a loser as well as a winner.
What we see is the darkest of nightmares, in which reality is indistinguishable
from the faked—surely a parable for our times if ever there was one. Roy, as
Everyman, is caught up in this web of deceit and, suddenly, his protestations
to be the hero to anyone except himself seem all the more preposterous. The
very concept of the hero, or an American dreamer, or a dreamer anywhere of
any kind, is shown to be a fantasy created to maintain the fiction of the game
of sport and of life as an honest endeavor in which we can all be winners.
According to the cultural theorist Slavoj  Žižek, the French philosopher,
Gilles Deleuze, once remarked, “‘si vous êtes pris dans le rêve de l’autre; vous
êtez foutus’, (if you’re trapped in the dream of the other, you’re fucked!)” (Žižek,
Violence 48). As the novel progresses, we see how Roy, like Macbeth before him,
has been trapped in the dreams of others throughout, but which masquerade,
as so much of our world does, is of his own making. In the short “Pre-Game”
part of the novel, he is severely wounded by Harriet Bird, who has created her
own nightmarish world in which she shoots and kills top sports stars. When
he resurfaces (from where?) in “Batter Up!” to claim his place as wannabe hero
and record breaker, he fails to see that these are fictions created from elsewhere,
drawing him in as they have countless others before and will continue to do
so after he has left the scene. But at the corrupt core, records and heroism are
treated with contempt by the powerful, useful only in maintaining the veneer
of sports’ legitimacy to further their own dishonest ends. As Roy is groomed
by Memo, a temptress as old as Lady Macbeth, he is lured inevitably into the
dark dream of The Judge and Supreme Bookie. In truth, he has been trapped in
their dream from the outset.
As the fixed game proceeds, the web gathers round Roy and it becomes
clear to him that he is caught in the nightmare of The Judge and Gus, but
also hooked into the noble dream of Pop Fisher, who desperately wants to
win the pennant just the once in his lifetime. For Roy, the epistemological
and ontological tension is unbearable. Torn between nightmare and dream, he
96 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

literally does not know what to do. In his mental disarray, he hears a foul voice
upon the wind, none other than Otto Zipp, who, as the clear-eyed specter that
always sees us first, penetrates beyond the hero worship of the other fans and,
as Roy’s demanding superego, brings the hero down to earth with scatological
precision as Roy deliberately misses with Wonderboy. Zipp symbolizes the role
of the always ambiguous internal/external superego that leads to the eventual
construction of the ego ideal that takes its idealized form from the demands
of the social upon the individual and marks the final abandonment of the
infantile ideal ego that Roy has been pursuing to be the best there ever was.
In rage at the recognition that his dream is finally broken, he tries to silence
his externalized superego by smashing foul balls at him in a final act of futile
resistance.
Poor Roy, sold on the impossible dream of the sporting hero, has been
fucked for a very long time. And yet, there is a sense that Roy, while he remained
childlike and infantile, dreaming only of being the best, had his chance to
break the chains in which he became trapped. Channeling Žižek, Roy needed
to make good on his desire, to not give up on it but to be the radical ethical
man even as it would result in death in glory. At this, I am reminded of the story
of the British amateur club cricketer, Ken Turk who, according to the obituary
note, “on May 3, 1992, aged 67 … went out to bat at No. 11 for the club Second
XI against Shepherd’s Bush, hit a six, then collapsed on the field and died.”7
Unlike Turk, who is documented as going out in a blaze of brilliance, Roy’s
sporting life, by giving way on his desire, is deleted from the historical record,
and he morphs instantly from Everyman to No-One, consigned, like gangster
Henry Hill at the end of Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas (1990), to the worst
death of all:  anonymity, marriage, and kids for the rest of his life.
Conclusion
The Natural is many things—a throwback to the dime sports novel and an
anticipation of the postmodern sports literature of Coover, Roth and DeLillo;
a footnote to Weston, Eliot, and Joyce and the inauguration of Malamud’s
own auspicious Jewish-American literary oeuvre; a mythic fantasy wrapped up
in an historical moral fable; a mock-heroic tragi-comedy that addresses the
enduring theme of the place of the hero in modern society; a reworking of
the tragic drama of Macbeth, and a commentary on the state of America and
Western culture in the mid twentieth-century with its themes of corruption
and moral decline. The Natural is all these things and more. In this article I
have attempted to add to the commentary on The Natural that focuses on the
myths, symbols, allegories, and historical antecedents, and to reclaim it for its
sporting context and as a novel that is, at its heart, about baseball, the place of
sport in society, and a contemporary critique of our precarious times. Perhaps,
above all, the novel can reveal something of ourselves as 21st century readers.
Critically, contrary to Malamud’s intention that Roy can only be the hero once
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 97

he puts aside his childish desires simply to be a sporting hero and to take his
place in adult society, from the perspective of the twenty-first century, and a
sign of our atomistic times, to want simply to be the best now seems a most
noble of pursuits. What more are we expected to aspire to but to be the hero
in our own life, to throw off the mantle of false modesty and to embrace our
ideal ego, and reclaim for ourselves our dreams and fantasies? Trapped in the
nightmare world of The Judge and Gus, a simple metaphor for American, and
therefore, Western culture, Roy’s only route of escape was to hold tight to his
childish dreams and to be the hero that he wanted to be. The same goes for all
of us:  simply to be the best we can be.

Works Cited
Cheuse, Alan and Nicholas Delbanco, editors. Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

“Cristiano Ronaldo: I’m the Best Player in World.” BBC Sport Football, 5 November 2015. http://
www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/34737914 Accessed 04 December 2015. Web.

Detweiler, Robert. “Games and Play in Modern American Fiction.” Contemporary Literature,
volume 17, number 1, 1976, pp. 44-62.

Field, Joyce W. and Leslie Field, editors. Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Dead Dodo Vintage. Kindle.

Gealy, Marcia. “A Reinterpretation of Malamud’s The Natural.” Studies in American Jewish


Literature, volume 4, number 1, 1978, pp. 24-32.

Helterman, Jeffrey. Understanding Bernard Malamud. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina
Press, 1985.

Henry, Harley. “‘Them Dodgers is My Gallant Knights’: Fiction as History in The Natural (1952).”
Journal of Sport History, volume19, number 2, 1992, pp. 110-129.

Hersh, Thomas R. Law of Condensation. http://psychological-observations.com/psychological-


laws/law-of-condensation. Accessed 04 December 2015.

Hershinow, Sheldon J. Bernard Malamud. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Johnson, Jared. “‘Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible / To feeling as to sight?’: Spiritual Bondage,
Carnal Corruption, and Horror in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.”
Selected Papers of the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference: Vol 7, Article 7. 2014. http://
ideaexchange.uakron.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1046&context=spovsc. Accessed 30
December 2017. Web.

LeBlanc, Frank. “Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), The Natural.” April 2013, http://ualr.edu/
deadauthors/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/The-Natural-Review.pdf. Accessed 04 December
2015. Web.
98 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Malamud, Bernard. The Natural. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1952.

O’Connor, Gerry. “Bernard Malamud’s The Natural: ‘The Worst There Ever Was in the Game.’”
Aethlon, volume III, number 2, 1986, pp. 37-42.

Oriad, Michael. Dreaming of Heroes: American Sports Fiction, 1868-1980. Chicago: Nelson-Hall,
1982.

Richman, Sidney. Bernard Malamud. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1966.

Saperstein, Jeffrey. “Irony and Cliché: Malamud’s The Natural in the 1980s.” Film/Literature
Quarterly, volume 24, number 1, 1996, pp. 84-87.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth edited by Kenneth Muir. London: Arden Shakespeare/Thomas


Learning, 1984.

Stevens, Catherine. “Uncanny Re/flections: Seeing Spectres in Macbeth, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar.”
Journal of the Northern Renaissance, volume 3, 2011. http://www.northernrenaissance.org/
uncanny-reflections-seeing-spectres-in-macbeth-hamlet-and-julius-caesar/.

Walden, Daniel. “Bernard Malamud and his Universal Menschen.” In The Magic World of Bernard
Malamud, edited by Evelyn Avery. Albany, NY: State of University of New York Press, 2001,
pp. 167-173.

Wasserman, Earl R. “The Natural: Malamud’s Word Ceres.” The Centennial Review, volume 9,
number 4, 1965, pp. 438-460.

Westbrook, Deanne. Ground Rules: Baseball & Myth. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1996.

Žižek, Slavoj. “Two Ways to Avoid the Real of Desire.” In Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism, edited by
Maud Ellmann. London and New York: Longman, 1994, pp. 105-127.

___________ . Violence. London: Profile Books, 2007.

Notes
1. For more on this phenomenon see, Andy Harvey, Boys will be Boys? An Interdisciplinary Study
of Sport, Masculinity and Sexuality. Oxford: Fisher Imprints, 2015: Chapter 2.

2. For other scholarly examinations of the mythic and symbolic references in The Natural, see,
inter alia, Jeffrey Helterman, Understanding Bernard Malamud. Columbia: University of South
Carolina Press, 1985; Sheldon J. Hershinow, Bernard Malamud. New York: Frederick Ungar,
1980; Marcus Klein, After Alienation: American Novels in Mid-Century. Cleveland: World
Publishing, 1964, pp. 247-93; Earl R. Wasserman, “The Natural: Malamud’s Word Ceres.”
The Centennial Review 9: 4 (1965): 438-460.

3. For a detailed account of the “Black Sox” scandal, see Eliot Asinof, Eight Men Out. New York:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.

4. See Leslie Fiedler, “In the Interest of Surprise and Delight. Folio 20: 3 1955: 17-20.
Harvey/The Best There Ever Was? 99

5. For greater elaboration of these themes of sports fans’ ambivalent relationship with their
heroes, see Andy Harvey and Agnieszka Piotrowska, “Intolerance and Joy, Violence and Love
among Male Football Fans: Towards a Psychosocial Explanation of ‘Excessive’ Behaviours.”
Sport in Society 16: 10 (2013): 1404 - 1412.

6. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/34737914

7. See http://www.espncricinfo.com/page2/content/story/228731.html
100 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

The College Punter


A big boot
booming problems away,
he practices every day—the catch, stride, turn
and guiding drop.

Last week offense struggled, another fourth and long


in their own zone, punt team on the field again. Nervous high snap
he grabbed and kicked—
four seconds and forty-four yards
with no return. Nice.

After missing a few classes and failing the midterm,


he comes to my office. Groin pull, mother in the hospital,
now his girlfriend’s pregnant. It’s just too much, he drops his head.
I close the door. Silence.

Squinting like an old coach in the three o’clock sun,


I tell him to Make adjustments, Avoid turnovers, Don’t punt,
feeling ridiculous—teaching our kids game analogies,
the virtues of hard work and a steady drive, when every player knows fakes
and misdirection win a lot of games.
Henry Hughes
101

Jogging Around My Old High School Football Field


at Night
It’s dark and quiet. My thighs jiggle
another quarter mile, and every season
my shoulders shrink inside the jerseys
of that boy who played right guard
with Mud-Dog Sweeney at center
and Jarhead Jones at tackle. Stadium lights,
ballooning knees, broken fingers. Concussion?—
No, he’s fine. Coach Casey yelling, Suck it up!
when we’re down by two, but marching.

My wife won’t let our son play football.


Brain injury, a fifteen-year-old? Are you crazy?
I don’t argue. Black track streams below
the final rib-stitching sprint into the end zone
with not enough breath to Yeah,
a happy brute, stomping, sky-fisted,
parents bouncing the stands.

Fingers laced over my balding head, sweating


home along Stadium Street’s soft houses,
screen-lit fans check Fantasy stats and scores,
lineups and injuries. Who’s back in, who’s
questionable, who’s out?
Henry Hughes
102 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
The Sleeping Idol

Roberto Fontanarrosa
Translated by Richard V. McGehee

I t’s truly legendary in the state of Goiás that Joelson Fagundes slept during
the half-time breaks of games.
He had so much confidence in the talent he represented for his team, the
Goianía, and so little worry that his behavior could endanger the final result
of the matches, that as soon as he arrived to the locker room, he dropped onto
a cot and fell asleep. I mean he slept deeply, loudly, snoring with snores that
sometimes drowned out the roar of the crowd in the stands.
An uninformed person might ask how it was possible that a coach could
permit such a thing.
But if somebody asks that, it’s because he doesn’t know who this formidable
player was. Joelson Fagundes was captain of the Goianía team that was national
champion in 1952. He captained that great team during fifteen years, four less
than the total length of his soccer-playing career, filled with triumphs and
resounding successes. As a number five, or center-half as it was called back
then, he was the goals leader for his team in eight seasons and for the league,
in three.
As a natural, congenital, and given thing, conceded as a gift from God, he
scored from penalty shots and free kicks with notable accuracy and precision. A
shouter, impulsive and temperamental, he directed his teammates as if he were
a coach on the field, being more knowledgeable about tactics and strategies
than almost everybody. The people of the barrio of Garisto do Melo, where he
was born, adored him, and the soccer fans of Goianía considered him a hero
of the virile sport of football.
104 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

One day my colleague, the journalist Otoniel Pessoa, that same


newspaperman who around 1949 nicknamed him, “big banana,” because of
the peculiar shape of his head, asked him, “Why do you sleep during half-
time?”
“Because my conscience is tranquil,” replied Joelson, jokingly and puffed-
up with a new championship.
And it was logical that he should have a clear conscience, because he never
left the field of play—whether winning, tying, or losing—without leaving
all he had in the battle and without demanding the utmost effort from his
gladiator’s body and shedding the last drop of his mulatto’s sweat.
Because Fagundes was a mulatto. And he was as big as Jataí, the hill that
towers above the poor barrio of Garisto do Melo.
Gigantic and strong, hard as nails, impervious to injuries and blows, as if
wearing armor, he played six-hundred and seventy-three matches in the green
and red jersey without missing a single one.
One time Harmodio Remón, the great Panamanian footballer who played
with Valladolid, told me about a Moroccan he had met in Spain:  “Often during
the half-time break, if the time of day were appropriate, this man would kneel
facing Mecca and pray. He would even kneel to pray during games if the hour
demanded it. Many times his teammates and the trainers ran to him, thinking
he’d been injured, and when we got to him, we found he was praying. His
name was Aziz El O Heina.
And he had the problem that sometimes he became disoriented and didn’t
know for sure which way it was to Mecca, surrounded as he was by the stands
of the stadiums. The poor man would turn around like a dog seeking the best
position to sleep until he found, or thought he had found, the correct direction.
Unfortunately, the same thing happened to him with the goal. He could
never locate the opponents’ goal, and he left the team, after three very poor
seasons, without scoring a single time, even though he had arrived at Valladolid
with the reputation of having a cannon of a leg.”
He returned to Zoco de Tetuán a failure, but an even more devout believer.
But Harmodio added then, “However, I never saw anybody sleep during
half-times the way Joelson slept, when I played with him in Goianía during the
season of ’51/52.”
“Don’t they also call half-time, the rest period?” asked Fagundes, between
yawns. He was always a staunch defender of players’ rights. “If those fifteen
minutes are designed for rest,” he insisted, “I don’t see why a person can’t use
them as he thinks best without anybody coming to interrupt his repose.”
A living legend, a veritable eminence, though of flesh and bone, his
opinion didn’t have to be expressed. No coach would dare disturb his sleep
with the silly excuse of a lecture on tactics. And Paulo Bento, the great coach
from Bahía, for example, gave directions to his players almost in whispers,
trying not to affect the sleep of the great captain.
Fontanarrosa/The Sleeping Idol 105

“The result was comical,” said Harmodio Remón, “because there were
times when Bento, a very hot-bloodied coach, insulted and criticized some
player for the errors he’d committed in the first half, but he did it in a low
voice, trying not to wake up Joelson.”
Not only that. Diamentino Sousa, “Pepé,” venerable equipment manager
of Goianía, was a kind of squire, assistant, and loyal friend of Joelson Fagundes.
He was in charge of polishing his shoes, having his bottle of guaraná ready,
and also turning off the lights of the locker room when Joelson lay down to
sleep on the cot.
Many times the coach’s speech, the arguments, the reproaches between
players and assistant coaches, the encouraging words of club directors who
came in at the end of the first half, took place in near darkness and with Pepé
circulating on tip-toes, finger to lips, cautioning against any outburst.
That’s not all. The team’s supporters in the stands kept silent! When this
particular custom of Joelson during half-time became known to Goianía’s
fans, they stopped singing and shooting off fireworks or any kind of explosives
that could disturb the sleep of their idol.
Eventually, the walls of the locker room were covered with cork paneling
for sound insulation, after a game in which the fans of the Paraná club, who
also knew about the green and red captain’s siestas, had the nerve to scream
throughout the rest period.
“There were matches in which it was difficult to wake him,” remembers
Ziraldo Monteiro, who was club president during those years. “Especially when
he’d become a more veteran player, he fell into very deep sleep that made us
worry about him. He breathed heavily and sometime spoke in broken phrases.”
It was because his efforts on the field were such that no human being,
regardless of his athletic prowess, could sustain so great an exertion without
the healing effects of sleep. There were times when even Pepé, right hand of
Joelson, had to throw a bucket of cold water on him to wake him. Joelson
would wake up with a start, sometimes calling to his mother:  “Maecinha!
Maecinha!” Other times he asked where he was, or, when his thoughts were
clearer, he asked for a summary of the game up to that point or the name of
the team they were playing.
At the beginning of his career, Fagundes’ sleep was always placid and
pleasant, like that of a baby. However, as the years went by, it took on the
worrisome traits described by Ziraldo Monteiro. It happens that the passage
of time is inflexibly merciless, even for those seemingly touched by a magic
wand and who form the stars of the sporting firmament. When that historical
and unforgettable final game against Vasco da Gama occurred, for the
General Othon Inacio Cup, the soccer production of Joelson Fagundes had
already begun to reveal unsuspected breaches, fissures that would have been
unimaginable years earlier.
106 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“He was slower,” states Chico Zequinha, right-side forward of that Goianía
team and who played in that final. Joelson had never been a fast player, but
his age had made him a very slow man, especially considering that, with the
passage of time, soccer had become faster and faster.
Although in clear decadence, it would not have occurred to even the
most disillusioned and unjust fans of the green and red that the great Joelson
Fagundes should not be part of the team in that final game against Vasco da
Gama, that night when all Brazil was anxiously awaiting it.
It hurts to say it, but during the first half of that game, Joelson was terrible.
He’d never been so slow, so clumsy, so error-prone. No one failed to recognize
his desire to struggle, to fight for every ball as if it were the last, his sincere
dedication. But in a game in which Goianía only needed a tie to win the
championship, the first period ended with a Vasco lead of 2-0.
While 144,000 people maintained a sepulchral silence in the stadium
of Ladeira do Tabuao, Joelson, as if ignorant of the reality of his awful play,
descended the stairs toward the tunnel, encouraging and stimulating his
teammates, challenging them to turn the game around in the second half.
When he arrived at the locker room, as if it were any ordinary game, he dropped
onto the cot and slept.
***
When he awoke the locker room was dark, and no one was there. He sat
up, a little dopey and unkempt, looking all around, without remembering very
clearly what he was doing. Little by little he recognized benches and shelves,
showers and lavatories. But there was absolutely nobody, and the silence that
came from above, from the stands, was unbearable.
“Pepé!” he cried. “Pepé!” But nobody answered.
He jumped up and walked to the showers. Its floor was completely wet.
Next to the benches he saw papers and bandages thrown on the floor. A gleam
from a corner caught his eye. He saw glass shards. A glass had broken and
somebody had swept up the pieces and pushed them away from bare feet. On
a cot used for massages there was an empty champagne bottle. Maybe they’d
won the final and were celebrating!
Joelson couldn’t believe it, unrest began to rise up from his groin. They
hadn’t waked him up! They’d left him sleeping during the entire second half!
Even Pepé had betrayed him! Now, his fury clearing his mind, he ran to his
locker and groped for his watch.
He pulled it out of his shoe, where he usually hid it, pushed beneath a pair
of socks. It was the watch the club had awarded him after the championship of
’52. And it indicated that it was presently 5:10 AM.
He didn’t shower, because he felt cold after sleeping so long without cover
and because he was so upset. He put on his golden yellow shirt and gray silk
suit and left the red tie with its green palm trees a little loose. Also he didn’t tie
Fontanarrosa/The Sleeping Idol 107

up his two-tone shoes. He’d struggled to pull off his soccer cleats, covered with
mud, and left on his socks. Absorbed and confused he left the locker room and
trekked along deserted corridors whose floors were covered with papers and
soft drink bottles, dimly lighted by ceiling lamps every fifty meters.
Every now and then, side corridors led to the stands, but he saw the field
completely dark. It took him nearly fifteen minutes to reach the street, which
was equally empty. He decided to walk to Ouro Preto Avenue and take a taxi, if
it were possible to find one at that hour. He passed a couple of drunks lying on
the ground and several sleeping youths. He was tempted to wake them to ask
what had happened but preferred not to. Maybe there had been disturbances.
Or a power outage, which was not at all uncommon. The referee had decided to
suspend the game, and they didn’t want to wake him up and bother him. That
would be like Pepé, sometimes outdoing himself in his attentions. Possibly the
small number of Vasco da Gama fans had overdone their noisy celebration of
the 2-0 lead, and the Goianía supporters, hurt by their opponents’ advantage
and because the racket could affect the sleep of their beloved captain, had
attacked them with clubs and knives, causing the game to be suspended.
In the dimly lit corner of Passo Fundo and Tocantins he found a bar,
surprisingly open. It was small, with two doors, one opening to each of the
two streets, and from which surged beams of yellowish light. Inside, an old
mulatto woman swept the floor. Only one table was occupied, by a man
sleeping profoundly next to a bottle of beer. The floor needed the broom work,
no doubt, because it was still covered by metal bottle caps, papers and peanut
shells. On top of the big refrigerator a radio was playing, faintly and plaintively,
a song of Leo Belico.
“Is there time ma’am, for me to drink something?” asked Joelson. The
woman looked at him without any gesture. She left the broom and went
behind the bar. Joelson sat down at an empty table, a folding table of pale blue
sheet metal, still marked by wet circles made by beer bottles, and requested a
“Natal.” The old woman brought him the beer and patiently returned to the
bar where she began to organize the glasses.
“Do you know how the game turned out?” Joelson asked, after taking a
large swig, and feeling that tension was eating at his chest.
The old woman looked at him a little strangely.
“Goianía won the championship,” she said. “They tied 2-2.”
Joelson bit his lips. Another title for his career. He didn’t know whether to
be pleased or not.
“The game,” he struggled to say. “Was it normal? Was it played entirely?
Were there disturbances, was it suspended?”
“Not that I know of,” the old woman shook her head, without looking
at him. “Not even during the celebrations. I didn’t see anything. And they
were here very late. Just a little while ago I threw out the last ones, a couple of
youngsters.”
108 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“You don’t know …?” Joelson, in spite of the beer, felt his throat dry. “You
don’t know who made the goals for Goianía?”
The old woman shrugged her shoulders again, bitter.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know anything about this stuff. I’m a
supporter of Goianía because my husband is. And because when Goianía wins,
we do more business, like tonight. But I don’t understand anything.”
Joelson stayed quiet. He leaned against the wall, looking at a distant point,
without seeing anything.
“Luckily,” the old woman continued, surprisingly, “they pulled that
Fagundes. He was a disaster. After they took him out, we tied the game. If he‘d
stayed in, we would have lost by a landslide.”
Joelson felt like something was breaking inside him. He swallowed hard.
“Did he play really badly?”
“That’s what my husband says,” croaked the old woman. “I don’t know. But
that’s what my husband says and what everybody who was here watching TV
were saying … That this Fagundes doesn’t have it any more. He’s old. Playing
with him is like playing without a full team. He doesn’t realize that he can no
longer play with the younger ones. Luckily the coach was brave enough to take
him out … That’s what they say.”
Joelson banged the base of his glass into the table. The man sleeping at the
other table seemed to wake up. He half opened his eyes but then closed them
again.
“How much?” asked Joelson.
“Forget it,” said the old woman. “I’ve already closed out the register.”
“How much! How much!” demanded Joelson, clinching his teeth. The old
woman turned her back on him, making a gesture of negation with her hand.
She went on arranging bottles.
Joelson stood up. He searched in his pockets and took out ten cruzeiros,
almost double the price of the “Natal” beer. He threw them on the table. Then
he went out to the street and walked toward his house.
109

Repair
as though to remind us we’d left
something unruined or still to ruin.
from “Birch Tree With Chainsaw” by James Lasdun

As though to remind us we’d left


it all on the ice, my goalie mask’s gone
ahead & just failed. It’s evident – sweaty,
mid-headshake post-skate – that something’s not right.
There’s a give, but no take. The whole enterprise’s
elastic, a too eager nodding at what each shrug begs,
each stretch guesstimates. On inspection,
it’s simple:  the harness’s come loose, a snap’s
cracked. The shell’s gummed with a nondescript gunk.
But divorced from rink’s context, laid bare
& junked on the table’s pine strip, bone-white & cleft-spurred
at its edges & crown, the mask’s stark, dislocated –
a lone, near-skull denuded, unfreighted & parked
on display. Its hardware? Rusted fast, incoherent
& feral; furred once-screws sweat ochre
to a blood-rasped dust pox; a blight-fashioned frown.
Yet the mask’s steely cat’s eye all but
knowingly winks, the cage spot-splayed a mere twinge
from its former hard weld; a surface’s seeming, belied.
In lieu? The slant, gleaming polish of awry gauge
as a guide; a mettle suggesting there might just be
something unruined. Or, still to ruin.
Matt Robinson
110 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
Street Fighting Young Men:
Hickle, Spike and Bobby

Harry Reed

T ime warp, a hiccup, a crimp in the long corridor of time. Whatever one calls
it, when I glance back, it was innocence, and responsibility disappearing in
slow metronomic tics. We were approaching our teens with neither dread nor
elation. It was only a matter of numbers. Things seemed static. Same guys, same
girls, same newsstands, same summer jobs, same ennui, and same anticipation
of something about to happen.
And the something new was there. We couldn’t see it, smell it, or touch it,
but it was there and moving apace. I don’t know what others felt but I sensed
something I couldn’t explain, until years later, and then I thought of it as the
end of an era. World War II had ended. Our parents were shifting, drifting
back to old employment, as demobilization and military defense jobs were
disappearing.
Most weren’t despairing. A few had purchased cars with their wartime
salaries. Others had acquired new mortgages. Many had closed their postal
savings accounts for Guaranteed Trust Bank’s full range services:  check books,
balance sheets. As Zobra would say, “The whole catastrophe.”
The changes absorbed us, even as we ignored their obvious presence. That
summer, we hustled ourselves when the “hood” telegram circulated—like
wildfire—that punch out bouts were going to happen that afternoon at the
corner of Baltic and Maryland Avenues. If Hickle, Snike, or Bobby were the
featured fighters, it was going to be a good day.
Hickle was a crisp, cool, almost unblemished ebony. His face touched here
and there, next to the comer of his right eye, and down near the curve of his
left lower lip, two lighter daubs, seemingly placed by a judicious Old Master’s
112 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

stroke, were the only marks that intruded on his imposing blackness. They
made his face more interesting than the unbroken menace he seemed to exude.
Alternatively, a Kano bronzesmith might have turned his wiry frame, ever
so slowly over a bellows-fired hearth, manned by muscled tribesmen who kept
the coals aflame and carried out, to the letter, instructions of the smithy while
Griots chanted praise songs that melded with savannah winds. Such a birthing
process resulted in the timbre of his hue and perhaps accounted for the rage
animating his body. Whatever other elements joined the Old Master, the
bronzesmith, and the Griots, they resulted in an indomitable will that made
him one of the most feared fighters in town.
Naturally, his best friend, Spike, was also a feared fighter. And about as
close as one could get to being a polar opposite. Fat and brown as a sweet
potato or his momma’s lip-smacking Sunday fried chicken, Spike was also jolly.
Not your mindless, self-effacing fat man, just someone easy to be with. That
sweet potato teasing brown not only fashioned by supper getting-ready songs
and ingredients splashed with a little down-home wholesomeness, but also
sassed with spices of West Indian provenance, mostly forgotten but capable of
surfacing and creating laughter, practical jokes, yet always able to draw the line
between his personality and what kind of liberties you could take with him.
That rosy pineapple/sweet potato/fried chicken persona had been nurtured by
a house full of adoring females; sisters, aunts, and that skilled Sunday chef and
even at the top of his celebrity Spike could share a joke and cut short the fun
with a simple, “ok, man,” without resorting to his fists as friend Hickle would.
Bobby, you knew from the ill-fitting, hand me down clothes, sometimes
too big and baggy, at others so tight they couldn’t be buttoned properly, that he
was a patchwork of brooding foster home experiences that most thirteen-year-
olds would have fashioned into bullying masochism. Instead, there were forces
at work, sensitivity for example, in that shaved bullet head, something we only
called him in his absence that rumbled deep in a quietude that only sometimes
revealed itself in his green flecked brown eyes. Like an ancient scribe, those
eyes took in everything, showing at most a mild curiosity at how silly some
of his age mates were or boiling under the surface at some unspoken slight
committed toward him by adults, whether they be teachers or passersby. Still,
behind those now brooding, now playful eyes he drank in a life’s vision of
sharp clothes, authority, and adoration.
You wouldn’t think it possible that a small neighborhood, in a small
East Coast summer resort town, where I grew up, could produce so many
prodigious fighters, all between the ages of eight and fourteen. Hickle, Spike,
and Bobby were probably the best, but Dave Lewis, Willie Glenn, Winfield Jay,
Buddy Young, Charlie McDuffie, and the Jones boys were part of the mix. Tony
Washington also had a big reputation, but he was more interested in other
sports. Back in the day, during my preteen and early teen years I saw all of
them fight on different occasions.
Reed/Street Fighting Young Men 113

In those days fighting was a creative outlet rather than a destructive activity.
Not only a creative outlet but also a community solidifier; we, teenaged boys,
that is, could always find a time, a place, and a topic:  who was the best fighter
to occupy our minds and keep us from more destructive pursuits. Little did we
know in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s that our community was changing, that
some of the solidarity shaped by issues like street fighting would disappear.
Like most teenaged boys, we didn’t think much about the future; instead, we
focused on personalities, reputation and style, let the future take care of itself.
Some guys hummed as they punched out an opponent. Others talked,
even to the point of calling their punches. Buddy Kidd cried. The harder he
fought the more he cried, which must have been unnerving to his opponents
and terribly confusing to newcomers to the area. In addition to Buddy Kidd’s
crying, other fighters also had their trademarks. For example, Dave Lewis
could swing a fight in his favor; dropping to one knee he’d come up “bombing
and screaming.” He wouldn’t stop the onslaught until his man dropped or said,
“I give.”
No zip guns, no switchblades, no stomping. No real violence, just creative
energy. When the fights were over, people got back to their business. For
me that business usually included sitting around on Boogie Boo’s wooden
newspaper stand. Boogie’s was an institution in the community, though its
outside stand had long ceased holding newspapers, which were now on a rack
inside the store. We sat. We cut up. We waited for things to happen but made
sure Boogie’s customers were treated with respect and not prevented from
entering the store. As long as we weren’t too loud or too large he let us sit. No
one stayed there very long, just long enough to catch a good lie, some sweet
gossip, or a new joke.
Occasionally, the adults beat us to the spot. We could either join them,
which meant we sat and listened quietly, or we could move on down to the
corner and stand around the curb talking. Boogie’s popularity meant that
many of the fights were held somewhere near the store. There were protocols
involved in the bouts; no stomping if somebody went down; the end of the
fight if an opponent started bleeding or gave up, and if you were defeated you
had to wait at least a day to re-challenge. Seldom did adults have to intervene;
the fighters usually respected the rules and they generally weren’t grudge
matches. Fights could start over a remark, over a bumping incident in school,
or any number of other things that occupied young male minds.
Usually, however, the dozens, talking bad about somebody’s mother, one
of our favorite pastimes, weren’t the source of fights. Cleverness was prized
over truth and the hurt was psychological rather than physical. If you were
stung to the point of wanting to fight, you had already lost, so it was best to
laugh and retire for the day.
Of all the fighters around, Hickle and Spike were probably the best as
well as the most unlikely of friends. Hickle was all smoldering energy and
114 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

bony angularity. Spike could be jovial and accommodating. Their fighting


styles differed like their personalities. When Hickle fought it was an exercise
in annihilation. The style was decisive, methodical, and singular in purpose.
All of that pent-up fury seemed to come rolling out in punches from every
conceivable direction. It was as though he didn’t care where he hit you because
he knew sooner or later you were going to succumb to the barrage. Hickle worked
in such a blaze of speed, movement, and coordination that he seldom got hit
himself. Standing around watching, we were so awed by his performance that
we didn’t even register the punches he took. He’d move inside and pummel his
opponents’ ribs and body or step back and deliver his bombs. Hickle seldom
resorted to jabs to set his victim up; he seemed more dedicated to getting it
over with as quickly as possible.
Doing the most damage in the least amount of time, but leaving a deep
impression, seemed to be what motivated him. If his rival was left lying in
a bombed-out heap, but Hickle thought his foe hadn’t tried to fight his best,
he would walk away muttering vile oaths about what he would do to them
tomorrow.
The odd thing was that it was never screamed, but delivered in the
controlled intense rage that characterized everything about him. Just talking
to him was like walking on eggshells. You never knew what would provoke
Hickle into action.
It was easier to be with Spike. He could laugh, occasionally even at himself.
When his limit had been reached, Spike would tilt his head slightly and say
“OK, man, it’s over.” When he fought it was just long enough and hard enough
to convince you that continuing was foolhardy. Unlike Hickle, who relied on
speed and rage, Spike depended on his massive fists. But, for a kid his size,
Spike was surprisingly agile, could punch not only with power but also with
pinpoint accuracy. He was the classic standup fighter, using an assortment of
tactics to win his fights. While Hickle and Dave were interested in unleashing
devastating attacks, Spike would keep his opponent on a perimeter with jarring
left jabs and an occasional thunderous right hand to the head or body. Spike
had a little smile working as he fought and the twinkle seldom left his eyes. He
seemed to be thinking that as soon as this fool comes to his senses and realizes
he could suffer great bodily harm the fight will be over.
While Spike was a stand-up fighter, he was also good at short range.
I saw one guy make the mistake of crowding Spike, thinking that Spike
needed the jab and the long-range style. Spike put together such a flurry of
combinations:  short uppercuts to the ribs, quick left hooks to the face, and a
finishing tattoo of both hands to the chest that his man was dropped and left
gasping for breath. We all talked about and demonstrated his combination for
weeks. His favorite combination, however, seemed to be a massive straight
right to the chest followed by a couple of blistering left hooks to the jaw. He
Reed/Street Fighting Young Men 115

always seemed to be watching for his opponent to indicate “man, I’ve had
enough.”
Spike’s celebrity lasted for quite a long time. When Spike saw us he just
did his slow smile. And that was another clue to his popularity; he was an
easy going, genuinely nice guy. Hickle bristled at even the slightest remark and
seldom gave you time to recant a mistake. Spike traded jokes, the dozens, and
cracks. Even when someone stepped over the line he’d look up and say “awright,
man,” and you knew that was the end of joking, that he never held a grudge. If
you proceeded you did so at your own peril. Of course, we all speculated about
who would win a fight between the two best friends. Occasionally, somebody
would venture aloud that they would like to see Hickle and Spike fight. If they
were around while these speculations were going on, Spike would just smile
and keep doing whatever was occupying him at the moment. Hickle either
ignored the talk or, if he wasn’t in the mood for small talk, which he hardly
ever was, he’d lock you into one of his penetrating stares.
This was long before Muhammad Ali perfected the tactic of staring at his
opponents. Hickle wasn’t staring you down trying to intimidate, it was more
to let you know you might find yourself in the middle of a storm if you kept
up with such foolishness. No fighter myself, once, through a series of silly
mistakes, I almost put myself in danger with Hickle. One hot day, when even
the grasshoppers took cover, I was wandering around looking for someone to
play with or talk to. No one was playing baseball or hanging at Boogie Boo’s.
Hickle was sitting in the shade of his front porch. “Hey, man, you wanna play
some catch?” I asked him.
He was being punished and couldn’t leave the porch. As tough as he was
on the streets he, like the rest of us, respected our parents’ wishes. I sat on the
edge of the porch but not on the porch because that would have gotten us both
in trouble. We talked, and finally I asked what he had done to get grounded.
Hickle showed me the shoes he was wearing. They looked fine except the
tongues were missing. He said “my mother bought me these funny looking
shoes and I didn’t want to wear them so I ripped the tongues out.” I laughed.
Hickle bristled but didn’t punch. ‘‘What’s funny, punk?” I wasn’t dumb enough
to tell him I wasn’t laughing at him but at a similar situation that had happened
to me. Then, I made the mistake of telling him.
I said, “Man, my mom bought me these shoes I’m wearing and I don’t
like them either, but I wouldn’t be strong enough to pull the tongues out and
that’s what I was laughing at. “My laugh was a nervous response. I didn’t know
if he had pulled them out with his bare hands or used something like a knife
or scissors. I couldn’t fathom the anger, the rage that would make me respond
like that but, of course, I didn’t say that to Hickle. All he said was “you lucky,”
meaning that if he hadn’t been confined to the porch he would have whipped
me good. Hickle turned back to his comic book, dismissing me. I said, “Yeah,
see you tomorrow.” I couldn’t believe my stupidity to talk to him after I’d been
116 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

dismissed. The gods must have been with me because Hickle just ignored me.
He could have looked straight at me and said “Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow,”
meaning that tomorrow I’m going to teach you a lesson for being so stupid. I
moved away and thanked the gods twice that I wasn’t already bleeding and
crying and that tomorrow Hickle wouldn’t be looking for me.
The only one of the street fighters I ever tangled with was Bobby Nichols,
and it was not by design. My next door neighbor was a kind of bully named
Lanny. We were both the same age, thirteen, and about the same size. Although
we were pretty well matched, something always happened during our fights
and in the end I’d get beaten up. Once, he wrestled me to the ground as I was
getting the best of him and pushed my face in the dirt. Another time we were
fighting and I was thinking I wasn’t going to let him get close enough to put
his arms around me and start wrestling. This time he reached out and grabbed
one of my jabs, quickly pivoted and threw me over his back in a damn jujitsu
move. Although I didn’t know how to keep him from pulling those dirty tricks,
I vowed that he wouldn’t beat me again.
One afternoon going home from the grocery store I had to pass Lanny,
Bobby, and some other guys as they were standing around talking. They had
taken up most of the sidewalk, so I tried to squeeze by without stepping into
the gutter. I passed Lanny and Bobby said, “aw, man you gonna let him push
you?” They were just looking for some mischief to get into and I happened
along.
Bobby and I weren’t friends or enemies. I gave him a wide berth, in part
because I suspected he thought I was a pansy. I got good grades and he was in
opportunity class, a misnomer if I ever heard one—all the “bad boys” were in
opportunity class. In truth, I hadn’t touched Lanny but he took it up, Bobby
stood there, his beady eyes locked on me as if to say you’re going to get your
butt kicked.
Bobby was one of the great street fighters but he was a kind of unknown
quantity. I think he had foster parents and they were older than our parents,
more like grandparents. They didn’t have much money, no one did, but it was
more evident with Bobby and his brothers. They wore hand me down clothes.
And, in the case of Bobby who was stocky but not fat, sometimes his coats made
him look like Jackie Gleason’s poor soul character. It didn’t do his appearance
any good that his foster parents kept his head shaved. All in all, Bobby could
look pretty menacing. In the neighborhood we knew he was a fighter but his
reputation hadn’t reached the schoolyard or other parts of town.
He egged Lanny into a fight with me. Luckily, I didn’t have any groceries
to carry home, but it also meant I didn’t have an excuse for not fighting. My
strategy was to hold my own and slowly back toward home. I figured by the
time we reached home some adults would be sitting on their porches and would
force us to stop fighting. Not only was I holding my own, but I was getting the
best of Lanny. Bobby kept egging him on, so much that Lanny was crying but
Reed/Street Fighting Young Men 117

still fighting. Bobby kept circling around us, like some dark predator, moving
his hands like he was in the fight. As we got near our houses, Bobby figured out
my scheme and he reacted.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him jump up on the curb on my right
side. Suddenly, the whole side of my face exploded from Bobby’s punch. My
eye puffed up like a mushroom cloud. Through the tears and blood I could
see Bobby, Lanny and all the kids who had been watching the fight running
toward an open lot on Pennsylvania Avenue. I was standing in the street crying
and holding my eye.
Mr. Roger, who was Miss Bessie’s boyfriend, led me into Miss Bessie’s
kitchen and started washing my face with cold water. I felt like half my face
was puffed up and caved in all at the same time. Mr. Roger kept talking about
never showing cowardice and I kept thinking about the fact that we all called
him a punk. He was small and compact, one of the few black firemen in the
city, and he always looked neat and talked proper. I thought to myself that he
probably never was in a fight.
Bobby soon gained a reputation outside the neighborhood. When the
school year started, he enrolled for his first year at New Jersey Avenue School.
His clothes and general appearance remained the same and some kids began
to call him bullet head, but not to his face. Some of the fighters were wary
but anxious to test Bobby, and their chance came one day during a softball
game. Bobby wasn’t playing, just doing his usual thing, being alone and taking
everything in, but late in the game a foul ball was hit in his direction. Charlie
McDuffie, who was batting, yelled at him, “Hey, boy, throw that ball back.”
Bobby ignored him and kept leaning against the fence, hands in his pockets.
Charlie called him again and Bobby just kept staring at him. Charlie put down
the bat and walked over to where Bobby was standing. Bobby didn’t move a
muscle, just kept his eyes on Charlie. He had that little predator’s alert hungry
look. I noticed it, but I don’t think Charlie did. A crowd started gathering and
naturally talk started. “Who’s that funny looking boy Charlie’s talking to?”
“How come he got a bullet head and those funny clothes?”
Willie Glenn, who was reputed to be one of the best fighters in the school
and Charlie McDuffie’s best friend, said, “Don’t let him get away with that.”
Everybody knew it was a test. Charlie’s better instincts told him to be cautious,
so he stood for a moment eyeing Bobby.
“Aw, man,” he said and started to push Bobby in the chest. Bobby moved
like a snake and leveled a booming right hand to Charlie’s jaw. Charlie’s knees
buckled and his eyes turned glassy for a moment. Somebody in the crowd said,
“the shit is on now.” Charlie recovered himself and went into his left-handed
stance. Charlie’s reputation was based on hard punching and the confusion of
his southpaw style. He bounced a solid left hand, his best punch, off Bobby’s
head. Bobby circled just a bit to Charlie’s right and delivered another explosive
right hand to Charlie’s jaw. Again, Charlie’s eyes glazed, his knees buckled and
118 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

he seemed to hesitate. Bobby kept his hands up, but he hadn’t moved more
than a few inches from where he was leaning against the fence.
Charlie landed one more harmless blow on Bobby’s arm. Bobby’s last
punch, again to the jaw, stopped Charlie in his tracks. He didn’t fall, but all
the fight was out of him. I think he was actually happy when Mr. Ferguson,
the janitor, came and broke up the fight. The school was abuzz for days about
how “just three punches almost destroyed McDuffie.” Bobby somehow made
it through New Jersey without getting in trouble. For all his menacing looks
and devastating fighting ability, Bobby was not a trouble maker nor did he
seem to run with a bad bunch.
In fact, his best friend was also one of my best friends, Clinton. Clint was
one of the most gifted all-around athletes that I ever saw. He never got the
recognition and it always rankled him. He was small, not much taller than
five-four, but he had a compact muscular body and he thought about how
he played the game, any game. In basketball, for example, he wasn’t limited
to “monkey on the stick” ball that we tried to incorporate in our school yard
games. The white high school basketball coaches hated the style and a lot of
our good ball players didn’t make the high school team. Clint’s style was more
deliberate like today’s half-court game.
He liked to distribute the ball, run set plays, set picks, and run the game
“monkey on a stick” ball, the full out running game that our Y team played,
and off the pivot man. We had a couple of guys who perfected long arching
rainbow two-hand set shots and Clint knew how to force the game deep in
the paint and then kick out to one of the set shooters. But he was getting left
behind:  more guys were developing sky hooks, one hand corner shots, and the
revolutionary jump shot.
It was ironic that Clint was so close to me and Bobby because I never hung
out with Bobby. I had long since forgotten about my busted eye but we didn’t
hang around together. On the other hand, Clint taught me a lot about boxing
and I suspect he taught Bobby a few things also. Because of his size, Clint
developed his inside game when boxing. He could move in close and work
the body, and in clinches he knew how to spin his opponent off balance. Clint
used his shoulders and knew how to place his knees in various spots on his
opponent’s legs. When he did fight long range he was stylish with floating
movement, crisp jabs, and steady combinations. Clint was more of a boxer
than a street fighter. His reputation and his talent, despite his size, kept most
others from challenging him.
Later, while we were struggling through high school or, in my case, quitting
school, Bobby became a professional fighter. There was a real change in him.
And, I can’t swear to it but I think Clint was responsible for some of the changes.
First off, Bobby grew hair and learned to smile. He was a good-looking guy
with those changes. But he also learned to dress. He didn’t favor the Ivy League
style of a boxer we liked named Otis Graham, but flashier clothes that we
Reed/Street Fighting Young Men 119

associated with Sugar Ray Robinson and the mob. Bobby fought on a couple
of Madison Square Garden undercards but he never made it big. No one really
charted Bobby’s short career. Had he made it big, we would have been on his
bandwagon.
Although Bobby went on to try to turn his street fighting skills into
something professional, most of the fighters just grew up or disappeared. That
thing that we knew was lurking, that we couldn’t touch, smell, or feel, just
dropped in. It was as though Dave Lewis had dropped to one knee preparing to
launch his assault and never rose. The future we had ignored had dropped like
a heavy velvet curtain. There were no instant changes, more a drift. The last
time I saw Hickle I was eighteen and in the Navy. He hadn’t grown much and
he was more verbal, but the biggest surprise was his admiration about the fact
that I was in the Navy. He thought it was cool and wondered if he could get in.
But even that inquiry was mediated by the aloof quality of Hickle’s personality.
The anger and fury seemed to be there, but a layer or two lower in his psyche.
Spike had moved away, and no one seemed to be interested in street fighting.
Had we matured, just grown up, or had life’s changes inevitably rolled
into our very pleasant childhood? While there was no interest in the art of
street fighting, there was still the absence of zip guns, gangs, and drive by
shootings, but things were also changing. The adults conversed with me about
how things were getting messy, by which they meant the neighborhood as
well as the city was changing and they didn’t necessarily like the direction of
that change. More people were moving in from the South and bringing their
“old timey ways”; others were escaping the overcrowding of Brooklyn and the
Bronx. These newcomers, according to the adults, talked about gangs, though
none had emerged, and they weren’t polite. I started to long for the old street
fighting days, not as a participant—I was never that good, but as a spectator.
For me they were an unmistakable sign of community. Missing the street fights
wasn’t just a harking back to the good old days, but also missing the warmth
and camaraderie of watching a good fight admission free, being a kid again.
120 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Nick of Time
for Stoney Stoneback

PART I

Train (gone), track, town (oops, also gone), bridge,


and by God river. The river was there, holding itself
steady. Pebbly bottom (b’s are pebbles). Mist
of gravel and sand. Hot day. Good beginning.
Walking is writing. Out of the burn, into
the pines, river glints off to the left through
trees. Good. Black grasshoppers. Black all over
like thinking. Don’t think. (Write.)
Sandy walking, sweet fern, Jack-leg pines.
Brow of the hill. His brow. Rolling
with the country. Carrying the rod-case
into the sweet fern swale, crushed fern,
smell of it. Down to a meadow and the silent
river. Dew-damp pants legs (no:  trousers). Trout
rising, trout taking insects you cannot see, insects
from the swamp beyond.

Chopping, smoothing,
three blankets for a Nick sandwich. He was
hungry. How to make a tent (I’ll spare you).
The backpack looked smaller after the entire
tent was removed from it. Think
about that. Peg it out. Taut. Taught? Into
the ground with the rope loops. Taut.
Taught. Tight. Drum tight. Avoid clichés
like the plague. The tent has an open
mouth. It has a mouth? Sure. Various things
from the pack to put at the head
of the bed (head/bed) under the slant
of the canvas. Various things? That’s weak. But
noticing brown light through the brown canvas,
that’s good. Canvas smell. Also good.
121

He was
home. Home in a brown mystery of canvas scent.
Happy now. After the not-unhappy of the whole day.
But happy happy now. Done-things happy.
There had been nothing here and now he was here
under his canvas wings, tight as a cliché. But not
snug as a bug. Then:  dark. Feeling various other things,
driving one into a pine to hang up things. Various things
now off the ground.

He was hungry and his name was Nick.


He was very hungry and very Nick. Opened a can of guilt-
inducing pork and beans, a can of ditto spaghetti.
“I’ve got a right,” he said. It was the twentieth century.
Nick did not like hearing Nick speak. Nick did
not speak again. He’s brought pork and beans
and smokes and an onion—shot the works. But not
a bit of whiskey? Not even a small flask? Hm.
Fire, frying pan, wire grill. Food from cans:
bubbled a good smell. Ketchup (wince) and bread,
which, thank God, he had to slice himself.
Tin plate half full of too-hot twentieth century
food. Look at the fire. Look at the tent tight as a whatever.
Fire. Tent. Remember the tragedy of the fried bananas,
Mr. Sensitive Tongue. Mist in the almost-totally-dark
swamp. Wait. Wait. OK, now a full spoonful:  This
is my body, this is my tongue … Bread-mopping
a second plateful. A good camp, a tight tent,
an unburnt tongue.
122 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Canvas bucket down to the stream:


white mist beyond (no, not like ghosts, do not mention ghosts).
Kneeling on wet grass (do not mention prayer), cold grass:
canvas bucket pulled by current. Another thingy varioused
into a tree from which hung the full bucket. Coffee pot
to fill, coffee pot to boil. (Don’t think about Rum St. James.)
Hopkins in his head:  to boil or not to boil, that was
the question. He decided. He boiled.

Another can (really?)


of apricots. Tin cup, like in cowboy movies. Sweet apricot juice.
OK:  syrup. Shall we suck the apricots down? We shall.
Meditatively. Decadently concluding canned realist apricots
are better, yes, than fresh romantic ones. Volcano pot,
grounds for the lava, must hold on to the literal.
Hopkins-happy he seriously sugars his Hoppy coffee.
Hop of the unmoving lips, polo-Hop making millions
from Texas wells. Telegrammed Hop handed Nick his Colt
on the Black River. Bill was there and got Hop’s camera.
Serious Hop needed a yacht. Excited Hop hopped away.
Forever. Black River. You hadda be there.

The coffee
is bitter enough to make Nick hop. His brain is
beginning to work again. He undresses, shoes first of course.
He puts his head on his shoes, sort of like Leopold Bloom—
but don’t think of that. A Nick sandwich. Cheesy fire glowing,
night in its nighty, swamp swamping somewhere in the dark.
Nick cremates a buzzing mosquito, might have burned down
the tight tent. The Nick sandwich sails away …
123

PART II

Light:  Late:  Damn. Out of the mouthy cheesecloth


onto the wet grass. Cyclops sun eyeing him
above the hill. (Stop Joycing.) Meadow, river, swamp
(better):  All still there. Birch trees. The water is clear,
smoothly rivery in the early-enough. A mink
crosses the river like Jesus (stop that) and goes
into the swamp as if he owns the place.
You can’t make this stuff up.

How to say this? You can


only say Nick was excited. He is excited by the early-enough.
And by the river. He is really too excited to eat breakfast,
but he knows he better. He needs the carbs. He makes
coffee. After building a fire, of course. Nick catches
grasshoppers for bait. I’ll spare you the details. He finds
a grasshopper lodging house like something out of
The Iceman Cometh, which has not yet been written.
Commenced is a word Nick has used twice now. Isn’t that
surprising? Some grasshoppers fly. Nick knows why they fly.
Then, he has a bottle full of good grasshoppers; he makes
many of them better by crushing the poor things. (Desist.)
He washes his hands at the stream. Nick is still excited.

Back at the tent he rhymes grass with mass. Don’t


look for symbolism there. So much depends
upon a brown grasshopper, spitted like a pig,
beside the soft meadow. Like the tent, the bottle has a mouth.
Nick gags it with a pine stick. He makes pancakes. (Fill in
many blanks.) A handful of Hopped up coffee in the pot;
a lump of grease out of a can sputtering like a mouth
across a hot skillet. Doesn’t have to be a mouth. Buckwheat
batter spreads like lava (you knew that was coming) and spits,
because it too is something of a mouth. Or not. Brown edges,
then crisp, surface bubbling slowly to holes that could be
little mouths. (I can’t help it.) Nick spatulas
with a pine chip, knows to shake the skillet sideways,
124 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

hoping not to Hop flop again. Flapjacks, pancakes, hotcakes,


choose your poison.

He eats them with apple butter. He


makes one into a foldover sandwich and puts it in his
shirt pocket, I kid you not. In the pack he finds—
not making this up—a big onion. He knows it will have silky
outside skin when he slices it. He makes onion sandwiches,
at least two. He puts them in the other pocket of his khaki
(now he tells us) shirt. He drinks wimpy coffee, sweetened
with condensed milk. It is a good camp, full of canned goods.

Nick puts together his fly rod. Blah blah. He has a heavy,
double tapered fly line worth at least eight dollars. He needs
leaders so he—that’s right—opens the aluminum box
he keeps them in. Nick has used damp flannel pads.
For something impressive. He fastens a hook. A thin,
springy hook. Which, by the way, he took from his hook book.
(Feeling tense?) Pulling the line taut (taught) gives him
a good feeling. But not so good a feeling that he hooks
his finger with the hook. Nick is careful.

Grasshopper-bottleding,
rod-holding Nick starts toward the rivernest of riverrun. He
is wearing a thong—around his neck. No:  the neck of the bottle.
Sorry. He wears a net and a long flour sack that has ears.
His legs are sack-slapped which makes him, apparently,
not just happy but professionally happy. There is something
with or about stitches or hitches. Nick has the good grace
to feel a little awkward. Grasshoppers thudding
against his sternum, breasts bulging with sandwiches.
125

Finally, finally, he steps into the stream.

Yikes! Cold! Cold sucky current rising above his knees and all
is as cold as any stone. Gravely his shoe soles slip on river-
bottom gravel. Words are signs of natural facts.
Keep focused. He loses one sucky grasshopper who’d rather
swim for it. Nick sees a trout gulp him. Good.

Grasshoppers
have faces. And chins, not to mention. Nick puts a hook
under one’s chin and runs it all the way through
his innards and out his anus. He felt good.
Nick, not the grasshopper. The grasshopper, you will not be
surprised to hear, takes hold of the hook with his front feet.
Maybe you will be surprised that he spits tobacco juice
on the hook. Tobacco juice, my ass. Nick fishes, thinking
with disturbing detail about the grasshopper on the hook.
This is not a cardboard grasshopper. This is a grasshopper
with lots of organs, if very tiny ones. Nick lets the line run free
but not the hopper. He can see the critter in the little waves
of the current. Then it goes out of sight. Guess why.

Hint:  A trout tugs on the line, a trout with a grasshopper


in its throat. Not to mention a sharp hook. (OK:  Mention.)
Nick has taught himself how to use a taut line (enough
with the puns), how to use his left hand, his right hand.
The rod is now a “living rod.” Aaron’s rod. The word tangent
appears and so does the hooked trout. Left hand, right hand.
The trout’s back is mottled the clear, water-over-gravel color
(yes, hyphenated, that adjective), his side flashing in the sun.

Nick throws this pissant trout back. But first he pets the poor fellow,
careful to wet his hand first. Nick pets a trout. He’s all right,
Nick thinks humanely. Is Nick all right?
126 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Nick knows a lot.


Nick has seen dead trout furry with white fungus. They were
killed by socializing but not social media. They were killed
by men who fished together and cared about one another.
The word spoiled appears here. Nick swallows down the stream—
sorry, wallows down it, which is still pretty big of him,
wallowing and all, not strutting, say. The cold water shocks his—
let’s say upper thighs. It’s like that time Hemingway was so cold
in the Swiss (?) mountains he couldn’t get it up, or so he wrote
to Ezra. Anyhow, Nick studies the water and the shadows, etc.
He holds himself steady in the current. (Get it?) He pops
a hopper from the bottle, again skewers the little fellow,
chin to asshole. He spits on the grasshopper for good luck.
Seriously. That is as real as his rod. As real as the fungus
cited above. The water is fast and dark. The woods are lovely,
dark, and deep. Nick does something with his right hand.
Or his left. And his fingers.

A long tug strikes the unseen


and Nick’s rod comes alive and dangerous, tightening,
coming out of water, tightening … Nick knows when
to let himself go … Ratcheting steel reel shrieking! It is all
coming too fast! The reel note rising, Nick is like REALLY
excited now, the cold current between his legs powerful.
Nick thumbs something or other real hard.

And a huge trout


jumps high. Hardness, strain. Then it all goes slack. Nick, too,
has a mouth and it is dry. Despite the hoppers sternum-hopping,
his heart is down. Nick is sure that was the biggest trout
he’d ever hooked, salmon-big, hand-shakingly big, thrill-too-
muchly big. Nick thinks he might throw up.
127

But then Nick


thinks about the poor trout with a hook in its jaw and how angry
he must be. Trout can be angry, it turns out. At least big ones can.
Now another cliché floats into his mind:  solid as a rock. Rod, rod.
All this rod talk and now he thinks “God.” Twice. Don’t think
about that rhyme. Out of the river, his shoes are squlchy.
Yep, an outright neologism, that squlchy. Maybe because
of the nausea. Nick really might throw up. In the water, he
can’t tell if he’s pissed his pants. From between two
onion sandwiches, he fishes out a cigarette. He imagines
setting the river on fire. A trout takes his dead match.
Litterer Nick laughs out loud, creating some kind of climax.

Smoking, warming, river curving, glittering, shallowing


into the woods … He’s OK now. He can hack being a loser.
So:  tying, crimping, knotting, baiting, trying again. The great
uprooted elm is not a symbol, the one lying back into the woods,
its roots dirt-clotted. Nick likes the word pebbly. He catches
a trout. That rod is a live again. The word alive appears
a few times. Rod, God, rushes, alive, easing, lifted …
Heavy trout, hanging heavy in the net, mottled trout
with silver sides, heavy, good-heavy, heaving heavy,
sack-sliding, shoulder-hanging in the running river.

The sack, too, has a mouth. It drinks the river. Everything’s


alive. His neck is hot, is probably red, with hot sun, hot
and good. Nick does not like contractions. But he likes
one good trout in his sack. Believe it or not, Nick thinks
of “the left bank.” But maybe that’s coincidence. Nick has
x-ray vision when it comes to trout. Neither glare nor shadow
can keep him from seeing trout. He thinks
the word fun as in, It was no fun to fish upstream.
128 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

A beech tree weeps. Another gutted grasshopper, another


trout strike, another loss, logs, branches, it’s all getting
out of hand, isn’t it? But Nick perseveres, switches hands, loops
his line, half circles a heavy heaviness, slides another finny fellow
(sorry) into the mouth of the sack. Two bigguns so far bagged.
Everything’s wet, log, sack, trousers, trout, rod, boots, even
his sandwiches. A bump on a log, he drinks from his hat.
Only water, of course. He smokes. The river hightails it
into the cedar swamp. Trunks and branches close together.
Branches and trunks. He has a wet sandwich and a good
cigarette. And two big trout in a bag. He wants a book to read,
sort of. A wet groin is quite enough. He does not want
wet armpits.

He does not pet these trout. He whacks


the first one on the log, breaking his neck like Sam Cardinella’s.
Then the other one. He lays them side by side, like a married couple
he has just executed. He slits them from the vent to the tip
of the jaw. Guts them, sees they are both males, who could not
be married in the early twentieth century. Nick knows this.
All the insides and the gills and tongue came out
in one piece, long gray-white strips of milt, smooth and clean,
clean and compact, coming out all together. Like a happily
married couple. Does Nick know anyone named Milt?
He washes the trout in the stream, imagining the corpses alive.
He washes his hands and dries them on the dirty log. Now
the sack has no mouth, is a sandwich or a sleeping bag. His
knife is still standing straight up, blade stuck in the log. Nick
stands up on the log, holding his rod, the landing net hanging
heavy like a bull’s testicles. What about that trout inside
that hollow log? Key Randolph says he would never do that.
Even, I ask, if his name is Sigmund?
129

Nick heads back to camp. He


looks back once at the river just showing through the trees, like
a glimpse under a girl’s skirt. There were plenty of fish in the sea.
You don’t want to get your lines tangled, even if they are prose.
Even if there are plenty of slippery trout in your funky swamp.
Ron Smith
130 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
Uncle Otto

Richard Luftig

Y es, I know. Lots of people travel from Minnesota to New York City. But how
many of them are ninety years old, in a walker, escaped from their nursing
home and trying to hitchhike?
That’s my great-uncle Otto. I’m his guardian. It’s not like I got the
appointment because I’m his favorite family member. More like I’m his only
family member. He never married, and he’s outlived every other relative.
Believe me, if I could, I’d give the job to someone else, but it is what it is, and
I do what I can.
Otto is a bit of a pain in the ass. Scratch that. He’s a royal pain in the ass.
And it’s not just because he thinks that hitchhiking is still the best form of
public transportation. He’s alienated everybody in the nursing home since the
day he landed with the same, never changing story.
He says he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson.
Mind you, it’s not like I haven’t searched Google, Wikipedia, and every
New York newspaper from 1947 to 1958 when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for
Los Angeles if for no other reason than to shut him up. There’s no proof he ever
came closer to Robinson than buying a ticket and watching a game from the
right field bleachers.
So, I’ve come to the same conclusion as every other person who has ever
known him. Great-Uncle Otto is a blowhard.
Which is why I wasn’t surprised when I saw on my cell phone that I had a
call from the nursing home. He was always getting into it with someone there
and I was the one who had to come straighten things out.
When I returned the call, I was expecting to get maybe the head nurse. The
fact that it was the Director of the whole place was my first tipoff that this was
something serious.
132 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“You need to come here and deal with your uncle. We found him a quarter
mile from here wheeling his walker toward the Interstate. He was hitchhiking.”
I was too dumbfounded to say anything meaningful. “Hitchhiking,” I
repeated.
“In his pajamas,” the Director said.
“Christ. Where was he going?”
“He wouldn’t say. In fact, all he would say is that he’ll only talk to you.”
I thought maybe a light touch would help. “Maybe he just couldn’t get an
Uber.”
I could almost hear the clucking of a tongue though the telephone. “This is
not funny, Mr. Christenson. It’s not the first incident. He’s constantly arguing
with the staff and clients. It’s getting to the point where we don’t think we can
keep him here. He’s too much of a risk and demands too much time of the
staff. If we can’t get his behavior under control I’m afraid you are going to have
to find another place for him.”
***
It was an hour’s drive to the nursing facility and mid-March which, in
Minnesota, means a foot of snow, so it took me forever. When I got there, Otto
was in bed cussing away a storm. He looked even paler than normal, waxen
and wiped-out from his earlier exertion.
Then I saw that they had him strapped to the bed, so he wouldn’t make any
more unexpected forays into the road.
I didn’t know exactly how to start. Somedays my uncle was lucid and had
a handle on reality. Other times he was purely off the dock—especially where
the Brooklyn Dodgers were concerned.
“Hi, Otto. Looks like you’ve had an interesting day.”
“Christ,” he spit. “Took you long enough to get here.”
Great. It was going to be an anger festival. “That’s because, I wasn’t planning
on being here today. Did you ever think I might have had other plans than
hauling here to deal with your latest adventure?”
That didn’t help. “Yeah, like you have a full schedule to take up your life.
Like a wife or a job.”
He might be ninety and off his nut, but he still knew how to hit you where it
hurt. My wife had left two years ago and I had been drifting from job to crappy
job for the last five. It was hard to figure out which had been the chicken or
egg:  the drinking and losing every job that came my way or her throwing me
out to live in a mobile home with used furniture and a half-working black &
white TV from Goodwill.
“Touché. Maybe I don’t have a full dance card, but I still had to drive out
here in the snow to break up your latest spat with these folks. Where were you
going?”
“Brooklyn.”
Luftig/Uncle Otto 133

“Brooklyn? Like in New York City? Do you even know anyone in Brooklyn?”
“Did once but they’re probably all dead now.”
“Ok,” I said. “So, why were you hitchhiking in your pajamas in the snow
to Brooklyn?”
“I’m going to prove to you all that I played for the Dodgers. I might be old
but I’m not a liar and I’m not senile. If it takes me walking to New York City to
do it, then that’s the way it’s got to be.”
“Uncle Otto, you just can’t keep doing this stuff. The people here can’t put
up with the trouble. They’re threatening to kick you out.”
“Who gives a damn,” he hissed. “Kick me out, put me someplace else, it’s
all the same. The best thing they could do would be to stick me on a bus to New
York. The trip might kill me but at least I’d die happy.”
I looked at the old man strapped to the bed. Even at ninety, thin and
wasted by years of smoking, I could see the barrel-chest and strong shoulders
from his years of farming, the strong forearms and sinewy hands gripping the
sides of the bed. I closed my eyes and let my imagination go. I could see him in
a baseball uniform as a kid, taking pure, level swings, the ball jumping off his
bad to the left field wall.
I opened my eyes. “Look, what if we both went to New York City? If I took
you there, will you let all of this go once and for all?”
As soon as I said it, my brain exploded. What did you just offer to do?
Otto stared. It had to be only a few seconds, but I swear, it seemed like light
years. “You’d do that?”
Damn, I thought. Well, in for a penny, as the saying goes.
“Yeah,” I said. “But one way or the other, whatever we find, even if it’s that
you’re the world’s biggest liar, you’ll drop all this forever, stop being a pain
in the ass to everybody and do whatever the staff and doctors tell you, no
questions, no backtalk. Agreed?”
“Deal,” he said.
But then, as if he got a second thought, he added:  “But you have to give
me a fair shot to prove my story. No half-hearted bullshit for a day and then
we head home. We stay at it one way or the other until we find out the truth.”
Now it was my turn. “Agreed.”
“So, how are you going to spring me out of here?”
I rubbed my chin and felt a two-day growth of beard. “I’m your legal
guardian with power of attorney. If I want to take you for a few days, they may
bitch about it, but I don’t know if they have much choice.”
“Just give me a little time to set things up. Okay?”
Otto nodded.
“And while I’m looking into things, you have to behave. No temper
tantrums, no fights. You eat your food, take your meds. No talking about the
Brooklyn Dodgers. Got it?”
Otto nodded. I got up to leave.
134 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Just one more thing,” he said.


Christ, here it comes. “Ok, what is it? I have to meet with the Director.”
Can you go into the drawer next to the bed and get my teeth? They’re going
to be bringing the dinner cart soon. I hate their damn food, but I need to keep
my strength up if we’re traveling cross-country.”
***
But it wasn’t as easy getting Uncle Otto released as I thought it would be.
The Director said that Otto was too unstable, both mentally and physically, to
travel. “Clearly,” he said, “his constant rambling about playing for the Brooklyn
Dodgers proves he is unreliable to the point of being delusional. What if he
gets up in the middle of the night and wanders off? What if he gets short of
breath and needs oxygen and he’s on empty? Are you going to be able to get
him to the nearest hospital?”
The Director also warned me that there wasn’t an airline in the country
that would allow an old man in his condition to fly. I was going to have to drive
him halfway across the continent, but he’d tire easily and need rest. It would
take forever to get to New York and even longer to get back to Minnesota.
But I calmly answered each one of the Director’s concerns. Plus, I held
the aces:  I was his legal guardian and could remove him if I wished. More
importantly, Otto had promised upon return that he’d be the model patient.
Finally, they agreed to let him out if I signed a waiver releasing them of all
liability.
A week later we were ready to go. I’d stopped the newspaper, had my
minivan checked out, and talked my ex-wife into feeding my cat. I told her I
was going to a job interview but was sketchy on the details. With all the back
alimony I owed her, it was the only way I could get her off my back and willing
to take care of things. I’d deal with the fallout when I returned.
We left on a Thursday morning, right after breakfast. I was hoping that
rested, and with a full stomach and an empty bladder, we’d be able to cover the
first 400 miles into Indiana. But already the morning sky was dark and angry
with snow clouds and there was ice in the air. I hoped this wasn’t an omen for
the entire trip.
***
It didn’t take me long to realize that making 400 miles was wildly
optimistic. First was the traffic jam getting out of Minneapolis, then the slick
roads once we hit the Wisconsin border.
Not to mention Uncle Otto’s constant need to go to the bathroom. The guy
possessed a prostate the size of a pumpkin which is great if you want to enter
it in the Minnesota State Fair but not so hot if you are trying to make time on
the Interstate. But it was that or have the guy pee into his Depends and, with
the temperature below freezing and the car windows rolled up, I’d be damned
Luftig/Uncle Otto 135

if I was going to put up with the smell for the thousand miles it was going to
take us to get to New York. So, we stopped whenever he felt the urge to tinkle.
It was on one of these pit-stops that the shit—metaphorically, not literally—
hit the fan. We were outside Madison when Otto had to use the head again and
I thought we’d kill two birds with one stone and get some lunch. We stopped at
a local restaurant that offered double-decker sandwiches and homemade apple
pie, two of my favorite Weight-Watchers items.
We got seated in a booth not far from a television suspended from the
ceiling, the type that is perpetually showing ESPN. It was playing highlights
of the previously night’s baseball games—I wasn’t sure of the teams and kind
of mentally tuned out the noise—but Uncle Otto seemed mesmerized by what
was taking place on the screen. That’s when the problems started.
Evidently, some guy hit a ground ball to short and didn’t run it out. That
made Otto apoplectic. And the fact that the guy was Latin-American didn’t
help.
“Goddamn Mexicans,” he screamed up at the TV monitor. “That’s why
they didn’t let them play when I was with the Dodgers. Why, when I played,
Jackie Robinson would have met that guy before he got back to the dugout and
strangled him with his bare hands.”
Now, the fact that half the people in the restaurant were Latino pretty much
insured that Otto and I were going to die before our sandwiches came out.
“Jesus, Otto,” I whispered a little too loudly. “Keep it down, ok? I’d like to
make it to New York in one piece.”
“Just calling them like I see them,” he said, still using his “outside” voice.
“Those guys always did play for themselves. That’s why Durocher never wanted
to manage any of them. Hodges and Campanella would die for the team, but
these Mexican guys couldn’t be bothered.”
I knew we were headed for trouble. “Hey, old fool,” one of the Latino
guys the next table over shouted. “Put a sock in it. You don’t know shit about
nothing. Can’t be bad mouthing brothers like that.”
Otto struggled to get up out of his booth seat. “Sonny, I’m just speaking
plain truth. When I played with the Dodgers, we didn’t want those kind of
guys. They didn’t even know English. Couldn’t teach them the signs for steal,
bunt, anything else.”
“Shit,” another Latino guy shouted. “You say you played for the Dodgers?
You must have helium in that canister instead of oxygen. I’d come over there
and kick your ass, but my Daddy taught me never to hit farts older than dirt
itself.”
Otto grabbed his oxygen tank like he was fixing to throw it at the guy. The
fact that he was still connected to it, I guess, didn’t enter his thought process.
I was struggling to get him, and me, out alive. When he picked up the
butter knife to defend his honor I decided that it was a good time to make our
exit.
136 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“That’s it, Otto,” I ordered. “In the car now!” I slapped down forty-dollars
to cover two sandwiches and coffee plus about a 900% tip for the waitress and
almost picked up Otto as we made our way out of the entrance back into my
car.
“Christ, Sonny, you should have let me at the guy. I could take care of
myself back in the day and I can still do it now.”
I floored the engine and got out of there, leaving about two plies of my
tires on the pavement, before any of the other diners might have ideas about
following us.
When we were five miles out of town and I was sure that nobody from the
restaurant was following us, I pulled off at an interchange and cut the motor.
“All right,” I said, “some ground rules.”
“Who says you get to make the rules?” he snapped.
I turned toward him. “My car, my rules. Unless you want to walk to New
York. Now listen closely. One. You keep your mouth shut in public. Only
person you talk to is me.”
“Shit,” he hissed. I don’t like these already.”
I ignored him. “Two. No more talk about you and the Dodgers. Anybody
asks, we’re going to New York to see the Statue of Liberty.”
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Yeah. For the rest of the trip, could you try to be nice? If nice doesn’t work,
could you at least be civil? It’s going to be a long ride. Being upbeat wouldn’t
exactly kill you.”
I looked at him hard. “You got all that?”
“Guess I don’t have any choice.”
“No,” I said. “I guess you don’t.”
“Ok,” he said. “But I ain’t happy.”
***
Things pretty much settled down after that, the miles unrolling mile after
dreary, rain-soaked mile in an unending series of interstates that differed
only in their numerical names. Otto settled down too:  no more outbursts,
although I carefully timed rest stops and meals to off-hours and places without
televisions.
We also found budget motels with rooms designated for people with
disabilities, so Otto was able to shower, pee and get around. But even with all
of this, the trip seemed endless.
Somewhere east of Erie, Pennsylvania in a Wendy’s, I lost my mind to
boredom. I put it down to a need for human contact, even if it was just with
Uncle Otto.
“So, tell me the truth,” I began as he noisily sucked his Junior Frosty
through a straw. “Did you really play for the Brooklyn Dodgers?”
Luftig/Uncle Otto 137

Otto looked at me like I had just landed from Mars. “You’re kidding, right?
What’s this trip all about? Of course, I played for them.”
“And Jackie Robinson. That true too?”
“Especially Robinson,” he said, trying to fish out the remains of the Frosty
with a plastic spoon.
I don’t know why I blurted out what came next.
“Ok, prove it. Right now, give me a story about you and Robinson that no
one’s ever heard before.”
If I thought that would stump the old guy, I was wrong.
“No problem,” he said. “Ebbett’s Field, 1948. I don’t remember the exact
date. I’m at bat, Robinson’s dancing off third, making the pitcher crazy. Did
you know Jackie stole home twenty-times in his career, one during the World
Series?”
“Stop stalling,” I said. “Finish the story.”
“I’m not stalling, just adding color.
“I’m a right-handed hitter so I can’t see what Robinson is up to and I’ll be
damned if the third base coach doesn’t signal for a suicide squeeze. You know
what that is?”
“Not exactly,” I confessed.
“It means I have to bunt the ball and Robinson is coming home whether
I hit it or miss. So, now not only do I have to bunt the ball fair, I have to get
the hell out of the batter’s box or Robinson will wipe me out sliding into home
plate.”
“So, what did you do?”
Otto paused dramatically and wiped his face of chocolate. “Got the bunt
down. Robinson scored easy. Guys mobbed me when I got back to the dugout.”
I wanted to say “which guys” but I knew better and let things pass. But
damn it all, I almost believed him. Either my great-uncle was telling the truth,
or he was the greatest and most spontaneous bullshitter of all time.
***
After four long days that felt like an eternity, we finally passed through the
Lincoln Tunnel and over the Brooklyn Bridge. I pulled off onto a side street,
parked the car and looked over at Otto.
“Now what?” I asked. “How do we go about proving your story?”
The old man shrugged. “Damned if I know. I thought you had a plan.”
I looked to see if he was pulling my leg. “Wait, you don’t have any idea?
What were you thinking when you broke out of the nursing home and started
hitchhiking across the country?”
Otto shrugged again. “Just getting away and maybe making it across the
Minnesota state line. Kind of figured the rest would take care of itself.”
138 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

I swear, if my uncle wasn’t attached to his oxygen tank I’d have thrown
him out the passenger door and head for home. “Well, we’re here now, so come
up with something.”
“Maybe we could head over to Ebbet’s Field and see if they have any records
of me there.”
I knew my uncle was out of it, I just never knew how much. “Otto, they
tore down Ebbet’s Field in 1960. Have you been in a coma all that time?”
“Guess I should read the papers more,” he said in a quiet voice. The only
sound for a long while was the hissing of the heater in my van.
“When I was in high school we played our home games at the Brooklyn
Parade Ground. Maybe there’s something there.”
I took out my cell phone and checked Google. The Parade Ground had
long changed its name to Prospect Park and there was no record of a baseball
stadium being there anymore.
Then, I got an idea. “You mentioned high school. Which one did you
attend?”
“Boys’ High. In Bedford-Stuyvesant. Why?”
I punched the name into my phone. It was still there—merged into Boys
and Girls High and at a different site, but still open. “Because,” I said, “they may
have old records for students.”
“You think?’ he said.
I doubted it but didn’t want to say. “It’s a long shot, but who knows? Right
now, it’s all we got. It’s that or go home empty-handed.”
I typed the address into my GPS and began weaving my way through one-
way streets choked with double-parked trucks.
***
I don’t know what Bedford-Stuyvesant was like when Otto was a kid, but
it was tough now. Buildings were mostly run down, storefronts with signs in
languages I didn’t recognize. Graffiti everywhere. I was used to Minnesota
with open land and green space. Not here. Plus, if there was a baseball stadium
around, I didn’t see it.
The high school, though, was beautiful. Gothic. Something out of the
Middle Ages. And tall. Five stories, to be exact. My high school had exactly one
floor. I wondered if there was an elevator to take the kids from class to class.
There was a security guard and metal detector at the front door, but the
officer gave us a cursory inspection and waved us through. I guess he figured
a ninety-year-old guy in a walker with an oxygen tank didn’t constitute much
of a terrorist threat.
We got passed from employee to employee as they probably wanted to
get rid of us as soon as possible. Finally, we ended up with an old lady, not
all that much younger, it seemed, than Otto. Mrs. Leary. She was some sort of
guidance counselor and, we were told, the unofficial historian of the school.
Luftig/Uncle Otto 139

She quietly listened to Otto’s story but with her thick glasses, I couldn’t
tell if she believed him or thought he was some demented guy with a not-too-
smart great-nephew who was along for the ride. But I had to hand it to her, at
least she didn’t throw us out on our ear.
She sat quietly when Otto was finished, evidently lost in thought. “That’s
quite a story, Mr. Svenson. But I’m not sure how to help you.”
She thought some more. “Well, there is one possibility but it’s a long shot.
Down in the basement we have a room with all the old yearbooks and editions
of the school newspaper. Not complete, mind you, but if we’re lucky we might
find something.”
She looked at Otto. “Do you remember what year you graduated?”
Otto didn’t hesitate. “Forty-eight.”
“Eighteen or nineteen forty-eight,” I joked, and was rewarded with dirty
looks from both seniors.
“Don’t mind him,” Otto said. “He’s a moron but he’s not a bad kid when
you get to know him. Nineteen-forty-eight. I remember it as if it were yesterday.”
“All right, I’ll look around downstairs. But I can’t promise anything.
Wait here. I’d offer you some coffee but like everything else in this place, the
machine is out of order.” She got up and left the room.
She returned in ten minutes—not a good omen, I thought, when looking
for records that were seventy years old. But she was holding two hardcover,
oversized books labeled 1948 and I became more hopeful.
“I found these volumes,” she said, sitting back down with difficulty.
“One’s the school yearbook, the second, clipped new stories from the Boys’
High Spartan. That was the school nickname then. Not sure if they’ll show us
anything but it’s worth a look.”
She handed the yearbook to me and started thumbing through the press
clippings from the newspapers. The graduation photos were in alphabetical
order, so I flipped through until I found Svenson. There was Otto, in a shirt
and tie, smiling for the camera. I looked up at the aged man sitting in front
of me with a walker and attached to his container of oxygen and gasped
involuntarily.
In the photo, he looked so young, so strong, so full of himself. I cursed the
concepts of time and age.
“What is it?” Otto said. “You find something?”
I turned the book and held it up for my uncle to see. “You,” I whispered.
He peered at the photo like he was examining a relic from the past. “Yeah,
that’s me.” He smiled. “Handsome devil, wasn’t I? The ladies couldn’t keep
their hands off me.”
He studied the picture some more. “Well, I told you I went to school here.
That proves my story is true, doesn’t it?”
140 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

I took the book back. “Not at all,” I said. “All it shows is that you went to
school here and graduated. It doesn’t prove a thing about you and the Brooklyn
Dodgers.”
“Keep looking,” he ordered. He looked at Mrs. Leahy. “And you too …
please.”
I remembered from my own high school yearbook that photos of clubs
and teams were at the back and wondered if the same had held true in 1948.
I started from the back and found the photo of the varsity baseball team. The
picture was taken from a distance to get everyone into the frame and between
the fuzziness of the camera and the aging of the book, it was difficult to make
any individual out.
But at the bottom of the photo was a listing of every team member and
where he was in the four-tiered photo. There in row two, third from the left,
was Otto Svenson.
“I showed the photo to my uncle. “Yeah, that was us—league champions,
damn near undefeated if my memory serves me.”
He paused for effect. “And it usually does. You believe me yet?”
“Well, you passed step two,” I said. “But all that photo shows is that
you played on the varsity with twenty-five other guys. Good circumstantial
evidence, but it still doesn’t prove anything about you and Robinson.”
“Maybe this will,” said Mrs. Leahy. She had the newspaper volume open
to a page. From far away and upside down, all I could see that it was from the
sports section and had something to do with baseball.
She handed the volume to me and I put it between myself and Uncle Otto.
There was a posed picture of two baseball players with Spartans written across
the chest of their uniforms. Next to one was a muscular black man maybe in
his late twenties. Next to the other, a white ballplayer about the same age as the
black guy but smaller. Both men had Dodgers written in script across the chest
of their blue uniforms. Their caps contained a bold capital B. Both seemed to
be studying the lineup card held by each of the Spartans.
Under the photo there was a caption. I read it out loud.
Dodger greats Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese choose up sides with Boys’
High borough all-stars Otto Svenson and Jack Donnelly for the all-Brooklyn all-star
exhibition game played at Ebbett’s Field on May 12th before the Dodgers game with the
Cincinnati Reds.
Otto smiled and nodded his head. “Yeah, I remember that game now.
Robinson picked me as co-captain of his team.”
I took the volume back. “There’s a story that goes with the picture.”
“Read it,” Otto said softly.
The Brooklyn Eagle, all-borough high school all-stars played their annual
exhibition game on May 12th at Ebbett’s Field before the Dodgers’ regular season game
against the Cincinnati Reds. The Borough all-stars were split into two squads and
played under honorary Dodger captains Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. The all-
Luftig/Uncle Otto 141

stars played alongside various Dodgers in the field and at bat including Gil Hodges,
Gene Hermanski, George “Shotgun” Shuba, Billy Cox, and Arky Vaughn. Boys’ High
standout Otto Svenson played shortstop with Robinson at second base and the duo
turned in a sparking double play. Svenson, who was named the game’s Most Valuable
Player, also scored Robinson on a daring suicide squeeze as well as contributing a two
RBI double. Robinson’s team won the three-inning affair 5-2.
I passed the book back to Mrs. Leary and looked at my Uncle. His eyes
were closed, and a slight smile was on his face as if he was reliving the game.
“See, I told you all that I played for the Dodgers, but nobody would believe
me.”
“No, Otto,” I said as kindly as I could. “You played with the Dodgers. You
didn’t play for them. There’s a difference.”
Uncle Otto pointed to the picture. “For, with, who the hell cares? I played.”
For once I kept my mouth shut and let my uncle have his way. He had his
dream—all right, his fantasy—to hold on to, even if it wasn’t completely true.
I silently wished I could say the same thing for myself.
Otto opened his eyes again and looked at the photo. “Jack Donnelly,
damn. I remember him. Great outfielder, good speed and a helluva arm. We
were close, but after graduation we lost touch. I went into the service and then
to Minnesota. Wonder whatever happened to him.”
***
That part was easy. I was getting pretty good at finding out about things
and people on the Internet—or as Uncle Otto called it, The Intercom.
Turns out that Jack Donnelly was still alive and in Brooklyn. He was at
a nursing home in Far Rockaway. Uncle Otto insisted on visiting him and it
seemed a harmless enough thing to do before heading back to Minnesota.
We found the nursing home with little trouble. I’m sorry to report that
they’re all dreary places:  the same smell of disinfectant, old people rolling
their walkers or clacking up and down the hallways in parade fashion, dressed
in their pajamas and bathrobes. If anything, this place was a step down from
Otto’s place back home.
We were directed to Jack Donnelly’s room. Well, it wasn’t exactly his but
one he shared with two other clients. His bed was at the rear of the room,
closest to the window, and Otto and I made it past the two other beds with a
guy asleep in each. Donnelly, though, was awake and watching some tv game
show with the sound off.
“Hey, Jack, how’s it going?” Otto called out.
Donnelly broke his view away from the small tv screen. “Otto Svenson,
how the hell are you?” He didn’t seem surprised.
I wondered how these two men could recognize each other with such
certainty after seventy years. Maybe being teammates and playing next to a
guy for four years did that. Sadly, I realized it was a bond I would never know.
142 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

The two shook hands warmly. “Jesus,” Donnelly said. “It took you long
enough to get here.”
“How’s that?” Otto asked. But Donnelly ignored the question and pointed
to the man in the bed next to him. “See that guy? Marv Sheppard’s his name.
He’s been my bunky for what seems to be forever. A real pain in the ass.
“Marvin!” Donnelly yelled. “Wake up, dammit. Somebody here I want you
to meet.”
Donnelly screamed the man’s name two more times before the groggy
body in the bed sat up. “Jesus, can’t a guy get any sleep around here? What the
hell is it?”
“Somebody I want you to meet. Marvin, Otto Svenson, high school class
of 1948. Otto, this is Marvin.”
“Glad to meet you,” Otto said.
“All right, “Donnelly ordered. “Enough with the small talk. Otto, tell this
roommate of mine how I played for the Brooklyn Dodgers with Pee Wee Reese.
“The dumb son-of-a-bitch doesn’t believe a thing I say.”
143

That’s the Way of It


my dad was always something
of a railbird
he loved to play the ponies
more often the sulkies
than the riders
every year it was a week
at the Little Brown Jug
with his cronies in a car
racing for Ohio
one of his friends had lost the farm
three generations of the same family on the land
and it was gone
to gambling

when I was seven


he taught me craps
and euchre for a dime a hand
he loved the risk
some evenings he’d go to bed
at sundown
and lie in the radio light
of the room
with the ballgame on
lying in the half-sleep of those green-grass voices
listening for the phone
and when it rang
he’d leap alive
and we could hear his belt buckle
ringing in its loops, his shoe soles
tapping linoleum
until down the lane he ran
and off to Windsor, off
to London or Detroit
144 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

he loved the dusty oval so


the silks and blinkers
of the torn-ticket crowd

sometimes we’d go together


to the city fairgrounds
with footlongs at midnight diners
and the ache of fatigue in my boyhood frame
cramped in the front seat
between two happy chancers coming home

once at Dresden raceway


he bought us a program
and then left us with nothing to do
but watch him come and go
as loss by loss
he darkened down like evening
in the moth-light of the summer night

but here’s the story


concerning what I’d done
before the horses took to the track
I’d perused the pages of the program
picked and circled my selections
for all ten races
and I’d done so by simply guessing
letting my pencil stray to names I liked
and numbers I favoured – it must have seemed
as though in a trance of knowing
I had insider knowledge
or I’d overheard some loose talk at the barn
some stable rumours, some corrupt agreement
concerning who’s to win and who’s to lose –
145

for every race come one, come two,


come three, come all through nine
I’d picked the winner
my mother said to dad
“George, you should pay attention
to what your son has done.” And so
he said “Give me that damned thing”
and finally after I’d made nine perfect predictions
he bet my pick and lost

and that’s the way of it


it seems
my mother shining a light
and my father
finally seeing the source of it
as like evening come upon the land within
it dimmed
John B. Lee
146 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
No 3 Knockdown Rule

J.G. Sarmiento

T he Box of Guts was full. Around the boxing ring, fists cleaved punching
bags. Pab-pab! Poob! Poob! The bags swung like slabs of beef on hooks.
Mirrors for walls multiplied the fighters, and each bobbing, weaving, panting
boxer cast an army of reflections. Jump ropes stirred pools of sweat. Salt grains
leapt from heads. In the ring, Harmon Sloan sniffed the air and slid his hands
into leather mitts. The old man listened to his students. Ugh! Ugh! Ta-tat!
Thirty years ago, this old man was Harmon “Harmful” Sloan. He was
one of the era’s best, but it remains debatable if he was the best. Harmon
never officially fought the man who many considered to be the best:  Ricky
“Dynamite” Sanchez. To maintain their marketability, and because the world
was at stake, promoters and agents kept the pugilists apart. This conspiracy
pushed the athletes to fight in secret. One morning, near the end of their
careers, they met in Aomori. They walked from opposite directions of the
city, among streams of people pouring towards Hirosaki Castle:  a pillar
surrounded by a black moat and a cherry blossom forest. The sakura danced
for taiko drums:  Thump-thump. Thump. Thump. On the red bridge to the
castle, Harmon and Ricky dropped their duffle bags and shook hands.
Away from the crowds, hidden among pink trees, the shirtless fighters
touched gloves and circled each other. Cherry blossoms scattered, gliding up,
up toward the castle. High above the crowds, sunlight sliced the blossoms into
hues of blue, purple, and red. The blossoms bowed and turned, floated then
bobbed down, down toward the moat. Thump-thump. Thump. Thump.
Forty-eight minutes later, bruised, bloody, and broken, the fighters shook
hands and limped towards hospitals. Ricky Sanchez became the spokesperson
for a kitchen utensils company. In the infomercials he’d say, “It’s not just
cooking; it’s design.”
148 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Harmon Sloan found and filled The Box of Guts.


“Let’s go, kid.”
Jacky Pelosa ducked between the ropes and pounded his gloves.
Harmon slapped Jacky’s ribs. “Keep our guard tight, or you’ll wake up on
the canvas tomorrow. Double jab. Uppercut. Check hook.”
The mitts barked, and the ring rippled. “Good. Tomorrow, give Rex Sosa
hell. Punch that big mouth of his ‘til it swells. Detach his retinas. Snap his head
sideways. Make him see his shoulder blades.”
Jacky punched the mitts. Pap-pap, pap! Pap-pap, pap!
“As long as he can, Rex will stand. Expect it. He’ll stand and smile and
fight. You don’t just beat him. You remind him he’s alive. He may be a son, a
husband, a father, own a passport, vote for some party, or pray. Jab-uppercut-
hook. Slip. Faster. Again.
“The man inside the ring is a remnant of truth. You beat his life out of him.
Make him forget his social security number. Make him remember:  first, I am.
In the end he’ll weep and kiss your cheeks.”
Jacky jolted forward, bobbed, and weaved past Harmon’s elbows.
“They say Rex Sosa has a bank vault for a jaw, wrecking balls for hands.”
“He’s a monster in there.”
“Outside the ring, that thing can’t exist.” He swung the mitts.
Jacky ducked and ducked.
“Passion is a black hole. Not much left outside.” He pushed Jacky against
the ropes.
“There’s something.”
“What’s left just hasn’t been reached yet.” Harmon snorted. “When you
exit, keep your feet under you. Better.”
“Don’t blink tomorrow. You might miss me becoming better than
everyone.”
Harmon slammed the mitts. “You’re not getting it.”
Jacky darted backwards. “What?”
“Tomorrow, if the lights go out, remember where you went.”
Jacky propped his elbows on the ropes and smiled at the boxer in the
mirror. “I’ll try. What’s the difference between smiling and snarling?”
Tomorrow was Jacky’s first title bout, but he was facing Rex “Demolition”
Sosa. Fans frenzied at the idea. Sosa, the orphan who learned to fight, grew
into a motherless monster in the ring. People said Sosa was a skinny kid who
couldn’t carry the flies on his head. Once, during recess, Sosa defended against
two fifth graders. He punched those boys back and into the hospital, coma for
one, paralysis for the other. Sosa pissed and spat blood for a week, but he had
won. He won and loved the feeling, found his purpose. He trained, cracked,
hardened, and grew his knuckles. Then he started to devour the hopes and
dreams of opponents. But Jacky “Peek-a-boo” Pelosa was no weakling.
Sarmiento/No 3 Knockdown Rule 149

Fans said when Peek-a-boo punched a bag, sand shot through the leather,
through the mirrors and walls. Harmon held needles in front of him, and Peek-
a-boo threw threads into their eyes from across the ring. Peek-a-boo attacked
when you blinked and therefore teleported. He moved so fast he occupied
multiple spaces at once, ensuring a perfect record. How do you beat someone
who commanded his own atoms like that? Unlike most pugilists, Peek-a-boo
didn’t seize his opponents’ rhythm. Peek-a-boo let them keep their music. He
just drummed their ears, deafened them, between the notes, learning the truth
of the self in growing silence. Everyone knows there’s truth in a myth.
“What’s the difference between smiling and snarling?”
“Focus.” Harmon wanted to say, “The fight gets easier,” but that was a lie.
***
Ten thousand seats in the stadium were filled. Banners bobbed among the
crowd. Chants and cheers rose in tides. The people incessantly moved. Their
mass swelled and shrank. Harmon pointed at the crowd. “A lot came to watch a
physical chess match. Many came for senseless violence. Some came to witness
the foreign. You listening?”
“Create opportunities. Hit without being seen.” Jacky adjusted his red
trunks and gazed across the ring at Sosa, the titan in black trunks.
“Use his teeth as a xylophone. He called me senile.”
An old announcer narrated the event:  “Ladies and gentlemen, the hype
is over. The main event is about to start. Above the blue canvas, the lights
are hot enough to melt mannequins. The fighters touch gloves. The ref calls,
‘Seconds out!’ The bell rings. The fighters launch. Two jets orbiting each other.
The circles grow smaller. They’re in striking distance now. A flurry. A dual
exchange. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fight, the start of war!”
Two minutes into the round, Jacky landed his signature hook. The force
rippled through Sosa’s face, every atom rattled, shot into one another, and
almost split. Every cell shook dry, and his pores exploded sweat in floods. His
head was blasted sideways, into a blurry spot in reality. Sosa staggered into the
corner, but he ducked and shot forward. Blood dripped down his neck. His
eardrum had ruptured.
Harmon pounded the ring. “He can’t dance with you.”
Jacky pushed an uppercut through Sosa’s guard. His head jumped, but
Sosa chopped Jacky’s body. “Come on. Come on,” Sosa’s gloves said.
Sosa alternated his targets:  ribs, stomach, sternum, sternum, stomach,
ribs. Before the bell rang, Sosa landed a counter right cross. For the first time
in his career, Jacky was knocked down. Blood ejected, pulsed, spewed, and
drained from his nose in twin storms.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a hellacious right! With three seconds to go in the
first round, Pelosa is down.”
The referee screamed, “One.”
150 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Two!”
The referee counted “Eight” before Jacky stood, shook his head, and smiled.
The bell rang.
Jacky jogged to his corner and shrank on the stool. “I’m good.”
“Bullshit.” Harmon lifted Jacky’s head and pinched his nose. “It’s broken.”
Harmon wiped Jacky’s face with the towel, and he pushed large q-tips up
Jacky’s nostrils. He tapped Jacky’s ribs and grimaced. “Damn body shots.”
“I’m good.”
“Tighten your guard. Don’t follow him into the corners.”
“I pushed him there.” Jacky smirked and blood squirted out of his nose.
“Stay in the center.”
“I’m just warming up.”
“Of course.”
“He’s strong. He’s taken my best shots.”
“You’re just warming up.”
“Seconds out!”
Jacky glanced at the ring girl. She carried a large sign that said:  Round 4.
What?
Sosa flew at him, but Jacky parried, stabbed his neck, shuffled, and slashed
his face with broken bottles.
“Sosa’s in a bar fight, ladies and gentlemen. But he responds with a sharp
right. Pelosa’s left eye is gushing blood. There’s blood everywhere!” The
announcer kept glancing at Harmon’s face. He caught squints, smirks, and
frowns. In the ring, bruises, cuts, and blood revealed skill sets, but the boxers
remained stoic. Coaches, however, pantomimed. They showed joy and pride,
anger, shock, or helplessness. Eyebrows raised, eyes fully opened, lips pulled
back:  Harmon Sloan was afraid.
The doctor might stop the fight, so Jacky chased Sosa into the corner,
where Sosa swung an axe and gutted him.
Jacky felt his ribs splinter, his intestines spill. His head strummed the ropes
and bounced on the canvas.
“Pelosa is a pile of flesh and blood.”
“No!” Harmon grabbed his hair. “Get up!”
“Three!”
Jacky gripped the ropes.
“Five!”
“Six!”
Jacky rolled on his side and slowly, slowly crawled on grass. He was crawling
on the wet grass of a garden, a beautiful, successful garden that could keep a
tribe alive. His hands were dirty, up to the elbows, and wrinkled. His chest was
throbbing, burning from within. Jacky reached under his shirt. His trembling
fingers traced stitches and a ticking, whirling device in his chest, matching the
footsteps running towards him.
Sarmiento/No 3 Knockdown Rule 151

“Grandpa,” a little girl shrieked. “Dad, grandpa’s dying again.”


“Dad. What are you doing out here?” The man lifted Jacky, carried him,
and gently dropped him on a daybed. “You can’t keep doing this. You have to
heal. You have to keep still.”
“I have to go,” Jacky murmured. “Back.”
“I’ll take you when you’re stronger.”
“These hands,” Jacky stared, “aren’t mine.”
“You’re confused again. No, Dad. Lay down. Stay down.”
“Get up, kid!”
“Seven!”
“Eight!”
Jacky sat up. He stood, and the crowd shook the stadium.
The bell rang.
“Sit and breathe.”
“I’m good.”
“You’re dragging your feet.” Harmon massaged Jacky’s purple ribs.
“This isn’t over.”
“Where are you?”
“Right here.” He heaved blood into the bucket and stared at the blurry
crowd.
Tears filled Harmon’s eyes. He wiped Jacky’s chest and wringed the bloody
towel.
“We already had this conversation.”
“You might be bleeding inside.”
“I can’t see on this side.”
“You stopped sweating three rounds ago.”
“Three rounds ago? What round is it?”
“Nine.”
“Close the cut again. The doctor might end this.”
“What round did you think it was?”
“Close the cut.” Jacky solved Rex’s strategy. The corner prevented him from
flanking Rex. He lured Jacky into the corners. Smart. “Coach, what would they
say if I died here?” He spit blood into the bucket.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.” He pressed cotton into Jacky’s eyebrow and
filled the cut with a glob of Vaseline.
“Seconds out,” the referee screamed.
“Nobody’s blinking, Jacky.”
Peek-a-boo slowly stood. His legs shuddered then steadied. “I want that
belt.”
“Seconds out!”
“Wait a second. Let Sosa wait one long second longer.”
The crowd simmered.
152 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Sosa ran, teleported, and pinned Peek-a-boo against the ropes. Peek-a-
boo’s head kept snapping backwards. His torso repeatedly jumped. Sosa was
demolishing him. The referee was about to stop the fight, when, for a moment,
the ring looked circular. Peek-a-boo leaned against the ropes until they arched.
He flew forward, swung a wrecking ball, and popped a bank vault open. Sosa
was blasted off his feet. His shoulder blades slammed against the canvas.
“A gruesome turn. We’re witnessing history, ladies and gentlemen.
Greatness emerging. This is boxing.”
“Three.”
“Four.”
I expect you to get up, Peek-a-boo mumbled. Get up and step your game
up.
“Seven!”
I still have some life in me.
“Eight!”
Maybe you do, too.
“Ten!” The referee waved his hands, Peek-a-boo lifted his, and the audience
roared.
“We have a new champion!”
***
While janitors picked up litter and mopped puddles, Harmon guided Jacky
through the narrow hall. Sosa’s trainer walked up to Harmon and shook his
hand. “Close one.”
“Sanchez. I’ve seen closer.”
Neither man blinked.
“Next time, Sloan.”
Jacky wobbled and leaned on Harmon’s shoulder. Paramedics waited in
the dressing room, and an ambulance waited outside.
“They got what they paid for. You almost died in there. You refused the
stretcher, but you walk like you’re not the one who won. Hurry a little.”
“I didn’t get to thank him.”
“You broke his jaw. They rushed him to surgery, where you might be headed.
He’ll want a rematch. You can thank him after that.” Harmon chuckled. “You
guys are advancing the world of medicine.”
“Hey!” Jacky heard a familiar voice behind him. “Jacky!” He stopped and
turned towards the voice. There, under the burning lights of the ring, stood
Peek-a-boo, resting his elbows on the ropes, wearing the championship belt
over his shoulder. “I’ll be here with this,” Peek-a-boo grinned and growled,
“Mine!”
“What is it, kid? What’s the matter?”
“I won’t fight him again.”
Sarmiento/No 3 Knockdown Rule 153

“That fight was as incredible as the night sky. We found you a nemesis.
Think about it. Not right now. Live your life but think about it.”
Jacky nodded. “I will.” His voice rasped like Harmon’s. “I am.”
Harmon elbowed his pupil.
“Illegal hit. Point deduction for the senile corner.”
“Did you do what I asked? Do you remember?”
“I do.”
“Where did you go?”
“Beyond my hands.”
“What did you see?”
“A ceiling without lights.”
154 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

The Rugby Suite


[six pieces for six positions and one poem for the team reunion]

FULL BACK

Solitary. Exposed. Like a goal-keeper, in our team, but not of it.


He can no more hide than the elephant.
He speaks full back language, larded with silence, feints.
Fear is his team-mate not us.

But, praise him nevertheless, for he waits under the high ball.
A miracle worker or an idiot, depending on the split-second chance.

Sometimes, when he has saved the day, the applause,


crashing across the sodden pitch, shrouds him, reveals him.
He stands alone, awkward, spotlit, seeming to ask, “Am I with them?”

SCRUM HALF

Small, noisy, everywhere.


Invisible behind them he drives on
his massive hounds.

He earns stud marks on face and back, but runs on,


unstoppable, an irritating, fast forward pup,
a wind-up toy they want to unplug.

His team spins round him like a wheel on a hub.


Surrounded by hurtling thugs longing to catch him and crush him,
he keeps on dancing as on a taut high wire,

When at last smashed to the ground, pulped and bloody,


he leaps up, begging for more,
an aggravating, rubber knock-down toy,
that bounces back. “That all ya got?”
155

HOOKER

He fears open space.


See him lurch up from the scrum,
staggering at light like an agrophobe.

A thick-necked lump, conceived in mud, to which he always returns,


like the turtle-mother to the beach.
Slow-moving, solid, both come from the ground, grub into it, dig into it.
We wonder how they survive.

But he will never reproduce, for women run from his mole-like mass, saying,
“There is no room for us there. There is no music there,
except the grinding of vertebrae, the crush of flesh.”

Compressed by the scrum’s shunt, he’s our frightening dwarf.


How he loves his opponent’s inertia, loves breaking it down,
working small triumphs of thick-legged ballet, unknown, unsung.

Others dance and pass and flirt,


but he is a miner, rejoicing in pressure,
smiling at the dark, the crush, the pop
of bone leaving bone.

At the final whistle he smiles, offers his hand.


Look away. Move away.

FLY HALF

Meet the grateful dancer whom the others despise.


We applaud his jetee, his porte de bras and
accept that his shirt will stay clean.

He’s not a man of the soil. He’s a hawk, a falcon.


He knows air, how to drift, sway, deceive.
There are none like him.
156 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

He has but a moment to hoodwink, to conjure an inch,


ignite a spark, expose a weakness,
but he has his own time, his own clock.

He leaves others bewildered in his wake.


They say, “He was here.”
But he was not for he bent space, bent light,
passed through matter, seemed to do one thing but did another,
shifted molecules, was in two places.

He rules the game, makes the ball float


and glide and glue itself – thwack – into safe hands,
sends his team through gaps that don’t exist.

At the whistle he puts away


his cloak and wand, showers,
puts on his suit, plans
his children’s party.

FLANKERS

They hunt in a frenzy.


Like adolescents they’re always in trouble.
You’ll find them beside the almost-foul,
the could-be penalty, the ought-to-be infringement.
You’ll know them by their glowing eyes, their panting, their murder,

They’ve mastered slowing down the opposition ball, while being nowhere near.
They’ve mastered flirting with the ref., convincing him they’re pure.
They’ve mastered the art of the innocent face. “Me, sir? No, sir!”
While nothing is happening as it should.
Mayhem rules where they are.
157

Hyenas, jackals and wild dogs are their brothers –


running wild in their race for ball or carrion.

I’ve seen a flanker leave the field,


holding on his face and returning with it stapled on,
an oozing mask of flesh.
He smiled, showed red teeth.

We quailed. Who is this madman? What chance have we?

LOCKS

God made gravity but not for them.


These Shires, these sequoias scale the sky and
are held so high we fear for their safe return.

They thud back, earthy again, to thunder and rampage


gouge holes in soil and flesh.
Fear them for they are the heavy squad,
smashing and breaking with their immense weight.

But they are not immune. The mill wheels of the scrum
have ground their ears ‘till each is a fungoid medal,
a distorted thing of cartilage.

Their height suggests gravitas, their ears frighten.


They earn big money, retire to a big house.

But they remember


the high music of sky and clouds,
the lift, the shove, the brotherhood of muscle,
the sacrifice, the lust to ensure the other guy never rises again.
Gravity has them now – never to release
158 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

CENTRES

Running – running – running – hold the line – all in line – here it comes –
Thwack – got it – hold it – a half gap – run – step inside – the rush of him

Flashing past – made it – run, run, run – heart hammers –


Half gap – dummy pass – through – more space – BANG – tackled – bounce –

Off load – into safe hands – untangle – leap onto feet – the attack moves on –
Back up – back up – he’s tackled, too – off load to me – off the floor – fuck!

Got it – a metre to go – BANG – tackled – no legs – no feet – present the ball –


The heavy men arrive – pour over – studs gouge - present the ball –

It’s gone – leap to my feet – half a metre to go – a space opens –


There’s the ball – step – bend – reach – dive – touch down –

TOUCH DOWN!

After – peel off armour – allow it to pile in damp heaps – gape at wounds –
Gape at stories – shower – disappear into steam – mud, blood run – tension slides –

Talk, laughter fades as we melt into silence – hot water pouring, pouring, pouring –
Steam making us invisible, dim, angelic – muscles loosen, lengthen, ease –

Toweling down – laughing – a jock strap hangs like a scrotum –


Boots clutter the aisles – shorts and shirts litter each bench –

Next week boots will be dubbined – shirts laundered – shorts pressed –


And bodies will be bright and fresh like opened meat on the butcher’s slab.
159

TEAM REUNION

Who are these ghosts? See them. See them now.


See Life taking them tenderly into itself.

What are these once-were-men?


Perhaps whispers. Perhaps memory.

Traces of … who remembers?


Even that has gone or is going. Something departs
Leaving a stain in the air.

Let us not see the bodies. They are horrors.


Skins are grey. Hair has gone. Knees are knotted and heads are bowed.
They are proud of nothing. Life is eating them.

They are merely, simply glad of breath. It is suddenly their altar.

Their field of play is now within.


Their commitment, deep and constant.

Let us leave them to be glad, to be quiet, to make their way home,


To evaporate, become nothing. Perhaps, briefly, faintly, to glimpse again

The welcoming sky, the startle of fresh shirts on a dazzling field


The hope for a good day, and hear again

As breakers on a close-by shore,


The crowd’s call and the sweet, sharp whistle
To play on and on and on.
David Lander
160 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017
Don’t Look at Me

Charles Holdefer

“H ol-lee! Hol-lee! Hol-lee!” The din was deafening, more than 18,000
spectators rose as one, clapping and chanting.
Unsteady on her feet, Holly looked around her. The building shook.
She was the cynosure of their desires.
***
She’d hated being looked at. She’d suffered as The Tall Girl. Can you see
my house from up there? and Look! It’s Queen Kong! Worse, her growth had come
early. She reached six feet tall when she was twelve years old. Part beanpole,
part flamingo, with stick-thin arms and legs, Holly was all pointy knees and
elbows.
She remembered with special bitterness her sixth-grade teacher who’d
exclaimed, when Holly stood against the wall to be measured for a classroom
chart, “My goodness! You might never stop growing.”
In an agony of self-consciousness Holly hurried with hunched shoulders
to her desk in the back of the room (strategically placed so as not to obstruct
her classmates’ views), fighting tears and, for the moment, literally believing
what she’d heard (the words of her teacher, an authority):  she might never stop
growing! She was in the sixth grade—by next year, in seventh grade, would
she be seven feet tall? In eighth grade, eight feet tall? The future—her future—
seemed positively monstrous.
“Are you raising your hand?”
A question in class, and Holly knew the answer, but she decided not to
admit it. How could you raise your hand and duck at the same time?
“Me? No.”
162 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

That same year she’d lost her mother, a blow crueler than any she could’ve
previously imagined. Anita Winegarten had been taking the family cat, an
aging castrated tom named Pirate, to a pet clinic in Alliston, a town nine miles
away, where there was a veterinarian with a good reputation for small animals.
(The local vet in Sheridan served the nearby farmers and their large livestock;
a sickly cat ranked low on his priorities, and probably he would’ve suggested
a measure that the Winegarten family didn’t want to hear.) Her mother had
loaded Pirate, who was limp as a dishrag but mewing feebly in protest, into
a small travel cage. “Don’t worry, honey,” she reassured Holly. “Everything’s
going to be all right.” She put the travel cage in the back seat of the Dodge
Monaco and drove away.
And that was the last time Holly saw her.
Early that evening, a trucker spotted a car in the ravine on Highway 62,
several miles west of Alliston. There was a corner and the ditch was steep, and
the undergrowth, a dense patch of ragweed and orange tiger lilies, was thick
enough to conceal the Dodge Monaco. Other passersby had driven by this spot
and noticed nothing. But the trucker, from his higher perch in his cab, had seen
a glint of sunlight reflecting from what looked like a windshield. When police
arrived on the scene, it had been nine hours since Anita Winegarten had left
the house. When they found her, she was still breathing. But she succumbed to
her injuries on the following day.
***
Holly didn’t learn the details of her mother’s death until much later. Her
memory of events was confused, a blur of emotion punctuated by distinct
images, such as the moment her mother put Pirate in the cage, and told her,
“Everything’s going to be all right.” And afterward, how their father hadn’t brought
home the smashed-up Dodge but had returned with some of its contents; the
travel cage, now empty (the police said they’d found it that way—where was
Pirate?); her mother’s purse. One day before the funeral Holly sneaked into her
parents’ room while her father was upstairs trying to explain events to her little
brother, and she opened the purse, which looked and smelled as it always did,
a jumble of items scented with spearmint. This time, unlike earlier instances of
snooping, she wasn’t playing with her mother’s compact mirror or looking for
dimes and quarters. She was just … thinking. Eventually she helped herself to a
piece of chewing gum (her mother always carried gum and offered it around)
and folded the stick into her mouth, slowly chewing, tears rolling down her
cheeks.
Even before this horrible accident, Holly’s thoughts about her family were
often mournful, centered on a question:  what went wrong with us? Her father,
Art, was a tall, balding man with long arms and mitt-like hands; he was the
high school social studies teacher and baseball coach. In his younger years
he’d been a stand-out center fielder with dreams of making the major leagues;
Holdefer/Don’t Look at Me 163

while playing college baseball he’d met Anita, a short, busty woman who was
working on a degree in speech-language pathology. She had a pert nose and
wore her hair in blow-dried flicks and in early photos, she appeared rather
glamorous. Later, when they’d settled in Sheridan and started a family, she
was motherly and plump as a pigeon. She worked as the high school guidance
counselor and was popular in the community, appreciated for her friendliness
and ease in conversation. In a town of this size, where public school life and
sports teams were the main interest and source of local pride, Holly’s parents
had been important figures, and much respected.
But their children, Holly and Honus? It was as if a mix-up had occurred
and the appropriate lines of inheritance had gotten crossed. Although she had
her mother’s pert nose, in every other way Holly was very much her father’s
girl. Long and sinewy, and then some, after her astonishing spurt of growth.
Whereas Honus took after his mother:  he was short and pudgy in atypical
places for a little boy. Five years younger than Holly, he was just as sensitive to
the gaze of others. He had cried when some kids had jeered at them—“Hey, it’s
Laurel and Hardy!”—and this was before he even knew who Laurel and Hardy
were.
And his name! What had Anita Winegarten been thinking when, in a
moment of weakness, she’d given in to Art’s enthusiastic plan to name their
son after Honus Wagner, the legendary German-American shortstop whose
prodigious throwing arm had first been spotted by an alert scout watching a
ragged youth fling rocks? (How many times had Holly heard that story?) Holly
recalled the summer vacation when the family had piled into the Monaco and
driven to New York City, where they stayed in a cramped hotel and visited the
Statue of Liberty, and their father took them to a baseball game (of course),
their mother took them to a Broadway musical (unable to get tickets for Cats,
they saw Lubed, where the word “fuck” was said forty-three times—young Holly
had counted) and, on their last day, they went to the Metropolitan Museum
of Art where, after breezing by the Egyptian mummies and the Temple of
Dendur and paintings by Rembrandt and Picasso, her father finally found the
corridor leading to an oak-paneled room of long tables covered in glass, which
contained a collection of the earliest, and most prized, baseball cards. “See
that one!” he’d said, taking his son in his arms and lifting him to look, “that’s
Honus Wagner. That card is priceless. That’s who you’re named after.”
Honus peered, interested, while Holly and her mother waited listlessly,
shifting on tired feet, eager to go out for ice cream.
On the long, tedious drive home, which took two and a half days, Holly
shared the back seat with Honus and, to amuse herself, teased him. She
pinched his arms and legs, whenever he fell asleep, and when Honus protested,
she feigned innocence and said they were “spider bites.” When their parents
told them to stop bickering, Holly resorted to more subtle means. She didn’t
touch him, she didn’t speak. She looked at him. Stared with bugging eyes.
164 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

“Stop looking at me!” Honus cried. Holly turned away. A few minutes later, she
silently bugged her eyes at him again, and Honus insisted, “Don’t look at me!”
“What’s going on back there?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know,” Holly said.
“She looks at me.”
“Holly, leave him alone.”
Thereafter it became a sly contest, stealing glances and screwing her
eyeballs at him, until Honus became so exasperated that he exclaimed, “Fuck
you, Holly!”
The car veered.
“Hey!” her father shouted.
“See? If you weren’t so cheap about theater tickets,” her mother snapped.
Back in Sheridan, Honus tried to devote himself to his father’s dreams.
Art loved baseball and fantasized about his son following in his footsteps; but
Honus just couldn’t make it work. In Pee-Wee League, because of his squat
build, he got put behind the plate as a catcher. But he wasn’t good at catching,
though he worked hard to block the ball or knock it down with his body. The
elastic straps of the protective equipment chafed his tender skin and led to a
nasty rash that he nervously scratched into bloody stripes which, when they
began to scab and heal, itched terribly, till he scratched them raw again. He
ended up on the bench after a foul ball zinged off his bare hand and broke
two of his fingers. Art consoled him that it was all right, accidents happened
and there was no shame in watching from the side, but Holly knew her little
brother well and could see how relieved Honus was, even thankful as he leaned
back on the bench and deliciously rubbed his rash against the wire mesh. How
glad he was to have broken his fingers!
Later that same summer, their mother crashed in a ditch, and anything to
do with baseball was forgotten, trivial. Holly recalled how, the night they got
the news, she’d sat crying at the foot of the stairs. Honus had just been put to
bed and her father came down and wrapped his arms around her. Sobs surged
through Holly, and Art ran his hand through her hair, speaking softly until
Holly exhausted herself and breathed more easily. Then he lifted her in his
arms and began to carry her upstairs. She clung to his neck and started sobbing
again. Her father hadn’t carried her to bed like this since the old days, when
she was a small child. That seemed so long ago. She held him tight, pressing
her face against his chest.
Art managed her weight without difficulty, but maneuvering her length
was another matter. After two steps he paused, wobbling slightly, and Holly
lifted her eyes and watched as he tried to angle her sideways and attempt
several more steps. Despite his best efforts, her feet banged against the banister
and the spokes beneath the handrail.
“Ow!”
Holdefer/Don’t Look at Me 165

“I’m so sorry, Holly, I’m so sorry.”


***
“Hol-lee! Hol-lee! Hol-lee!”
She became the star center for the Sheridan Trojanettes. They had ruled
their sports conference of rural schools, but at the state tournament the team
faced much stiffer competition, and the weakness of the rest of the squad
became apparent, and it was up to Holly to carry them, on both offense and
defense.
And she did—she dominated the tournament, leading all scorers and
setting a new state record for blocked shots. And the final game had been a
turning point in her life.
Because on this night, after already scoring forty-four points while being
triple-teamed by the defense, she found herself at the free throw line in front of
18,000 screaming people with two seconds left, her team trailing, seventy-six
to seventy-five, and her father, now the varsity girls basketball coach, watching
her from the bench in pained wonder. What was Holly thinking? Certainly not
of her mother, not now. Not yet. She could barely stand. What did a person do
in such a situation, in front of so many eyes?
***
In her younger years, she’d resisted the first attempts of people who
encouraged her to play this game. Holly was slow and uncoordinated, a prisoner
of her stature, and basketball seemed like yet another way to call attention to
the aspect of herself that she liked least. Why seek out an audience? To trot
back and forth like a giraffe in shorts—the idea made her cringe.
But, as time passed, out of anger and boredom, she’d embraced the game.
Mainly anger:  that was the trigger. In the summer of her fourteenth birthday
her father had married a virtual stranger who was also named—oh, how stupid
irony could be!—Anita. Just like her mother. Anita. She was a paralegal at a law
firm on the town square; she had a big nose and wore big earrings and pink
workout suits. Holly so thoroughly resented seeing this woman moving into
their house and sitting in the same chairs once occupied by her mother and
showering (naked!) in their bathroom that Holly spent most of that summer
outdoors. First she hung out with her schoolfriend Caitlin but then Caitlin
left town to be a counselor at a church camp; while Holly’s other main friend
in those days, Kyla, had attracted the interest of Tyler, a grinning boy with
an incipient moustache. Kyla plucked her brows and her arms were soft and
plump, and she liked to sit on Tyler’s lap. They spent hours giving each other
hickeys in a garden shed where Tyler put his hand up Kyla’s shirt and tried to
take off her pants.
“Do you think I should let him?”
166 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Holly pondered. Did she mean the hickeys? Putting his hand up her shirt?
Unbuttoning her jeans? It was all sort of embarrassing, not to mention endless.
She didn’t answer quickly enough.
“Never mind,” Kyla said. “See you!”
She left to spend time with Tyler, and Holly no longer saw her.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Honus, in a shocking display of disloyalty,
had fallen in love with his new step-mother. He was worse than Holly’s
father! He accepted every overture from the newly-arrived Anita, who cooed
and petted and spoiled him by letting him drink as much soda as he wanted.
Honus soaked up attentions and soon he was cheerfully submitting to almost
anything Anita said. He became her adoring slave.
Rather than witness this disgusting spectacle, but having no friends
available and nowhere to go, Holly boycotted the house and went out to the
driveway. (She didn’t want to go away too far, lest it seem she was renouncing
her rightful place in the household.) She retrieved a basketball from the
basement and started shooting at the hoop attached above the garage. It was a
pretext. It allowed her to appear occupied. She shot for one hour. Two hours.
Three hours.
“Aren’t you coming in for lunch?” Anita called through the screen.
“No, I’m not hungry.”
“Of course you are.”
“I’ll eat it out here.”
Her father Art was away all day, supervising a summer baseball camp, but
when he returned in the evenings he insisted that Holly come inside and join
them at the table for dinner. After the meal, though, she went back to the
driveway and shot baskets until after dark. Between the pud and thud of the
bouncing ball, and the rattle of the backboard, she could hear the sounds of
the television through the screen windows. She could picture the others sitting
on the couch and sometimes heard them laugh along with the television,
the canned roar of the studio audience. Riotous applause! They were all in it
together. No, she didn’t want to go inside.
Holly’s skills developed slowly, sometimes unconsciously. Her first real
pleasure in the game came the following year, when the Nichols family moved
in, just two doors down her street. There were three Nichols boys and soon
Holly found herself in demand to fill out their number for basketball games
of two on two. The Nichols’ driveway was larger and offered a better playing
surface. In the beginning there was a temporary awkwardness due to the fact
that Holly was a girl, but it was quickly forgotten as they grew absorbed in
their contests, which lasted for hours, and sometimes, as their imaginations
imposed new twists and exceptions and overtimes, a game went on for days,
with fantastic scores like 315 to 313. Scott, the eldest Nichols brother, teamed
with Danny, the youngest, while Holly’s partner was Mickey, the middle son.
Holly quickly developed a crush on Scott. She admired his confidence, his easy
Holdefer/Don’t Look at Me 167

laugh, his muscular little butt. He was a natural athlete and games consisted
of his mighty efforts to make a team with Danny who, as the youngest, was
unable to accomplish much on the court. The sides were evenly matched, as
Holly and Mickey assumed the middle. Once the Nichols boys became used
to her, and she to them (these boys were so loud, they used bad language,
and they were always scratching their nuts), the arrangement seemed to have
existed forever.
In the early years Holly lumbered and was a poor dribbler, but the summer
she turned seventeen, something changed. She’d reached her full growth at
fifteen, or fifteen and a half, and now, as if overnight, her coordination caught
up with her musculature, and everything gelled:  suddenly she could make her
body do what she wished it to do. Her jumps were well-timed; she dribbled
comfortably with either hand; she was no longer slow and in the heat of the
moment her reach was explosively quick. She remembered the first time she
blocked one of Scott’s shots. He was a year older than she, and he started for
the boys’ varsity team, but she leaped and let fly a long arm and swatted away
his attempt at a lay-up. Surprised, Scott laughed, but she noticed a strain in
his face after that moment, an added intensity to his play, a determination
not to be shown up. A short time later, Holly did it again. Scott had stolen the
ball from Mickey, dribbled twice and turned, assuming he had a clear shot—
and Holly was already there, anticipating, jumping as he released the ball. She
slapped it back in his face. “What the fuck!” he shouted, losing his temper, as
his brothers howled with laughter. His upper lip was already swelling, and
blood shone red on his teeth.
“Wasn’t on purpose.” It was all Holly could say.
She was sorry for his lip, yes … but a part of her was also proud. By then she
was intensely in love with Scott, a secret she harbored in isolation because he
was dating someone in his own class, Lacey Ryerson, one of the prettiest girls
in school who belonged to a circle of other very pretty girls who didn’t mix
with Holly. They belonged to the Dance Club and performed a routine called
“Strut Your Stuff!” Holly hadn’t even considered joining the Dance Club; she
didn’t want to wear leotards in front of gawkers; she most definitely didn’t
want to strut her stuff—the very phrase made her recoil. (“Stop slouching!”
Anita frequently reminded her.) But now, a change had occurred, and in some
ungraspable way Holly had just shown Scott her affection by slapping the
ball in his face. It was a declaration of love. If only he could understand. Why
couldn’t he see it?
That winter, when the basketball season started at school, Holly was
completely in command. For the first time, the organized league games became
as fun as the ones in the neighborhood. And the approval of the crowds was
a tonic. The cheers! For her! This was no strut, no affectation:  this was game.
She loped down the court, experiencing a surge of exhilaration as she left
opponents behind.
168 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

That was the same season that her father Art became the varsity coach of
the Sheridan Trojanettes. For his entire career, baseball had been his abiding
interest, while helping out in other sports was merely a professional duty. But
when the previous coach retired, he threw himself into the job and, with his
star daughter, an exciting new chapter in life began. Suddenly he and Holly
had a new relationship, sharing hard work and hopes, sharing success. They
were a team within a team.
“Box-out drill!” Art called, clapping. “Let’s go! Let’s go! First time, no
hands!”
Players ran toward the basket, thundering down the floorboards. Holly
was always first or second to arrive.
Of course, it could get awkward having her father in this role. All the other
players called him Coach Winegarten, but she couldn’t bring herself to say
that; she couldn’t call him Dad, either, not on the court. So she avoided calling
him anything because there wasn’t really a word to describe what passed
between them, this new intimacy. At home, their relations shifted, too. She
started referring to him in the third person as Art. “What’s Art going to show us
tomorrow about defense?” At first she said it archly, as if it were a private joke
between them. He accepted it with a shrug and a grin. He seemed to like it.
***
“Hol-lee! Hol-lee! Hol-lee!”
Senior year, the last game of her high school career. She’d already signed
a letter of intent to enroll on a full sports scholarship at the state university,
which had one of the strongest women’s basketball programs in the country.
This is how she found herself at the free throw line in front of 18,000 screaming
people with two seconds left to play. Just moments ago, trailing by one point,
Holly’s teammates did what their opponents and every single spectator knew
they would do:  they passed the ball to her. It was up to Holly, to do the job and
win for them, one last time. She caught it at the far corner of the court, feinted
left, then dribbled in close to the basket. But, before she could get a shot off,
she got clobbered.
It was intentional, but not exactly vicious. Basic strategy dictated that
fouling Holly made sense, instead of letting her take a clear shot at a short
distance. The odds were better for the opposition to send her to the free throw
line.
But there were accidental factors, too. As defenders converged on Holly and
they all fell in a tumble, Holly’s right foot was planted, then wedged against
another player’s leg. Her upper body fell first, but her leg was inadvertently
held back. The strain—she felt it—while thinking:  please, let me fall. But she
couldn’t, not swiftly enough, and that fraction of a second was enough to
break her leg.
Holdefer/Don’t Look at Me 169

The pain was amazing. For several seconds she was actually blinded by
a sort of explosion in her head and she couldn’t see. She heard the roar of
the crowd, the referee’s whistle. More pain shot through up her side as her
opponents disentangled from the pile. She cried out and rolled onto her other
side, a spray of her game sweat casting droplets on the varnished floor. “It’s OK,
Holly, you’re OK,” called Kat Myers, one of her teammates, standing over her,
reaching down to help Holly to get up. It was the sort of encouragement they
always said to each other when someone fell. Kat was excited, caught up in the
moment and Holly, in her confusion, mechanically responded, taking Kat’s
hand and finding her feet. She took three strides to the foul line. Each time, a
terrific pain shot up her leg and into her spine, like a charge of electricity. In
the general melee and because Holly had responded fairly quickly, the referee
didn’t call a technical timeout for injury. The other team had used up all their
timeouts, otherwise they would’ve called one, in order to create a delay and
add to the psychological pressure on Holly. At the Sheridan bench, everyone
was standing, Art was pacing out of bounds, his tie unknotted and his shirt
dark with perspiration. The din in the auditorium was deafening. Art still had
a timeout but he hesitated to use it. He could see that something was wrong
but stopping the action might indeed play into their opponents’ hands and put
more pressure on Holly. But still—he moved towards the scorers’ table. He had
only seconds to decide.
At that moment Holly looked over at the Sheridan bench and saw where
her father was heading. Her long arm made an abrupt, chopping motion in
his direction. He caught it in the corner of his eye and stopped, turned to
her, and she repeated the gesture, in front of thousands of witnesses. Art went
no further, and the din intensified. Was the player commanding the coach?
Was the daughter ordering her father? Or was it just a heartfelt expression of
individual will?
She held the ball now. She was panting from the pain, her mouth hung
open, a trickle of drool edging out of one corner and making its way to her
chin. The backboard, basket and net began to blur in front of her eyes. She
blinked and tried to focus. Put it in, she thought. Put it in. Maybe she didn’t
have to see. Maybe it could be just like another lonely summer night when she
refused to go into the house, when she shot in the dark …
It went in.
The roar intensified, she heard the muffled voices of teammates beside
her, encouraging her, and now the ball was in her hands again. One more. One
more. She’d maintained almost all of her weight on one leg but lifting her arms
required a slight shift in balance and a momentary pressure on the other leg.
The pain shot up her spine, excruciating, and for a moment she actually forgot
where she was and what she was doing. She saw flashes of blue and then green,
and it seemed as if somehow she was outdoors. Not playing basketball but
simply standing and waiting. The blue was pieces of sky and her mother Anita
170 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

stood nearby, sliding a cage into the car. Holly wobbled and felt the pebbled
rubber of the basketball in her hands, her heart beat wildly. There was the
basket. Put it in. Put it in.
It went in.
“Hol-lee! Hol-lee! Hol-lee!”
She could not walk off the court as the nearest bleachers emptied and
pandemonium ensued. She left the auditorium on a stretcher, to whirling
lights. The arena ceiling was spinning above her. “Oh Mom,” she gasped. “Look
at me. I’m broken.”
171

For The River Riders


“See how she spins! The grace is there,
But strain as well is plain to see.
Degas loved the two together:
Beauty joined to energy.”
Richard Wilbur, “Museum Piece”

From the downtown bridges


I lean to see the James River riders in their rafts
and kayaks take the rapids—
how they gather the craft under them,
the way the rider of a horse will before a jump,
then drive it at some channel in the rocks,
where knuckles of wilder water
whiten into uppercuts, so they might fly—
but less to fly than to steer into flight’s turbulence,
for the shuttled glee of its pounding.
See how they strain! some sucked under, then spun right again—
or if grace fails them utterly, then not—
but either way, what grace they’ll manage
won’t be much:  the beauty
is in the battle of their energies—as it’s joined upon
this blue, white field—riding the windings and the wildness.

I brought my father to these rapids, once—


three decades before his death—oh, at almost my age now.
He had loved to kayak, as a younger man—
his eyes brightened when we reached them—
but since I have no boat, being more
a watcher than a thrill-seeker myself, he could only
wade into a cleft of rocks and sprawl there,
as if it were a whirlpool bath—
until the cradling current pried him loose
and dragged him down in under.
Thirty yards it swept him—
yet he came up whole, guffawing through his sputters.
Vestless, contused, he forbore, reluctantly, to try the ride again.
172 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

I was never a disappointment to him, I think, but in this:


that at no sport he’d ever played was I as good as him;
that at none was I as reckless, as in love
with the wild brawl of it—favoring, rather, the grace—
yet admiring the rollick, mostly; to lean, that is, and watch.
Derek Kannemeyer
173

Contributors’ Notes
Bill Baynes is a writer, producer and director from Belmont, CA. His young adult
baseball novel, Bunt! was published by Silverback Sages, Abiquiu, N.M. His World War
II novella, The Occupation of Joe, was released in August by Top Hat Books. The Coyote
Who Braved Baseball, a middle-grade novel, is coming in 2019 from Thurston Howl
Publications. (http://billbaynes.com/)

Shelley Blanton-Stroud teaches college composition at CSU, Sacramento and consults


with writers in the energy industry. Her stories appear in such places as Brevity, Cleaver,
Soundings Review, and a forthcoming Baobab Press anthology.

David Cappella, Professor Emeritus of English and 2017/2018 Poet-in-Residence


at Central Connecticut State University, has co-authored two widely used poetry
textbooks, Teaching the Art of Poetry: The Moves and A Surge of Language: Teaching Poetry
Day to Day. His chapbook, Gobbo: A Solitaire’s Opera, won the Bright Hill Press Poetry
Chapbook Competition in 2006. His poems and essays have appeared in various literary
journals and anthologies in the US and Europe. He recently published a novel, Kindling.
Currently, he is co-translating Tracce di un’anima, the poems of Italian poet Germana
Santangelo. Visit his university web site: http://webcapp.ccsu.edu/?fsdMember=249

Roberto Fontanarrosa (“El Negro,” 1944-2007) was an Argentine writer and


cartoonist, specializing in themes of his beloved national sport, soccer (fútbol). El
Sueño del Ídolo appeared in his story collection, “Te Digo Más … y Otros Cuentos,”
published in Buenos Aires in 2001.

Robert Hamblin is Professor Emeritus of English at Southeast Missouri State University.


The author of Keeping Score: Sports Poems for Every Season, he served as poetry editor of
Aethlon from 1984 to 2005.

Andy Harvey is a Lecturer in the School of Sport and Exercise Science at Swansea
University, UK. His research interests are in sport, gender and sexuality and sport
integrity. He is the author of Boys will be Boys (2016), an interdisciplinary study that
interrogated the themes of sport, masculinity and sexuality through the lens of sport
fiction.

Andrew Hazucha is a Professor of English and chair of the Arts & Humanities Division
at Ottawa University in Ottawa, KS. He has published articles on William Wordsworth,
Conor McPherson, Jackie Robinson, Nelson Algren, Salvador Dalí, and the poetry of
former Kansas City Royals pitcher Dan Quisenberry. Hazucha is co-editor, with Gerald
C. Wood, of the volume Northsiders: Essays on the History and Culture of the Chicago Cubs
(McFarland Press, 2008).

Max Heinegg’s poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Tar
River Poetry, and The American Journal of Poetry, among others. As a singer-songwriter,
his records can be heard at www.maxheinegg.com. He lives in Medford, MA, where
he teaches English at Medford High School by day, and is the brewmaster of Medford
Brewing Company by night.
174 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

James Hibbard’s fiction and reviews have appeared on the Ploughshares Blog, as well as
The Huffington Post. A former professional cyclist and U.S. National Team member, he
also wrote the preface to Irish Tour de France rider Paul Kimmage’s seminal book on
doping, Rough Ride. An alumnus of the prestigious Tin House Writer’s Workshop, he is
currently working to complete his first novel. Also a screenwriter, James’ screenplays
have been optioned and recognized by The Cinequest Film Festival, The Austin Film
Festival, and the ScreenCraft Film Fund.

Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has
appeared in the New England Review, North American Review, Chicago Quarterly Review,
and in the 2017 Pushcart Prize anthology. His recent books include Dick Cheney in
Shorts (stories) and George Saunders’ Pastoralia: Bookmarked (nonfiction).

Henry Hughes is the author of four collections of poetry and is a past contributor to
Aethlon. A former high school and college football player. he now teaches literature and
writing at Western Oregon University.

Derek Kannemeyer’s writing has appeared in scores of publications, from Fiction


International to Rolling Stone. So far in 2018 he has published a collection of light
verse (An Alphabestiary) and a poetry chapbook (Blue Nib #1), and he has work just
out or forthcoming in Sand, the Bacopa Review, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in
Richmond, Virginia.

David Lander lives in Hobart, Tasmania. During the 1980’s his poetry appeared in The
Australian, Poetry Australia, Tirra Lirra, Peninsula Writing and Overland, then disappeared
for several decades, re-appearing in 2014. Since then it has been published in Otolith,
Elephant, Bluepepper, Blue Nib, Literary Heist, Black Renaissance Noire and Wagon. His
articles and reviews have appeared in Theatre Quarterly, Centre Stage and State of the Arts;
journalism has appeared in The Age and the Herald Sun, and a personal column, “David
Lander’s Smalls,” in The Age. His re-tellings of folk tales were published by Nelson,
1989. In 2012, David received the degree of Master of Contemporary Arts (Theatre)
from the University of Tasmania. Along with poetry, he is working on a theatre script
about cronyism in a small island State.

John B. Lee is the author of over eighty published books. His latest titles include a
collaboration with Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke, a book published in
English with Hindi translation, and a second selected called Beautiful Stupid, published
by Black Moss Press in 2018. A frequent contributor to Aethlon, he lives in Port Dover
where he serves as Poet Laureate of his home county of Norfolk.

Richard Luftig is a former professor of educational psychology and special education


at Miami University in Ohio and now resides in California. His stories and poems have
appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and internationally in
Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia. One of his stories was nominated for the Pushcart
Prize. His latest book of poems will be forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2019.
Contributors’ 175

Richard McGehee is a research fellow in the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin
American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His translations of sport-related
stories and poetry have appeared in Aethlon, The Southern Review, The Global Game,
Archivation Exploration, and World Literature Today.

A retired Professor of English, Charlotte F. Otten enjoys the unexpected things found
while hiking—whether on Shakespeare’s bank discovering sweet musk-roses with the
fairies of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” or on Sleeping Bear Dunes where wild roses
spring up on a peak over Lake Michigan. Her poems have appeared in journals as
diverse as Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Agenda, Southern Humanities Review,
Poems from Aberystwyth.

Recently completing work on a collection of poems entitled, The Flood is not the River,
Ross Peters’s work has appeared in Terminus Magazine and Birmingham Poetry Review.
He provided the Forward, as well as extensive photography, for Sacred Views: St. Francis
and the Sacro Monte di Orta (Punctum Press). He lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where he
serves as Head of St. George’s Independent School.

Herbert Plummer did his undergraduate studies at King’s College in Pennsylvania,


where he was an editor of the school’s literary magazine, and read poetry over the
air for the school’s radio station, WRKC. He earned an M.A. in British & American
Literature from Hunter College, writing his thesis on aesthetics of war in Yusef
Komunyakaa’s poetry. He currently works for Columbia University Press, where he
manages subscriptions to research databases, including the Granger’s World of Poetry.
His work is forthcoming in Unbroken Journal, and he is also a co-editor of the literary
magazine FishFood. He lives in Hoboken and runs with the Central Park Track Club.

Originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey, Harry Reed is Professor Emeritus in the
Department of History at Michigan State. Though he finally stopped playing basketball
because of acute disease at age 83, he still shoots around. He now resides in a retirement
home in Boulder, Colorado. His writings have appeared in African American Review,
basement, Obsidian, African Voices, Brilliant Corners, and The Fourth Genre.

Matt Robinson’s newest poetry chapbook, Against, was just released by Gaspereau
Press in 2018; his latest full-length collection of poems, Some nights it’s entertainment;
some other nights just work (Gaspereau Press) appeared in 2016. He lives in Halifax, NS
with his family, and plays a fair bit of beer league hockey year-round.

JG Sarmiento was born in the Philippines and raised in Guam. He holds an MA from
the University of Guam, where he taught composition, literature, and rhetoric. He
pitches stories in parabolas from the Mile-High City, wondering what comes after the
postmodern and the MCU.

Chad Senesac lives in northeast Florida where the story “Fifty-Four” is set as part of a
longer unpublished work. His other recent work appears through Typishly and Beautiful
Losers. Chad currently teaches and coaches at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville.
176 Aethlon XXXIV:2 / Spring 2017 / Summer 2017

Ron Smith has been Aethlon’s poetry editor since 2010. He was Poet Laureate of Virginia
from 2014 to 2016 and is the author of four books of poetry, Running Again in Hollywood
Cemetery, Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005, Its Ghostly Workshop, and The Humility of the
Brutes. He offers “Nick of Time,” a parody of Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,”
in the spirit of W.D. Snodgrass, who wrote of those who lampoon treasured works of
literature, “We are like lovers who dare express ourselves only in mocking raillery lest
we be obliterated by our own adoration.”

Kasey Symons is a PhD candidate at Victoria University in Melbourne. Her creative


PhD thesis, One of the Boys - the (gendered) performance of my football career, focuses
on issues of gender performance and negotiation in female fans of elite male sports
through an autoethnographic inquiry. She is also a sports journalist with an interest
in women’s Australian rules football and has been published in The Guardian, The
Women’s Game & Change Her Game online as well as the books Balancing Acts: Women in
Sport (2018) and The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017 and was the co-editor of The Women’s
Footy Almanac 2018.