CASTAWAY RENTALS

Our very ancient ancestors were born in the sea and we are drawn back by the hypnotic rhythm of the waves. Like lemmings we make our way to the ocean each summer, undeterred by obstacles, adversities or toll booths.

Inching southward on the Garden State Packedway, with family and engine overheating, we begin to trade the cares and fears of our landlocked lives for the cares and fears of oceanside living.

After three hours of inching and a hundred Are-we-almost-theres?, we arrive at Jellyfish Beach where we have reserved a place at Bertha’s Bungalow rentals and sales. (“She sells cheap shells by the seashore”)

Your cozy cottage, according to Bertha, is within easy walking distance of the beach, but Bertha has run in three Boston Marathons and is a retired Marine drill sergeant.

Bertha also claimed your cottage sleeps eight, but you forgot to ask if that was simultaneously. Now she demonstrates how the kitchen table converts to a double bed and the living room couch opens up almost completely. Two can sleep there if one sits up.

There is a nice view of the cottage from the detached guest bathroom, The promised third bathroom is even more detached. Bertha has an arrangement with a local Texaco Station. Well, what do you want for $2,000 a week, the Beverly Hilton?

Jellyfish Beach beckons. There is a genuine feeling of homecoming as you approach the entrance. The ocean, after all, is our Mother. She belongs to all of us. The beach is another matter. It belongs to the taxpayers of Jellyfish Townsip and they charge five bucks a head per day.

You spread your beach blanket and collapse beneath your umbrella until a strong gust sends it pinwheeling towards the boardwalk. Never mind, you will soon be romping in the waves and body surfing. A lifeguard looks at you oddly when you ask ” what time does the ocean calm down?”

Finally, you join your frolicking family and bravely dive into a hugh white-capped roller which does a 180 and pulls you out towards what could be shark country. Was that a fin poking out of the foam?

You’ve seen “Jaws” a dozen times and you know exactly what to do, but the famly votes you down. They will not drive a mile or two inland and find a motel. They’re having too much fun.

As the sun sinks and the shadows lengthen across the sand, your happy group returns to Bertha’s for quick showers (If the Texaco Station is still open) and seaside games, like peeling off each other’s skin. Or you might return to the boardwalk in the evening and spend a week’s wages trying to win a stuffed monkey.

Tomorrow you can go out on a crowded chartered fishing boat and possibly win the pool for the seasickest person on board. Or you could sit on the beach again and watch for oil slicks and red tides. There are so many possibilities!

FAHRENHEIT DEBATES

We were dining by candlelight in a posh restaurant when my wife Barbara leaned across the table and said , “Sweetheart, would you please have them do something about the air conditioning?”

“Exactly what I was thinking, my dear,” I said and waved to the waiter. “Pierre, I’m sweltering. Would you please turn up the AC?”

“Turn up ?” Barbara gasped. “Turn up the air conditioner? They should turn it off! I’m freezing!”

As Pierre walked away, perplexed, I glanced around the room. Most of the male diners had doffed their jackets and loosened their neckties. The women were huddled in bulky sweaters and shawls. Some appeared to have blue lips.

I’ll bet air conditioning is right up there as one of the causes of broken marriages and divorce. Think about it. A hundred years ago when the institute of marriage was almost rock solid, how many air conditioners were there?

Air conditioning places much of the indoor climate decisions into our hands and makes the temperature, at least, a matter of personal choice. But when there’s more than one person involved, that’s a problem.

We once resigned ourselves to weather conditions as being God’s will and changed our plans when necessary. But since our indoor climate is now the result of human decisions, it has become a case of second and third guessing, bickering and occasional fisticuffs.

AC setting opinions vary, depending on the subject’s sex, metabolism, activity level and attire. At a business office, for instance, the female receptionist who burns very few calories per minute and is dressed in peekaboo chiffon, prefers the “semi-tropical” setting. The boys down in the shipping department, however, push the “Arctic Wastes” button.

As management vacillates, yielding to one faction and then another, and as the AC and cooling fans settings are changed, the building temperatures and the wind chill factors fluctuate daily. Absenteeism soars as chilblains and heat exhaustion cases increase.

The internal climate control debate intensifies the conflict between the sexes and might also be contributing to the highway accident rate. A happily married New Jersey couple is cruising southward on the Garden State Parkway, anticipating a carefree day at the Shore. As they approach Perth Amboy, he reaches for the instrument panel.

“What are you doing, Harry? You’re not turning on the air conditioner are you?

“Sweetheart, it’s definitely getting close in here with the sun beating down on the roof. It must be close to 90 out there now and the vent isn’t helping much. I’ll just put it on low.”

“Oh dear! I can feel the icy blast already! Right down to my bones!”

“I haven’t turned it on yet, Alice.”

Just a few miles further, Harry has cooled down where he’s hardly sweating. Alice is wrapped in a beach blanket and sneezing occasionally. Harry relents and pushes the off button. Ten minutes later he is sweating bullets and feeling a little dizzy. “Alice, I have to open a window,” he gasps.

“Must you Harry? I just got comfortable and you know how I hate being storm-tossed. At this speed we’ll have a 60 mile per hour wind gusting in here. That’s almost a hurricane, Harry. Well, if you must, open it just an inch or two.”

The State Trooper pulled Harry over near the Asbury Park exit. “What’s wrong , officer? I wasn’t speeding, was I ?”

“No sir. But I’ll have to cite you for careless driving. You couldn’t have been operating your vehicle efficiently with your nose wedged in the window opening with one eye looking up at the ceiling.”

A sympathetic male judge might let Harry off with a warning and a month’s community service at a nursing home beauty parlor.

THE LOSING GAME

Many of us party people become anxious this time of year. We realize we are considerably overdue in shedding the winter cocoons that have shielded the results of months of unbridled feasting. Our bridles, it seems, have become two sizes too small.

Inevitably, the sun travels further north each day, the mercury rises and our clothing must become lighter and more revealing with fewer layers to hide our wintertime bulges.

We must accept this need for scantier garments if we want to enjoy our usual summertime activities. Can you imagine an Asbury Park lifeguard shouting into his bullhorn, “Hey you in the trenchcoat, don’t swim out so far!”

I’ve tried the one-week diets. That’s not their official name. It’s how long I’ve managed to stick with their starvation menus that deprive my body of vital nourishment from salami subs and everything pizzas.

Some experts suggest exercise is the answer for long term results. They say we must burn more calories than we eat to lose weight. I agree. I’ve always wanted to try weight lifting. The key is to start gradually and know your limitations. I’m following that regimen now. For two weeks I’ve been pumping aluminum and hope I can soon advance to stainless steel.

At the same time I’m taking my doctor’s advice to include jogging in my program with a one-mile daily run. At first I found this quite difficult, but I’m okay with it now since I found a shortcut.

A friend of mine is very happy with the results of his wall pushup program. Pinky is a big fellow who also prefers calorie burning over dieting. He’s lived in a small apartment for years with little room or income for expensive excercise equipment. Wall pushups, which burn about 10 calories a minute, seemed ideal for him.

After two months of hourly sessions against his living room wall, Pinky had significantly reduced his bulk and increased his muscle tone. Then one fateful night at pushup number 243, his wall gave out and Pinky fell into the adjoining apartment.

The startled young lady who lived there soon calmed down when Pinky apologized for his dramatic entrance. Very soon, he and Barby were having a tete-a-tete beside the shattered sheet rock and soon discovered they were soul mates, both New York Mets fans and Democrats who enjoyed nature walks and Mel Brooks and both had planned to adopt a shelter dog.

Pinky lost 65 pounds and gained an attractive 125-pound fiancee. They soon married and didn’t replace the shattered wall. They live now in their commodious duplex apartment with little Melvin and Old Yeller.

There is no guarantee of a happy ending like this for a wall pushupper. You had better find out who lives in the adjoining apartment. It could be a happily married personal injury attorney.

OH THE FEAR OF THE OPEN ROAD!

Browsing the Web today, I came across an ad for an antique Puch Maxi moped on sale for an astounding $5,000. It brought back memories of my scary attempt to “grab life by the handlebars”.

It was in Bermuda years ago and I did grab the handlebars, scared stiff on a perilous Puch Maxi which I feared might carry me and my wife into eternity or at least into an emergency room.

I hadn’t even been on a bicycle for 10 years and was quite upset on arriving in Bermuda to hear the best way to tour the island was on one of these motorized enigmas.

I eventually found myself mounted on one of the little devils, helmeted and staring down the road through tinted goggles as I called for more and more power, twisting the throttle further, thrilling to the crescendo.

“Hey mister,” the attendant shouted over the roar, “aren’t you gonna take it off the stand and give it a real test run?”

“I want to get the feel of it first,” I said.

“You’re gonna run outa gas soon. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it and have a lotta fun.”

Easy for him to say. He had my money and I had two pages of the rental company’s legalese with bail-out phrases like “excludes all liability” and “makes no warranty of the working order of the vehicle.”

On my solo test run (My wife Barbara refused to board in back.), the Puch almost left without me. I managed to remain partially seatborne by alternately braking and throttling. Turning was simple. I stopped, raised the front wheel, and swung it around. Sometimes you have to improvise.

To make it more interesting and scary I had to remember to drive on the left like everyone else on the road and obey the 20 mph speed limit without a speedometer.

The rental guy had shown me how to engage the rear brake with the left control and the front brake with the right. “By the way,” he added, “don’t apply the front brake alone or you’ll go over the handlebars.” I was beginning to feel like a rookie Kamikaze pilot.

Returning from my third shaky test run I found my helmeted wife, Barbara, all atwitter. “This should be fun,” she laughed, mistaking my clenched teeth for a smile.

“You have to shout every 20 seconds, “Keep to the left please Sweetheart”. I told her. “If it’s an emergency, leave off the last part.”

A nervous hour later, having survived some near misses with several vehicles and one traffic cop, we were climbing the steep hill to the Southhampton Princess. It was tea time at the posh hotel, but I was thinking of something stronger. Suddenly I saw an idiot mopedder coming straight at us.

“Keep to the left, you idiot!” he shouted as he squeezed by.”

“You forgot to remind me,” I scolded Barbara. “You could have caused a serious accident!” She leaned forward and whispered in my right ear, “Horse hockey, Darling!” It was her cute way of ending our arguments.

By then the pooped Puch’s putts were getting fainter. “Lean forward or something,” Barbara suggested. “People are walking up the hill and they’re gaining on us. This is embarrassing!”

Soon there was a strangled cough and we stopped. “Try sliding off the back,” I said, but I’d forgotten to throttle down first so me and the Puch rocketed ahead into the bushes beside the main entrance.

While the doorman was helping me out of the greenery, I noticed Barbara was strolling by, pretending she didn’t know me. All was forgiven later when I found her sitting in the lounge with our two old friends, the Martinis.

Fortunately, the Puch fit snuggly in the taxi trunk for our safe ride back.

WHEELING AND DEALING FOR WHEELS

Car shopping has always been a painful experience for me. I try to learn enough beforehand to be a savvy negotiater. I take notes while watching the TV car ads, but they’re not that explicit. Maybe the precise details are in the six lines of fine print flashed across the screen for one second before the ad closes.

What really disturbs me is the cheerful challenge to “come down and make your best deal!” The last time I managed a successful “best deal” was in the last century when I aced a trade with Skippy Zabrowski: My turtle for his cat. It was a real coup. In just a few weeks I had three cats and he had only one dead turtle. Skippy had never questioned Lightning’s lack of vital signs.

When it comes to pregnant cats and dead turtless, I can be a wheeler-dealer, but it’s a completely different story with cars. For one thing, I was misinformed. I thought our automakers were up against it with stiff foreign competition. So I believed their ads promising “fantastic savings” and “rock bottom pricing”.

When I saw a line up of small Detroit-built streamlined cars in the lot beneath a “SPECIAL CLEARANCE!” banner, I thought I might have stumbled onto something worthwhile.

“What’s the price on those sports cars?” I asked the salesman and then he told me. “No, I don’t want to buy all of them,” I said. “What’s the price of one?” Clyde began to explain the automotive facts of life to me. My eyebrows went up and they have never come down.

Eventually I was ushered into Clyde’s office and, while he flipped through price lists and pounded away on his little device, I glanced around the room and was dismayed to discover I was in the grip of the “Salesman of the Year”. Why do I always get the hotshot salesman? Are there no more Skippy Zabrowskis out there?

I told him the car model I wanted, how much I could put down, and the few features I’d like. He flipped pages and pounded wildly for five minutes before telling me the amount of my monthly payments. Ugh!

I dropped the 6-speaker stereo system, the sun roof and the rear seat TV. Clyde was getting me down to the basic dead turtle and it was still too expensive. To pay the monthlys on this stripped down car I would have to give up or minimize most lunches, HBO and my tap dancing classes. There was the new roof for the house, but I thought there was a reasonable chance for a prolonged drought.

One has to be firm in these situations, so I stood my ground and kept demanding concessions until Clyde finally caved. My first oil change would be free as well as complimentary bagels and coffee during all oil changes. I pressed harder until he promised a free windshield scraper You gotta be hardnosed with these guys.

“You’re a tough customer,” Clyde admitted. “I’ll have to get the manager’s okay on this deal.” I tried not to show how pleased I was with the way I’d handled myself, wanting to maintain my hard-as-nails image.

Clyde left, and in a few minutes, I saw an older man smiling at me through the door window. I thought I detected giggling. He disappeared and a few minutes later I heard laughter and what sounded like the popping of a cork.

Eventually, Clyde returned with the contract and told me to sign just above the champagne stain. “Not so fast, Clyde! ” I said. Run through those figures again.!

He got a little surly, but he read off the numbers while I checked them on my Texas Instrument light-powered calculator. (It pays to keep up technically.) Sure enough, my figures were correct. I was giving up vacations and recreation for 48 months, but my shrewd dealing had managed to insure food, clothing and shelter, plus all those free bagels and coffee.

P.S. I just noticed today while looking over the contract, the car dealership’s manager, the co-signer, was S. Zabrowski. I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

“Let’s dance!”……”Let’s not!”

Whenever I attend a wedding reception or any social event involving dancing, I spend most of the evening just sipping at my table beside the dance floor which, to me, is about as inviting as a minefield.

When I rise between dance numbers to make my way across the floor to the bar, the women scatter out of my path like deer frightened by gunfire. Once, during the meal, wanting to borrow a salt shaker from the next table, I leaned over to the nearest woman and said, “May I have…..”, but before I could finish, she got up and ran off.

I have a terrible reputation as a dancer. I suspect a chemical imbalance depriving me of the necessary means of coordination or perhaps a skeletal defect which rules out graceful movement. I think Doctor Frankenstein’s monster had a similar affliction.

Or perhaps It’s because of my traumatic introduction to dancing. It was decided to change our seventh graders’ Wednesday gym periods into dancing classes. I was very disappointed. On Wednesdays we had always played Bashball, a violent version of tag where it was possible for a talented basher to render the taggee unconscious. How could dancing possibly sharpen my marksmanship?

Mrs. Stumbly, the dancing teacher, paired me off with Lagertha Olsen for the entire semester. Lagertha, a strong-willed Scandinavian girl, outweighed me by 25 pounds and had the upper foot in all of our dancing maneuvers. I never learned to lead. In fact, most of my effort was spent in trying to at least keep in touch with the floor.

Lagertha ruined dancing for me. She went on to a brilliant career as a professional wrestler and then was successful with her moving business which she somehow operated during the first year without a van. She probably never realized she’d left behind a culturally deprived twelve-year old.

I began to improvise during my high school dancing years by creating an all-purpose two-step that I applied to everything from waltzes to foxtrots. It worked fairly well during the slower numbers, but I had to become a witty conversationalist to distract my partners from our erratic movements around the floor.

Things came to a head at the senior prom. I two-stepped my way through the slower pieces with Wanda, my date, and suggested punchbowl breaks during the lively numbers. But then I got careless during a medley that began with easy going “Blue Moon”. I managed to keep up with the following lively “Buttons and Bows”, but then, after the slightest of pauses, the band struck up a very energetic rendition of “Music, Music, Music”.

“Let’s jitterbug!” Wanda shouted just as I was about to guide her back to our table. I desperately shifted my two-step into warp speed, but we began to lag and looked like lost tourists wandering through a stampede. I tried switching to my emergency box step, but we began bouncing off other couples.

As Wanda’s smile began to fade, I tried to copy one of the wild gyrations going on around us. I swung her out at arm’s length, intending to snap her back briskly, but I lost my grip on the outswing. With arms flailing, Wanda careened across the floor, heading inexorably for the punch bowl table.

Wanda’s smiling parents were waiting up when I brought her home. Her father had his camera ready, but put it aside when he saw us. Wanda was very unhappy. She was, in fact, quite blue, and so were her prom gown and dancing slippers.

I saw Wanda in the park the other day and waved to her, but, as usual, she turned and crossed the road. I wish she’d forgive and forget so we could be friends again. I’ll have to be patient. It’s only been 65 years. And she still looks great!

WHEN IN NEED, TRY A WEED

(No,not that one.)

Last spring as the surviving blades of the previous year’s skimpy lawn began emerging, I decided on a different approach to lawn maintenance with a new motto: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

The weeds I’ve always sneered at and sweared at are really not all that bad. Like you and me, they’re simply struggling to survive against the elements and the bad reputations created by the lawn care outfits and herbicide sellers.

Clover, for instance, is not our enemy. Unlike some of our persnickety grasses, it’s drought resistant and loved by the endangered honey bees as a great source for pollenization. It’s also a soil conditioner, adding to the lawn’s health rather than requiring expensive fertilization.

Dandelions are highly nutritious, full of vitamins and antioxidants. Tea is made from their roots and wine from their petals. Other misnamed “weeds” at least produce attractive flowers.

I sent a mixed variety order to a specialty seed company. In addition to clover and dandelion seeds I went for color and yellow-flowered purslane. I was tempted to include flowerly oxalis, but some versions grow very tall and might deprive other plants, and even neighborhoods, of sunlight.

Moneywort (AKA Creeping Jenny), a vigorous green ground cover, looked attractive in the catalog pictures. It might have gotten too vigorous and covered the neighborhood’s lawns, sidewalks and driveways and an occasional sleeping cat. So I minimized the order.

Just a few weeks after planting, my lawn was a real attention-grabber and almost trouble-free. Except for an occasional threatening phone call, I was a happy planter with an attractive lawn that was no longer a source of mower and blower ear-splitting noise and pollution.

However, I began to detect trouble in early July. While harvesting dandelion petals for my wine-making project, I discovered an invasive plant had already made serious inroads into my young experimental frontyard garden.

Close inspection confirmed my worst fears. An uninvited Kentucky Bluegrass variety was pushing aside Creeping Jenny and threatening my clover. By mid-August, there were six varieties of bluegrass running rampant in my yard with its unattractive, skinny green blades displacing the graceful bouquets of my weed flowers.

The blue grass had to go, of course, but then what?. I didn’t want to see my beloved wild crops obliterated by an obtrusive plant. Who knew what might have popped up next and tried to take over? Maybe potatoes, marigolds or even palm trees!

I found possible solutions in the back pages of my offbeat seed catalog with last ditch suggestions for embattled weed farmers. Astroweeds, of course, would be a trouble-free “crop” immune to the intrusions of Kentucky blues and other expensive riff-raff. But there’s something revolutionary out there that might capture the adventurous lawnkeeper’s attention.

Holographic projections of objects, places and, who knows, lawns? may soon be available to desperate gardeners. A simple click of the button before your guests arrive will project beautiful lawns, flower gardens and even dramatic fountains in your fifth of an acre estate. Weeds and Kentucky Blue will no longer be your enemy. You will fear only power failures.

LENAPE TITLES

I love living in New Jersey but I wouldn’t want to visit here. It would be quite confusing. In an indirect way, the original inhabitants, the peaceful Lenape Indians, might be getting even for being elbowed out of their ancestral homeland.

There are usually hordes of bewildered out-of-staters wandering aimlessly in New Jersey, often along the Garden State Parkway. Even their GPS guides are sometimes befuddled by our geography and place names.

At a Parkway rest stop a few years back a man leaped out of a Jeep with Ohio plates and ran up to me, shouting incoherently. I turned to run, but he grabbed my jacket. “Please help me,” he pleaded. “I’m supposed to be at my neice’s wedding in a half hour, but I lost the invitation and I don’t know where it’s taking place. I do remember it’s in a town with an Indian name beginning with ‘M’, he cried.

“That may be a problem, sir,” I said. We have Manasquan, Mantaloking, Metuchen, Moonachie…..”

“Oh dear,” he moaned. ” And I have to be giving away the bride in 25 minutes!” I don’t know if the poor soul made it to the nuptials on time. Probably not. I last saw him frantically waving down a State Trooper’s cruiser.

Our early settlers probably should not have tried to match the Lenape’s actual tribal names for their hunting, fishing and camping areas, but instead, used English translations when naming the new towns.

It would certainly add to the confusion to change the system now, but we’re in a period of contrition with our Native Americans whom we’ve treated unjustly. Therefore we could try, with a few significant changes to town and city names in New Jersey and the Metro area, just to show our good intentions. The map makers and GPS techies would have to adapt.

First of all, with the literal translation, the revised name of Hoboken would be “Tobacco Pipe” which most would agree is a more colorful name and easier to remember.

“Manhattan” would change to the Lenape’s title of “Place for wood for bows”. Admittedly, that would cause problems, especially for the song writers. (The Lenapes actually owned Manhattan and sold it to the Dutch for about $25.)

The desperate wedding place seeker would have had no problem if his neice was marrying in Moonachie. It would then have been in the town of “Groundhog”. I’m sure he would have remembered that name on the invitation.

There certainly would be pros and cons for the literal name changes. Absecon residents might not object to living in “Swan Place”, but Secaucus citizens would most likely resent having “Black Snakes, NJ” on their return address labels.

“Metuchen” isn’t a very dramatic town name, but it has more punch than the Lenape designation. “Dry Firewood, NJ 08840” certainly lacks pizzazz. . I would be in the same boat having to live the rest of my life in “River That Creeps, NJ 07054”

CAMPING VACATION-With in tents suffering.

Hi Bill: Just a few email lines re our great family camping adventure. You should try it w/ Helen & lil Billy. Thisll be 1 of those special vacations Mildred, Tommy & I will always remember. Theyre emailing Helen & Billy now, sitting in front of our campfire.

Our new tent made quite an impression. Campers came 2 help me put it up. I love it. Camping brings down the barriers. You can make some BFs. TTYL about the chx in the next site. They need a lot of help & Im happy to oblige.

The 1st night I built a bonfire 2 sit around & swap stories. B4 I knew it other campers came over. An OK evening…..Im the cook. Women cant cope in the wilds. I made 2 great dishes, Chuckwagon chili and Frontier flapjacks. Tommy loves em. Its gratifying…….We took a nature walk 2day & I gave pointers on flora & fauna. Mildred asked about the places we could see from atop the mtn. Ranger Joe just pulled up. Probably wants to swap Rx’s. CU later. Rgds, Herb.

Dear Helen: Greetings from Camp Misery. This has been 1 of the most awful wks in my entire life. I dont hv 1 unbroken nail & my hair is a rats nest. I cant believe todays families will actually pay to stay someplace where the toilets are barely within walking distance.

Its been an endurance contest. Tommy enjoys it but he’s young & doesn’t know better. Herb claims its the best vacation ever for him. He’s either lying or Ive got to kp a closer eye on those 2 pole dancers next door…….I did hv some laughs. Herb putting up the tent e.g. At 1 pt he was lashed to the center pole. Some vet campers got him loose & put the tent up. On todays hike Herb had a garter snake run up his pants leg. I never knew he was a soprano. Then he fell into some poison ivy & I had to wash him down later with bleach. He still smells like a laundromat.

The bonfire disaster wasnt funny. Ill tell you about it later. Herbs meals arent funny either. I just smile & try not to gag on his Upchuck Chili and Faulty flapjacks……Today I asked him to point out Rt 46 when we were up on the mtn. Now that I hv an escape rte Ill try to convince him to take us home or Ill make a break for it with Tommy. 3 cheers for the great indoors! Love, Mildred.

Hi Billy. Camping is neato! I havent had to take a bath for days & my Dad has been real funny trying to put up the tent & bldg a fire so big & smokey that people were choking & getting really mad. But then 2 trees and a trailer caught fire and we had to carry buckets from the bathrooms. What fun!

The 2 ladies next to us are a pain. Every time I want Dad to take me fishing they have a clothesline to put up or wood to chop. I only went on 1 hike & saw just 1 snake & that was for a few seconds. Those ladies shouldnt be camping anyway. They just sit around in little swimsuits getting sunburned.

Dad says we have to help people in need & hes always looking over there to see if they need help. Today he walked into a big tree. Ranger Joe just came. I bet its about the sick racoons. 3 of them were doubled up by the garbage cans & they took em to a vet. I think it mighta been Dad’s chili. Ranger Joe is now telling Dad to bury our leftovers.

Tomorrow me and Mom are going hitchhiking, but we’re not telling Dad. It’s a surprise, she said. Your BF, Tommy.

GRIDIRONY

Coach Blitz paced the locker room in his cleats at halftime. Clickety-clack, Clickety-clack. I noticed the twitch had returned to his left eye.

“Five mistakes!” he kept repeating. “Not that bad, but five touchdowns make a very big deficit especially since we have no offense to speak of and far too many injuries.

We listened quietly. We were quite mature for a high school football team. We recognized our incompetence and learned to live and lose with it. The school had two dozen empty football uniforms, so we volunteered to wear them. We worked hard to get in shape and learn the plays but we never promised a winning season – or even a winning.

I felt no responsibility for the 35-0 halftime score that day, not having been a participant. I had a comfortable bench seat with a good view of the action and within earshot of Coach Blitz’s profane exclamations. That was going to change, I realized when I remembered the coach saying “far too many injuries” and caught a glimpse of Billy McGinty, our waterboy, suiting up. And now the coach was approaching me.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to put you in,” he said. “What’s your name again, kid?”

“I forget, Coach. I’m very nervous. Just call me Kid.”

When the whistle blew for our kickoff to the oversized Jugville Juggernauts, nervous energy sent me racing down the field where I quickly toppled two men, the head linesman and the referee. “Son,” the ref said as he rose, “Your facemask goes in front.”

Anyway, I was defensively effective on the Juggernauts’ first running play. I stopped two of their blocking backs in their tracks. I really scared them. They were afraid they had killed me.

As a defensive linebacker with ten teammates between me and our burly opponents I felt reasonably safe, but right after the ball was snapped the entire team stampeeded over me.

I decided a better strategy would be to float with the play and not be one of the collaterally damaged. This worked well until the coach sent McGinty in with a message. “Coach Blitz said to stop running in among the cheerleaders. You might knock one of them down.”

As a blocking back I was supposed to give our battered quarterback an added half second after our line collapsed. Just throwing my body at the charging linemen proved ineffective and painful. Psychology worked a little better against well-disciplined high School boys. As the howling juggernauts crashed through, I shouted, “Juniors to the left, seniors to the right. Now keep in line and no talking!” I managed to sound like an angry high school principal.

Our offense began to gain some yardage toward the end of the fourth quarter. By then we were playing against the Juggernauts’ fifth-stringers. I was quite sure their left tackle was a large girl.

Finally, the gun went off to end the debacle and we survivors watched as the jubilant Juggernauts fans carried their victorious coach off the field. There was also an attempt to carry Coach Blitz off the field, but effective police action prevented that.

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