Thursday, August 30, 2012

Static by BJ Neblett


Static
by BJ Neblett

            Static… nothing but static…
            Not that it mattered.
            Even if the reception was better what was being broadcast certainly wasn’t. Elton John, Barry Manilow and the Eagles were poor replacements for Little Richard, Sam Cooke and the Drifters. Yeah… the Drifters, the Five Satins, the Penguins, the Del Vikings, the Skyliners…all the great groups… And nobody had recorded a decent ballad since Otis Redding died.
            Life… that’s what he had read somewhere. It was something about art and music imitating life. But that was of little consolation. What the hell had happened to life? No one cared anymore; it wasn’t like in the old days.
            A steady light rain peppered the windshield causing the wipers to squeak with a metronome monotony, broken only occasionally by the gentle swaying of the plush set of dice hanging from the rear view mirror. No, it wasn’t at all like the old days. Hanging out in front of the bowling alley or at Tony’s Pizza shop used to mean something. Being there was being someone. And there was always the circuit to cruise, the Friday night drive-in, or the local hop to check out. Hell, you might even get lucky.
            Did 1975 even have such things as hops?
            “Screw it,” Johnny said to no one. Today was his birthday and he slipped one of his presents, a Buddy Holly tape, into the waiting mouth of the Lear Jet eight track player. In an hour or so he’d be out of these hills and be able to pick up some of the stronger Philly stations. This was Sunday night. Maybe he could even catch the tail end of Harvey Holiday’s oldies program on WDAS-FM. Then he’d switch to WEEZ and the Hall Of Fame show. After that his records, his tapes and his memories would have to see him through the week, as always.
            Oh Boy blasted from the rear deck speakers as Johnny settled back into the deep pleated black leather upholstery. He unrolled a pack of Marlboros from his T shirt sleeve, pulled one between his lips, flipped the pack onto the dash and reached for the Zippo in his jeans. “Now that’s rock n roll,” he said with a grin. Lighting the cigarette, he took a deep drag. He was right… At 50 miles per hour you could keep perfect time to the music with the flashing white lines in the road. The Cadillac engine’s three carburetors sang sweetly under the shaved hood of the ’49 Merc coupe. His smile grew. At least some things don’t change.
            The eerie white mist which hugged the road along old route 30 thickened, causing Johnny to cut his speed. He’d driven this lonely stretch between Philadelphia and Lancaster often, forsaking the turnpike in favor of the less traveled but warmly familiar two-lane blacktop. Johnny had been raised in the area on a small farm by foster parents who looked upon him as more a hired hand than a son. He hated the work and isolation. On his fifteenth birthday, Johnny packed his few belongings into the old beat up Mercury left him by his mother and headed east for Philadelphia. He regretted having to leave Janie, his young foster sister. Over the long hard years the two had grown close, comforting and depending on one another. But Janie understood his feelings and they promised to stay in touch. After two months in the city, when no one came looking for the runaway teen, Johnny knew he had made the right decision. This evening he was headed home after a weekend visit with Janie and her husband and kids. With the fog getting worse, Johnny set himself in the seat, puffed on the cigarette and strained to see the road.
            “Damn!” Johnny jammed on the brake pedal. The car swerved left and then right, skidding sideways to a stop in the middle of the rain slicked pavement. He peered back down the road at the figure he’d almost run over. It was a young woman standing alone on the shoulder. Johnny could see she must have been out in the rain for some time. Before he could turn the coupe around, she hurried towards the car, holding a beige sweater over her head from the rain. The passenger door opened, and a beautiful woman in her early twenties climbed inside.
            “I’m sorry… I… I didn’t see you… the fog…”
            “It’s ok… I’m just glad you stopped,” she replied, smoothing the white chiffon party dress and pulling the door closed. “Any longer and I think I might have drowned.” Her voice was soft, her manner easy and friendly. “I was at a dance and the guy I was with turned out to be a real jerk. Guess it was stupid of me to walk home, but I had to get away from there.” She opened the glove box of the vintage hot rod and pushed a button. A small concealed makeup mirror flipped up before her, and she removed a pale blue scarf from her hair. “Anyway, I really do love the rain, especially when it’s over and the clouds begin to open and there’s a beautiful moon, and everything smells so fresh…”
            “How… how did you know about that?”
            Ignoring his question, she began to brush back her long blonde hair. “But then again, I did get rescued by a handsome knight in a shiny black chariot. I live just a little way down the road. I hope you don’t mind.”
            Johnny turned the ignition key and the powerful Cadillac motor jumped to life. “No… no problem… just show me where.” The Mercury slipped easily into gear and rumbled down the road as Johnny slipped in a new tape.
            “That’s a beautiful locket.” The mysterious stranger leaned over to admire the delicate gold heart shaped locked dangling at the end of Johnny’s key chain. It popped open, revealing a single fuzzy picture of a young boy and girl.
            “That’s my dad, and my mom,” Johnny said. “He was thirteen there, and she was about ten or eleven I think.”
            She turned in her seat, sizing Johnny up. “You look like him. You’re every bit as handsome.” The radio was switched off, but as she spoke she reached over and pulled on one of the buttons, resetting a station. “Oh, I love this song!” In The Still Of The Night filtered softly from the rear speakers as she adjusted the eight track’s volume.
            They rode in relaxed silence, enjoying the old doo wop tune. “Tell me about them… your parents…” she asked, as the music faded and the player switched tracks.
            Johnny eased back, lighting another cigarette. As he drove, he studied his passenger out of the corner of his eye. She had brushed her hair into a cute pony tail and repaired the light makeup she wore. He like the way she looked. This was the seventies, but Johnny hated the painted makeup and miniskirts many women wore and men seemed to enjoy. He found her to be warm and easy to talk with, but her eyes, soft and deep blue, glinted sad and distant.
            “Mom and dad were childhood sweethearts,” Johnny began, the memories returning in a rush. “My dad joined the army right after graduation. While on leave they ran off to Maryland and were married. This old Mercury was the only thing they owned. It was his pride and joy. Three days later he was sent overseas. He was killed in Korea.”
            “That was terrible,” she replied softly. She stared straight ahead, but not at the road. Her eyes were fixed on the images in her mind. Johnny thought he noticed a tear in the corner of her eye.
            “Yeah… Mom was barely sixteen when I was born. I barely remember her. She died of pneumonia in ’58. That’s the only picture I have of either of them.”
            “It must have been very hard for you.”
            Johnny sighed and snuffed out the cigarette in the ashtray. “I guess. It’s funny, my only clear memories of her is how she would sing me to sleep every night… some old favorite rock or blues song. She loved music; always had the radio playing. Guess that’s why I like old rock n roll and rhythm and blues so much. Most people say I’m stuck in the fifties.”
            It was true. After coming to Philadelphia, Johnny found work training as a mechanic. In his spare time he fixed up the Mercury, dropping in the new motor and customizing it in fifties low ride style. Johnny loved the music and life style of the fifties, constantly dressing in jeans, T shirt and leather jacket. He’d become pretty much a loner, finding it difficult to talk to the few girls he met. His life revolved around his car, his music and his memories.
            “I know what you mean. Things sure aren’t like they were back then. Oh… turn right here… my house is just up this drive.”
            Johnny wheeled the car into a long dirt and gravel drive almost hidden by trees. He knew this section of route 30 well and was sure he had never seen any turn offs anywhere this far out. “But…”
            “This is fine.” She touched Johnny’s arm, cutting him off. “With all this rain the road will be muddy. You might get stuck. I can walk from here.”
            The coupe came to a stop. Johnny looked at his beautiful, baffling passenger. He wanted to say something, anything. He didn’t want her to leave. He wanted to know her, who she was; where she came from; why she intrigued him so. Most of all Johnny wanted to know why he felt so comfortable with her.
            He found himself silently staring into her distant eyes.
            Turning in her seat, she returned Johnny’s gaze. She seemed to be studying him, memorizing his face; his features. Finally she spoke. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with having memories. I love this music myself; I always have. The fifties were good times. But there are a lot of good things out there today, too. All you have to do is take time to notice. Remembering the past is one thing; living in it is another. If you don’t enjoy today, you won’t have any memories of it tomorrow.” She leaned across the seat and kissed Johnny’s cheek. Tying her scarf around the rear view mirror, smiled and opened the car door. “Take care of yourself, Johnny, and happy birthday.”
            In an instant she had disappeared into the fog. Johnny was lost for words. Before realizing, he had backed out onto the road and driven a few miles. The old coupe skidded to a halt. “This is crazy,” he said to the night, spinning the car around. “Who is she? How did she know my name?”
            Gravel shot from the rear tires as Johnny pulled the car onto the shoulder. He jumped out, searching, looking up and down the dark highway. Cursing, he ran another quarter mile down the road. He was sure this was where he had turned off. There was nothing but trees, thick brush and the night. Desperately, Johnny looked up and down the road again.
            Nothing…
            He considered driving back another mile or two but there was no point. Reluctantly, Johnny started the car and pulled out onto the deserted road. He drove the next forty five minutes in silence, lost in his thoughts. Finally, with the distant lights of Paoli and the Main Line in view, Johnny relaxed, switching on the radio.
            Static… nothing but static…
            But he was close enough in now. He should be able to pick up most all of the Philly stations. Johnny pushed one button after another. Finally he hit the last one. The speakers crackled and the final chorus of the Drifter’s Some Kind Of Wonderful faded. The DJ announced the station’s call letters. It was WEEZ and Billy James’ late night Sunday Hall Of Fame show. Johnny listened to the oldies program faithfully each week but never set one of the car’s radio buttons to the predominately rock station. As the announcer gave the time, Johnny realized the station was set to the button the girl had programmed.
            “And I have a very special request and dedication for a guy out there on his birthday, this Sunday evening.” The DJ’s words caught Johnny’s attention. “The lady sends her love and says, ‘Thanks for the ride.’ Johnny, this one’s for you.”
            Johnny pulled to the curb, raising the radio’s volume. BJ Thomas’ Rock n Roll Lullaby filled the car. He listened to the words, recalling the evening. What was it she had said? There are a lot of good things out there today… all you have to do is take time to notice.
            The light rain finally stopped as the touching ballad ended. The fog began to lift, and the parting clouds revealed a big bright full moon directly overhead. It shone on the blue scarf hanging from the car’s rear view mirror. Johnny reached for the ignition key, flipping open the gold locket. Next to the worn photograph of his parents was a photo of the mysterious passenger. She wore the same white chiffon party dress and stood next to the old Mercury.
            Johnny smiled.
            “Got your message…” he said aloud, “thanks, mom.”




                                                                                                            Seattle, WA
                                                                                                            January, 1993

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ice Cream Camelot Off To Publisher!

Taking time off from posting stories to do a bit of bragging. My second book, Ice Cream Camelot is finished and off to my publisher Brighton Publishing. We are hoping for an early spring 2013 release. There is a short synopsis below. Your feedback and comments are always welcome. I'd like to thank Ballard artist Emily Gussin for all of her hard work on the book's cover. The layout and artwork is worth the price of admission by itself. Also, I'd like to again thank everyone for their continued support, both of my first novel Elysian Dreams, which continues to sell well, and here with my blog site. You keep reading and commenting and I'll keep posting. And for those who asked: Yes, The Most Dangerous Pitch, last week's post, is a true story, and aside from occasional sparks and flashes, my eye is doing fine, thanks. We won last week's softball game 34 to 5!

Ice Cream Camelot by BJ Neblett

            Ice Cream Camelot presents the history of the Kennedy administration within the funny and touching memoir of a young boy coming of age during those significant years. But this isn’t the Wonder Years revisited, and Billy Neblett isn’t your typical eleven year old. His family has recently moved from his beloved South Philly, and shy young Billy is repeating the fifth grade while struggling to stay out of trouble, make new friends and deal with a growing dependency on alcohol.  All the while, Billy is attempting to find his own identity in an increasingly confusing and frightening world. Amid school bullies, killer nuns, the race for space, peaceful sit-ins, violent race riots and the growing threat of nuclear war, Billy finds his heroes in the most unusual places. Legendary rock n roll DJs Hy Lit and Joe Niagara take Billy under their wing, mentoring him and fostering a love of radio. But it is or 35th president, John F Kennedy from whom Billy finds hope and inspiration. Painfully aware of the irony in his life – there are no blacks in lily white suburban Lawrence Park, and girls are treated as second class citizens at St Pius X Catholic Grade School – Billy looks to the charismatic JFK as the savior of Camelot for himself and his first love Amy. Ice Cream Camelot is a unique, engaging and entertaining look at one of the most important eras in American history.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Most Dangerous Pitch by BJ Neblett


The Most Dangerous Pitch
by BJ Neblett
© 2007

            Blood dripped onto the hard, cracked, sun dried earth, creating puddles of crimson mud. This was the first time I’d been hit and unable to complete a play. That’s what made me the maddest; that and the fact that we were ahead, winning. I was pitching a shutout into the fourth inning: no walks; a couple of strike outs. The nine guys behind me were doing a great job of handling the ball. And our opponents, a team made up of tough, young Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, were no slouches in the field.
            I was still standing when the first player reached me. I think it was Jose from the other team. He’d been on second base. Bent over, my blood pooling at my feet, I felt the comforting touch of his strong hand on my back.
            “Easy, take it easy.”
            My hand cradled my swollen right eye. It felt as if it would pop from its socket. Adrenalin still surged in my body as my good left eye desperately searched the infield around me. “Where’s the ball… where’s the damn ball?”
            Someone hollered to stop the play. “He’s hurt,” they shouted, “It’s a ground rule double.”
            A double, which would mean Jose would score. I cursed silently and then caught myself, asking for God’s forgiveness; and to save my sight. By now my eye throbbed, swollen shut, swelling to nearly the size of the softball that struck it.
            “Damn,” I repeated out loud as my team mates began to crowd around. Shock and concern showed through their troubled cries of, “Oh, God,” and “Wow!” Then again, head and face wounds do tend to bleed a lot. You’d have thought someone spilt a quart of red ink into the parched dirt just behind the pitcher’s mound.

            As a pitcher, you have an invisible target painted on your chest. You are fair game for every line shot, bouncing drive, and screaming grounder that burns its way up the middle. On the mound you have two responsibilities: pitch the ball, and get set. Or, better put, catch the ball without getting killed in the process. In baseball, you are sixty feet, six inches away from the batter, and raised ten inches. Softball plants you on the same plain as the hitter, some forty seven to fifty feet from home plate. And the extra feet can make all the difference, the difference between a hit and an out; between a bad bruise and a career ending injury.

            Baseball rookie for the Cleveland Indians, Herb Score led the American League in strike outs each of his first two seasons. In 1957, during a game against arch rival New York, Score was struck in the eye by a line drive off the bat of Yankee Gil McDouglas. His comeback lasted five frustrating seasons. But the one time overpowering pitcher never again posted a winning record.1
            While waving to a relative during warm ups at Washington’s Griffith Stadium, Julius ‘Moose’ Solters was struck in the face by a thrown ball. The veteran American League outfielder fought back from the injury, but it eventually caused him to go blind.2
            Being known as possibly the first and only person ever blinded during a softball game was not a distinction I was interested in carrying.

            No one intentionally tries to hit the pitcher. That would be stupid. Chances are you’d be thrown out at first; maybe out of the game if your intentions are known. It just happens, more often than many people realize. Hairline shin fractures, battered knee caps and dislocated fingers are a part of a pitcher’s life. I should have known better. I have the experience, and the scars, to prove my point.
            In slow pitch softball, after release, there is an easy two and a half to three seconds before the ball reaches the plate. There’s plenty of time for a hitter to adjust himself in the batter’s box, and more than enough time for the pitcher to get set. Freak accidents do happen. But there is no excuse for any player not to be ready.
            Getting sloppy on the mound can shorten your career considerably. A combination of recent victories, plus having avoided being seriously hit for some time, conspired to make me careless. Instead of watching the travel of the ball, estimating where the hit ball would travel, and getting set, I found myself remaining planted on the rubber, no better than a spectator, after the pitch.
            To compound matters, I’d been working on a new pitch. The past couple of weeks, while honing my curve ball, I discovered a sharp downward breaking ball. During batting practice, the new pitch proved devastating to right handed hitters, and frustrating for lefties. Cutting sharply inside and dropping with a wild spin, no one seemed to be able to strike the ball squarely. The best efforts of some of the most skillful hitters resulted in a bouncing hard grounder or a low line drive. A few were able to get the ball in the air. When they did, it usually went straight up for a short pop fly.
            Because of the propensity of even pull hitters to send the pitch back up the middle of the infield, I jokingly dubbed my new weapon my ‘come back pitch.’ During practice I threw out several surprised opponents at first base. My come back, often as not, came back right into my waiting glove.
            I worked on perfecting my new pitch. Slow pitch softball is far from an exact science. Tossing the oversized sphere at the proper height and arc, the ball falls victim to the slightest breeze. Sometimes you can make the wind work for you, bending an outside lob right into the face of an unsuspecting hitter, or cutting the edge of the plate. That is, if you are lucky. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is a corner plate strike. Knuckle balls, spinners and curve balls can also be used to thwart hitters, but are difficult to master. My ‘come back’ pitch had the added advantage of a fast, tight spin, making it extra difficult to place squarely on the bat.

            One of my heroes of the old time players is a pitcher for the hapless Washington Senators, nicked named ‘the Big Train.’ From around 1900 through the ‘20’s, Walter Johnson terrorized hitters with what most consider to be the fastest fast ball in the major leagues, then and since.
            How fast was Johnson’s fast ball?
            Consider Ray Chapman.
            Chapman once took first one, then a second blazing fast ball from the Big Train, Johnson. Stepping out of the batter’s box, the stunned hitter headed towards the dugout only to be reminded by the umpire he had another strike coming. Chapman continued on his way, calmly calling back over his shoulder, “Keep it. I don’t want it.”
            Perhaps the ill-fated Chapman should have taken the event as an omen. On October 10, 1920, while up at bat, Ray Chapman was struck and killed by a fast ball from pitcher Carl Mays.3

            We jumped out to a quick two run lead our first at bat. I managed to set down three of the four batters I faced in the bottom of the first, including a strike out. Our team went three up, three down, as did the opposition, in an uneventful second inning. We went up four to nothing with two more runs scored in the third off of left fielder Ron’s triple. The last of the third started off innocently enough with a routine pop fly. Then the bottom fell out. A single up the middle, a misplayed grounder followed by a line shot, and the bases were loaded. And the top of their lineup was coming to bat.
            It was time for some fancy arm work.
            It was time to try out the ‘come back.’
            The first pitch caught Alfredo, a good hitter, by surprise. Looking at first like it would fall short and outside, the ball veered sharply inside, slicing the edge of the plate. The look on his face was priceless.
            Ok… strike one…
            So far, so good...
            I gave him two junk pitches to think about, then another come back. It tipped off the edge of his bat and rolled harmlessly towards the mound, right to me. A quick throw home for the force and there were two outs.
            Franco wouldn’t be so easy. After a couple of called balls and a come back called strike, I gave him a sharply curving breaking pitch, thanks to a friendly cross breeze. He swung hard. But the backspin sent the ball straight up. It was caught by the catcher. Out number three and we were out of the inning. The come back had done its job.
            Our fourth inning produced a couple of hits but no runs. Then it was their turn again. And their three best sluggers were coming to bat.
            Jimmy is a strong pull hitter. He had managed a double and a triple off of me in other games. He wouldn’t bite on a short lob which fell ineffectually in front of the plate. My second pitch, a come back, he sent past me to my right. Our short stop bobbled the hard hit bouncing grounder, but managed to throw Jimmy out at first.
            Next was Jose, the team’s cleanup hitter and a threat to send one out anytime at bat. He’d gotten a deep dangerous fly off of me in the first inning which thankfully turned into a long out. I toyed with him best I could, giving him nothing to swing at until the count was three and two. Then he saw my come back. He not only saw it, but lined it like a rocket past me, the short stop and the infield for a double. My come back was earning its name. Those two shots should have told me something. They didn’t. I was still standing flat foot on the rubber.
            Bugara hits the ball probably as hard as humanly possible. His drives jump to the outfield before anyone has a chance to react. He once hit three tape measure homers over center field in three consecutive at bats in one game. I didn’t have the time or the inclination to foll around with him. Not with Jose at second and only one out. Even a sacrifice fly to the outfield would result in a run scoring. I took a deep breath, let it out, and tossed a come back.
            And it did…
            As best I can figure, the ball came off his bat and tipped off my glove in about half a second. That works out to something like 75 or 80 miles per hour.
            And there I stood.
            I raised my glove, but not quickly enough, not far enough.
            Victims of automobile accidents often report that at the moment of impact time seems to move in slow motion. I now understand what they experience. For one protracted fraction of a second time stood still. The din of the spectators faded to a distant thunder in my ears. My gloved hand crept skywards. It paused motionless in front of me about nose level. The dull white leather clad ball balanced precariously on the edge of the mitt’s webbing, frozen in space. One thought replayed in my mind over and over, like a stuck 45 RPM record: I’m not going to catch this.
            And then someone hit fast forward.
            The speeding projectile tipped off my glove, mercifully slowed slightly. It slammed into my face, catching the cheek bone and upper eye socket squarely with a brain jarring, sickening thud.

            I was helped off the field, still holding the bloody wad of tissue someone provided, against my eye brow. It is interesting and strange to note that I never experienced any major pain, especially considering the seriousness of the injury. At the time of the impact, I felt as if punched by a gloved boxer, more surprising than painful. After, a dull, achy throb and a feeling of pressure against the eye ball were the main discomforts. By morning, and for several weeks, the entire orbit around my right eye remained extremely tender, swollen and sore.
            It’s never a good sign when your attending physician grimaces at your injury. The swelling and discoloration were severe. For others it made looking at the damages more painful than the actual experience. After tolerating an hour of ice, the gash just below my eye brow was cleaned and stitched. A comprehensive exam commenced including x-rays and a lot of discomforting prodding and poking. The doc said keeping the badly swollen and bruised eye socket well iced may have helped saved my sight. I was released with anti-biotic and strict orders to keep my eye iced constantly for the next twenty four hours. Two days later an optimistic optometrist said he could find no permanent damage, thank God. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. He told me it would be weeks, maybe more, before the long term affects of such an injury could be determined.

            In the ‘60’s, Tony Conigliaro was well on his way to a hall of fame career. Joining the Boston Red Sox in 1964, in just a few seasons, the twenty two year old right fielder hit an amazing 104 home runs, running up 294 RBIs, with a .276 average.
            On August 18, 1967, Tony C came to bat in the fifth inning against California Angel’s pitcher Jack Hamilton. A fast ball, estimated near 100 MPH, struck Conigliaro in the left cheek bone. The impact shattered his eye socket and permanently damaged his left eye.
            Conigliaro was carried off the field on a stretcher. It wasn’t immediately known if he would survive the injury. Tony survived and returned to the Red Sox in 1969, moving to the Angel’s in 1971. After three disappointing seasons, it was evident the damage done on that August night on 1967 was too great, and he retired.
            Tony C suffered a massive heart attack and stroke in 1982 which left him in a vegetative state. The one time Cooperstown bound slugger passed away shortly after his 45th birthday in 1990.4

            Sunday, October 14th. It was too soon. I knew it was too soon. The days were growing short, the air chilly. Softball would be ending. I wasn’t about to spend the winter wondering how it would feel; wondering if I would pitch again; if I could pitch again.
            Outwardly, my eye was healing quickly. All that remained was some discoloration and a forming scar where the stitching of the ball cut me.
            But that was on the outside.
            The pressure on my eyeball subsided, returning from time to time. And my depth perception was nearly normal. At least that’s what I told myself. But I was starting to be bothered by sparks of light, flashes they are called, and they can be harbingers of more serious problems to come.
            Still, I was determined; stubborn.
            For the first time in my life, nervousness and doubt accompanied me to the mound. Doing my best to shake the feeling, I steeled up some counterfeit courage and took my warm up pitches.
            Not bad…
            Not good either…
            Then again, a four week layoff will rust up anybody’s arm. Even without a batter to face, I found myself purposely avoiding the pitch that had nearly blinded me. It’s too soon I rationalized. Just stick with the basics.
            It did little to easy my churning stomach.
            The first hitter of the game dug into the batter’s box. A familiar, reassuring voice reached me from left field. It was my friend Ron. “Give ‘em the old ‘come back,’ Billy!”
            And so I did.
                                                                                                            Elkton, Ohio
                                                                                                            October, 2007


1. Cahan, Richard and Jacob, Mark, The Game That Was, p. 230
2. Cahan, Richard and Jacob, Mark, The Game That Was, p. 231
3. Cahan, Richard and Jacob, Mark, The Game That Was, pp. 24, 138
4. David Eisenthal, davideinsenthal.typepad.com


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Let It Bleed by BJ Neblett

First let me thank everyone who has been following my blog. I hope you have enjoyed the short stories and rants and ramblings. I'll continue to post my stories here, you continue to comment and sent you feedback. In case you didn't know (why would you) almost all of my short stories and my first novel Elysian Dreams were written the old fashioned way...by hand on legal pad. As you can imagine, it takes some time to transcribe them on to the computer. Next week I hope to have a short story/essay up about the day I took a hard line drive to my right eye. (Aside from writing, baseball/softball is my other passion/vice.)
This week's exciting news is that I just finished my second book. Ice Cream Camelot is a memoir about my growing up during the Kennedy era. It's a look into my early life as well as a brief history lesson on the crazy early '60's. With the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy's assassination coming up next year, we are shooting for a late winter/early spring release. I'm sure there will be thousands of stories, articles, books, TV specials and such during 2013 about that portentous day. Ice Cream Camelot attempts to show the every day life of a young boy coming of age and greatly influenced by our youngest president. as we get closer to publication I'll probably post some excerpts here.
I've been asked several times how it feels to write such a personal and telling memoir. Ice Cream Camelot pulls no punches. It's not the Wonder Years revisited. I was no saint growing up. Writing it wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, that's for sure. The best way I can describe writing Ice Cream Camelot is this: It was like finding my deepest artery, cutting it open, and just letting it bleed. And it all did come out as you'll read. I am extremely pleased with the way the book turned out and am anxious to get your feedback.
Till next time, as i used to close my radio shows... The message is in the music!
Peace,
BJ

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ripples by BJ Neblett (Part 4)


Ripples (Part 4)
by BJ Neblett
© Copyright 2010

August 30, 9:27 AM
London, England
            Todd Worth settled into the thick winged back leather desk chair of his plush twelfth floor office overlooking the Thames. Outside, a cheery yellow sun cast it contented smile on the smoke tinted windows, reflecting Worth’s mood. On the expensive mahogany desk waited an iced can of Pepsi, while a single yellow light on the multiline telephone blinked impatiently. Worth ignored it, staring blankly at the framed photo of his new sports car.
            The intercom pulled Todd Worth from his thoughts. “Excuse me, sir, Doctor Hawthorn is here.”
            Worth mumbled to himself, a strand of sandy blonde hair falling across his smooth, tanned brow as he reached for the speaker box. “Thank you, Ms. Schafer. I’ll see him in a minute.”
            Pressing the flashing yellow button, he lifted the receiver to his ear. “Hello… Todd Worth here… what’s that? No, no… I’m afraid Nigel Bannister is no longer with the company… yes, that’s right… took an early retirement, I’m in charge now… yes, quite… very good.”
            He hung up the phone, his last words echoing sweetly in his mind: I’m in charge now…
            Todd Worth was a good, albeit casual man; a company man. He learned the coffee business from his father. From plantation to export to refining to packaging to shipping to merchandising, Todd Worth knew his beans. He spent twelve long, sweltering years in South America as a company representative, dealing with plantation owners, cartels, drug lords, dictators and revolutions.
            The next decade Worth spent dealing with hurricanes and sea sickness, riding the endless blue green waves of the Atlantic. He’d graduated to the position of senior supervisor of shipping. The fancy title translated into interminable hours at sea babysitting the company’s cargo of coffee beans.
            Then for six years Todd Worth rode a desk. He was finally back in England, this time checking and rechecking the status of shipments to the company’s numerous distributors. The work was boring and repetitive. And, it seemed for a time he would ride this desk to retirement.
            But Todd Worth always considered himself a lucky man.
            The unexpected and troublesome work stoppage had mushroomed into an international incident. Coffee growers all over the world refused to pick or ship the valuable commodity. Chain stores and independents across the US and Canada canceled major orders, removing from their shelves all products produced by the coffee conglomerate. Consumers around the globe stood in support of the boycott for better conditions for the people of the tiny village of San Rosario. Common stock of the London based company plummeted, with no bottom in sight.
            But Todd Worth’s luck held true.
            Forty eight hours earlier Worth was in the right place at the right time when aging CEO Smyth pointed his finger and made his decision. Now Todd Worth was enjoying his first full day as vice president of export and international relations.
            Worth rose, confidently fiddling with the Windsor knot of his hand painted silk tie from Soho. The door to his office opened and a man with graying temples, round spectacles and a limp entered. “How are you, Todd? My, it’s been a time hasn’t it?” The two men shook hands, sizing up one another like a pair of British bulldogs.
            “Yes, quite, Quincy, quite some time. How are things at the hospital?”
            They took up positions in matching arm chairs near the oversized window. “Oh, well, running along smoothly as ever, you know.” Dr. Quincy Hawthorn considered the opulent office. “I must say, you’ve done well by yourself, old chap.”
            “Yes, yes, we’ve come a long way since Eaton, haven’t we?” Worth turned in his seat, his brown eyes narrowing. “I need your help Quincy old man, I’m up against it. Surely you’ve heard about this mess in South America. I can’t see how anyone could avoid it. That school of yours has recently graduated a fresh batch of interns. Perhaps you could fine me one willing to pull a year or two of service in Colombia. The company’s setting up a wonderful little clinic in a place called San Rosario. It will be well equipped and maintained; there’s a fine hospital nearby and the pay is decent. It should be a great experience as well as quite the adventure for the right chap.”
            The doctor studied his flaccid faced friend carefully. He knew what medical facilities in remote places could be like. He knew that the nearby hospital was in VĂ©lez, a grueling full day’s journey. And he was aware that this was as much a publicity ploy as a humanitarian effort. Still, Worth was right. The medical experience gleaned would be invaluable to a young doctor just starting his practice. He thought of his own years with the home service as a young doctor in India.
            Dr. Hawthorn smiled, nodded and made his decision. “Ok, Todd, I’ll find you a doctor. I’ll start the process immediately. In fact, I think I just might have the perfect candidate.”
            Rising, they strode to the door. “Thanks, Quincy. I knew you’d come through for me. Ring me up as soon as you have somebody.”
            As the office door closed, Worth’s own words returned, playing over like a stuck record: I’m in charge now…
            He grinned slyly. “I’m in charge now,” he said to no one, straightening his tie. “And I make the decisions. You got your health clinic thanks to a lot of bleeding heart liberals and that senile old duck running this company. But just step out of line again and you’ll have to deal with Todd Worth!”

September 6, 6:39 PM
Flagstaff, Arizona
            “So, you’ve made up your mind?”
            “Yes.”
            “And that’s it? You’re back home less than a month and you are leaving again?”
            “Dad, I…” Paul Chandler slid the half eaten meal from in front of him. Across the elegant dining room table his father eyed him curiously. “Dad, I know it hasn’t been easy for you since mom passed away.”
            Dr. Thomas Chandler balled his linen napkin, tossing it onto the table. “I told you, Paul, your mother has nothing to do with it,” he replied, closing his eyes and his mind to the bitter memory. “Lord knows I’ve missed her these last two years. But I’m fine, son, just fine.”
            Paul smiled across the room. He loved his father and would do anything for him. He understood his father’s pain. There wasn’t a day that went by he didn’t miss his mother. He remembered how proud she was the day he started college, following in his father’s footsteps. His mother had been his biggest fan and strongest supporter during the difficult first years of pre-med. It wasn’t fair. She never got to see her son graduate from medical school.
            “Why do you think we sent you off to that school in England?” his father asked for about the tenth time since Paul broke the news. “We wanted the best for you; you are a part of this family, and a part of the family business, Paul. You and I are a team. Your Uncle Jack and cousin Jess are looking forward to you joining us at the clinic.”
            “That’s your dream, dad,” Paul said patiently, “not mine. At least it isn’t right now. Perhaps in a couple of years, after…”
            “After what?” his father interrupted. He caught himself. He didn’t mean to raise his voice. But this wasn’t the way it was suppose to be.
            “Dad, those people in San Rosario need me.”
            “Those people don’t even have any kind of a facility for you yet. If you are determined to go, what’s your hurry?” Chandler faltered, the words welling up in his chest. “I need you, son, here at the clinic, the way your mother and I always planned.” Rising from the table he began to pace. “I’m sorry, Paul, it’s just so hard to understand.”
            Paul’s quiet blue eyes turned inward. “The Grand Canyon…”
            “How’s that…?”
            “The Grand Canyon,” Paul repeated softly. “Do you remember that trip we took to the Grand Canyon?”
            The question caused the senior Chandler to stop and turn. “Why, you couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old.”
            “I was six. And we never made it to the Canyon. Remember, dad?”
            Dr. Chandler’s stern face softened. “Yes…”
            “Traveling up route sixty four,” Paul continued, “we were flagged down by that Hopi Indian family. The woman was in heavy labor, a breach birth. You saved her life… and the baby. But not just that, you made the decision to go with them all the way to the hospital, over seventy miles away. You wouldn’t leave her until she was out of danger. For two days mom and I waited in that old motel room while you remained with your patient. By then our vacation was over and we had to return home. Later you took me aside and explained. You told me no one, regardless of who they may be, should have to suffer for lack of medical attention. I was never so proud of you. It was then and there I knew I wanted to be a doctor… just like my father.” He rose, moving to his father’s side. “Now I am a doctor, dad, just like you. And I’ve made my decision.”
            Dr. Thomas Chandler smiled and nodded at his son but said nothing as he walked out of the room.

            Young Paul Chandler looked up as his father entered the kitchen. “Good morning, dad. How are you? I haven’t seen much of you these last two days. Is everything ok?”
            Dr. Chandler poured himself a glass of juice. “I’ve been very busy; had plenty to occupy my time… and my mind. Son, I…”
            “Dad, don’t… please. Everything is set. I’m leaving in an hour.”
            Setting his glass aside, Chandler grinned broadly at his son. “Yes, I know: US Air flight 90 to LA; American Airlines from LAX to Panama City; then Aeromexico to Bogata. The train and Jeep trip into the hills promises to be interesting. It should be quite an adventure. Hopefully, the medical supplies I’ve arranged for won’t be far behind us. We should arrive in San Rosario sometime Thursday.”
            “We…?”
            Chandler placed a loving hand to his son’s arm. “You are right, Paul. I’ve lost sight of why I became a doctor. Thanks for the kick in the pants.”
            “But, what about the clinic here in Flagstaff?”
            “Uncle Jack can handle it while we’re gone. He’s got Jessica and a great staff. Hell, the place practically runs itself. I doubt if I’ll even be missed. I’m sure your mother would approve. Besides, I told you, we’re a team.”
            Father and son embraced warmly. “I love you, dad.”
            “I love you, too, son.” Wiping a stray tear, Dr. Thomas Chandler ran his arm around his son’s shoulder. “C’mon, we’ve got patients waiting for us in San Rosario.”

September 15, 7:45 AM
Seattle, Washington
            Rick McConnell was running late. Not having his morning coffee didn’t help his disposition. “What do you mean?”
            “I’m sorry; I just didn’t have time yesterday. I’ll stop by Tully’s this afternoon.”
            McConnell swallowed hard, struggling to contain his anger. “Damn it, Laura, I ask you to do just one thing, just one! You know how important this meeting is to me. If I can get on old man Baxter’s good side I’m a shoe in for a promotion.”
            “And the best way to get on his good side is with that special coffee,” McConnell’s wife replied patiently. “I know, you’ve told me.”
            Reaching for his briefcase, McConnell started across the kitchen. “Then you know how much he loves his coffee. Because of that nonsense with the growers, it’s been months since he’s been able to get any. That specialty coffee shop promised the first shipment would be on their shelves yesterday!” He nervously checked his wrist watch. “Let’s see, they should be open now…”
            “No, Rick, surely you’re not thinking… that’s all the way up in Ballard, the only store that carries that blend. Your meeting is in forty five minutes. You’ll never make it in time.”
            Rick McConnell’s kiss barely grazed his wife’s cheek as he barreled out the door. “I’ll make it…”

            Thirty minutes later, McConnell’s Ford raced down 15th avenue. On the passenger seat rested a package of rare, expensive coffee beans: San Rosario Select Blend. Up ahead the Ballard Bridge began to lazily creek open, allowing a fishing trawler to glide silently beneath. Traffic on the busy thoroughfare slowed to a stop.
            McConnell cursed aloud, pounding a fist to the dashboard. Ignoring the red flashing warning signals, he wheeled the silver Taurus onto a side street. A block further the speeding vehicle violently broadsided a minivan as it backed out of a driveway.
            Five year old Mary Ellen, on her way to her first day of pre-school, was killed instantly.


                                                                                                                        Seattle, Washington
                                                                                                                        April, 2010