Sunday, October 30, 2005


The ball was up and climbing higher. It got smaller as it came their way and they all rose. Hundreds of people, all of them wanting it, hoping to catch it. It kept climbing into the clear sky above Three Rivers Stadium. He was there for his last baseball game in the same place where his hero had played. Roberto Clemente had worked his magic there and he wanted to honor his memory by seeing a game before they tore it down.

As the ball left the bat his friend Victor bolted out of his seat and ran down the steps to the railing above left field.

“Dad thinks he’s getting’ the ball Uncle Chuck, but it’s comin’ here.”

“Yeah, it sure is buddy!”

He pounded his fist into his glove and saw his eight-year-old godson do the same out of the corner of his eye. His eyes and thousands more, tracked the ball as it climbed through its flight and began to tumble out of the sky.

“Christopher, it’s comin’ to you man, get ready!” he said, jealously wishing the ball into his own glove.

“Naw, Uncle Chuck, it’s over our heads, darn!”

He watched the ball and saw he needed to move to catch it. It was, like the boy said, over his head.

As he kept his eyes up and on the ball he heard another voice exclaim about another ball…

“Its way over his head, he’ll never get it!”

Then yet another voice…

“Cuyjet, you gotta get it man, you gotta do it!”

He could still hear Mouse now in the crescendo of voices; decades floated away and merged together in his head. Mouse, the Hart kid his new friend in a new place to live. Wanting him, willing him to catch the ball. Feet flying, running to stop what looked like a ground-rule home run, any ball that hit the sidewalk surrounding the outfield on the fly. Here he remembered it would have been a grand slam.

He could see the spin on the ball in the clear western Pennsylvania sky. He knew he had a good shot at it, but he had to move…

When he was eight, he had to move from his row house in North Philly into a public housing project in East Falls because his dad couldn't pay the rent. New place, new kids, new school; he had to find a way to prove himself, fit in. Time to go outside and face the music...

“Your dad works with my dad. Let me show you around, okay? You gotta glove?

Tommie Hart, “The Mouse” was holding a baseball bat in front of him as he came down-stairs that first morning.

“When do you start playing?”

“Soon’s a ball and a bat show up!”

“Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He went upstairs and his dad asked him why he was back so soon. He was unpacking another box of kitchen stuff, plates, glasses, and flatware. He was taking his time, down on one knee and carefully unwrapping plates that were dear to him. This place was smaller and the three of them knew that some of their things were going to have to go. He watched his father carefully place some of the plates back into the box and then he looked up at him with what looked like a tear in his eye.

“Why are you back here, I thought you were going to go play with the new kids, make new friends?”

“I am daddy, I just came to get my baseball glove. I met Mr. Hart’s son, Tommie.”

“Oh, yeah, they call him Mouse, right?”

“Dunno daddy, he is small but he seems real nice.”

“Alright, you go have fun.”

He walked over to his closet and found his glove. He had to move his box of cards a little so they wouldn’t spill and he promised himself again that he’d do a better job of keeping them so they wouldn’t get bent or the corners and edges dulled. He wanted these boys to like him. He missed his gang over on Gratz Street, not that it was a real gang, they just called themselves that so the older kids would leave them alone. His heart began to race as he got on the elevator and went down to the ground floor.

The field was huge; he had seen it when his sister and he took a drive after his dad said they were moving. It had two diamonds on it and there were lots of kids playing when they drove by, two separate games. He remembered several kids waved at the car as they drove back past on their way out.

He had just a short walk to the end of his building then several flights of stairs to go down to a gentle slope that would take him to the field. Tommie was waiting for him right before the slope.

“Yer name’s Chuck, right?

“Yeah. You know cause of our dads, huh?

“Yeah, we have the same names as our dads, but people call me Tommie or The Mouse cause I’m so small. But I can play, man!”

“Okay, but can you say my last name right?

“Like the girl’s name ‘Sue’ and the bird ‘jay’. My dad told me. Your dad’s Jerry, not Charles, n’ you’re Chuck, not Charles.”

“Who picks teams?”

“Usually the older kids fight about that, but sometimes the ones with the ball or bat says who picks.”

“If you get to pick will you take me?”

“Oh yeah, don’t worry. You’ll be okay.”

He got on the same team with Mouse and after he got a hit and they saw how fast he could run they switched him from first base to center field. Their team had a nice lead on the others and then the other team started coming back. Several hits and several innings later his team was ahead by two. It was the bottom of the eighth and just one out. Some big kid he never really got to know hit the ball far to his right and way over his head. Potential grand slam.

He remembered just flying from where he stood quick strides covering ground vectoring off toward the part of the field that went down hill. He could tell by the spin on the ball that it was going to reach the sidewalk if he didn’t get to it.

This foul ball was going to some one else if he didn’t reach it either.

Two different balls, two different times, two different places, one thing to do: jump!

Stretching full out, reaching back over his head he couldn’t worry about where he was going to come down. He didn’t want to knock Christopher over; he didn’t want to come down on his seat back or the one in front of him.

Back in East Falls he remembered that he had grass to come down on. He remembered jumping up with the ball in the webbing of his glove for the second out of the inning and turning to throw the ball back into play. He fell down from the force of the throw and just heard cheering and trash talking. He got up and saw his catcher with the ball daring the runner to come down and try to score. His catcher, his ball, his throw had gotten there.

When he came down he wasn’t sure he had the ball. He felt something like the ball had just ticked off his glove and gone into the crowd. He missed the chairs and Christopher and brought the glove down in front of his face. There, caught in the webbing of his glove, was the ball that had fallen, star-like, out of the sky. That’s when he heard the noise of the cheers. Thousands of Pirates fans cheering louder as he raised his arms in triumph. As he turned around those roaring behind him they could see that he was wearing a Clemente T-shirt and the roar became even louder.

After all he had saved his team and helped them win the game and became known as a great ball player in the neighborhood.

As they went back up the slope later, he could hear the Hart kid say to another kid,

“That kid got some arm on him, don’t he?”
And the big kid had a ball to pound into his glove and a trophy declaring his catch at Three Rivers the “Catch of the Game” to show off to his son when he got back home to Virginia.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

True Costs/Real Questions

We bitch when we pay more than two-fifty for a gallon of gas! Yeah, I know its way higher than that now, but like Gene McDaniel asked a long time ago: “Compared to what?”

We never ask that question, do we? And if we do I wonder if we really consider the wide range of answers open to us.

You been to Europe lately? It seems to me that they are paying the true costs of using a rapidly dwindling and environmentally damaging fossil fuel. But the message of what true costs are never gets down to us does it? We see the world a different way than others.

After all, we’re American and what there is, is what we say it is, right?

We complain that we’re losing way too many American lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan! Hey, don’t get me wrong here, this is not a political screed against George Bush-that’s another piece I‘m putting together. But when we talk about this issue I never hear about the tens of thousands of ‘others’ that have died in the last couple of years because of our attempts to rid their countries of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban.

Then ya gotta take a look closer to home, and I mean real close. When was the last time you took a look at your kid’s waist line? When was the last time you took the time to cook a good healthy meal? And no, checking into KFC or Mickey D’s and walking out with a couple of Happy Meals or buckets of chicken and cole slaw does not count.

When was the last time you looked at what you were putting into your mouth? I know, I know, who the hell has time to cook good food let alone shop for it, right? But I’ll betcha that somewhere on the KFC and Mc Donald’s payroll is somebody in a white coat and carrying a clip board telling us that their food is nutritionally sound and yummy good, right?

And we believe him ‘cause we’re American and what there is, is what we say it is, right?

Speaking of what we ingest when was the last time you saw a quality show on TV? General Hospital or CSI Miami do not count, neither does Fear Factor or the six o’clock news. If we judge the general intelligence of the public by the more popular shows on the tube (excuse me but I do not want to be a Hilton or work for ‘The Donald’) we're a nation of morons, but we’re American and what there is, is because we say it is, huh?

I am not a snob, I enjoy a good cold beer and I love to laze around in front of the tube watching a ball game just like Joe Six-pack. I can understand the need to save time by eating fast food and getting the world news pre-packaged by the spin machines out of Washington, DC, New York, and Los Angeles. What I can’t understand is how people in this age of the internet accept the crap shoved at them and believe that’s all there is to it. But then again, we’re American, right? And you know the drill, don’t you?

The oil business has us by the short hairs and is subsidizing our habit working hand in hand with the automotive industry aided and abetted by the US government. And please, don’t you dare try to tell me that it’s only the Republicans doing this shit. We’re American and if we don’t stand up and demand truth from our so-called leaders we’ll get what we deserve.

But then we only stand up for what is, right?

Cindy Sheehan stands up and whaddya know, some other folks have the gall to tell her that she’s undermining our troops in Iraq! Hey, they gotta right to do that don’t they? This is America after all and we all have a right to disagree, right?

So how come it feels like the people that want the war are the only ones allowed to say that they’re patriotic? People that want to return America to ‘traditional values’ are portrayed as true Americans (hmmm, traditional American values…genocide, slavery, repression of women…what values are they talking about anyway?).

Okay, I’m definitely off track here! But what are we really paying to have the life style we Americans enjoy? And, for that matter, who is really doing the paying?

I met someone over the last couple of days who tells me that there are better ways to look at wealth and health. She tells me of a philosophy and life style that, while I have absolutely no real details, intrigues me. We were in a retreat considering very weighty issues concerning our coaching work so we really didn’t have time to delve into these matters.

But it gave me comfort to know that there are people dealing with these issues. I have volunteered with Sheila’s church to provide food to the needy. I worked with Habitat for Humanity to give a home to a poor family in Pennsylvania with my cousin Lee. I’ve given over ten years of my professional career to helping disadvantaged people get access to education and training so that they can enter the workforce with more and better tools to succeed.

My work and volunteer efforts are drops in the bucket. A wise woman I once worked with said there are no easy answers when it comes to dealing with the suffering of the poor right here in America. I believe that a major paradigm shift needs to occur for us to even see the true problems facing us. My friend Jim Snow from the McLean Dialogue has been schooling me on Lakoff’s work on frames of reference.

When we can see how others see maybe then we can all ask real questions about the true costs of being the society we are.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Touching Clouds

“Hey dada, you can touch a cloud if you come out on the deck, c’mon out dad. You can write anytime, but when’s the last time you touched a cloud?”

There were many reasons to sit where I was when Robert shouted the cloud touching challenge to me. The main one was finishing the speech I was putting together for my retreat with Anne Gottlieb. I was determined to get it down because I still had to memorize it, put it on index cards and then make it sound as ‘natural’ as possible.


How the hell can you beat cloud touching for something natural?

I got my ass up and walked over to the door. Looking out I could see why he was so excited and I was warmed that he is still young enough to be so enchanted at something like a cloud.

The four of us stood out on the deck overlooking a long ski run here at Wintergreen Resort. The elevation is three thousand feet up. Driving down from Charlottesville we were enthralled by seeing mountain tops wreathed by clouds. Robert kept talking about how his buddy Andrew touched a cloud. Andrew’s dad is from Guatemala and his uncle’s house is high in the mountains there. Once on a visit there Andrew said he touched a cloud.

“I can’t touch it, why can’t I touch it? I’m not big enough!” Esther was watching us as we stood in the enveloping cloud that had rolled over the ski lift, obscuring what we had clearly seen less than thirty minutes before as we checked the condo out after dropping our bags in the doorway. The three of us were definitely touching the cloud. She walked around us, mystified by our happiness.

“Why can’t I touch it, dada? Almost crying now, frustrated as each of us were dancing around in the mist. The deck was vibrating from our stamping feet and the trees near us were becoming lost in the fog-like apparition descending over us.

“Here Polly, I’ll lift you up into the cloud and you can touch it. Hold your arms out. Do you feel the little wet kisses on them?

Esther reached her arms out, tilted her head back and closed her eyes. Sheila and Robert quietly walked over to her and watched, waiting for her reaction. She opened her eyes.

“Yea, daddy, the cloud’s kissing me all on my arms and face. I feel it touching me.” She smiled, happy to be a part of what was going on, happy to be touching the cloud. I suspect this will be the moment she remembers more than being at Monticello, more than seeing the many valleys on the drive along the ridge of the mountains. She may remember the pool at the hotel in Charlottesville; both children seem to fixate on hotel pools and can recite them when we talk about the places we’ve visited.

There’s not a lot about being away from ‘home’ that I really like. I guess the adventure of going to Copenhagen and my trips to San Francisco are exceptions. Until I bought a lap top and discovered the greatest invention of the internet age-WiFi-traveling was like being cut off from my life-line. I love the connections I have with people all over the world. I can move around the globe without leaving my room.

But I doubt I could ever touch a cloud there. I couldn’t even imagine it there. And I sure couldn’t see the look on Esther’s face when she felt the cloud kissing her. Maybe enchantment is contagious, I hope it is.

When we left Annandale the other day all of us were in a wicked mood, by the time we reached Charlottesville we were better as the rain that had been with us for the first hour of the trip had stopped and we could see the mountains running along the highway. We found the Children’s Discovery Museum in Charlottesville, explored it and part of Charlottesville, checked into our hotel, went to dinner ( I had a huge fillet at this place, screw the cholesterol concerns!), and hit the pool when we got back to the hotel.

Smiles were on our faces.

We met some interesting people in line for the tour of Monticello; saw some interesting things in the house. Our guide was pleased that I could answer her harder questions about Jefferson, his neighbor Madison, and John Adams.

I was pleased that the foundation that runs the place has finally acknowledged Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings and the fact that there was issue from that relationship. I love seeing the cracks in white folk’s hypocrisy.

Sheila thanked me for going on the tour with them. She has a strong sense of my feelings about the passing the buck the Founding Fathers pulled off by not dealing with the un-godly institution of slavery. Jefferson later wrote of how he trembled at the thought of a just God when he considered the issue of slavery…

Tomorrow we’ll find more interesting places to visit, more mountains to climb. We’ll meet people from around the country and many from right here in the hills of western Virginia. I remind myself that most of these locals are descended from people that didn’t own slaves. At the same time I’m appalled that their ancestors proudly fought for Virginia’s slave holding class.

America, forged by noble words written by landowning white men who extolled freedom for themselves but not women, blacks, or poor people, to say nothing of their lack of consideration for indigenous people, yet managed to put together a governing document that is open to growth. Ol’ Red probably has smiles on his face watching us today. He’d probably remind us that the Constitution only provides us a form for the freedoms accorded us. His Declaration of Independence outlines things inalienable to us. As a boy he probably touched clouds when he was growing up at the foot of Monticello and climbing it with his friends.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Back Home

After a trip, especially one where you find yourself in a very different environment, you can have a very eye opening experience when you come back home. In many ways it’s like going to the same spot on a river bank that you’ve visited many times and realizing that it isn’t the same river that you visited the last time you were there.

Well it’s been a week and I haven’t really slowed down to get to the journal to tell about what I saw in Denmark and what I’ve been dealing with back home. But I got some inspiration from readers and writers I know so I’m movin’ ahead.

Copenhagen was a real surprise. I thought living in DC gave me an understanding as to what ‘cosmopolitan’ meant. Well, that’s going up on the shelf somewhere. In Copenhagen I met a Chinese dude who spoke, well, Chinese (Mandarin), a little Cantonese, Vietnamese, French, Danish, English, Swedish, and German; he’s lived in Copenhagen since he was five.

Sheila and I had a cab driver from Palestine who lived there since 1969, one from Pakistan who moved there in ’75, and we walked around the city with a Swede who has made Copenhagen his home for eighteen years. While most of the people certainly look, well, Scandinavian, there are whole lots of different looking, and sounding, folks calling it home!

It is an amazing hang out city. On our way to a tour bus we passed a bar, at 10:45 AM Sunday morning that was jamming! I mean really jamming like it was 10:45 Saturday night.

Everybody we talked to was friendly. The only complaint I have was that when there was a line up for something, like getting into a place, it was like all of a sudden NYC and don’t even think of slowing down for fear of being stampeded. And the beer was great. There are so many breweries there, and many micro-breweries. In some places in the city neighborhoods take their identities from the beer made in them.

Oh yeah, the tour. We saw authentic Viking ships, lovingly restored through a twenty-five year process after they had been discovered. We visited a burial mound (Sheila went in, I climbed on top of it…way too claustrophobic to go in!), and dinned at an inn built in the 1600’s. The old part of the city has a charm that can only be found, I’m told, in Europe.

There is a year long celebration of Hans Christian Andersen’s 200th birthday and there many places that had white shoe prints outlining places where he was known to have walked. I passed on seeing the Little Mermaid as I found out that actually seeing it is a real let-down (its small and always crowded). Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” helped me get through a very rough childhood. While I wouldn’t necessarily call him my favorite storyteller, he ranks way close to the top!

But…home is still the best place. Look, I love meeting new people, fitting my energy into the wide open spaces of undiscovered territories. But coming home was soul stirringly great too. And I’m not just talking about seeing the children here. I’m just talking about being in your own nest, with your own stuff. Being in the place where you’ve chosen to roost. Being, hell, just being in a place where you are comfortable…

I’ve been noticing little things and how much I take them for granted. Like deodorant and full seized cars, three dollar a gallon gas being cheap compared to what they pay in Europe, how some Americans actually have an appreciation for line etiquette (“I think that guy’s been here longer than me, you should take his order first!”), the many different versions of English spoken within a five or six mile radius of my house, food I’m boringly familiar with, and, did I mention deodorant?

Vacations spent in far away places remind me of how differently time can flow. Days in Copenhagen were almost endless, back home here they fly by in a blur at times. (Like I’m some kinda travel expert here! This was the first time I ever had a passport kiddies!)

Next up: a family excursion to the Piedmont of Virginia…Charlottesville and Wintergreen. And I’ll be ever grateful to get back Monday night.

Back home where I come to spaces where I think I’m in a familiar place and like a river they’ve changed.

Go with the flow…