Sunday, July 24, 2016

Shot At, Shot Up and Shot Down

Where to begin?

I'm so tired (and dehydrated), I can barely hold my eyes open.  Today, in 95 degree weather with a heat index over 100 degrees, my softball team played 5 consecutive games.  We started at noon and ended just under 8 hours later, about 7:45 p.m.  Insane.

We did it to ourselves, of course, by getting stuck in the loser's bracket so early.  It would have taken 8 wins over the weekend to win the title for the 3rd  year in a row.  We won 6 games, 2 yesterday and 4 today, the lost in the finals against Hardin Law.  

In the noon game, we knocked out the DA's first, literally and figuratively. Their pitcher got tangled up with J.R. in a play at the plate, got upended and hit his head on the ground, knocking him unconscious.  An ambulance was called and we learned later that he had a concussion and a separated shoulder.  In the second game, we gonged N & H.  

Next, it was my old law firm, MH(HS), where I started my career (in law and law league softball) in the mid-90's.  They're great people but I do like to beat them, and we did.  By that point, I was really dragging.  Tired, dehydrated (although I drank water and gatorade all day) and just spent.  

When it came time to play the young bucks from Bass, I was running on fumes.  They nicked me for a few runs early, then we came roaring back.  I was pissed in the first inning when one of their young guys whistled a ball past my right ear.  That's always a sore spot with me, especially in the law league, as I've always felt there's no place for hitting a line drive at the pitcher's head.  The kid that hit the shot didn't apologize, which made me a little madder.  Between innings, I talked to our umpire, Leroy, and suggested that if it happened again, I was going to turn a couple of our hitters lose on their pitcher.  He may have mentioned it to them, because it didn't happen again.  We got on the gas, started hitting, and won the game.

That win gave us Hardin Law in the finals.  Of course, we would have had to beat them twice, which wasn't likely to happen.  They're loaded and our players were gassed.  I was incensed to learn that a few of our guys were thinking we should forfeit rather than get run ruled.  Needless to say, we took the field.  Without going into great detail, we played them tough and in the end, lost 18-14 when Steve-O popped up with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th.  He was the tying run and I was convinced he was going to hit a home run to tie the game.  I also was terrified we might have to play another game.  

I've never been as proud of my team, losing in the finals, as I was tonight.  We gutted out 4 wins, 2 of which were against good softball teams.  We're the oldest team in the league and we were dying out there but somehow, we found a way to stick together, keep grinding and win.  It was an epic run.  Damn, I love my teammates, every one of them - Tabitha, Laurie, Katy, V, Shawn, Big John, JR, Timbo, Ross, Richie Rich, Steve-0, Shelley and Huge.  What a day and what an NBA Tournament.  

We made the champs, who had only played one other game today, earn it.  And I love that.

Big John deserves special mention for hitting home runs in his last 2 at bats with his feet so blistered he could barely make it around the bases.  Amazing.

In the top of the 6th inning, with the game close, one of Hardin's studs popped the ball up near the first base line.  The ball was spinning backwards as I stumbled off the pitcher's rubber toward it, thinking if it hit the ground it would roll foul and give the guy another chance for a base hit with runners in scoring position.  I didn't think I had a chance to reach the ball.  I lunged for it, dove with a loud grunt and somehow, caught the ball in a pile of dust right in front of our dugout out he first base side.  Our team erupted in cheers as I rolled over and got up, skinned knees, elbows and all.  Fuck being 50 years old, I thought, as I walked back toward second base to collect myself.  

I got the next batter to fly out and as I walked back to the dugout, feeling pretty good about myself, J.P. opened the gate by the dugout and met me on the field to congratulate me.  As I slapped his hand, he looked up at me and I could see the pride in his eyes.  I mean, he was visibly proud of me and my heart soared to see that.  It was a snapshot moment and one I won't forget.  

Epic.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tournament Time

Other than Bonnaroo, this is my favorite weekend of the year.  The weekend of the Nashville Bar Association softball tournament.  It's always hot and this year is no exception.  There's always a lot of softball.  There's always a lot of beer.  For me, there are few things better than spending the better part of a weekend at East Park on Woodland Street - playing and watching softball - with my friends and colleagues.

I've written, many times, about how much the softball league in general, and my team in particular, mean to me.  The camaraderie, the laughing and joking, the trash talk, the emotion, the competition among people who are naturally competitive, the winning and losing, the friendships and the championships.  Yep, I love all of that.  I think I appreciate it more as I get older, too.

It's been a tough year for us, as we haven't really been able to get a full squad there consistently.  Earlier this week, we lost our first game of the tournament (18-6), which I believe has only happened once in the past 25 years.  The year it happened, we came out of the losers' bracket to win the title.  That may not happen this year, but I would like to go on a run and play a few games.

This morning was a good start, as we run-ruled Waller 27-6.  Although we were missing a couple of players, we had the best squad we have had all season and it showed.  Everyone hit for a change, which was nice.  My boy, Shawn, with whom I have played many, many softball games over the years, was back and made his presence known with a 2-run homer into the street, an opposite field shot on the unlighted field.  It was majestic.

Jude and the boys arrived shortly after the start of the game.  J.P. and Joe were stoked because the Blitzballs and bat I ordered arrived earlier this week and I had them at the park.  We were able to get in a little Blitzball in left field after our game before the Independents' game began.  I'm sure there will be a lot more Blitzball this afternoon and tomorrow.

As I walked into the dugout this morning, I was singing - loudly - "it's the most wonderful time of the year."  And it is, for me, anyway.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer Sunday

I slipped out to Fido for a latte after we got the boys in bed tonight.  Cold Play - "Yellow" - is playing.  A lifetime ago, Coldplay was a "new" band and "Yellow" was on their debut album, Parachutes, in 2000.  Jude and I were dating and I recall a weekend trip we took to the mountains in North Carolina (Cashiers or Blowing Rock, I think) and I played that album a lot, particularly "Yellow."  I was 33 or 34 years old, so it was a lifetime ago.

One of the great things about the summer and, truthfully, one of the difficult things, is there is no routine.  Every weekday, it seems, J.P. is off to a different camp (Zoo Camp this week) and Joe is off to camp at Children's House.  It's nice on weekends, thought, when things are a little more laid back, everything isn't as planned and the boys get to roll with it a little more.

Last night, J.P.'s buddy, Cooper, spent the night.  J.P., Joe, Cooper and I went to Bongo Java this morning for breakfast ((the boys still in the pajamas), hung out and had some "film study."  That is, we watched Youtube videos of various sports figures - Mike Trout, Kobe Bryant, Odell Beckham, Jr., Steve Nash, etc., mixed in with a little "Dude Perfect" (the boys' favorite right now).  After we got home, Joe beat all 3 of us in a spirited game of "Thomas Pop Up" (aka "Trouble").  

After naps, Cooper's dad, Russ, texted me and invited us to come over to the elementary school near their house where they were playing soccer.  Joe heard the word "playground" and he was in, so off we went in the 100 degree heat.  While Jude played with Joe, the dads (Russ, Will and I) played soccer agains the "dads" (Cooper, Benton and J.P.).  Joe joined us later and held his own, which was pretty cool to see.  

We walked up to Will's house afterwards and hung out for awhile.  The boys played some more and the grownups sat and talked.  It was comfortable.  It was summer.  

In a way, it reminded me of my neighborhood in the mid-1970's, when I was J.P.'s age and every summer day ended, or so it seemed, with Warren Lee, Kim Danchertsen and me (along with the younger kids) playing "Kick the Can" or something while the grownups cooked out, ate dinner and sat on one of our back porches, watching us.  Those summer days and evenings are among the most treasured memories of my youth.  I desperately want J.P. and Joe to have some of those type of memories of their own.

Jude, J.P. and I picked up dinner from BurgerUp on the way home and J.P. went to Mellow Mushroom with the rest of the crew.  We watched the Red Sox-Yankees on ESPN and laughed while Joe commented on every pitch.  As usual, he was so into it he almost started crying when the Yankees took a 3-1 lead.  He insisted that I "DVR" the game so he can watch it over breakfast in the morning.  

We put Joe to bed, then J.P. arrived home shortly thereafter.  I smiled as Cooper, Benton and Ella hopped out to say goodbye.  J.P. came inside, took a quick shower, brushed his teeth, then was off to bed.  

The spontaneity and simplicity of summer days like today are what makes them special, I think.  Watching J.P. interact and hang out with his friends is magical.  That's what I want for J.P. and Joe - friendships, innocence, happiness, fun and all that comes with it.  That's what they (and we) had today, a Sunday I wish would have never come to an end.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Old Man Can Still Rake

(I'm sitting at Honest Coffee Roasters having a latte before work.  "HCR" is in the Factory in Franklin.  I discovered it yesterday when I stopped in at the Factory for lunch.  Pretty cool place, where you can watch them roast the coffee beans on site).

Last night, I made my much anticipated (by me, anyway) season debut for our softball team in the Nashville Bar Association.  By my rough count, this is my 25th season playing in the league.  As anyone who has read this blog knows, I love the softball league.  I've played with the same nucleus of players forever, or so it seems, and we have been through a lot of life changes together.  For example, one of my longtime teammates lost his mother, unexpectedly, over the weekend, and I'm going to stop by the funeral home this afternoon to see him and his family.  I bet I won't be the only one.  It's that kind of team.

It's been a strange season, with a lot of rainouts and a couple of games rescheduled for other reasons. I had missed our first 4 games, actually, due to scheduling conflicts.  That has never happened to me before, as I've always made it a point to get to all of the regular seasons games, if possible.  This year, I had a couple of mediations that ran long and practice or games with J.P.'s Dodgers that conflicted with the softball schedule.

Predictably, we were short on players last night and had to start with eight, although our ninth arrived in the second inning.  Although we lost 13-5 (our first loss of the season), it was a big night for me, in my first game in my 50's.  I was 4-4, all singles, and hit the ball harder than I have in a couple of years.  I have no idea why, but it sure did feel good.  My third hit was a line shot in the gap between left and left center field.  I hit the ball so well - right in the sweet spot - I barely felt it at all as it jumped off the bat.  Suddenly, I felt 30 instead of 50.

Maybe that's what it's all about, after all.  Running, playing softball, laughing and having fun - just doing things that make me feel young, or younger than I am.  I felt that way last night, for sure.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

50

Every now and then, I stumble into the perfect morning, a perfect night, the perfect drink or the perfect place.  This is one of those times, I think.

Jude and the boys left the cabin we rented in Sewage this morning, shortly before noon.  I let the cabin a little while later in search of a cup of coffee.  My tentative plan was to stop in at the Blue Chair, a joint on the outskirts of Sewanee's campus.  Truthfully, I wasn't too excited about the atmosphere, because a glimpse inside yesterday revealed an ice cream and smoothie shop that happened to make coffee, too.  Not my kind of coffeeshop, for sure.

When I got out of my car, I walked up the sidewalk across the street to look in at Julia's - a restaurant that was open when we were here last summer, but appeared to be closed and abandoned now.  There was a note on the door from March 2016 advising that the owner - Julia, no less - had been hired as general manager at Sterling's Coffeehouse on Georgia Avenue, as a result of which she was closing her restaurant and catering business.

Sterling's Coffeehouse?  This sounds promising, I thought.  I immediately decided I had to find Georgia Avenue.  Surely Julia wouldn't close her restaurant to work at Stirling's unless it was a hell of a place, right?

I drove through Sewanee's campus, which I love, past Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina Avenues.  Finally, I came to Georgia Avenue.  I turned right, drove a few blocks and there it was - a big, yellow house with a sign out front that said "Stirling's Coffeehouse."  There were people sitting a tables on the front porch and at tables on the front lawn.  I saw a couple of girls lounging on a porch swing, drinking coffee.  It reminded me of Bongo Java.  My kind of place.

I parked my truck in the parking lot on the side of the building.  As I walked inside, I was greeted by the smell of coffee and the Mumford and Sons playing loudly in the kitchen and front room.  I'm home, I thought, smiling.  It's a nice feeling.

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Yesterday, my 50th birthday, was a quiet, uneventful day with Jude and the boys, which was exactly what I wanted.

I slept in until 8:30 p.m., and arose to the sounds of "Breakfast at Wimbledon" in the loft above the kitchen and Jude and J.P. making me breakfast.  J.P. and Joe escorted me down the hall and giggled as I looked at the streamers they had hung in the den and from the railing in the loft.  Jude and J.P. made scrambled eggs and chocolate chip pancakes, which we at while we cheered as Serena Williams won her 7th championship at Wimbledon.  

(Guess what?  I just saw Julia!  Tall, long graying hair pulled back in a ponytail, awkward and somewhat harried looking.  What do you know?)

Mis-Morning, we drove to campus with plans to go to the Sewanee football field.  Upon arrival, we saw that Sewanee was hosting a high school football camp.  While Jude and Joe went to look around, J.P. and sat in the stands, while he intently watched the receivers run routes.  He was fascinated, which would have horrified Jude, since she she is almost as opposed to our boys playing football as she is to guns.  Next, we walked over to Abbo's Alley for a creak walk.  The boys couldn't get enough of the creek and even saw a crawdad.  

After we finished the creek walk, we wandered over to the athletic facility in search of the gym.  J.P., especially, was impressed with the facility - indoor track, indoor tennis courts, gym and an indoor swimming pool with a diving well.  We gazed at old photographs of Sewanee athletes and trophies from the distant past.  Then, it was home for lunch and naps for Jude and the boys.  

I ventured out with plans to run in Abbo's Alley.  That didn't work out well, as I got turned around several times in the Alley, which I realized is not very long, anyway.  I found my way out of the Alley to University Avenue and walked to my car, having run just over one mile.  As I told Jude last night, I hope my 50th birthday run isn't a metaphor of my life after 50 or a sign of things to come.

We had a nice dinner at Shenanigan's, an eclectic restaurant in a blue house on University Avenue.  When we arrived home, the boys "surprised" me with a birthday cake that had been "hidden" in the refrigerator since they arrived under a towel.  J.P. delighted in pulling the cords on the "poppers" Jude had picked up for the occasion (I hadn't seen those things in a long, long time).  Joe helped me blow out the candles on the cake.  As a final birthday treat, I got to read the boys their bedtime story - one of the Berenstain Bears' books (they're big into those lately, especially Joe).  I did "tricks" for them, and off to bed they went.

I finished off Jude in a game of Gin (Rummy) we started Friday night to win the Championship of the Cumberland Plateau.  As a guilty pleasure - a very embarrassing, guilty pleasure - I watched the first two episodes of the second season of "Heart of Dixie."  

I looked at my watch and it was 12:05 a.m.  My 50th birthday was over and "the Decade of Dominance" had begun.



Friday, July 8, 2016

A Pirate Looks at 50

This is going to be a long and rambling post, I think, most likely written over several days.  I'm beginning it today - July 5 - at Bongo Java, appropriately enough.

______________________________

As I count down the days to my 50th birthday on Saturday, I'm in a contemplative mood.  I find myself shaking my head in amazement, wondering "how did I get here?"  And, more importantly, "where the fuck is here?"  

Truth be told, I never thought I would reach 50 years of age.  My father, Howard Newman, died at age 30 of hepatitis which, of course, is not anything hereditary in nature.  Still, I had a sense of my own mortality - of the frailty and uncertainty of life - at a very early age.  Without question, it colored my world view.  I'm a little more pessimistic than most people, I suppose.  And I know that nothing lasts forever.  Nothing. 

I've never enjoyed my birthday or the idea of getting older, although I've mellowed a bit on that front the past few years.  30 and 40 were really difficult birthdays for me, as I recall.  I was out of the country on both birthdays.   Scotland and Tortola, I believe.  I think part of my problem is the fear of the unknown.  What I mean is that with my father having died so young, I never had any idea of what life would be like for me after 30.  Life after 30, for me, was uncharted territory.  I wasn't afforded the opportunity to watch my father age - gracefully or kicking and screaming - so I had no frame of reference for what aging would do to to my mind, my body - to me.

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And so I find myself, tonight, 46 minutes before my 50th birthday, sitting in a nice leather chair in a cabin in Sewanee, Tennessee, listening to the rain fall outside and on the tin roof.  The boys are in bed.  Jude and I just finished playing Gin (rummy) for the first time in what seems like forever.  God, we used to play a lot of Gin before the boys were born.  We had titanic Gin battles on airplanes, in foreign countries (Costa Rica, Tortola and Scotland), in Florida and in Las Vegas.  

I remember playing Gin more than once at Cabana - a restaurant in Hillsboro Village - at the same partially hidden, small table in the back, garage doors open as we watched traffic roll by on Wedgwood. 

I also remember playing Gin at Frothy Monkey after dinner one night more than a decade ago, not too long after we had moved into our house on Elliott Avenue.  As we played, I heard a song I fell in love with by Matt Kearney - "Bullet" - and I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world to be married to Jude and living in the 'hood.  And in many ways, I was, I guess. 

I arrived at the cabin before Jude and the boys, not even bothering to change out of my suit before I escaped from the office.  They weren't too far behind me, though, and I just had time to put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt before they arrived.  I heard a noise out front and walked up the hall into the den, where I looked out the inside of two front doors.  

There, on the front porch, were J.P. and Joe, suitcases in tow.  J.P. was peering cautiously through the front door, craning his neck as he tried to see into the entry way, through the other front door and into the house.  When he saw me, the pensive look on his face immediately dissolved and a giant toothy smile enveloped his whole face.  It was as if the sun had just slipped out from behind a cloud, the light blinding in its intensity.

There was a moment - and it was only a brief moment but a moment still - when J.P. was looking through the front door at me, smiling, and the meaning of life was revealed to me.  For that moment, I saw happiness, innocence, trust, anticipation, excitement and love - pure, unadulterated love.  And I lived a lifetime in that brief moment.

Suddenly, it didn't matter that I was turning 50.  Nothing mattered but that my 8 year old son - J.P. - loved me.  And that my 4 year old son standing beside him - Joe - loved me, too.  That's it.  That's the meaning of life.

I stepped outside on to the front porch.  J.P. and Joe both grinned at me.  I hugged them, then helped Jude bring the luggage inside so the boys could explore the cabin at Mugg's Pond.

As I write this, I realize that as it turns out, I am the luckiest guy in the world.  Still.

Happy 50th to me.

PRN 




Monday, July 4, 2016

The Calm Before the 4th of July Storm

It's early, not yet 8 a.m., and I'm sitting at the big table downstairs at Frothy Monkey on 12th Avenue, around the corner from our house.  I was the second person in after "the Monkey" opened, which gave me my choice of a spot to quietly drink my latte and eat my standard breakfast (2 scrambled eggs with avocado).

I know it will be a jam packed 4th of July with the boys, so it's nice to have a quiet moment to myself before things get too busy.  I enjoy being one of the first customers at the coffee shop in the morning, whether it's Bongo Java, Frothy Monkey, etc.  There is something soothing about watching the employees as they slowly ease into the rhythms of their day, preparing for the  hordes of people that will shortly began walking through the front door.

From my vantage point, I can see two different families that just seated themselves downstairs, near me.  The brief quietude I was enjoying is most certainly over and the volume of voices is gradually increasing.  Grandparents, probably in town for the holiday, talking to grandchildren, and parents trying to manage it all.  There's few singular souls, like me, sitting alone and taking it all in.

I think what I like best is knowing that in a few minutes, when I leave, I'll drive a couple of blocks to our house on Linden Avenue, where I'll walk into our own cocoon of controlled chaos.  J.P. will be playing "Subway Surfer" on his iPad, in our bed, with Joe laying right next to him, intently watching and cheering him on.  Jude will be reading or taking a shower.  She and I will make breakfast together for the boys, as we all watch Wimbledon (Roger Federer is on today, followed by Serena Williams).

Simple times to be appreciated in a busy world where J.P. and Joe are growing up before our eyes, day by day.