This varied mix of short stories contains pieces of the author's life. The pieces, however, are not portraits but snapshots. Fred Shaw tells these in a style that is straightforward with little adornment, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks where needed.
There is truth and there is fiction. Fred seeks truth in the reaction of the characters to guilt, greed and the many pitfalls of the human condition created by his fictional settings. Several of the stories are memoirs whose truth is blurred by time but nonetheless still seek the actual, true response to a situation.
There is little presented for historical purposes but the places and the times are coincident with his life. The protagonist might be called Fred, Harry, Buck or Cliff but they are all distorted pictures of the writer.
The title piece, "As the Mist Resembles the Rain", is a short reminiscence explaining to the reader that all of these stories are told through the filter of the many years of his life.
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As the Mist Resembles the Rain
By Fred Shaw
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Fred Shaw
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Best Goddamn Center Fielder in Baseball
The battleship New Jersey is the most decorated battleship in the United States Navy. It won battle ribbons for WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars and the war in Lebanon in the 1980s. (In WWII it was the flagship for Admiral Bill Halsey in the largest naval battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf.) It was decommissioned one last time in 1991. Since 2001 it has been a meticulously restored modern museum warship moored in the Delaware River at Camden, New Jersey. You must take a tour.
To me the museum warship is also a tribute to the thousands of brave men who served their country on this historic ship. In November of 1953, shortly after the Korean War ended and at the time of this story, the ship was in Norfolk. Two of the "brave" men who were in the ship's crew are casually slouched over a covered deck winch, smoking and talking.
"Why don't you start a touch league instead, Harry? You could come up with at least a half dozen six-man teams on the New Jersey."
"But these guys have a league going now, Gordy, with teams from at least three different ships."
"But tackle football without any equipment?"
Harry boasts, "I've done it before."
"Me too when I was a fucking kid. Nobody got hurt because instead of tackling, you grabbed a runner high and pulled him down. The injuries were rugby injuries. They hurt like hell but bones weren't usually broken or skulls fractured. Maybe a nose flattened. It was justified because we were only stupid ass kids."
"So now we are men, Gordy, and we should put away childish things?"
"Exactly! You'll have every boneheaded nutcase in the fleet playing-big nutcases-big in body and loose upstairs."
Harry Dice isn't happy with his best friend's response but he thinks he can still change Gordy's mind. "And this from the state of Kentucky's all-American high school running back! Look Gordy, baseball's my game but I also happen to be one of the finest football strategists in the country."
Gordy through a big grin says, "At least east of the Mississippi."
Undaunted Harry goes on. "Look, nobody practices for these games but I have an entire set of plays on three-by-five index cards. We'll have them in the huddle; I'll call the play and everyone on the team will see what they have to do. None of the other teams will be prepared like that. We'll kick ass."
Gordy looks into Harry's eyes. "Harry, you're my best friend so I think I can say this. Your problem is you were never an all-anything in any sport in high school. You've told me a dozen times you were a frustrated athlete. Now you're trying to make up for it. Right?"
"That's not completely fair .... but not totally inaccurate either."
It started in the eighth grade. Before that Harry was just a small, skinny, wipe the snot off of your nose onto the side of your jacket sleeve, smart-ass city kid. Oh sure, he caught balls bounced off neighbors' stoops or hit with bats or sticks- those sticks with previous utility as brooms and mops, not those cut off of trees- as did half the teenage boys in Philly, but he also had a bigger brother who loved to fungo hit balls to him. Harry wasn't big enough or strong enough to hit fly balls to the satisfaction of his older brother and so the two of them spent hours with his brother hitting fly balls and Harry catching them.
Then in the eighth grade he became part of a team. Not just any old team but an all-star team-of sorts. Warren G. Harding Junior High had a huge gravel schoolyard. There were no fences. Its width gave way to concrete sidewalks, a curb and then streets. Lengthwise it was confined by the school building and on the other end the back of the houses on Orthodox Street. It was big enough to accommodate four baseball fields. Philly was a baseball town and if snow didn't cover the ground there were four games in progress during the lunch hour.
There was one field, one game, reserved for the "better" players. Harry didn't play in this game until he became friends with a boy named Spider. Their friendship started in gym class when Harry helped Spider fight off some kids who were trying to de-pants him. Harry did this on impulse; he didn't know Spider or the kids. Spider was not only one of the "better" players but also one of the boys who chose players for the teams. He picked Harry every time. (If you don't get picked you glare angrily, and say, "Fuck you guys!" and go to play in one of the other three games.)
In October the ninth graders who made up the majority of the "better" players decided to pick two all star teams. Harry was the center fielder on one of the teams. With his side ahead by one run in the last inning, (the bell had already rung to end the lunch period) Harry caught a fly ball hit over his head with an over-the-shoulder running grab. What a catch! His teammates applauded and for that instant he was playing for the Phillies.
The next batter hit a towering fly to left far beyond the reach of the left fielder, but Harry had taken off at the crack of the bat and made the catch. The last batter was his friend Spider who launched a hit to right field. Harry had a jump on this ball too and just as the ball was about to land beyond the outstretched glove of the right fielder Harry dove and made the final out. From that moment on Harry thought himself to be the best goddamn center fielder in baseball.
However, his life changed that summer. Harry moved from the city to the country, where he had very few friends and they didn't play baseball during lunch hour. One year later he moved to a small town. During this period he grew taller and more awkward. He seldom played baseball because there were few boys interested in playing. Although the high school he went to was small and half the boys tried out for baseball, football or basketball, Harry did not try to play on any of the teams. He didn't like the discipline required, or the daily practices and then too he might not be good enough.
However, early in the summer before his senior year, the high school held a picnic at a park. There was a gaggle of boys standing around home plate at the small ball field. Most of them had baseball gloves; the park supplied balls and bats.
"You guys want to have a fly-ball catching contest?" Harry spoke to the crowd in general.
This challenge by a kid who didn't play any sport would not go unanswered. Two boys, Zeke and Dick, who knew and liked Harry but also played on the school's team said in unison, "Sure!"
"Whoever wants to play can line up in center field. We'll get Mr. Forgie and Coach Brown to hit us flies. If they say it's a fair ball, the guy in the front of the line has to catch it. If he does he goes back in line at the rear. If he misses it he's out of the game." There were about a dozen kids to start-most from the school team-but a half hour later it was reduced to two.
Harry was behind Dick, the regular center fielder from the school team, who went racing into right field to just miss catching a ball pulled down the line. Harry gloved the next hit to win the game. It was a fly that was lofted to his right. He trotted underneath it and at the last instant he stepped forward and caught the ball behind his back. The coach of the American Legion team witnessed the game and when Harry came in he asked him to join. Harry played all summer. After an absence of many years he was again the best goddamn center fielder in baseball!
Encouraged by his summer success, Harry tried out for football in his senior year. He made the team but played mostly defense and, except for a fumble recovery and a couple of interceptions that didn't change the game's outcome, his performance was, by his standards, lackluster. He made the baseball team too and rode the bench the entire season.
Returning to Philly after he graduated high school, he took a job in a shoe store. But the Korean War had started and the draft was instituted. Always looking at the brighter side, he imagined his future: Shoe salesman gets drafted, put in the infantry and dies in a snow encrusted ditch in Korea. Saying bullshit to that, he joined the Navy for a four year hitch.
Harry spends the better part of the next two years on the battleship New Jersey. Now Harry Dice lies on his bunk staring up at the white, steel overhead. The compartment is nearly dark-the sleeping space illuminated through the hatch to the passageway above. It's after lights out. With his hands laced behind his head, they are a pillow on his pillow as he moves between consciousness and sleep. He usually daydreams about women or when he could return to the streets of Philly-not the shoe store. Tonight he thinks of the football game he'll play tomorrow. What plays on his pack of now used, dirty index cards will work, which ones won't. As he rolls on his side to sleep he realizes the game is his only goal. I sure am a shallow bastard!
* * *
Gordon, "Gordy", Larson, the ex-all American high school running back from the state of Kentucky, walks over the gangplank looking down into the abyss of the huge dry-dock. Fifty feet below him the bottom is littered with machinery, scaffolding and discarded wooden boxes. Gordy had been at sea for most of the last two years on the Navy battleship, New Jersey. Much of the time was spent off the coast of Korea, but the war is over now and the ship is back in Norfolk, actually in dry-dock in the Portsmouth Navy yard across the Elizabeth River.
They flew him from off the coast of Korea to the states four months ago, in July, for a month's emergency leave. His mother was dying. His mother's boyfriend, Joe, told him on the phone she was too young to die and Gordy silently agreed, but he would not say it to that son-of-a-bitch. Gordy grew up as an only child-his father disappeared when he was ten. Six years ago when he was fourteen his mother had a child by Joe. Joe moved in with them. Gordy joined the Navy the day after he graduated from high school and two days after he turned eighteen.
By the time he arrives on leave his mother is at the house, released by the hospital. She will die at home. Less than a year before she had been the stereotypical big blonde-pretty and sturdy with large breasts and shapely legs. Now, ravaged by the disease, she is frail and haggard but yet, to him, as lovely as before.
She raises herself on her elbows, shaking as she tries. Gordy takes four long steps to her bedside, and supporting her with both arms kisses her lightly on the lips. Then sitting on the side of the bed takes her into his arms. He is alarmed to feel how light she is. Hugging her tightly, he feels the wetness of her tears on his cheek as his own eyes start to water.
Pushing back from his embrace she says through teeth clenched in pain, "Gordon we must talk."
"Wait; let me fix a couple of pillows behind you."
"Son, I have one of those dying wishes to ask you, like in the movies."
Gordon stares. On the trip home he thought about how his conversation with his dying mother would go. He knew it would have to be light, small-talk, or he might go to pieces. He was frightened by the prospect and now his mother....
There must be hope. He speaks as if his strong will can help her, "You're not dying."
"The hell I'm not and I want to ask a favor of you." She can't stop now or she might be afraid to ask. "I want you to marry Jean before I die."
"Marry Jean? What makes you think she'd have me? Our breakup wasn't pleasant."
"You broke Jean's heart. She still wanted you. I know I'm your mother but believe me you must realize how handsome you are."
"Ah Mom, cut it out."
"That dark curly hair and Cary Grant profile-not a face only a mother could love but one any mother's daughter would love. Furthermore you have the build of a great athlete-which you are."
Gordy squirms uncomfortably. "Stop it will you?"
She thinks. The best part is, looking past his modesty, as big and strong as he is he is gentle-kind too.
"Did you know this past year Jean's been coming over looking out for me? She drove me for all my chemo. She took care of me like I took care of you when you were growing up." Gordon's mother pauses to emphasize the importance of her next statement. "She'll marry you because she still loves you."
"But she's engaged."
"Not any more."
Gordy's mother dies the day after the wedding. Two weeks later he flies to the West Coast and then to Hawaii and Japan to meet his ship before it begins a two month journey back to its home port of Norfolk.
* * *
Gordon, "Gordy", Larson, the ex-all American high school running back from the state of Kentucky, sees Harry Dice, the best goddamn center fielder in baseball, hustling towards him between the Portsmouth shipyard's dry-docks, fighting the December wind.
"Where the hell you going, Harry?"
"To get you, you dumb son-of-a-bitch. Where you been? The games supposed to start in twenty minutes."
"It'l only take us ten to get to the field. Is your cousin Johnny coming?"
"You bet, third best player on our team after you and me."
Harry's cousin, Johnny Mason, is stationed at the Norfolk Naval Base. Johnny is a slick operator who has so much pull he's arranged to be temporarily stationed at the Naval Base Annex in Portsmouth as long as the New Jersey is in dry-dock so he can play football. Harry swears Johnny knows the President or at least the Commander of the Sixth Fleet.
Gordy laughs to Harry, "He's also one of those nuts I spoke of whose strength ends at the neck. For Christ's sake I hope he doesn't kill anyone today."
"You do know, Gordy, that gunner's mate he tackled last week had a busted thigh bone. Gives us five injuries we've caused which were serious enough for the sick bay. Not bad for three games-we've lost none; five to zero, and like golf the low score wins."
"You're wearing that as a badge of honor, Harry? Sounds like we have all the fleet nutcases."
"But we haven't lost a game, three wins and a tie, and we'll correct that today when we kick the shit out of the Intrepid."
A question suddenly occurs to Gordy. "How do you know about those injuries?"
"Oh, Cousin John's keeping score. He knows, in the biblical sense, the head nurse at the hospital."
Shaking his head Gordy says, "It comes as no surprise to me you speak so little about your family."
The tie game with the players from the aircraft carrier Intrepid is the only game Gordy has missed-he had shore patrol duty. Now with his Gordy back in the game, Harry is certain the Jersey sailors will win the return match.
The nutcase on the Intrepid's team is their running back, a bosun's mate named Dirk, Dirk Head. When he introduced himself in their first game Harry turned and smirked behind his hand at the name. Gordy pissed Dirk off by saying, "Hi-ya Dick ... head." Dirk didn't want to mess with Gordy and so as he walked away he returned a polite, "Screw you, asshole."
* * *
A game is finished when one team has four touchdowns or in two hours, whichever happens first. Harry's optimism about this second game looks right because the game is nearly over and with fifteen minutes on the clock the score is three to one in favor of the New Jersey.
But the Intrepid's team is moving the ball with a first and ten on the Jersey's twenty yard line. Harry has the team playing a "seven diamond". They have seven men on the line of scrimmage; Harry is in the middle at the linebacker position; Gordy and Johnny Mason are playing at the corners with a single safety behind them-the Intrepid's offense doesn't throw the ball much.
Their strength is the speed of Dirk. Gordy is ten times the running back that he is but Dirk has to be one of the fastest sailors in the fleet. Harry knows the next play will go wide-yes, it's a student body right! But as Harry snakes his way around bodies, Dirk outruns his blockers, Harry at his heels. Meanwhile Gordy and Johnny Mason are converging on the runner from each side.
Dirk uses one of the oldest tricks a good fast back will try; he slows down slightly so the corners will misjudge where he will be. Then he will put on a burst of speed leaving them behind. He does not know Harry is trailing him. As he slows Harry executes a suicide dive and catches his lifted foot. Dirk goes down and Harry's face grinds into the ground.
The resounding crunch of Johnny and Gordy's bodies ramming into each other does not drown out the cry from Harry as he lifts his face covered with blood, grass and dirt shouting, "Still the best goddamn center fielder in baseball." Nor does he realize he is the only one of the four involved in this collision who is conscious.
Excerpted from As the Mist Resembles the Rain by Fred Shaw Copyright © 2010 by Fred Shaw. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
The Best Goddamn Center Fielder in Baseball....................1
The Two Percent Solution....................16
A Ring on Her Finger....................38
A Crack of Light....................48
Traveling Light - The Sparrow....................98
Traveling Light - The Con Artist?....................103
Traveling Light - Santa Barbara....................108
As the Mist Resembles the Rain....................122
The Snow Flower....................125
Taking Care of George....................135
Reminiscence About a Small Town Girl....................152
A Conversation with Jim....................178
Introduction to The Blue Chair....................183
The Blue Chair....................186