Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Jam

In honor of basketball, a sport I love no matter how poorly my Knicks have done over the past several years, I've selected "The Jam" to be the first short story to appear on this blog as part of my Short Story Sunday series. Early birds will be able to find a new tale here at A Line A Day by early evening every Sunday for however long this endeavor runs. Others may opt to hold off so they'll have a new piece of fiction to get the work week started right on their Monday morning commutes. Whenever you choose to read these pieces and however (laptop, Kindle, Sony e-Reader, printed out, whatever) I hope they bring a touch of brightness to your day and I look forward to reading your comments. I won't bother to preface any of these stories with much of a synopsis beyond writing an introductory sentence and then letting them speak for themselves. Regarding "The Jam" I'll simply state that it's about a man trying to re-live his youth, if only for a brief moment. Happy Reading!


BY ROY L. PICKERING JR. Copyright held by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

The anxiously awaited train teasingly crawled forward a final few inches, then whip-lashed backwards. Before the doors even started to open, the crowd on the platform began jockeying for position. Floyd was initially in an ideal location to enter, once a few square feet were made available by departing passengers. But as the human torrent flowed out, he was bumped, stepped upon and spun around. In a matter of seconds the space was filled, and Floyd could do nothing but watch as the third train he had failed to get on that morning pulled away.

"You're not aggressive enough," his wife would constantly berate him. "Don't expect and don't request what you want. Demand it." Floyd knew that his wife had a valid point, but shoving his way to the center of attention just wasn't his style.

Ten minutes later the next train pulled into the station. This time Floyd was able to maneuver himself into what he thought was the final open spot. Unfortunately, the two hundred and fifty plus pound woman behind him felt that her girth could also be accommodated. Using Floyd as a human battering ram, she leaned every ounce of her flesh into him. After several failed attempts, the doors managed to close in on the woman's enormous behind. Floyd spent the eternity seeming next few minutes sandwiched between her flour sack breasts and the shoulder blade of a man who had apparently eaten a raw onion for breakfast.

Such torture could have been avoided by leaving home a little later than usual. Fifteen minutes would have sufficed, and the extra sleep would have been a welcomed treat. It wasn't as if it mattered what time he showed up. He was only going in to retrieve the few personal effects he had been unable to remove from his office yesterday. Yesterday was when Floyd joined the ranks of the unemployed, forced to resign after twenty two years of loyal service for the sin of aging in a youth oriented marketplace.

Floyd would not have minded expressions of pity from his colleagues, many of whom were not much older than his eldest grandchild. He had already begun to grow weary of feeling sorry for himself, so sympathy from other parties may have been kind of nice. But not a gaze caught his own as he passed. Everyone found another direction to look in with mild embarrassment. Floyd walked by his replacement, a kid only a few years out of college who possessed less knowledge of their business than one of Floyd's after dinner farts. But Tommy’s knowledge of the computer technology Floyd had shunned was thorough, as had been his earnestness to siege Floyd’s job from day one, and his willingness to kiss the appropriate ass in aid of this cause. Floyd expected a smug grin to be aimed his way, which would have been somewhat appreciated, for at least it would have been acknowledgment. But all he received for his years of dedication was the back of another gray-less, full head of hair. Floyd quickly gathered his belongings and departed, a despondent ghost haunting the corporate world which had done him in.

How had it ended up this way after starting off with such promise? College diploma in one hand, college sweetheart clasping the other, he had taken his first steps onto the rainbow with no doubt whatsoever that the pot of gold at the other end would soon be within grasp. The years since had been filled with highs and lows, times good and bad, and this was the moment they had led to. Instead of a pot of gold, he held a convenience store shopping bag filled mostly with mementos of minor accomplishments and photographs of loved ones, memories that when strung together constituted his life.

With no particular destination in mind, his steps took him to a fenced in concrete playground where sinewy urban youths played basketball with reckless abandon and breathtaking grace. More years ago than he cared to count, this game had been his central preoccupation. Floyd had been an above average high school player with dreams of the NBA which didn't come to an end until the senior year of a mediocre college career. He had relished every second of his final game, praying that the clock would never expire. Of course, his prayer went unanswered. Sooner or later, everything came to an end.

Floyd's remembrance of the sport seemed in slow motion compared to how it was being performed before him. The four against four full court contest was played with a bare minimum of teamwork, and perhaps even less desire for victory. Instead, it was a showcase for eight individual demonstrations of one on one moves, each more spectacular than its predecessor. The ball whirred through legs and around backs as if on a string, always coming back to its momentary possessor. Almost every sequence ended with a sudden propulsion of limbs above and beyond the rim.

During a break in play, Floyd's attention fell upon an African-American teenager to his right, who like himself was about six feet four inches tall. That was where their similarities ended. The kid was shirtless, lacking the paunch Floyd had acquired while time was passing him by. A low percentage of both body hair and fat caused the kid’s muscles to glisten in the sun. Beneath his button down shirt, Floyd’s considerably paler skin was not stretched nearly as tightly over his own frame. The girl that the kid flirted with looked up with longing into his dark, untroubled eyes, while Floyd observed them with envy through the light gray windows from which he wearily viewed the world. Floyd knew, for he had once been looked upon similarly, that the kid's confidence as much as his chiseled appearance was responsible for the attraction he elicited. His entire life lay ahead, he was in his prime, and like a peacock spreading its feathers, his demeanor exuded to all privileged to view him - check me out. If aware of the toll the process of living would eventually exact, taking away his beauty, his prospects, his cocky self assurance, the young man gave no indication of such foresight.

The basketball ricocheted off the rim, going out of bounds and heading in Floyd's direction. He went through the entrance of the court to retrieve it, fully intending to toss it back to its masters. But after scooping the ball from the ground, Floyd found himself dribbling down court. The pounding of his heart echoed the rubber on pavement. Looking ahead, he could see that the players had politely stepped aside to make way for their elder. A sense of deja vu overcame him. The final game of his college career, the closing seconds ticking away, Floyd then as now driving the lane hard, his path clear. At the foul line Floyd ceased his dribble and cradled the basketball. He brought it upward as he took a long left step, higher still with the following right, and then he was airborne, going for the jam.

"Hey, are you all right?"

Floyd opened his eyes and took in the worried, quizzical expressions above him. The memory of what had transpired seconds ago surfaced. The orange sphere hitting the unmovable rim, propelling him backwards. His vertical apparently wasn't what it used to be. Very little was.

Then he heard the clapping and cheering, some mocking, some sincere. The animated ebony sculpture he had been admiring gave him a thumbs up. This was the end of the rainbow, and what Floyd had found was an insufficient severance package, an unhappy marriage, some mild public humiliation, and a sore back. The words of his wife once again nagged at him. Had she been able to see him then and there, he wondered if she would be satisfied. He had aggressively gone to the hole, demanded that space be made for him, and reached for the heavens. He had fallen short of his lofty destination, come crashing back to earth, and it hurt. Once the pain subsided he would dust himself off and return to the business of living amongst mere mortals, holding firm to recollections of his brief view from the perspective of the gods.

Would his wife realize that the separation she had asked for two months ago was a mistake? Certainly not until he found a new job, preferably a better paying one. Would it matter if she never came back to him? Why should it, when it had mattered so little when she left?

The progression of events which led to the loss of his job had not sneaked up on Floyd. Sufficient advance warning had been issued about the evolving demands of his business. He chose to ignore the signs of danger. Things had been getting done the way he did them for many years. He did not subscribe to the theory that all processes and procedures needed to be periodically mended, even if they were not broken.

Long before the collapse of his marriage, Floyd knew precisely what could have salvaged it. He fully understood what type of man he would have to become, and had given considerable thought over the years to changing himself for the satisfaction of his wife. But Floyd had grown accustomed to who he was, and more importantly, he was rather fond of that person. So he continued to be the man he was meant to be, choosing not to be overly concerned about the possible consequences. Those consequences were now the state of his life. He spent the first ten minutes of each morning wondering when and if regret would be setting in.

Decades of effort had been given both to his marriage and his employer, with the same result in each case. He was told he was no longer wanted, long after ceasing to care.

"Can you hear me, guy? You okay?"

Floyd was okay, for he realized at that moment what the greatest of fools instinctively knew. No matter how high you get, sooner or later you will land. Perhaps on your feet, perhaps on your ass. If the former, you look around with pride and smile. If the latter, you do what Floyd did in response to the concerned question posed to him. He looked up at the world above him, laughed, and then sprung back up to his feet.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Short Story Sunday

On my wife's suggestion I have decided to create Short Story Sunday at "A Line A Day". Each Sunday I will post one of my short stories here. Comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'm very excited about this idea and can't wait to get started. The spacing of my blog posts has been rather erratic to date, and I tend to bop around from subject to subject, but now I will be posting on no less frequent than a weekly basis with a consistent feature. BEA weekend seems an especially appropriate time to embark on such a literary endeavor. Since I've been quite caught up in the NBA playoffs these past few weeks I'm thinking of kick starting Short Story Sunday with a tale that has a basketball theme. Stay tuned.

- Roy

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review for PATCHES OF GREY

They're starting to come in, slowly but surely. So far the critics have been kind and had plenty of positive things to say. If I wasn't so darn humble (written with tongue firmly in cheek) I'd be tempted to call the review by Randall Radic of Alvah's Books a rave. After all, it does contain phrases such as "he’s one heck of a writer" and "the guy can really write" and "Roy Pickering’s talent is astonishing and ignores every precedent". I also found Rancic's plot summary to be dead on the mark - "Patches of Grey is about the cost of loss, the cost of being human, the human cost of life not turning out the way it should." You can find the full review here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm not Mr. PC...

But can we please get rid of sports team names that offend entire segments of society, most often Native Americans? It isn't as if they have not complained and put forth strenuous efforts through our court system to halt this practice. Yet inexplicably these attempts have come up short. Today the Washington Redskins, a team with a horiffic name inspired by the complexion of a race of people, no less offensive than the Rednecks or the Darkies, won another legal victory in a 17-year fight with a group of American Indians who contend the football team's trademark is racially offensive. The decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington doesn't address the main question of racism at the center of the case. Instead, it upholds the lower court's decision in favor of the football team on a legal technicality. The team's attorney successfully argued that they would have suffered great economic loss if they lost the trademark registrations since millions of dollars have been spent on the brand. A number of nitpicking reasons were given by the court in defense of their decision. With all due respect, I think the decision is BS and a total shame. No professional sports organization (or collegiate or any other level for that matter) should have a name that is based on the nationality or race or religion of a group of people. Other descriptive categories such as handicapped or stutterer or suffering from halitosis or wears hair in a comb over style should be considered taboo as well. The Washington Redskins is no less offensive a name than the New York Middle Easterners or Los Angeles Mexicans or Mississippi African Americans or Florida Jews. I feel Washington's football team should change its name regardless of the outcome of any lawsuit just as their basketball team went from being known as the Bullets to the Wizards because they did not want a moniker that associated them with criminal violence. Not a single wizard, warlock or witch registered a complaint to my knowledge. Our nation's capital (of all places) is not the only guilty party, although they are certainly the worst offender. Atlanta also should in good conscience change the name of its baseball team because Braves does not strike me as particularly kosher (at least they have made some logo modifications over the years), and ditto for the Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland should pick a local treasure to name its baseball team after (the LeBrons perhaps) rather than being known as the Indians. Perhaps people in India would be peeved as well were it not for the fact that Cleveland's team logo is clearly not a person from Calcutta. I'll ignore bothersome team names in the NHL because ignoring the existence of hockey is one of the things I do best, up there with my refusal to acknowledge soccer. No doubt rightful complaints have been registered about some if not all of the names I've mentioned and several I've neglected to comment on [click here for a list of them], and the voices of dissent have continually been ignored because it would be monetarily inconvenient to appease a minority group. Let people operate casinos legally and I suppose you can then feel free to license their image any way you choose. There are arguments that appear to be so self evident that you wonder why you need to make them in the first place, yet here I am making this plea. Franchise owners, if a single person in this country or beyond its shores is insulted by the name of your sports franchise (I'm going on record as finding the Indians, Braves and Redskins to be inappropriate, and for that matter I see no good reason for Notre Dame to have a team called the Fighting Irish because surely there are some Irish pacifists who perhaps refer to themselves as Celtics, so out with that name too), why would you possibly want to go by such a name when there are countless others to choose from that wouldn't bother anybody at all? Imagine the boost to tourism in Minnesota if their football team did not insist on stereotyping and therefore alienating the Scandinavian ancestors of Vikings who probably enjoy wearing a wide variety of hats. This isn't political correctness, folks. It's plain old common sense.

- Roy Pickering (Author of Patches of Grey and Feeding the Squirrels)