American Pastime

Eric Baseball

Cleveland was alive on Saturday night.  The streets were filled with pedestrians, the highways were lined with traffic, and the hum of excitement filled the air.  It only took multiple concerts, a cinema on the square event, a black tie fundraiser at the local YMCA, and three simultaneous sporting events for the Mistake on the Lake to feel like a real city.  

“That’s just adorable,”  said Chicago.

“Teach me,”  pleaded Detroit.

I was right in the heart of it, wading through an unhealthy mix of beer bellies and Native American protesters to my seat at the Indians game.  One of our nearby manufacturing plants had an extra ticket as part of an employee appreciation night.  They gave it to me under the condition that I bring my camera and take pictures, most likely to be used as evidence should someone at the site one day say, “You never do anything nice for us.”  

“Oh really?”  Their HR manager would exclaim, pulling out a file folder of glossy, 8 x 10, color prints.  “I do believe this is you enjoying our company seats with a free hot dog hanging from your mouth.  Is it not?”

Among the attendees was Samantha, my British friend and colleague who had never experienced a real American baseball game.  Since she moved here almost a year ago, introducing British people to American events has become a new joy of mine.  It makes me feel like I’m on the Titanic and I just snatched a first class passenger from their tea party to come hang below deck where beer drenches the floorboards and everyone has gonorrhea.

As we made our way towards our section of the stands, the atmosphere was just right.  Modern country music blasted from all around while spectators gorged themselves with nachos and over-priced beer.  There was a free hot dog and barbecue buffet for ticket holders from our company, but I decided to pay for a sausage sandwich.  It’s a personal baseball tradition.  Had my Jewish father been there, he would have crucified me.  

We took our seats just as the national anthem began to sweep through the hearts of everyone in the stadium.  I was pissed because I had just gotten situated with my food tray and beer.

“You people really take this stuff seriously,” Samantha exclaimed.

“Shhh!”  I hushed as I dropped my food and placed my hand over my heart.  “I’m trying to show my respect.”

In reality, I had once seen a fat man in a trucker hat give the death stare to a crying baby while the Star-Spangled Banner played at a local football game.  If an infant can be labeled terrorist scum in the mind of one angry patriot, I didn’t want to think of what a crowd of Midwest sports junkies would do to us.

“Play ball!”  Yelled a random voice over the microphone once the singing subsided.

The first two innings gave Samantha a chance to get into the game.  I forgot to warn her that we were watching a Cleveland sports team until the first foul ball soared directly over our heads.  After that, the most common shouts from our section were “popcorn,” “peanuts,” and “duck!”  

Fortunately, enough action happened for Samantha to develop an understanding of how everything worked. 

“It’s just like rounders,”  She explained.

Rounders is apparently a British game that’s also played with bats, balls, and bases.  Imagining this was easy.  A player runs the bases, shouting “excuse me” as he rounds each corner before sliding into home and apologizing profusely to the catcher for getting dirt on his shoes.  The umpire wears a bowler hat and any bad call he makes is responded to with calm-yet-brutal rhetoric from the coaches.

“Get your tea here!” Yells a vendor from the stands.

From that point forward, Samantha became one with the rest of the crowd.  And I came to the conclusion that I knew much less than I thought about baseball when she started asking me questions.

“Isn’t Carlos Santana a music artist?”  She asked.

He is.

“Um…”  I responded when I saw that it was also the name of a player.  “He must have retired from music to play pro ball.”

He didn’t.

The truth is that I know as much about sports as I know about math.  If I had to calculate the percentage of Indians games I’ve watched this year it would be…i guess one out of …. if there are 162 games in a season then… oh fuck it.

I love games as much as the next person so long as they are played on a board or with a controller.  And if I want exercise (which is never) I run and lift.  I can appreciate the thrill of cheering a team to victory.  I can feel the excitement of intense competition.  I even have a Red Sox chair in my office as a form of Massachusetts pride, but I had to fold it up as soon as people saw it as a chance to talk trash to me.

“Yeah well…your team is stupid,” became my response of choice.

When people talk sports around me, I usually get really quiet and fade into the background, hoping there’s a sudden shift in conversation to something I’m an expert on like hamburger toppings or how to collect enough quarters to do a load of laundry without going to the bank.

Watching baseball with Samantha was a fresh change of pace.  We knew the basics of the game, but neither of us had any stake in it.  Regardless of whether the Indians won or lost, we would walk back to our cars the same way.  But it never got to that point because we left shortly after the eighth inning out of boredom and an inner desire to beat traffic.  Had somebody tried to stop us, I was ready to play dumb…

“There’s nine!?”

As we walked to the parking garage, we had already moved onto another topic of discussion and forgot the reason why we were in Cleveland in the first place.  There were 100,000 screaming sports fans behind us, but they were too focused on their teams to notice us outsiders.  A couple of foreigners as out of place as they came, but not bothered in the slightest. 

Unforgettable Intercourse

My brother recently moved to North Carolina for grad school.  It’s exciting because, distance-wise, he is closer to me than he was when he was living in Massachusetts.  Now, when I decide to visit, I just need to survive driving through hills of inbred, mountain people.  That joke may only be funny to the geographically inclined.  It definitely won’t be funny to people from West Virginia.

He drove down with my dad on a twelve-hour journey, stopping in Fredericksburg for a night.  I forgot they were making this trip until my email inbox began to fill with pictures of my dad, sporting his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment t-shirt, pretending to take cover behind a stone wall.  If this sounds strange to you, you’ve never been on a road trip with my father.

When you travel with my dad, a couple things are guaranteed to happen.  Regardless of where you go in the entire world, you will, at some point on your journey, find yourself at the former site of an American Civil War battle.  Some of these historical preservations will have museums and memorials dedicated to the fallen.  Most of these sites will be large, empty fields that last saw action one hundred and fifty years ago.  There will usually be at least one statue of a general or war hero, and you better be prepared to pose next to it, imitating the sculpture with tremendous accuracy regardless of how many other tourists are there snapping pictures and laughing at you.

In the end, you will see and experience new and exciting places.  You will also bond as a family.  But you WILL have your  fair share of embarrassment.  And sometimes all of these happen in a single moment that you will remember forever.  I’ll get to that in a second.

My brother’s recent adventure to grad school can be topped only be the multi-day road trip the men in my family took in the summer of 2003.  We called it the Fantastic American Road Trip for multiple reasons…

A. We covered several all-American stops like ground zero, Gettysburg, and the back yard pool of my dad’s old college buddy’s New Jersey home.

B. We did the entire trip by car.

C. The acronym is FART.

The longest portion of the trip was in Gettysburg, where we stayed in a motel for three days on the exact anniversary of the Civil War battle that made the town famous.  Each day we spent was filled with reenactments, looking at empty fields, and taking plenty of pictures.  Gettysburg is probably the most famous battle of the war, so there were plenty of statues for my dad to pose us next to.  He made sure we didn’t miss a single one.  If there was a stone soldier on horseback with his sword drawn, my brother and I were right there beside him, straddling air and waving our umbrellas high above our heads while my dad snapped away.

The most notable picture was one of the three of us standing with a group of Confederate reenactors.  These were bearded, toothless men who could have been extras in Deliverance if it was a period piece.  The picture is still on display at my parents’ house and it serves as a reminder of the time an awkward Jewish family joined forces with alcoholic, gun-toting, hobbyists on the field of pretend battle.

At this point in our lives, my brother and I were entering middle school and high school respectively.  Neither of us ever really had a rebellious phase, but it was still that age where we felt embarrassed every time we went to a movie with a parent and ran into our friends.  We were too cool to hang out with dad outside of our house, let alone stand in front of a canon that’s been inactive for over a century and pretend to fire it while he takes a photo.  To my dad, this was simply a part of being a parent.  To give your kids something they will take with them for the rest of their lives.  And he did.  He really, really did.  It just happened in an unexpected way.

On our way back to Massachusetts, we made a pit stop in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; a place widely known for its rich Amish culture, and for a little town called Intercourse.  When my dad doesn’t know the exact history behind something, he makes up facts.  So I learned that this town was named for the historic Amish orgy of 1754.

Most of Intercourse’s tourism probably comes from frat guys who stop in just long enough to buy a t-shirt.  It’s a wonder more towns haven’t taken this approach to attracting tourists.  Sexville, New Hampshire, Analbeads, Wisconsin, Fuck, Michigan.  It’s almost too easy.

As we walked through town, the Amish smiled and waved.  But my dad and I were too busy snickering.

“I wish I could experience Intercourse every day!”  My dad joked.

“I loves me some nice, long, intense Intercourse.”  I responded.  Missing the point entirely.

“What’s so funny?”  Demanded a prepubescent voice in the back.

My brother, in his eleven-year-old wisdom, didn’t get the joke.  To him, intercourse was a meaningless word that had no relation to sex and sex was a thing you did when you lied on top of your partner, kissed, and rubbed belly buttons.  I told him that.

My brother was also notoriously stubborn as a child and didn’t like being left out of the conversation.  Every time my father and I made a joke, he would demand to know why we were giggling like school boys who just found their older brother’s porn collection.

All my dad had to do was say, “Intercourse is another word for sex.”

It’s a simple explanation.  My brother would have nodded and laughed along with us for the rest of the trip.

But there was something in the air on that warm, summer day.  Like a pollen, it floated through my dad’s nostrils and into his lungs, making his chest puff and fresh hair sprout on his ass.  Maybe it was because we were on the last couple days of a week-long male bonding excursion and he felt as though we needed to return home with more than just a few pictures.

He decided, right then and there in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, to give my brother the sex talk.

“Stay here, Eric.”  He said to me outside the Amish waffle house.  “Your brother and I need to have a few words.”

As they walked in slow motion towards a park bench on the side of the dirt road, I saw my brother look back in terror shortly before a horse and buggy momentarily blocked my view.  For the next twenty-three minutes, I watched from afar as my dad explained the inner workings of a vagina like he was putting on a shadow puppet show.  My brother fixed his eyes on a nearby pile of horse manure and that’s where they remained for the rest of this one-sided conversation.

For the first time on the trip, I was able to watch a purely awkward moment from afar.  I savored it, knowing that my brother will never be the same again.  Knowing that he will one day tell his children stories about this very encounter.  And I will do the same, when I’m not taking embarrassing pictures of my own kids.  In front of every statue.  On every road trip.  In every place we visit.  I’ll laugh as they cringe and plead, “Dad!  Can we stop now?  People are watching!”  Because I know it may be painful at the time, but when they grow up they will wish I had taken more.

My dad was in the middle of miming an erection with his thumb, when I realized I instinctively had his camera out and was snapping away.  Click.  Click.  Click.  The tears in my eyes from laughter making it hard to see exactly what was happening, but I knew I had to capture every moment as this was the kind of uncomfortable part of growing up I never, ever wanted to forget.

Dad and Cannon

Still Life

Photograph by Susan Licht

Photograph by Susan Licht

Last Christmas, my family awoke to presents under the decorated tree, full stockings hung by the chimney, and the smell of cinnamon coming from the kitchen.  A light snow coated our yard in white while James Taylor’s holiday album played softly through the stereo.  I can say with confidence that it was the most festive birthday party for Christ that any Jewish family has ever thrown.

When my mom called us over for breakfast, we gathered around the table just in time to see the still steaming, syrup coated, french toast placed directly in front of my brother, father, and I.  Before we could thank Jesus for the delicious feast, we lunged for the food with our forks out, ready to stab.

“Wait!”  My mom yelled.  We froze.  She surveyed the scene of three starving men in their pajamas about to tear into a holiday treat like cavemen ripping open the belly of a boar.  “I have to get a picture first.”

She went into the other room to grab her good camera.  Our eyes never left the food.  It was like somebody hit the pause button on our kitchen.  But what else could we do?  Inspiration had struck my mother and that inner desire to create needed to be fulfilled.  Over the past few years this has been a common occurrence in the Licht household.

Like that one time my dad, brother, and I were swimming at a beach on the Cape.  We were up to our waists in the ocean, horsing around in the waves.

“Do another underwater handstand!”  My mom shouted from the shore.  “I missed the last one.”

I still had water in my ears from our last trick, but we dunked ourselves over and over until my mom got the perfect shot.  This meant holding my breath for longer and longer durations.  It was worth it when we saw the picture in its finished form; but at the time it was like Ansel Adams meets water boarding.

My mom’s photography skills began to develop several Christmases before we almost murdered her over French toast.  It was a Nikon or a Canon, I believe.  My dad had it perfectly wrapped under the Chanukah Bush for when she got up.  I didn’t think twice about it.  My mom is difficult to shop for and I imagined it would be a few months before the camera started collecting dust in the closet next to the bread maker we got her a few years before.  My mom got a few months out of the bread maker at least, filling our family with delicious carbs every chance she could before she got bored.  In the end, we were lucky she didn’t develop a passion for baking sourdough rolls, otherwise her next Christmas gift would have had to be an aerial spy camera for family portraits.

In the end it was photography that won the heart of my mother and she took to it much faster than any of us could have expected.  She started seeing inspiration in every flower, bug, bird, cup of coffee, sunset, and passerby on the street.  She started taking nature walks, morning drives, and afternoon trips into the city to see what should could capture.  And there was always something to capture.  There were times we caught her in the yard snapping shots of a single dandelion for hours.  I like to think I inherited my mom’s appreciation for the beauty of daily life, and that this is reflected in my writing.  She shows this love through photographs of the moment a bee gracefully lands on a flower and I write about pooping my pants.

In order to share her pictures, my mom took to social media, amassing over 800 followers on her blog faster than I could say, “How the hell are you doing that?”  Then she started getting recognition from other well known bloggers and selling her pictures faster than I could say, “No, but seriously, how are you doing that?”.  Yet, in spite of my jealousy over my popular mom, she has still managed to be an incredible source of inspiration.

To see someone twice as old as me with a sense of wonder so fresh.  To still see that fire in someone with an amount of life experience that usually keeps people grounded in a comfortable routine.  It gives me hope that learning, discovering and creating don’t end once your children have grown.

“Now don’t move.”  My mom demanded when she returned to the kitchen with her camera around her neck.

The steam from the toast was beginning to fade and my fork was starting to tremble as a response to my inner diabetic panic attack

“Please hurry.”  I begged.

At the time, my appreciation was clouded by my love for food.  It wasn’t until seeing the photograph on her blog later that I began to reflect on the moment and truly see the beauty in it.  And it wasn’t until now that I was able to try to describe this beauty on paper, hoping that my humorous twist on the festive occasion is half as amazing as what my mom saw through the lens that Christmas morning.

Photograph by Susan Licht

Photograph by Susan Licht

You can read my mom’s blog at lichtyears.com

Limericks on False Assumptions

There was a mechanic named Bob
Who praised Jesus like it was his job.
I found this bizarre,
But he fixed up my car
And made this Jew feel like a snob.

A girl and I started to speak
In an online dating boutique.
Though she played off me,
She didn’t like coffee.
Our “relationship” lasted a week.

In Ohio, I went out to eat
At an ocean-themed place up the street.
But just cause the sea’s viewed
Doesn’t mean there’s good sea food.
So next time I’ll order red meat.

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The Darkest Brown

Photo by Susan Licht @ lichtyears.com

Photo by Susan Licht @ lichtyears.com

In college, picking up the check for somebody else was usually an indication that you lost a bet or you’re trying to get into someone’s pants.  In the business world, picking up the check is a sign of status.  The bill always goes to the highest ranked person at the table.  On Maggie’s birthday this was far from the case, but I still felt a wave of self-gratification as I placed my credit card over the thirty-something dollar itemized receipt.

“You really don’t have to do that.”  Maggie pleaded.

“I know.”  I replied as I folded my arms across my chest and posed for an imaginary Manager of the Year picture.  “I want to.”

As our group of colleagues left the restaurant, Samantha, who was sitting on the other side of the table, couldn’t stop staring at me.  It was as though she was in awe of the way I treated my employee to a meal.  She couldn’t help but gaze upon me as my body radiated with kindness and compassion.  As she approached me, she hesitated like she was not worthy of being in the presence of a business god.

“You have a brown stain on the ass crack of your trousers.”  She whispered.

I froze.  My eyes scanned the room to see if anybody else had noticed.  They didn’t.  Everyone was laughing, chatting and grabbing a mint from the tray next to the door.  I couldn’t wait until we got into the parking lot to find out what was on my pants so I chose, right then and there in the crowded Italian restaurant, to discretely run my fingers down the center of my butt.  Nothing.  I started to panic.  By the time my colleagues had left the building, I was stealthily turning around in circles trying to see my rear end like a dog chasing its tail.

I decided to drive home to change instead of going back to work.  I didn’t know what this mystery brown spot was, but my mind did what it always does and began to fear the worst.

I pooped my pants.

I didn’t know how or when or why, but I was certain of it.  Perhaps when we surprised Maggie that morning I got so excited I just went without realizing it.  Or maybe I had started aging at such a rapid pace that defacating myself was going to become a regular thing from this point on.  I would have to invest in diapers.

Before I was potty trained, I used to walk into my parents room, stand next to a nice potted plant and go to the bathroom.  When my parents asked what I was doing, I would reply, “I’m doing my work!”  It brought me great discomfort to imagine me doing the same thing in my office as a 27-year-old man.

As I was driving, I tried to calm myself down by coming to terms with the fact that my mind tends to over-exaggerate things.  Most times I’ve feared the worst about something, I’ve been wrong.

For instance, there was this one time my dad was visiting me in Ohio and the little old lady on the first floor asked him for a ride to the supermarket right down the street.  They had recently took away her license.  The supermarket was an easy walk, but not for somebody in her condition (being old).  My dad, being the man that he is, accepted and they got in his car and left.

A few minutes later, he returned.

“Ready to head to dinner?”  He asked.

“Where did that woman go?”  I responded.

“She’s at the store.”  He said.  There was a pause.  “You don’t think she wanted a ride back, do you?”

I didn’t see that woman again for four weeks.

In my vivid imagination, she died just outside of the checkout aisle with a bag of groceries in hand, waiting for somebody to help her get home.  Or she hitched a ride with a serial necrophiliac who had her locked in a cage until her time came.  Or she was walking home and stumbled upon a street gang who initiated her as an honorary member so long as she proved she could take a life.  That recurring vision of her popping a cap into convenience store clerk was fresh in my mind even as I arrived at my apartment to change my pants.

I was down to my boxers as soon as I stepped into the bathroom.  That’s when I got a glimpse at the “poop.”  It was dried.  It was crusty.  It was on the outside of my pants.  It was…

“Chocolate.”  I said to myself as I took a nice whiff.

To this day, I’m not sure where or when I sat on a candy bar.  Maybe it was at the restaurant.  Maybe it was in my office.  I didn’t stick around to think.  I just put on a clean pair of pants and left.

As I was leaving, the old woman on the first floor peeked out of her apartment as she does on occasion to say hello.

“Are you home from work early today?”  She asked.

“Nah.”  I said.  “I had to change my pants.  I sat in chocolate.”

“You get used to it.”  She replied.  “Hey…are you going past the K-Mart?”

 

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