THAT SUMMER’S DAY

The first summer vacation we had with our two small boys was a week at the Ocean Surf in Montauk NY – the perfect family place with a large swimming pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A few rickety wooden steps led to the beach and the pool was right outside the rooms so the kids were always within sight.

Everyone was very friendly except for one Scandinavian-looking family. Their little boy played with the other kids but he would frequently glance over at his parents – loners who drank vodka by day and argued by night.

The week was fabulous and we returned the following summer. The Ocean Surf had not changed and many of the same people were there, even the Scandinavian family but this time the father was absent and the mother looked haggard.

One day the mother emerged from her room carrying a colorful inflatable raft. She told her son she was going for a float in the ocean and to stay with the other kids by the pool. We said we’d keep an eye on the boy and she murmured her thanks.

As the children played the boy would occasionally look toward the ocean where his mother floated, plainly visible in her raft. Some time later the boy jumped up yelling “Hvor er mamma?! Where’s my mom?!” She had disappeared. The boy became frantic and ran toward the beach. Families followed, scouring the ocean with binoculars. Life guards, police and the Coast Guard searched until dark when the quest was postponed until morning. Jeff and Nina Morgan, the hotel owners, consoled the boy and watched him overnight.

At dawn the search began again and the vibrant raft was found washed ashore.  Boaters were questioned and a helicopter surveyed the ocean with no luck. The mission was halted. When the police talked to the boy he tearfully explained that his dad was gone and his mom was very sad. We all had the same thought: suicide.

The boy told the police his name and address; a phone call resolved unanswered questions. The father abused his wife and son. Several  months ago the father beat the boy terribly. To save her son the mother bashed the father over the head with a fireplace poker, killing him. A quick verdict of innocent was delivered and all charges were dropped. The boy said his mother longed for the healing waters of Montauk. Family court discovered the boy had no living relatives and granted custody to the Morgans.

That was a dreadful experience for everyone yet most of us returned the next summer, I think in part to check on the boy. We were delighted to see he was physically thriving under the loving care of the Morgans but the psychological scars were still there. He played with the other kids but would often wander down to the water’s edge and stare off into the distance.

Over the next couple of years we returned to the Ocean Surf. We learned the boy’s name was Tobias but the Morgans called him Toby. He adjusted well to his new life although he still walked to the ocean every day to watch the sunrise.

Eventually our one small room at the Ocean Surf became too cramped for the four of us and we began staying at a larger place. Our sons are married now with kids of their own. The Morgans finally retired, Toby got married and he and his wife manage the hotel. Yet he still heeds the call to sit on the beach every morning and watch the sunrise over the ocean.

NAR © 2020

THE BENCH

Grundy sat in his favorite spot: a dilapidated bench on the boardwalk at Coney Island overlooking Brighton Beach. He was celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of his divorce from Cathy, the “Crowned Cunt of Canarsie” as he called her. And he was getting drunk as he did every night. 

His routine never changed. After his shift at McDonald’s, he’d grab a Big Mac, walk across the street to the Liquor Loft, buy a $7.49 bottle of Old Crow Kentucky Bourbon and a pack of Camel cigarettes, then stroll over to his bench and settle in. 

Grundy’s Bench … his home away from home. Well, not literally. Thanks to his cousin Marcy and her husband Phil, he had an actual roof over his head. Grundy was real close to Marcy, growing up together and all, and Phil was as nice as they come, humble but with the bearing of a prince. Grundy lived with them and their three kids and all Marcy asked was for Grundy to cook Sunday dinner for the family. Hell, he’d cook dinner every night for those precious people if he wasn’t always shit-faced after work.   

“Pretty sweet deal” Grundy thought as he took a swig of his Old Crow. “I’m a freaking loser, an embarrassment, yet they treat me with a love I don’t deserve.” He had his own room, a TV and Marcy did his laundry. He mostly kept to himself, getting home late. He had the day shift, breakfast and lunch included. The pay was lousy and so was the food but it beat a blank. 

How the fuck did he end up here? Carl Grundy, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, working in some of the finest restaurants in the world … once one of the best chefs in New York … now a burger flipping drunk in Brooklyn. 

So what happened? Bourbon happened. He wasn’t much of a drinker – an occasional beer – but one night after a particularly ugly argument with Cathy, he surreptitiously chugged a shot of the restaurant’s finest bourbon. It was ambrosia and he had another. Before long it became a ritual, then a habit and finally an addiction. He got caught, fired and the cycle began. Land a new gig, drink their booze, get sacked. Eventually the only job he could get was at Mickey D’s and Old Crow was all he could afford. 

Out of nowhere he recalled the words of some televangelist his mother used to watch: “Your decisions cause your circumstances”. Damn straight! He didn’t even realize he was crying. Well, enough reminiscing for one night. 

Grundy gave his beloved bench a pat and stood up to begin his walk to Phil and Marcy’s. Suddenly he felt a searing pain in his chest and crumbled to the ground.

“Oh, Lord! I’ve made a fine mess of things” Grundy gasped. “I’m hurting and I want to go home. Mom and Dad are waiting for me.”

He died alone that night, his hands still clutching an empty bottle.

NAR © 2019

PLAY BALL!

Ever since he was a small boy growing up in Fairfax, Missouri, Will Horton was obsessed with baseball. Every chance he had he’d play ball with his friends and when no one was around, he’d put on his mitt and spend hours bouncing a ball off the old shed behind the house.  

In 5th grade Will was one of the starting pitchers for his Little League Team, the Badgers. They practiced three or four days a week after school and played a game every Saturday against the rival team, the Coyotes. By the time Will entered 7th grade, he qualified for the traveling team playing both home and away games.

Will lived on a dairy farm with his mother, June, and his dad, Tom. They tended cows, sheep and goats from dawn till dusk which was rough and demanding work. It was a hard life but the Horton’s were sturdy stock and enjoyed the farming life. 

Most nights during baseball season Will and his dad would enjoy watching the local Major League baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Will dreamed of one day playing with the Royals in Big K Stadium. He longed to go to a game but tickets weren’t cheap and Kansas City was 100+ miles from Fairfax. “Some day” Will would whisper to himself and fall asleep every night looking through his collection of baseball cards. 

On his 13th birthday Tom totally blew Will away with two tickets to the Royals game that Sunday afternoon. Will was so happy, his whooping and hollering got all the cattle skittish. “Sunday is three whole days off! I don’t think I’m gonna sleep a wink till then!” Will said excitedly. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Sunday morning dawned with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. After their morning chores were done, Tom and Will ate breakfast, then jumped in the truck for the drive to Kansas City. Will chatted all the way, going on and on quoting all the Royals stats. As they approached the city, they were in awe of its size. Driving into the Big K parking lot, Will swore it was the biggest building in all Missouri. Finding their way through the maze of gates and entrances, an attendant showed them to their seats. 

Will was speechless. The smell of peanuts, hot dogs and beer filled the air and the crowd was anxious for the game to start. Finally the Royals ran onto the field to the roar of cheers. They played a great game and won with a staggering score of 12 to 2. All the way home Will and Tom talked about the game. That night at bedtime he promised himself again he would one day be starting pitcher for the Royals. 

Time went on, Will graduated high school and was recruited by the University of Miami as pitcher for the Miami Hurricanes. After school he delivered pizza, saving what money he could. He was living the dream. One night that dream abruptly turned into a nightmare when Will’s delivery car was sideswiped by a truck and slammed hard into the side of a building. Will lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital .. his pitching arm amputated just above the elbow. He was vaguely aware of people in his room, hearing snippets of conversations – “Freak accident” .. “tried to save the arm” .. “tragic loss”  .. “baseball career over.” 

Will was devastated; his baseball days were over. He transferred to a college in Cincinnati, which was located across from the Cincinnati Reds ballpark. On game nights he’d go up to the school’s rooftop, wistfully watching the games. One dismal night Will pushed himself up and stood precariously on the ledge. A soft voice behind him said “You don’t really want to do that, do you?”

Turning his head slightly, Will saw a cute little brunette wearing a baseball cap. ‘What’s it to you? You don’t even know me.

“That’s true” the girl replied “but if you jump who’s gonna go to tomorrow’s game with me?

Will found himself smiling a little despite his depressed mood. This girl was cute and spunky. Offering her left hand, Will reached out and climbed off the ledge. “Hey, I’m Kate. Nice to meet you.” 

Kate meant what she said and the next day they went to the game together. Entering the stadium, Will felt alive again as all the sights, sounds and smells filled his head. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. He was home! Natural as can be, Kate tossed Will a mitt just in case a ball came flying right at them. She was a firecracker and he fell in love that day. They went to games in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and at their fifth game, Will proposed. Kate jumped into his lap, gave him a big kiss and said “YES .. under one condition, mister. We honeymoon in New York. I’ve always wanted to go to a Yankees game!” 

Will couldn’t decide which event thrilled him the most: his wedding day or actually stepping into the immortal Yankee Stadium. The experience was more than he ever dreamed and the game was perfect from start to finish .. even though his beloved Royals lost to the ‘Bronx Bombers’. They bought Yankee caps and jerseys and on the way back to their hotel he excitedly said to Kate “Let’s make a new tradition .. to visit as many ballparks as we can in our lifetime.’ Kate nodded happily in agreement. 

A couple of years later Will and Kate became the parents of twin boys. They loved playing ball in their backyard and Will even learned how to pitch lefty. They started playing Pee Wee Baseball and on their 4th birthday, Will made a big deal of presenting them with their gift. “This is a custom your mom and I started before you guys were even born. Now it’s time for you to join us in the ‘Horton Family Ballpark Adventure’!” 

Will beamed with happiness as his kids excitedly tore into the gift box to find two Royals baseball caps, official mitts and four tickets to the next Royals game. Will gazed at his family and suddenly realized THIS was his destiny all along. Winking at Kate, they grabbed a baseball, bats and mitts as Will shouted “PLAY BALL!”  

NAR © 2018

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

Promenaders strolled down the sun-streaked boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ladies twirled their parasols while the gents tipped their straw hats as they passed each other and stroked their handlebar mustaches. It was Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, a perfect day with sunshine, blue skies and children laughing.

Margaret Wilson and her boy Sam came from Philadelphia for the fresh sea air, to gaze in awe at the hotels built like fairytale palaces along the seafront and to admire the piers dripping with neon lights. The most famous was the Steel Pier, known for its dance bands, water circus and other such attractions. In fact, it was revealed that the famous composer John Philip Sousa and his band would be performing that very afternoon. 

There were barkers selling salt water taffy and cotton candy, minstrel shows, fairgrounds and the famous Diving Horse, specially trained to charge up a 60 foot ramp to a platform atop the Steel Pier where a woman clad in a smattering of sequins leapt onto its back just before it plunged off the pier. Horse and rider flew through the air, hitting the water to the applause of delighted throngs waiting below.

But one didn’t have to venture far from the boardwalk to sample less wholesome activities. In venues like the Paradise Club, tourists could watch nearly naked women dance to jazz music. And if they wanted something not just risqué but illegal, they could visit the brothels catering to every taste, gambling dens and slot machines. There was the criminal element, too, with occasional holdups and shoot-outs. 

However today was a holiday. Children played gleefully, the start of school the furthest thing from their minds, while their parents strolled in their most fashionable clothes, making small talk. Nothing could spoil a day like today. 

Suddenly the cacophony of gun shots rang out. People screamed and scattered as gun-wielding robbers ran from the pawn shop, shooting wildly. They jumped into a waiting car and took off. All was silent until a piercing wail rose to the heavens and everyone turned to see Margaret Wilson cradling the body of little Sam, shot in the heart by a stray bullet. In his jacket pocket was a folded essay, now stained with innocent blood – “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”. 

The police arrived, removed mother and child and the band played on. 

NAR © 2018

HOW IRONIC

Roger Prince was freezing. He had never been this cold in all his life. In fact, he was cold as a block of ice. Why was Roger Prince so cold? Because he was dead … stone-cold, dead-as-a-doornail D.E.A.D. You see, Roger had a big problem … he could never say “no” … and now because of that he was dead. 

Roger Prince was the nicest guy you’d ever meet … the type of guy who’d let you go ahead of him in line. The type of guy who’d help change your flat tire. The type of guy who’d loan you $10. Roger Prince was … well, a prince. 

But poor Roger Prince … as nice as he was … was also kind of a sap because he just couldn’t say “no”. If there was such a thing as being too nice, that was Roger … that was his Achilles heel, his weak spot, his fatal flaw. 

Temporarily unemployed, Roger tried saving money by moving into the upstairs bedroom of old Mrs. Willoughby’s house in the outskirts of town.  A housebound widow with no family, Mrs. Willoughby let Roger stay for practically nothing. Having no tv or phone, her expenses were minimal. Roger helped pay for utilities, maintained the house and brought in what little mail was delivered. He also went to the grocery store to buy Mrs. Willoughby’s staples: peanut butter, bread, instant coffee and a few toiletries. 

This particular January morning a heavy snow started around 2:00. When Roger woke up at 8:00, it was still coming down and showed no sign of stopping. Going into the kitchen for his morning coffee, Roger found none … also no bread. 

“Roger, dear” came a feeble voice from the parlor. “Can you run into town for coffee and bread? I forgot to ask you last night.” 

“Mrs. Willoughby, have you looked outside? There’s three feet of snow out there!” Seeing her distressed look, Roger couldn’t say no. “Don’t worry. I’ll head into town right now.” 

Roger mumbled “Why do we live in the middle of nowhere?!” 

Wind-swept snow whirled around Roger’s head as he made his way into town. Suddenly he lost his footing and tumbled down a steep hill, his eyes widening as he slammed head first into a tree. How ironic that his final startled word would be “NOOO!!” 

Roger Prince died instantly, the falling snow enveloping his body. 

And Mrs. Willoughby waited. 

NAR © 2017