Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Soundtrack to My Youth

"I think George Michael may have died..."

I was sitting at the dining room table at Mom's, having just finished Christmas supper, when I received the text.  The year two thousand and sixteen, already cursed with so much darkness and death, had claimed yet another.

I suppose you never know how news like that will hit you until it does.  But amidst all the usual Christmas gaiety - the excitement of the nephews and niece, the adults talking, some Christmas movie on the television -- it took everything within me to keep from weeping openly.

I walked down the hall for a moment to gather myself.  When I returned, I told my sister the news.  She looked shocked for a second, then sang a couple of lines of "Faith" and moved on.  She didn't get it.  She was a bit too young then.

"Then" being somewhere in the vicinity of 1988.

Faith.  Father Figure.  Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.  One More Try.  Careless Whisper.  That music was the soundtrack to my youth.

For me, it represents those sweet spot days of thirteen to nineteen.  First cars and awkward first kisses.  Bonfires and pep rallies and hanging out at the mall.  Falling in love and first broken hearts.  When the real world had mostly yet to begin to erode the innocence.

I remember being on a field trip.  We were going to Helen Keller's birthplace, I think.  On the bus, I had strategically positioned myself on the seat in front of Annalisa Gray, on whom I had a little crush.  She was listening to the "Faith" album on her Walkman, which made her even more appealing.  

Though I had both the "Make It Big" and "Music From the Edge of Heaven" cassettes from the Wham! days, I had not yet procured my own copy of George Michael's first solo album.  I daydreamed that we might share headphones while listening to it, but as reality would have it, I think she loaned me her Walkman long enough to listen to one song.

The next year, she and I would perfect the art of the tongueless kiss.  (Is art the right word?)  I got my own copy of "Faith" and flat wore it out.  As it almost always does, the music outlived the crush.

I guess eventually the music outlives us all...

"I'm looking out for angels, just trying to find some peace..."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twas the Night Before...

The day of the wedding, I had lunch by myself.  A few of us had gone go-karting and hung out in the arcade that morning, after plans for zip lining fell through.   I wound up at a little seafood joint two blocks from the beach — just me, my crawfish and my Yuengling.  My last meal as a free man.  And not a bad choice, I might add, though some collard greens and cherry cobbler would have consummated it nicely.

As the crawfish began to disappear, I wondered if I’d be consummating anything anytime soon.  That is, considering the near-disastrous events of the night before.

Rehearsal had gone well enough, highlighted by the scrumptious swine delicacies of Hog Wild BBQ.  I was most excited about our recessional song (the Baja Men wedding classic, “Who Let the Dogs Out”) and my reception “mixtape.”  It was obvious (to me) that the old deejay hadn’t lost his touch.

Sure, one groomsman had been an hour late, and one bridesmaid missed the whole thing after getting lost in Mississippi.  (She looked like the lone survivor at the end of a horror movie as she avowed, “People think Alabama and Mississippi are the same.  They’re not.  Mississippi is way scarier.”)  But I figured if that’s the worst thing that happened, we were in good shape.

It wasn’t.

LJ and his wife invited us out to the Flora-Bama afterwards.  I should interject here that I may have given Fiancee Bone the impression that we would not go out after rehearsal.  I did this by telling her, “We will not go out after rehearsal.”  After all, we still had our vows to write!  (Procrastination being the mother of…. No wait, procrastination being the tie that… Eh, whatever, I’ll finish that line later.)

But we (I) was feeling guilty and trying to fit in as many friends and family as we (I) could.  After all, almost everyone had driven a minimum of five hours to get here.  So we (I) agreed (volunteered us) to go.

We rode with them and left Fiancee Bone’s car in the parking lot of the Gulf State Park Pavilion.  Our only instructions were to be cleared out by midnight because that’s when the gate would be locked.

The Flora-Bama was sprawling and historic, if uneventful.  It seemed the sort of place you really had to be inebriated to enjoy.  We got back to the Pavilion by 11:30. The gate, naturally, was locked.

After a few minutes of hemming, hawing, and investigating the situation, I decided there was space enough between the gate and a nearby utility pole to fit the car.  Perhaps you already have some idea where this is going?

As I navigated the five-speed, front-wheel drive German sedan towards the seemingly ever-shrinking gap, I looked at the three of them — LJ, my best man and friend of twenty-plus years; Mrs. LJ, well-intentioned if uber-panicky; and Fiancee Bone.  The skepticism was palpable.

I pressed on, determined to skillfully maneuver Fiancee Bone’s car through the opening, across a sandy threshold and into our future together.  Hero, thy name is Bone.

(I believe it was Gordon Lightfoot who once sang, “Heroes often fail.”)  My mistake was being too careful.  Not wanting to damage Fiancee Bone’s vehicle, I took it too slow.  The front-wheel drive, rather than working to pull me out of the sand (did I mention I was driving through sand?) only served to dig me in deeper -- literally and figuratively, I was thinking about this time.

I scanned Fiancee Bone’s face, trying to gauge her, um, enthusiasm.  On a scale of “I’m leaving and driving back home tonight” to “I love you forever,” it was a solid “I may not be speaking to you for awhile.”  We’d be fine.  Let’s face it, she’d surely put up with way worse than this in our time together.  I was inexplicably optimistic.

The three of us — LJ, Fiancee Bone and myself — got out to try and push.  Mrs. LJ got back into her own vehicle, presumably to panic some more or hide from the police that we all assumed would be arriving any minute.

Though buoyed by Mrs. LJ’s constant declarations of “This is never going to work,” pushing was a no-go.  The front wheels were nearly half-buried by now, thanks to some excessive gassing it earlier by yours truly.  The thought crossed my mind that no girl should have to be pushing a car from a stuck position the night before her wedding.  But in some way, it made me love her even more.   I looked at her again, and in that moment, I felt pretty confident she was not having similar thoughts about me.

Fiancee Bone began to call family members and friends to see if there was anyone who could pull us out, while Mrs. LJ consoled her with utterances of “I’d be so upset if I were you.”  I separated from the group a bit and walked back to the car.  That’s when I saw it — wedged down in the corner of the driver’s side window — the world’s tiniest post-it note.

I held the absurdly small piece of paper in the light and read it’s once-important but now terribly untimely message:

“Gate is dummy locked.  Please lock up when you leave.”

Why?  Just… why?

First of all, notes on cars go under the windshield wiper, everyone knows that!  I'm pretty sure that's in Deuteronomy, or would have been had post-it notes been invented in 1500 B.C., right between gleanest ye not thy fields after the harvest and something something something thine brother's oxen.

Secondly, who buys the 1/2 inch by 1 3/4 inch post-it notes?  They are very hard to see!  Nothing says "I wanted to leave you a note so technically you couldn't say I hadn't, but I didn't really want you to get the message" more than this.

Now you understand, Fiancee Bone hadn’t wanted to go out in the first place.  Plus there was the little matter of the car getting stuck while it just so happened I was the one driving it.  So I was already skating on the thinnest of ice.  But this bit of news, which meant the entire misadventure could have and should have been avoided, had turned that ice to slush.

I walked back to the group — they had remained preoccupied — and did not say a word, but simply handed the note to Fiancee Bone.  My brain must have suppressed the memory of her reaction in the interest of self-preservation or something, because I cannot recall a thing that she said.

In order to put the finishing touches on my magnum opus, I strolled over to the entrance, easily removed the lock and swung open the gate.  Voila!  Well, at least I’ll know for next time?

Not more than a couple of minutes later, we noticed the headlights of a vehicle begin to slow and pull off the side of the road.  How were we going to explain our situation?  There’s no way the police would believe the truth.  More likely, they would think we’d broken in, went joy riding in the parking lot, probably smoked a few doobies, and got stuck on our way out.  I began to wonder what the Gulf Shores Jail was going to look like.

Would it be like the Andy Griffith Show?  That wouldn’t be so bad.  Or would it be more like Law & Order?  Would I get my own cell or would I be in holding with a bunch of other criminals?  I knew that regardless I would not be able to “go” in that little sink/toilet thingy with no privacy.  I’d just have to wet myself.  Of that, I was certain.

As it turns out, my toilet nightmare would have to wait.  It was not the cops.   Instead a white jacked-up truck had pulled up.  Two boys who looked to be no older than nineteen or twenty got out.  Without saying a word, one hopped into the bed of the truck and began pulling out a chain.  The other offered nothing more than a brief “Ya’ll stuck?” greeting as he began to tie one end of the chain around the front right wheel of Fiancee Bone’s car.  It was as if they had done this a hundred times before.

Displaying a prowess normally reserved for a NASCAR pit crew, they had us unstuck within three minutes.  It would have been sooner but someone didn’t realize he had the car in reverse at first.  We insisted they take twenty bucks for their trouble.

Back on the road, we saw the white truck again on the strip.  It was turning into the Hooters.   A well-deserved reward, I thought.

Meanwhile, Fiancee Bone wasn’t saying much.  Probably thinking about how to convey her undying devotion to me in her vows.

“You know, one day we’ll look back on all this and laugh,” I offered, feebly.  

From her reaction I gathered that today was not that day.

"Tomorrow we can drive around this town, and let the cops chase us around.  The past is gone, but something might be found to take its place..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Old We've Gotten, How Many We've Lost

It was the spring of my discontent.  One of several.  I had been unemployed for about two months, ever since I called out one Friday night at the Food Fair so I could attend the county basketball tournament.  At the tender age of seventeen, I was on my own.  

Well, that's not entirely true.

I mean, I still lived with my parents and they fed me and stuff, and I was still in high school.  But...  I had stocked my last gallon of milk, fronted my last aisle, stolen my last grape... (What?  They're like half a cent each.  I ate like three a night.  Who amongst us hasn't absconded with a bit of produce without paying, let them cast the first stone... OWW!  Who threw that?!)

That May, I landed a weekend job at the local AM radio station.  It was, um, quaint.  They still had a fifteen-minute swap-and-shop phone-in program (think of it like Craigslist on the radio) every weekday.  Each morning at 7:57 they (we) aired the funeral announcements (think obituaries on the... well, you get the idea).

It also happened to be a country station.  The year was 1990.  Up 'til then, I had not been all that keen on country music.  In fact, we were just coming out of my favorite decade of pop music, and I was pickin' up whatever Casey Kasem was countin' down.

As it turned out, my hiring coincided with a remarkable country music boom.  Garth had come out in '89, along with Clint Black and Alan Jackson.  George Strait, Alabama, and Reba were all in the long sweet spots of their careers.  Brooks & Dunn were about to break through, along with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and on and on.  Coincidence?  Well, as I just used the word "coincided," then yes, completely.

I still remember the first time I played/heard "Friends in Low Places."  It was on a 45 (think compact discs for old folks).  Perhaps it was because I was still a few months away from my first crippling heartbreak and had never tasted beer, but the song didn't strike me as all that remarkable.  In fact, I predicted then and there that Clint Black would indeed have a longer, more successful career than Garth.  Still waiting to see how that one turns out.

I saw the change from vinyl to CD's to mp3's.  Commercials went from carts (think re-recordable 8-tracks) to mini-discs to mp3's.  And within a couple of years, the station applied for and was granted an FM license.  Eventually, I moved to full-time working the night shift on a real FM radio station (think SiriusXM for old folks).

Anytime someone would ask about my job, the answer was always some variant of "I'm only doing this until I find something else/figure out what I want to do for a career."  I assume it was part of my Peter Pan syndrome, always waiting for some fantastical ship whose arrival was always just around the corner.  

Then one day, it was twenty-five years later.  And I had spent approximately twenty-one of those working for various radio stations filling an assortment of positions, from DJ to reporter, producer to high school football scoreboard co-host.

So why did the career-that-wasn't end?  Well, consider that except for the most recent, every other radio station I had worked for has since been bought out, changed format and moved, or shut down entirely.  I have never spoken truer words than these: Clear Channel killed the radio star.

Perhaps I'll write more about my radio days later -- I can sense the masses clamoring.  But what got me thinking about those days were last week's CMA Awards Show.  My sister texted (think Snapchat for old folks) the day after the Awards to see if I had watched.  I had not.  

The last station I worked for was classic country, '50s through '90s, which probably contributed to my being mostly abhorred by what passes for current country music.  (And while I'm at it, you pesky kids, you get off my lawn!)

She went on to inform me, due to it being the 50th Anniversary, there had been a tribute of some sort and quite a few of the old guard had appeared.  So I spent a bit of Thursday scrounging around YouTube watching clips.

Soon I found myself on the outskirts of Nostalgia-ville, cruising down a warm and fuzzy stretch of Memory Lane (one of my favorite roads as you may have noticed over the years).  There was a montage of some of the legends who have passed, including Waylon, Haggard, Cash, Keith Whitley, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones.  

I had not expected to become teary-eyed, yet there I was.

The music had played a significant role in my life, certainly that was some part of it.  I think it's fairly common to feel a connection with the people and things who share our little strip of time.  The singers and bands, actors and athletes, songs and TV shows.  In all the years of creation, these were ours.

But mostly I suppose it had to do with that old familiar reminder of time's swift and certain passage.  Watching Alan Jackson, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Alabama, and others on stage, I soon had the thought, "Wait a second.  How did they become the old guard?"

For you may be able to convince me of many things, but you will never convince me that the early '90s were twenty-five years ago.  Feels more like ten.  Maybe fifteen.  But twenty-five?  One third of an average lifespan?  A quarter of a century?  It seems as impossible as a thing can be.

I swear just the other day I was dusting off an old Charley Pride LP, placing it on the turntable, back cueing it to the start of "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin," and flipping the switch from 45 to 33 1/3...

Geez, that must have been some switch.

"If we had an hourglass to watch each one go by, or a bell to mark each one to pass, we'd see just how they fly..."

Monday, October 24, 2016

Semi-Decent Proposal

One year late in the spring I am at the beach, and find myself in what can only be described as the world’s most heinous piano bar. The pianists, if I may use that term loosely, are spouting distasteful sodomy jokes (are there tasteful ones?) with disconcerting frequency. Perhaps they mixed in a few other jokes as well, but much like an imagined prison stay, it’s the sodomy you remember.

I am sitting between the girl I’ve been courting for quite some time and my ex-best friend’s wife, wracking my brain for a way to get the former to leave so the latter and I can have a couple of minutes alone.

You may be wondering, much like I was at the time: how did I wind up here?

It all began with a boy, a plan, and a healthy dose of absentmindedness.

First, the plan. We’d go for a walk on the beach, a place sewn into both our souls. I’d kneel down and propose in Spanish — she had lived in Spain for four months — reciting the words on the folded piece of paper I had kept in my wallet and rehearsed so carefully. Granted, it wasn’t any elaborate plan, but it was mine. I’d even gone old school and ask her Dad's permission. He, the jeweler, and I were the only people who knew anything at all about it.

We were on our way to the coast, thirty minutes into the five-and-a-half-hour trek when it hit me. (Apologies in advance for the language.)


A pause.

“Crap! Crap, crap, crap!”

“What’s wrong? Did you forget something?”

“Uh…. no.” An obvious lie.

“Are you sure? We can go back.”

“No. It’s fine.”

But it wasn’t fine. My non-elaborate plan had but one tiny flaw: I must not forget the ring!

We couldn’t go back for it. Even if we did backtrack, adding an hour to our trip, when I came out of the house, she’d be expecting me to be carrying something. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of anything to pretend I had forgotten that might seem worth going back for.

And so, we continued southward, past the familiar rolling hills north of Birmingham, my mind a million — er, thirty — miles away.

I could propose without a ring. She would be confused, at best; disappointed, at worst. Else I would have to wait until we returned and come up with some other probably even less elaborate plan. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach.

I texted my ex-best friend’s wife: “You will not believe what I did!”

And now four people knew.

(It seems worth noting here the reason he is my ex-best friend is simply because we drifted apart once he got married and then went off on some radical religious tangent. Nothing too sinister.)

They happened to be coming to the beach that same weekend. She was full of questions: Was there anyone who had a key to the house? Yes. The girl who would be coming by to feed Tony DiNozzo, my third-born Betta.

OK, so I guess it was just the one question. They would conspire. She would retrieve the ring from my underwear drawer — the place all men keep their valuables. I assume — and bring it South.

They would arrive Saturday afternoon. We would be departing for home Sunday morning. It would be tight, but it could be done. I was almost confident.

I had one last directive:

“Make sure you don’t get the wrong ring.”

“There’s more than one ring???”

“I was engaged before.”

Obviously, bringing the wrong ring could turn what I was naively optimistic was going to be a decent engagement story into one that would be… well, probably not even an engagement story at all.

Saturday evening, the prospective Fiancee Bone and I grabbed some seafood at Kenny D’s, then drove across the bridge to Okaloosa Island and the aforementioned Sodomy Saloon, the rendezvous point suggested by my now ring-bearing friend. It had taken some convincing on my part. It being our last night on the beach, the Prospective One wasn’t overly keen on spending part of it with my ex-best friend’s wife. But I persuaded her. Or more accurately, annoyed her about it until she relented. This is how I operate.

We got to the door. I nearly turned back. Cold feet? No. Ten dollar cover charge. Which, if you’ve never dated anyone, meant twenty dollar cover charge. I figured it up, it came to about a dollar forty-three cents per sodomy joke. I don’t know what the going rate is, but that seemed a tad high.

We must have sat there at least forty-five minutes. She who bore my ring and I casting glances at one another, trying to figure out how to make the exchange. (Which, as it turns out, you cannot do through glances alone.) She who may hopefully someday bear my child growing more agitated with each excruciating moment. Finally, an idea. My first.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Prospective fiancee always had to go.

“No.” Of course.

At that point, I swear I began to see smoke. I’m not sure if it was from the bar or literal steam rising from her increasingly infuriated (and oh so adorable) head, but considering it was a non-smoking bar…

Then Ring Bearer excused herself to go to the restroom. I sat there for a good thirty seconds, clueless.

Oh! It hit me. "Um, I guess I’ll go, too.”

There was a lobby outside the restrooms. Ring Bearer wasn’t there when I went in. Thankfully, she was waiting when I had finished making my deposit. We made the swap. I pondered how many transactions just like this must have taken place in this very spot. Probably not many.

By now, it had gotten to be the sleepy side of 10 p.m. With a bit of a drive still ahead, I thought it would be too late to suggest a walk on the beach once we got back to the room. She would be suspicious. So instead, I suggested we go for a walk on the pier not far from the bar. Just the two of us. (I'm pretty sure that part was integral.) She agreed.

Partway down the pier, between people fishing and... other people fishing, I stopped and leaned against the rail. We chatted for a bit, looking out over the ocean and back towards the hotels and lights along the shoreline. It truly was gorgeous, out here, away from all the sodomy.

When I caught her looking away, I pulled the ring box out of my pocket. When she turned back I smiled and, gazing into those eyes so full of love — although maybe not quite as full as they had been a couple of hours ago — said, “Has anyone told you lately they want to spend the rest of their life with you?”

I then proceeded to kneel, and right there next to a sign that read “No fishing or diving,” I jumped right in.


She said yes. Eventually. Turns out at first it was so dark she couldn't see the ring. But I did get the Spanish right. Later she asked what I would've done if I'd dropped the ring into the ocean, you know, since it was right there and all. I had honestly never considered that, not surprisingly. We would be married about 80 miles down the coast a little over a year later. I volunteered her to be in charge of the rings.

"Someday somebody's gonna ask you / A question that you should say yes to / Once in your life / Maybe tonight I've got a question for you..."

Friday, October 14, 2016


It was nineteen eighty-six or -seven.  I had gone with Fave Aunt to watch my cousin's rec league basketball game.  He was 8 or 9.  I didn't know any of the other kids on the court, but one stood out. I gathered from the parents cheering around me that his name was Rusty.

Rusty's head was cocked to the side a bit, his shoulder slightly raised.  Sort of like if you were trying to hold a phone between your ear and shoulder to free up both hands, then backed it off about halfway.  It was obviously some sort of physical abnormality, one I had never seen.  But that was only part of what made him stand out.

While his condition made it almost impossible for him to shoot accurately, Rusty was a rebounding whiz!  It was pretty clear, at least to me, that he was trying twice as hard as anyone else. 

The game ended.  I don't recall who won or lost.  Yes, we had winners and losers in those days.  We kept score.  And miracle of miracles, it didn't kill me.  (Just do me a favor and don't yell "Loser!" in my vicinity, I still get a little sensitive.)  But there are three distinct memories I have of that day:  My late uncle coaching my cousin's team; thinking to myself that my cousin was definitely never going to attend Duke on a basketball scholarship; and Rusty.

Years scattered.  I didn't think about those things for a long while.  Rusty went to that place where certain memories are kept.  Ones you can't necessarily recall on command, but they're solidly there.  It simply takes some trigger -- a dream, a particular song, some conversation -- to bring them to mind, clear as the day you lived them.

Then some years ago, my sister was telling me a story.  She mentioned a Rusty.  The name was just uncommon enough that I thought it might be the same guy.  It was.

Rusty was the same age as my sister's husband.  They were friends.  He was a groomsman in their wedding.  But somehow he wound up talking more often to my sister.

You see, Rusty was one of those poor, misfortunate souls that we here in the state of Alabama refer to as "Auburn fans."  (We have other, more colorful names, but I'll save those for another day.)

My sister, of course, was raised as was I -- to love Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide.  She strayed away from the fold once, in her rebellious high school days.  Made Mom buy her a Michigan sweatshirt for Christmas the year Charles Woodson won the Heisman.  But she returned.  There was much rejoicing.  (See: "The Bible," Luke 15, Parable of the Ninety and Nine.)

Despite their opposite allegiances, Rusty would call my sister from time to time to talk football.  Because that is what we do in the South.  Before the games, at halftime of the games,  after the games, after the season, we talk about college football year-round. 

Rusty still lived with his parents.  My sister once told me his condition made him not want to go out much.  He didn't like crowds and preferred to only be around his closest few friends.  I liked to imagine that these conversations with my sister brought bits of brightness to his days.  Pure speculation on my part, the brain eager to fill in what it does not know.

As is so often the case, the news came out of the blue.  My sister calling to let me know Rusty had died.  He was thirty-six.

First, shock.  Then questions.  Eventually more speculation.

My sister said Rusty suffered from Crohn's disease.  He had been sick but had put off going to the doctor.  By the time they got him to the hospital it had been too late.  Was he afraid to go?  Maybe he was just sick of always going?  Did he not have insurance?  Maybe he had it but the deductible was so outrageous that he couldn't afford to go?  All valid questions in modern-day America, sadly.

The next day, someone shared a post from Rusty's sister on Facebook.  Heart-ripping.

There were only the two of them, him and her.  I know how that is, to have that one person who grew up exactly like you did.  In the same house, with the same parents.  The same blessings and disadvantages.  The same unspoken secrets.

I clicked over to Rusty's Facebook page.  Scrolling through the RIP's and "I'm gonna miss you's" I saw a message from my sister.  Tears began.

Further down, the posts became scarce.  Then, a handful of birthday wishes from earlier in the year.  I noticed the date.  Rusty and I shared the same birthday.  It seemed more than a coincidence somehow.  I knew I had to write something.

Sometimes, when you don't see someone often or haven't seen them for a long while, the image you have of them sort of becomes frozen in time.  I do it with famous people a lot.  When I hear a song from the 80's I still picture the singer or band looking as they did then.  I cringed a couple of weeks ago when I saw the promo for the new Matt LeBlanc show and all his gray hair.  In my mind, he's still sitting in Central Perk and it's twenty years ago.

I did the same thing with Rusty.  I thought of one long ago Saturday in nineteen eighty-something.  Of the rebounding whiz with his head cocked to the side, trying twice as hard as everyone else.  I reckon some have to try twice as hard their whole lives...

My sister said not many people showed up at the funeral.

And I remembered how Rusty never liked crowds.

"Remember him when he was still a proud man.  A vandal's smile, a baseball in his right hand.  Nothing but the blue sky in his eyes..."

Friday, February 05, 2016

Not Like Riding a Bike

You pick up the ball, but it feels awkward in your hands.  Too heavy, or maybe too light.  It's hard to believe there was once a time you were even decent at this at all.

You look at the goal, but it seems too high or too far away.  You decide to dribble a couple of times, an attempt to get a feel for the game once again.

There's no one around, so you shoot.  You miss the goal by a foot and the ball bounds harmlessly, first on the pavement then into the grass.

Air ball.

It was always your tradition, or compulsion, to make your last shot of the day.  Which today might very well be your first shot of the day.  So you retrieve the ball, dribble back to the same spot and try again.

Though it feels as clumsy as the first, this time the ball clangs off the backboard then the side of the rim.  A little closer.

As you try and miss a third time, you wonder if it will ever feel as it once did, years ago when you could sometimes sense where the goal was and make the basket without even looking.

You think most likely not.  O, how you took those times for granted.

Finally, on your seventh or eighth or ninth attempt, the ball drops through the rim unscathed, making that sweet, once-familiar sound as it swishes through the nylon.

And you think maybe -- with good weather, countless hours of practice and frustration, and help from above -- you can learn to write again.

Just pray no one sees that first shot.

"Keep on dreamin' even if it breaks your heart..."