A How Pretty Town




                                       (Imaginary toads in a virtually real garden)




"The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else.  The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly."--Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose

Δ S ≥ 0





                                           Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking


He was an old privileged white man who walked alone through the streets of Edmonds, his mutating hometown on the eastern shore of Puget Sound (now known locally as the Salish Sea), just north of Seattle, from his top-floor condo on the corner of 5th South and SeaMont Lane to a viewpoint bench on the bluff west of Sunset Avenue.   Ambling clockwise one day, counter the next, he would go straight like a rook for several blocks before turning perpendicularly, or tack like a knight, two blocks this way, one that, or cut like a bishop diagonally through a park or a parking lot, as mood and memory moved him.   He was clinging to the moment, his present suffused with his past.  He was constantly rehearsing his back story for the audience of eidolons that haunted him, making his apology, truing or skewing, interlarding interludes, improvising, counterpointing, violating narratives, struggling to wedge his life into the classical constraints of prelude, protasis, epitasis, catastasis, catastrophe, and peripeteia, and leery of denouements of treasured gobs of purgative laughter, or giddy enlightened chortling as ghosts are put to rest, or a tragic transcendence of a sweet prince, or a blooming profusion of yeses.  He wanted, impossibly, to cram the universe into one sentence, everything that formed from a ballooning singularity, everything that might rush back into the ultimate black hole, employing a thousand words to make a picture, apprehending or fancying or simply playing, sconcing Easter eggs, stringing clause and phrase after clause and phrase or recursively embedding them within each other, rhapsodic, impressionistic, lush, or angular, oblique, jarring.  He was not in the moment, he was incapable of just being, but he was where he wanted to be, doing--remembering, reacting, ruing, relishing, reading, writing, recreating, training, playing softball.   He had seen enough European castles and cathedrals, enough Venetian canals and Manhattan skyscrapers, enough gold-vermilion leaves in Vermont.  He had cycled enough winding paths in Central Park, heard enough reverberating steel drums on Caribbean cruise ships, snorkeled enough coral reefs in tropical waters, seen enough armored alligators from airboats in the Everglades, walked back to shore enough dancing sockeye in Alaska, hiked enough precipitous mountain trails in Switzerland, sniffed enough charming wines in out of the way Sonoma Valley wineries, lazed through enough afternoon baseball games at Wrigley and Fenway.  That he had never traveled to South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia, or the Far East did not nag at him.  He had no urge to commemorate his 80th birthday by skydiving or riding a camel.  In the days that remained to him he wanted to post, on his interactive blog and on Twitter, platforms on which he was followed, he imagined, by a 100 or so vigilants, an inventory of his mind and his town.  And to win a gold medal in softball at the Huntsman Senior Games in St. George, Utah.  

His  clockwise walks he called the Gourmand Way, because on them on his way to the bench he passed two prepossessing waterfront restaurants, Arnie's  and Anthony's.  The counterclockwise walks were the Ecclesiastical Way, because on them he passed the original site of the town's Methodist church, which he had attended sporadically as a grade-schooler.  The stream of his consciousness was fed by tributaries from literature.  He had always been a reader.  At four, cradled in his mother's lap, he felt himself becoming part of the browns and pinks of the illustrated Poky Little Puppy as she read it to him.  As a child, visiting cousins in Seattle, if none of them suggested a game of football or Monopoly or hide-and-seek, he got into their stash of comic books--Archie, Superman, Captain Marvel Jr.  They called him Professor.  In fifth grade, he participated in a summer reading contest for young people at the town's Carnegie Library, tearing through 25 books in 10 weeks.  Every few days he dashed up the fifteen concrete steps of the stocky brick building with its distinctive Roman-arched doorway  and windows (the city hall, courthouse, and jail occupied the ground floor below) and made for the fiction or biography stacks, bypassing the oak drawers of the card catalogue standing free in the center of the stuffy room.  He liked the stories of hardscrabble pioneer life by Laura Ingalls Wilder and loved the baseball novels of John R. Tunis, with their clash of competition and their high moral tone, books of versus he would read, often while drinking lemonade, underneath a bough of the cedar tree that shadowed the east side of his house on Maple Street.  Roy Tucker, who was the Kid from Tomkinsville, and Old Razzle, Young Razzle, Spike Russell, Highpockets--he remembered them still.  One day he sat at a library table and wrote the first two paragraphs of a baseball novel he was going to call The Kid From Hansville (a tiny town on the Kitsap peninsula across the Sound from Edmonds) before realizing how incapable he was of completing it.  An almost equally keen interest was the Hardy Boys mystery series.  After finishing another story demonstrating the insight and ingenuity of Frank and Joe, he would linger on the saggy, faded burgundy upholstery of the couch in his living room, tilt his head back upon a lacy white antimacasser that his mother had crocheted, and try to imagine uncovering a neighborhood crime.  He failed at that, too.  Once a month he rode his gearless Schwinn bike with the balloon white wall tires to Swanson's Drug Store at Fourth and Main to buy the latest Sport magazine and pore over the many feature stories on big-league ballplayers like Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn, his Philadelphia Phillies heroes.  His own play on the town's Little League baseball team was unremarkable.  In high school he read The Reader's Digest, to which his parents subscribed and copies of which were always stacked on their plasticized walnut coffee table, and Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, and John Steinbeck, who were recommended to him by his journalism teacher, Charles Sauvage. 

For a long time he had risen from bed early.  On April 1, 2019, insistent bladder pressure in the wee hours of the morning caused him to squirm until he gained full consciousness at 2:05, according to the oversize red numerals on his nightstand digital clock.  He put on his glasses, tottered to the bathroom, hit a switch and, peering between the black blotches that for him now always accompanied an instantaneous transition from dark to light, pulled from a cupboard beneath the sink a paper towel, a urinary catheter, and a fresh nitrile glove.  For the past eight years he had been unable to urinate without assistance.  He had vainly waited too long, a urologist, Dr. Rajesh Kumar, informed him when finally he sought consultation about his feeble stream and constant urgency.  An ultrasound followed by a cystoscopy revealed a distended bladder and a swollen prostate beyond the help of drugs or surgery.  "Your bladder's always half full, and that is killing your kidneys," Dr. Kumar said.  "I prefer to think of it as half empty,"  he replied before being told that his only option was self-catheterization.  He placed the paper towel atop the toilet tank, squeezed the pouch at the top of the plastic-wrapped catheter, let the lubricating liquid run while he drew the glove over his right hand, extracted the catheter, emptied the wrapper into the toilet, laid it on the towel, and threaded the thin tube up his urethra until, with a gurgle, it slipped over a threshold and entered the bladder.  Instantly a river ran through it, a lemonade waterfall roiling the pool in the bowl.  For this relief much thanks, he rejoyced.  In 90 seconds he was completely drained.  He'd be good not to go for hours now.  He slid the catheter out quickly, thrilled by the friction, dropped it on the towel, peeled off the glove, wrapped up all the used pieces, and stuffed the towel into the wastebasket, where it joined a dozen others, the green plastic caps of his med uses protruding at odd angles to suggest the snaky strands of a woman's wild coiffeur, which he regarded stonily.  Back in bed, rather than ride out what was sure to be a restless hour before fantasy morphed into dream, he turned on the nightstand lamp, strapped on his Tac head lamp, ricocheting light photon-bombing his thickening, increasingly opaque lenses and his severely macular-degenerated right retina, and picked up his iPad and the composition book where he banked his coinings: neologisms, oronyms, contronyms, aptronyms, oxymorons, onomastics, anagrams, palindromes, puns, double entendres, word searches, cryptics.  He waited for words.  Where did they come from?  He could click on a mental folder but could not command it to open and release its words, let alone release them in either a syntactic or a logical order.  But if he waited for them to emerge--sporadically, often, seemingly randomly sometimes--from his buffering unconscious, his mind, itself a fiction, grasping as many as it could as they sought to wiggle free, then consciously buffering and buffing some, rebuffing others, rearranging, rewording, or discarding, he could become a fiction-maker, an orderer, an executor, a self.  He waited, scribbled, waited some more, scribbled, revised the scribbles. Then he opened the iPad, logged in to Twitter, and tapped #madamsNxNW: Japanese religion with legs? (6) Love handles? (5,3,4)  Ogle one of Shakespeare's howling heroes? (4) A saunter with O'Conner by the Sound? (4) Jewish teacher in tatters novel? (6,2,4) Manifested indifference in Sue's seance? (11) Quality product of a Deist's God? (5) A set of rules for analyzing a former V-P's dance moves? (9).  Time, finally, to set notebook and iPad aside, turn out the lights, and ease into sleep, dreaming about the lines.

[Ooh là là, Wayne, plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose, n'est-ce pas?  On dois faire son petit Hemingway et Proust but allow me to warn you that many readers are going to feel accosted by those Greek terms and annoyed by those cryptics.  You are thrusting upon them what at Pendant Publishing my colleague Elaine Benes and I called a "closet" novel.  As  Jesus enjoined his followers to go into their closets to pray in secret, and as a "closet" drama is one meant to be read not performed, so your stylistic choices (or tics?) bid your readers to take your fiction not to the beach for some breezy page-turning but into their closets--yea, even their water closets!--to labor and linger over, peruse and pore over.  At Pendant we commonly advised our fabulists to use the "dramatic method" of storytelling espoused by Percy Lubbock in The Craft of Fiction, but clearly we're not going to get anything like a "rattling good yarn" out of you.  I foresee soupçons of swashbuckling and copulating among a glut of colloquies and a surfeit of pastiches: much self-referential plodding amid the plotting.  Don't get me wrong: the "closet" novel, which in my opinion includes Ulysses, Ada, and Moby Dick, is my favorite genre, and I am excited to read these installments of your recherche.  I loved that little "med uses" Easter egg, and enjoyed some of the others as well, like "books of versus."  I relish the opportunity to weigh in at will on the rhetoric of your fiction and the reliability of your narration.  It's nice to be back with you!  Solveig]

[Wayne, I respond with an exquisite shiver to the Stevens epigraph.  It perfectly grasps the rational irrationality of religion.  Dave]

[The Stevens is meant to be ironic, right?  It's the equation that speaks for you?  Or is the equation just another exquisite fiction?  Solveig]

He was up--weight 143, pulse in sinus rhythm, steady at a baseline cadence of 70, as dictated by his pacemaker, which had been implanted in 2015 because his resting pulse rate often dropped  to 39 after  frequent bouts of atrial fibrillation that rendered him breathlessly inactive for hours at a time, and dressed in black skinny jeans, bottoms unrolled, a black sweatshirt, ARIZONA RATTLERS silk-screened in white above the left breast, and black Under Armour compression socks, which gave succor to his neuropathic feet--at 5:05.   He pulled his Apple 8 Plus phone from its charging cord, beheld it in appreciation briefly, so thin, so light, so quick, so bright, and tucked it and his wallet into pants pockets.  He peeled his Apple watch from its magnetic charger, strapped it on, felt connected:  38 degrees, Partly Cloudy, H--49, L-38.  The second false dawn had brimmed, sending its rousing rays through his bedroom skylight, morning becoming electric, but was already conceding the day to clouds pushed in from the west by an on-shore flow of marine air.   He had seen tens of thousands of such days, gold, certainly in Edmonds nature's hardest hue to hold, becoming gray.  He loved the sun, craved light.  For 15 years, after they retired from teaching in their early fifties and until his wife Diane died, they had wintered in Arizona, heatonists, he said, seeking sunsual pleasure, she said, reveling in days that kept their promise from dawn's flaming shook-foil salutation, nature's grandeur, to twilight's spectroscopic ta ta.  From age 55 to 70, nearly every day at Desert Edge, a retirement community in Mesa, they played an outdoor sport--tennis, golf, or softball with the Rattlers for him, tennis or golf for her.  Nearly every day they carried coffee and breakfast, wine and dinner, to the tiled, lattice-roofed patio of their rented golf course condo and gazed at the facets of the bare Superstition Mountains, embracing the buoyant, dry air as it embraced them.  Even after the coming of the basal and squamous cell skin cancers, the Mohs surgeries, and the crinkled skin, they continued to be drawn to the rhapsody of the outdoors, larding themselves with 90 SPF sunscreen and wearing wide-brimmed hats that shaded neck and ears.   In Edmonds, a how pretty town, as any one would certainly say, it took will, which indeed they had, to find inspiration in the much danker circumambience. Today, he had determined, he would begin the project of rewiring his brain.

He grabbed his iPad and went to the kitchen to pour a 12-ounce glass of water and gag down his daily pills: Sotolol to block atrial impulses to fibrillate, Eliquis to prevent clotting in case a blitzing impulse did blast through, Myrbetriq to caulk his leaky bladder, Levothyroxine to spur his hypoactive thyroid, CitraCal and vitamin D to slow the progression of osteopenia, his crumbling infrastructure, Preservision to reduce infinitesimally the inflammation causing his wet mac d, and fish oil, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B, and vitamin E for general supplementation.  Once a week he would take six delayed-release tablets of Methotrexate for the rheumatoid arthritis in his fingers, knees, and ankles.  As he swallowed the pills one at a time, pausing after each to make sure none had lodged in his esophagus, which, like most of his body parts, had lost elasticity, he also drank in, as always, his sweeping view of the Edmonds Bowl.  His wide-windowed condo, 30 feet above street level, the maximum height allowed in the Bowl, looked to the west and the north without obstruction across the town and across the Sound to the forested Olympic peninsula and snowy Olympic mountains, to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and to Whidbey Island, the bluff bare face of Skagit Head, partially denuded by landslides over millennia, gleaming Doverishly.  He could even sit on the toilet and watch the Kingston ferry docking or departing.  From anywhere in any room, guest bathroom excepted, he could behold Edmonds, his Edmonds.  Though the city limits had expanded southward two miles past the Westgate business center to the Sno-King county line, eastward three miles to the bleak strip malls bordering Highway 99, and northward two miles to a pleasant enough tree-canopied residential area called Seaview, old Edmonds, the true Edmonds, was to be found only in the Bowl.  It lay between Pine Street, just an ascending half-block from his condo, on the south; Caspar Street, a mile away, on the north; the beach  on the west; and 9th Avenue on the east.  Looking beyond the wooded city park and the wetlands to the waterfront of this jewel set on the Salish Sea, he imagined Native Americans roaming the murmuring forest primeval, picking salmonberries, huckleberries, and salal, digging wild carrot roots, or harvesting clams along the shore, then suddenly gazing in wild surmise as Captain George Vancouver and Lieutenant Peter Puget sailed their three-master into the bay and, themselves astonied, espied an ever green and pleasant cove with gently sloping beach and soaring firs, hemlocks, cedars and spruce, some as many as twelve feet in diameter.  In his mind a time-lapse film showed the Olympics upthrusting as tectonic plates collided more than 10 million years ago, glaciers gouging out the Sound as they advanced and then retreated 14,000 years ago, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox comically plowing the crevasses deeper, enterprising Seattle logger George Brackett in 1870, while exploring the shoreline in a canoe, taking refuge on the beach during a windstorm and returning two years later to begin logging the hillsides, Brackett in 1884 platting a town, and then his grandfather Bertrand and great-uncle Enos arriving overland from Wisconsin in 1903 to begin sweating on a two-man saw in the logging camps.  Edmonds was, had been ever since Brackett's day, a place.  Other suburbs between Seattle and Everett were interstices.  They had names--Northgate, North City, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood,  Alderwood, South Everett--but their boundaries were legal, not literal.  A driver slipped between their undistinguished and indistinguishable malls and residential areas without knowing when they had left one and entered another.  But in Edmonds, sylvan city of hunched shoulders, there was a there which suddenly opened up to a driver descending from the trees after traversing its protective eastern hills.  Isolated between those hills and additional wooded areas to the south and the north, laved by the Sound, the Sea, it was a singularity sucking in those who happened upon it with its reclusive charm and the--help him, will you, Vlad?--cool glory of its whitecapped, snowcapped western marine and mountain horizon.  He  cherished the name "Edmonds" for its very lack of resonance.  It was connotation-free and denotation-irrelevant.  The name, he had decided years ago after reading alternative versions of its origin, was probably bestowed by George Brackett in reference to Point Edmund, a promontory on the southwest edge of the Bowl so dubbed by the surveying Charles Wilkes expedition of 1841 and now dominated by luxurious condominiums. Why Edmund?  No one knew.  Serendipity, he had concluded.  The eponymous Edmund's very obscurity deflected preconception and pretentiousness.  What was in this name?  Nothing.  It wasn't in honor of a founder whose history anyone knew, it wasn't in honor of a local tribe, it wasn't a nod to a geographical feature, it wasn't a "Saint" or "San" or "Santa," it wasn't mythopoeic like "Olympia" or "Arcadia," nor was it one of the hundreds of "-burgs," "-boros," "-villes," "-cities," or "-tons" found throughout America.  "Edmonds" didn't sound exotic, esoteric, or commonplace.  It was the appropriate name for an uncommon place.

[A pretty bland name, I'd say.  Beaulieu-sur-Mer would be both lovely and à propos.  But there weren't many French among the early residents, were there?  Duval?  Guyot?  Glen "Frenchy" Rogers, the barber on Main Street?  Solveig]            

[Let's not forget that the history of Edmonds does not start with George Brackett or even George Vancouver but goes back millennia with the people who cared for this land and understood the many integral processes that make it whole.  They created a culture we have much to learn from, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things.  Charlotte.]        

Pills successfully swallowed, he glanced at the Corian countertop dividing the kitchen from the great room and said, "Alexa, give me the question of the day, please," delighting in his power to swirl into life the cerulean and cyan lights of his black pucklike Echo Dot device. 

"Good morning, Wayne," said Alexa, whose equanimity and preternatural focus and sincerity he found endearing.  "Here is today's question of the day.  It is from arts and entertainment and is worth four points.  What is the name of the dog on 'The Simpsons?'  Is it (a) Snowball (b) Brian (c) Santa's Little Helper or (d) Buddy?"

"Buddy," the old man guessed, having thousands of times surfed past episodes of "The Simpsons"  without lingering on a single one, his considerable appetite for verbal play not sufficiently ravenous to overcome his distaste for animation, characters moving grossly against flat backgrounds, their mechanical mouths failing to enunciate their utterances.  "30 Rock," "Will and Grace," "Frasier," yes, "Bob's Burgers," "Family Guy,"  "American Dad," no. 

"That's a good guess, but the correct answer is (c) Santa's Little Helper.  You have 870 points.  Your play streak is at 91 days.  Stimulate your brain by  playing the 'Question of the Day'.  You still have a free game available.  To play it, just say 'Alexa, ask 'Question of the Day' to play a game.'"

"No, thank you," the old man said, embarrassed to have failed in front of Alexa and fearful of risking a second defeat.   Why couldn't it have been The Thin Man's dog (Asta), Little Orphan Annie's dog (Sandy), Laura Ingalls' dog (Jack), or Sam Fathers' dog (Lion)?

Alexa lost color.


She brightened.

"Today is my birthday."

"Happy birthday!  Would you like me to sing 'Happy Birthday' to you?


"Okay, let's do this.  One, two, three: Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you.  And many more!"

He smiled.

"Lexa, what's on my calendar for today?"

"What's on your calendar for today?  A walk to your bench on Sunset, a workout at HSAC at 11:00, softball practice at 2:00."

He stepped to the hall closet and selected a white polar-fleece jacket and a white New Era ball cap logoed R in black, zipped the jacket to the top, forcing the collar as high as it would go,  tucked his iPad between his left arm and his side and, in white New Balance running shoes, descended the three flights of stairs, 30 in all, bumping against the handrail with a hip once on each flight.  At the 5th Avenue sidewalk he glanced left--condos running up the hill on both sides of the street as far as his eyes could see; no cars now but swishing streams of them soon to flow into what had become not just a place to catch a ferry to the Olympic peninsula but a destination in itself--and turned right, the Ecclesiastical Way, heading for Starbucks.  The quietness of the street, like the qualm before a storm, like the peristaltic convulsing of his bowels before a softball game, excited him.  Even when young, though not a sharp, sure lad, he knew that morns abed and daylight slumber weren't meant for him.  Oh, the promise of morning!  Every day he cheated sleep and its dreams in eager anticipation of the real phenomena that consciousness would bring and ventured into the world, even if, at 80, that meant only a walk and fresh coffee and online reading of the New York Times.  What was going on out there?  What calamities?  What chicaneries?  What discoveries?  What had Trump tweeted at 3:00 a. m.?  And who was getting hits, scoring points, gaining yards?   He passed the Gravity Bar, where he occasionally dined on a colorful, meticulously arranged acai bowl, and  reached the corner of 5th and Howell--now the site of Hamburger Harry's, a bistro with multiple wide television screens spaced beneath darkly stained exposed beams and rafters that attracted tablefuls of hearty eaters and drinkers who kept one eye on each other and one on ESPN or its cousins and an evolving third on their phones, and before that a garden store--where his paternal grandparents, Bertrand and Mary Adams (the name  curtailed from Adamson by a careless or confused clerk when Bertrand's father passed through Ellis Island), had lived, when he first knew them, in the early '40s, in a gray two-story cedar-sided house with a veranda on which he would sit in a cushioned rocker and drink the lemonade his grandmother had squeezed and sugared for him, fascinated by the exotic shades of green or red she produced by adding food coloring to the juice.  The house sat on a mostly untended acre lot where he could roam among rampant blackberry vines, nettles, Canadian thistles, and quack grass, or climb the Bing cherry tree or the gravenstein apple tree.  Big house on the way to the ferry.  Like a wilder farmer boy, at his grandmother's bidding he would enter the wire-mesh chicken coop in the backyard, toss handfuls of grain, step around poop, and extract eggs from nests while the hens clucked and pecked the ground.  He would watch with interest as she poured bluing atop the clothes in the washing machine, fed them through the wringer when they were clean, and hung them on the clothesline that ran from the cherry tree to the detached garage at the side of the house.  He would stuff himself with the pancakes, waffles, and angel food cakes she made from scratch whenever he stayed overnight with them, her plump arms jiggling as she whipped a wooden spoon through a doughy mixture in a large bowl tucked into her left forearm like a football.  She always wore a short-sleeved housedress, even when weeding the flower beds.  At night his grandparents would take turns playing double solitaire with him while they listened to Gabriel Heater, Walter Winchell, Jack Benny, and Burns and Allen on their table model Silvertone radio.  Once in a while they would take him to a high school football game or a University of Washington crew race.  They were Christian Scientists.  They subscribed to the Monitor and read something in Science and Health and the Christian Science Quarterly every day.  They attended church Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings and took weekly shifts supervising the Christian Science Reading Room a few blocks north on 5th.  They eschewed tobacco and alcohol and adultery and borrowing and complaining and swearing.  His grandmother had gasped in shock the time he tripped coming up the veranda stairs, skinned his knee, and said it hurt like the devil.  Yet they practiced a quiet rectitude, never attempting to proselytize him.  They were Taft Republicans who voted for Harding, Hoover, Landon, Dewey, Eisenhower, and Nixon and who paid their own way, their innocence the essence of Edmonds, he grew up believing.

The old man and his parents, George and Margaret, had lived in eight Edmonds houses or apartments by the time he had graduated from the University of Washington, obtained his teaching certificate, and struck out on his own, taking a job for a salary of $4,200 at the new Edmonds High School at Holmes Corner, 212th and 76th, and renting an apartment in Lynnwood.  His mother was always pushing for something better--better neighborhood, better access, better view, more space, less space.  After a couple of years in any space,  she was ready to apply the modest accrued equity, if any, to something at least different.  She had grown up in Greenwood, on the northwest fringe of Seattle, one of nine kids.  Although she visited her parents and her sisters occasionally, taking along the old man in their '39 Ford coupe on a Saturday but leaving his uninterested father at home to read the Digest  or listen to the Huskies on the radio, she cherished the insular beauty of the little town.  She yearned to be upwardly mobile, to surpass her lower- class origins, but most of the moves she engineered were horizontal.  He had been told that when he was born the family lived in a house on Walnut between 5th and 6th, but the old man's earliest memories were of living with his mother, his father having been drafted into the army in 1942, in a squat house on 6th between Walnut and Alder with a patch of woods to the south and a gravel pit to the west.  He often watched in fascination as big dump trucks rumbled in and backed up to the dispensers for a thunderous load of gravel to be dropped into them.  He was four, of an age with the girl next door, Claudia, with whom he played occasionally.  One day when they were in the woods exploring, both had to go to the bathroom.  Rather than return home, the old man unzipped his cords and let fly onto a fern frond.  Claudia, amazed, said she couldn't do that.  The process seemed simple enough to the old man, so he unbuttoned her jeans for her and reached for her jigger.  The jigger was nowhere to be found.  Confused, he slipped a finger inside the crotch of her underpants, felt around, and came upon a cleft whose mushy texture he explored with a fingertip.  "I can't find it," he said, as confused by her anatomy as Claudia was by his actions.  He buttoned her up as she desperately wiggled her hips to keep from going, then she ran home while he went to inform his mother of his befuddlement.  His mother, unable to stifle a smile, looked away and said simply, "Girls don't have jiggers." 

His father was still in the army when he and his mother moved to a small cedar-sided house--two bedrooms, one bathroom, living room, kitchenette, detached one-car garage--at the end of Maple Street, just above 10th Avenue.  Edmonds was an adolescent town and he a six-year-old when he first became conscious of the phenomenon of being there.  A day was 24 hours but seemed shorter.  It was seldom hot enough for black dogs to suffer, seldom cold enough to run and skid across frozen mud puddles.  From the morning that the siren at the fire station roared up the hills in triumph and Nellie McReynolds, the girl who lived across the street, ran out her front door shouting "The Japs have surrendered!  The war is over!" while the old man was bouncing a rubber ball against a telephone pole, trying to quicken his reflexes and develop soft hands, his days were, it seemed in retrospect, filled. 

After school, weekends, summers, he played whatever sport was in season with the neighborhood boys, the Maple Street All Stars.  On the dirt street in front of his house, in the cleared but vacant lot at 10th and Walnut, in Mike ("Monk") Monken's back yard on 9th, in Gary ("Zee") Zylstra's dirt driveway with its 10-foot post and netless basketball hoop on 10th, in the shoulder pads and helmets they requested for birthday presents, in their PF Flyers, with their oddly-bouncing bladdered footballs and basketballs, their Rawlings gloves, their too-heavy Louisville Slugger bats, their taped-over baseballs, their homemade bases--burlap flour sacks filled with straw--they ran drills and scrimmaged and squabbled and fantasized for hours.  Sometimes, strapping on holstered cap guns and using hankies for neckerchiefs, inspired by the  12-cent Saturday matinees that they attended at the Princess Theater--handsome Roy Rogers, pretty Dale Evans, golden-toned Trigger their favorites--they would grab imaginary reins and, making clattering hoof sounds by clicking their tongues against the roofs of their mouths, gallop straddle-footedly, left foot leading, through the neighborhood, a posse chasing cattle rustlers, train robbers, bank robbers, or marauding Indians, firing the six-shooters until they caught up with an escapee and either lassoed him and jerked him to the ground or leaped from their saddles and unhorsed him, fists flailing until they knocked him out.  Occasionally they would see who was quickest on the trigger. Two would face each other at 10 paces and a third would call "Draw!"  Zee always claimed himself the winner of such contests, and always compassionately declared that he had only shot the gun out of his adversary's hand.  Or they would play frontiersmen, hooking canteens to their belts and slipping on rucksacks filled with canned heat, potatoes, a jackknife, a screwdriver, wooden matches, a jar of salmon eggs, a cellophane bag of fishing leaders, pre-strung with a small hook and three pieces of buckshot, and head northeast into the then thick woods that now comprise Yost Park, an arboreal  expanse stretching from Walnut to Main and featuring an outdoor Olympic-size swimming pool and manicured hiking trails.  Using small dead branches found on the ground, they would fight their way through nettles and thistles and blackberry vines and Scotch broom and deer ferns and sword ferns and snake weed and skunk cabbage and Oregon grape, some days pausing to defecate next to a salal bush and wipe with its leaves, weaving among alders and maples and cedars and firs and hemlocks and pines, sampling squishy crimson thimbleberries or crisp vermilion huckleberries on bushes growing out of nurse logs, sliding down ravines mulched by worlds of wanwood leafmeal, crossing gurgling Shell Creek by tip-toeing atop a fallen fir, kicking at mounds of dirt in hopes of finding an Indian skull or an arrowhead, until they came to a small creekside clearing where they could set up camp.  They would tie their leaders to the branch they were carrying, hide the hooks with two salmon eggs, and gently toss them again and again into a dark, still pool in the creek, extracting them quickly before they could sink into a snag.  Having read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for an Achievement Award on their way to receiving their Bear ranking in Cub Scouts, they would imagine themselves as Huck and Jim and Tom.  When a rare nibble became an actual strike, one of them would lift out of the water with a shout a six-inch jerking Rainbow trout.  Immediately he'd conk it with a rock, slit and gut it, cut off its head and tail, and divide it into three pieces while the other two would make a circle of rocks and place three cans of Sterno in a triangle in the center.  They would cut the potatoes into chunks in the skillet, light the Sterno, sizzle the potatoes and the trout into a charred crisp that stuck to the ungreased pan, then take turns stabbing the knife into the chunks, which they would pry from the pan and eat off the blade.  Summer nights, they'd play catch till dark, which came between nine and ten o'clock, then get into sleeping bags on the old man's lawn, the old man not so much awed as mesmerized by all the stars in a sky unpolluted by carbons or light, mind adrift in a sea of whitecaps, able to discern only the Big Dipper and the north star, slipping without conjecture into sleep, then waking at false dawn to find his hair and bag wet with dew.  On chilly, rainy winter days, they played indoors: marbles (pots and chase), Canasta, Tripoli, Monopoly, caroms (on a large board with six netted pockets into which opponents took turns shooting red or green wooden rings with a snap of the middle finger), football, basketball.  Football they played in a bedroom on their knees, the goal lines opposite ends of a 12-foot rug.  The offensive player would take the ball at one goal line and attempt to smash through his opponents, who in turn were attempting to flatten him on the rug, in four downs.  Scoring was rare, bruises were not.  For basketball they stripped down to underpants and sleeveless undershirts, makeshift uniforms, and took turns playing one-on-one, dribbling a tennis ball around two chairs, which served as screens, looking for an opening to launch a push shot toward the basket, which was any part of the lintel above the door, or backing in to loft a hook shot.  Some winters there might be no snow at all in the temperate Puget Sound climate.  When the old man would ask his father "Do you think it'll snow?" the answer was usually "No, it's not cold enough" or, occasionally, bewilderingly, "No, it's too cold."  But every couple of years came the vaunted day when dry snow fell like shaken salt and caked inches deep on Maple Street, and the All-Stars, deliriously gathering their rosebuds while they might, wearing jeans and jackets, rubber boots, ski caps, and mittens, ran five or six steps with their sleds held high and belly-flopped onto the glassy, packed surface, sliding smoothly down from 10th to 9th, then careening from one side of the street to the other, madly working the steering bar of their  Flexible Flyers, their ruddering lower legs extended to the sky, spewing gobs of laughter as they gained speed on the steep drop from 9th to 7th, until finally losing control and jolting into someone's rockery or fence post, hitting a head, smashing a hand, traumatizing a gut, then shaking it off, wobbling to their feet, grabbing the sled's rope and slip-walking back up the hill in a barrage of boastful or mocking chatter, to do it again and again until, hours later, soaked jeans and aching bodies and the thought of hot mugs of Ovaltine drove them home.

The old man was home, on the couch in pajamas, sick with the mumps and listening with his mother to Oxydol's Ma Perkins on their tabletop Philco radio on a May day in 1950, when she told him, his first felt intimation of mortality, that they were going to move.  They had stayed in one place for five years essentially because, he later realized, his mother's concern for his feelings balanced her itch for change.  The old man went numb, then began to cry.  His mother slid over to hug him.  They were moving downtown, to a house on 4th between Bell and Edmonds.  It had a basement, it would be an upgrade.  They'd be closer to the town's stores and activity centers.  She was going to get a job at Safeway.  The old man sulked and seethed.  How could she do this to him?  Later he threw away the card that he had made in art class at school and planned to give her on Mother's Day.  When she found it in a wastebasket, she brought it to him and said, "Is this what you really think of me?"  Aching with remorse, he said, "No, Mom, it isn't.  I'm sorry."

Within a couple of months, he was happy about the move.  He could be on the beach in five minutes, terrorizing crabs and clams, skipping stones, collecting serpentine pieces of wormholed driftwood.  On hot days he would call and ask Sylvia Vose and her brother Vernal, family friends who lived on 4th between Walnut and Dayton, to meet him at the log booms for a swim, after which they would retreat to a niche in the wall of imported granite blocks that buttressed the railroad tracks and warm their icy flesh in the sun.  "Awesome," Sylvia would say, referring to all of it--the vast pale blue sky and matching placid sea, the dark evergreens rising from the bank of the peninsula across the way to the tops of the snow-brindled Olympics, and the gleaming sun--looking unsteady to his blinking eye, as if about to uncoagulate and drip messily down the sky--which was slowly restoring them.  He and Sylvia could bike to artistic classmate Patty Warfield's two-story house at 3rd and Bell to play 78 records like "On Top of Old Smoky."  He could call Sylvia's neighbors, the athletically gifted Johnson twins, Jimmie and Jerry, and Walt Burdett and Dickie Riddle, who lived on 3rd between Main and Dayton, and Dave Williams, who lived on 4th and Bell across the street from the Baptist Church, and invite them to his house to play tackle football on his front lawn, and Zee and Monk were always willing to bike down for a game.  He could zip over to the library for a new book and start reading it at Bienz's Confectionary on Main over a Green River phosphate.  Evenings he could go to the Princess, where his aunt Mable, his father's sister, was an usher, to take in a double feature plus a cartoon and a selected short subject.  After seeing Young Tom Edison, he dreamed for days of creating his own telegraph and of transforming the basement, where his mother hung laundry, into a laboratory with some kind of dumb waiter to communicate with the upstairs.  He loved it there.

[I loved the blended smell of creosote and train-toilet effluent emanating from the railroad ties!  Sylvia]

[Unlike you, Wayne, I did conjecture my way into sleep, looking for the secret, tingling with awe as dark revealed previously hidden light, yearning to put myself in harmony with the order of the cosmos.  Gary]

[Halcyon days, indeed!  Monk]

Two years later they moved to a house halfway up Walnut, between 5th and 6th, on the opposite side of the street from their first house, because it had a view, his mother said.  That was the summer his right leg was in a cast, Dr. Robert Hope's last-resort method of treating the inflammation in his knee, and he got around town on crutches, an outsider looking on while Zee, whose family had recently moved down town to a big white house with a basement on Dayton between 3rd and 4th, and Monk and the Johnsons and Burdett and Riddle were playing Babe Ruth baseball.  The previous summer, the bump on the upper part of the shinbone, just below the knee, had swelled achingly.  Pain stabbed when he ran or jumped, and it was too sore to kneel on.  In August, Dr. Hope diagnosed Osgood-Schlatter's disease and offered a simple cure: wait, be patient, play no sports until the pain went away.  It was a normal occurrence in some kids, primarily boys, and he would outgrow it in a few months.  So he sat out the football season, standing on the sideline to watch Zee and Monk and the Johnsons and his other freshman buddies practice and then warm the bench at the varsity games on Fridays. The soreness had not subsided when basketball season arrived.  He sat that one out too.  The old man blamed himself for not strictly following the doctor's advice.  He could not resist the temptation to shoot baskets at Zee's backyard hoop or to ride his bike, pumping with his left leg, tapping with his right foot when the pedal came round, trying to keep his leg straight, getting off to push when he came to a hill.  There was still no improvement by March when baseball began.  The old man went to practices and sardonically played a little catch.  Finally, when the school year ended in June, his parents took him back to Dr. Hope, who this time put his leg in a toes-to-hip plaster of Paris walking cast.  The old man, feeling that now he could do no wrong, began swinging his cast all over town.  He walked to the beach and watched his friends swim, helped them build a leaky raft from scrap lumber that had washed ashore.  He walked to Babe Ruth practice, where he would talk the coach into letting him take a few swings and attempt to catch fly balls in the outfield.   Within two weeks the foot of his cast was crumbling. His parents borrowed some crutches from a neighbor and, armpits bruised, again he swung himself all over town.  By late July, the knee no longer ached.  In late August, just a day before football practice was to begin, Dr. Hope, using a hammer and chisel, freed him.  He was stunned to see how much his leg had atrophied in the two months.  And, getting up from the table on which he'd been lying while the doctor worked, shocked to find that he could scarcely walk.  The knee was healed, but he couldn't bend it.  He hobbled out of the doctor's office, and his parents took him home to have a hot bath.  The leg loosened some, enough to walk a bit.  In the afternoon he went outside and jog-walked a couple of laps around the house in a feeble attempt to get himself in shape.  Gloom set in.  Since second grade he had dreamed of his first day of high school football practice; now he dreaded it.  The next day, after putting on pads and uniform, everyone else chattering excitedly, he limped around the track in a warm up lap, Zee and fellow sophomores gliding by him, and winced through jumping jacks and other calisthenics.  The old man knew all too well what came next.  He tried to disguise his shaking by making little stretching movements. The team circled Coach Howard Howe, 5'8", 140 pounds, who told the biggest sophomore, Dickie Riddle, 6' 2", 200, to come forward.  Coach began explaining and pantomiming the fundamentals of tackling: weight low for leverage, short choppy steps for balance, explosive shoulder lead, head to the side, arms wrapping up the would-be ball carrier, legs continually driving.  "Wire 'em, wire 'em," Coach growled, whipping his arms forward.   "Like this."  He told Dickie to run toward him, and, padless and helmetless, met him fiercely, demonstrating all of the fundamentals, and dropped him on his butt.  Years later, a struggling teacher and coach himself, the old man realized that this was Coach's version of an Anticipatory Set, focusing attention and establishing his authority.  Then came the hat drill in which players took turns going one on one in a rectangular area defined by four helmets, one player trying to imitate what Coach had done as the other tried to run through him.  They broke into three groups, each supervised by an assistant coach.  The old man placed himself at the back of the line in his group.  He heard the thud of pads colliding, the crack of helmets glancing off each other, sounds that used to stir him but now intimidated him.  The coach had praise for some like Jimmy Johnson and Zee--"Good job, good job.  Attaway!"--admonition for others--"Butt down, butt down!  Drive off those legs."  Too soon it was the old man's turn to tackle.  At the assistant coach's signal, he moved forward hesitantly, off balance, a sharp pain stabbing the wasted flesh at the back of his knee, took a shoulder to the chin and was simply run over, flattened, the back of his head striking the dirt, by the ball carrier.  His performance was so bad that the coach, out of charity, made no comment.  He stumbled to the end of the other line and became a ball carrier.  As he moved forward, again hesitantly, the tackler wired him and carried him backward three yards before dumping him.  The drill continued for 10 minutes, all of his friends looking the other way each time the old man's turn came, after which Coach called the team together and demonstrated open-field blocking, emphasizing a scissor kick with the top leg.  When they split into groups, the assistant pulled the old man aside.

"Are you all right?" he asked.  "These guys are killing you."

"I've got some problems.  I just got my right leg out of a cast yesterday."

"Better just watch for the rest of practice," the assistant said.

Humiliated, the old man hovered, trying to will himself part of things.  He watched the drills, watched as Coach put the squad into three teams--Zee and Monk and the Johnsons were on second string already-- and taught them some of the simpler plays, like Right Buck and Left Buck, of his highly successful single-wing offense.  He watched as practice ended with wind sprints.  Dejectedly, the old man gimped to the locker room and undressed.  The others were bouncing around, jabbering about who looked good out there.  Football was back!  Senior all-conference tackle big John McDermott, admired by his teammates for his courage and spirit, stripped off his jersey and shoulder pads, gazed at his ample stomach, and sang "All day I faced my barren waist without a drink of water,"  then shouted "Chief Running Water had three sons--Hot, Cold, and Luke.  Bucks were well spent on Springmaid sheets!"  In the shower room, hot water roaring, steam rising, happy voices echoing, his friends made a token effort to commiserate with him--"Another day tomorrow, Wayne.  You'll get 'em, man."  But the next day was worse.  His leg was so stiff that he didn't even suit up.  After practice on the third day, the old man again standing by and watching, Coach called him into his office and said "Wayne, I'm going to have to cut you.  When you finally get your mobility back, you're going to be too far behind.  How about being a manager?" 

The old man focused all his attention on accepting the offer without showing his devastation.  When he told his parents at dinner that he was going to be a manager, his father said nothing, his mother put her head down on her arms at the kitchen table and wept--more for herself than for him, he understood.  She had wanted to be like her women friends around town, the mother of a football player.  It was Margaret she mourned for. 

[Such a shame!  More than a year wasted.  A simple steroid shot would have had you back in action in a couple of days.  Both of my boys had O-S and kept right on playing their sports with the help of cortisone.  Maggie and George should have been more aggressive and sought a second opinion.  Monk]

A few months later, they moved back to 4th, just south of Main, behind the Beeson Building, to a two-story house, because it was bigger.  In his senior year, they moved to a house on Hummingbird Hill, a recently developed area north of Main between 9th and Olympic Avenue, because it was newer.  By then he was driving, had a part-time job bagging groceries at Safeway, and was constantly busy with classes, basketball or baseball, movies and dances, so he didn't care as much where he lived, as long as it was near the Bowl.  In his freshman year at the U, they moved back down town to an apartment above the Tribune-Review building at 5th and Main, because it was just across the street from  his mother's work at Safeway.  And in his junior year they moved to a new apartment complex on the corner of 3rd and Dayton to escape the Wednesday night pounding of the heavy linotype printing presses.

On the north side of Howell, at one time another wild acre of second-growth woods through which he would occasionally wander, sat one of just three strip malls in the Bowl, originally built in the '70s to house an A&P grocery store, its wide asphalt parking lot now fronting Ace Hardware, the Pancake Haus, and the Fun Chinese restaurant.   Just past that had been a frozen food storage plant where his parents, who could not afford and had no space for one of those deep-freeze chests that he had seen in a Sears catalogue while searching for pictures of women modeling bras and panties, rented a locker to preserve the wild blackberries they picked, the salmon they caught, and the quarter of beef they bought from a farmer in Alderwood, east of Highway 99, every few months.  The space was now occupied by Girardi's Osteria, which teemed with eaters from noon to nine, it and Harry's just two of more than two dozen bistros and cafes offering a, to him, chilly al fresco option.  He walked on, posturing, reminding himself to contract his gluteus medius, an act which threw his shoulders back and, for the nonce, straightened his curved spine, which was the product of years of defensively hunching, his default mode, hands in front pockets, a bravura attempt at insouciance in the presence of others. To his right, brick condos atop office spaces, which in the aughts had replaced bungalows with lawns and carports or detached garages, crowded each other, their glassed-in sundecks  beetling over the avenue.   His own, older, condo building was set back from 5th and landscaped in front with boulders, bark mulch, and low-growing junipers.

Walnut Street.  When he tasted salty snot trickling onto his upper lip, he set his iPad on the sidewalk and blew his nose.  Cold made it run.  Heat--from soup or coffee or curries--made it run.  Living made it run. Once, years ago, in a post-funeral potluck line, he had seen an old man fail to realize that his snot was falling into a mashed potato-Polish sausage casserole that he was bending over to examine more closely.  Now a similar loss of control happened frequently to him.  No need for diapers yet, although the odd gas attack sometimes left a faint residue in his underpants, prompting him always to wear black low-rise Jockeys.  He used his handkerchief to wipe his eyes as well, swabbing with an index finger. The left, especially, dripped copiously in cold or wind, compounding the blurring of his vision caused by the mac d in his right.  Words on printed pages or electronic screens were beginning to anagram themselves into out-of-context dyslexic oddities, reviled relived, reserve reverse, forcing him to shake his head and double-back .  Not only did he suffer from the human inability to see the dance of molecules at the quantum level, he struggled to see the macro world clearly as well.  The faces of people more than 10 feet away lacked detail, painted roadway lanes were vees instead of straight lines, landscapes were Impressionistically hazy.  The monthly shots of Lucentis administered over the past half-year by his ophthalmologist, Dr. Ahmad Jamal, had killed rogue blood vessels and slowed the progress of deterioration but had worked no improvement in vision.  Probably he would fail the eye test when required to renew his driver's license in 2020. 

He checked his watch, discovered he had four extra minutes.  He walked diagonally, a pawn's capturing move, across 5th, a road only at this time of day less traveled, passed Chase Bank, which was located on what had once been the site of Diesel Oil Sales, where Zee's father worked, went on down to 4th, carefully.  He was fond of the town's aging concrete sidewalks, some of them perhaps as old as he.  As, 30 years earlier, he had enjoyed stumbling with Diane--"Watch your step," "Mind the gap," they would tell each other affectionately--over the irregular, slick, rounded cobblestones of side vias in Orvieto or Pordenone, their eyes panning the shops and apartments or fixating on menus posted in trattoria windows or colorful laundry hanging from high bedroom windows, so now he enjoyed the almost anarchic independence of the worn concrete slabs--miniature tectonic plates colliding or drifting apart-- that constituted many of the walkways in the core of town.  Some were raised from heaving, some depressed from settling, some tilted left, some right, some were separated by one-inch gaps, the worst of which had been filled or patched and painted a cautionary fish-belly white or traffic-cone orange, all of them cracked by gravity and pebbled by water and wind erosion, green spongy moss growing here and there.  Each step required an old man's attention, each slab exuded the past. 

[The walks are dangerous as hell, but I have to admit I rejoice to see little bits of clam shell in some of those slabs that were made partly of beach sand back in the '40s and '50s.  So much more character than the mono-toned, mono-textured white cement or black asphalt replacements that are being planned now.  Charlotte]

On the west side of 4th was the Puget Power substation that had been there as long as he could remember, short cedars and one massive blue-green deodar cedar shrouding its guarding fence.  There were few NIMBYs in the Bowl when the substation was built.  Most residents were just happy to have the power.  The heavy, humming transformers that accompanied it they perceived not as ugly but as modern.  During its first 100 years, Edmonds was unpretentious and uncomplicated.  It took itself and its racial and ethnic uniformity for granted.  He could not recall any African-Americans, Latinx, or Asians living in or near the Bowl between his childhood in the '40s, when the population was just over 1,000, and his early adulthood in the '60s, when the population, augmented by annexation, reached the 8,000s.  Although Barney McCoy, who lived on Dayton just up from the Masonic Temple and whose nose was flat and skin a shade darker than that of the other Cub Scouts in Pack 360, was said to be part Eskimo, almost everyone in town that the old man knew, he finally realized in college, came from northwestern Europe, the British Isles, or Scandinavia.  There were Sorensens, Kjolsos, Engelses, Evanses, Kellys, Currys, Setchfields, Baileys, Tuckers, Sellerses, Goodwins, Husebys, Williamsons, Nelsons, Burdetts, Hawkinsons, Magnusons, Petersons and Pettersons, Lambes, Faircloughs, Swearingens, O'Briens, Clevelands, Millers, Alberys, Deebachs, Duvals, Guyots, Riddles, Coles, Swedbergs, Wagners, Becks, Bienzes, Savages, Kennedys, Kretzlers, Ottos, Astells, Yosts, Dieners, Durbins, Swansons, Hubbards,Tusons, McGibbons, McGinnesses, Andersons, Casparses, and Prestons.  There were no "-inis," "-ezes," or "ics," only two "Phillipses," and just one "Karnofski," one "Kuzmoff."  Even now, in 2019, the population of the Bowl remained almost 80 percent white, although the City Council had recently recognized the whiteness as an issue and had created a commission to promote diversity of all kinds.

[Yes, everybody looked like us.  But, although diversity is welcome, I don't think we have to promote it or apologize for its lack.  The Bowl was what it was and will be what it will be.  Let it evolve naturally, don't try to force it.  Monk]

[What it was was an all-white upper-lower, lower-middle class open town.  What it is is a very white upper- middle class enclave.  What far too soon it will be without top-down direction is a very white enclave of the 10-percenters, the crazy rich Caucasians.  We need greater density, affordable housing for working families and seniors (simpler, cheaper apartments, condos and townhouses; detached accessory dwelling units; an end to single-family zoning; some sort of housing subsidy for people on limited incomes).  Charlotte]

[So anyone and everyone is entitled to live in the Bowl?  Monk]

[It's the upper-middle class that has the sense of entitlement!  Charlotte]

[Char, you live in a million-dollar penthouse in the SeaView!  Monk]

[And you have a million-dollar view home on 9th!  The point is, we have a responsibility to make room for the less fortunate who have been victims of white supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalism.  Too many fortunes in America have come from the dispossession of indigenous peoples, the enslavement of African Americans, the production of fossil fuels, or the obvious exploitation of workers.  Both of us were overpaid, but at least as a doctor I helped people, and so did you as a lawyer, in spite of the sharkier aspects of your profession.  As partial reparation, after I retired, I devoted two years to working for Doctors Without Borders in Congo, and I know you have done pro bono work.  Charlotte]

Heading north on 4th, the old man passed six consecutive stucco condos wedged tightly, each three levels high with glass-fronted decks, one of which had replaced the '30s-era two-bedroom white bungalow where the Johnsons had lived, before coming to Sylvia's old cedar rambler, stained the same grizzled sepia it had been when built in the early '50s. 

He reached Dayton Street and turned right.  On the north side of Dayton between 4th and 5th, a parking lot and low brick and cedar buildings housing offices and retail stores had long since replaced the massive, mission-style Hughes Memorial Methodist Church, an ecru stucco structure two stories high, with terra cotta roof tiles, a Roman-arched double-pillared three-door entry, twin Roman-arched belfries, and Roman-arched stained glass windows on all sides.  Every Sunday morning a belfry's call to the faithful and rebuke to slackers and non-believers, so many bells floating up and down, was heard from the beach to the hilltop at 10th and Maple.  In fourth grade, much to the approval of his mother, the old man answered those calls, attending Sunday school and church, two long hours, with his friends, his Cub Scout buddies, his sandlot cohorts.  Some earnestly wore sport coats, ties, and slacks.  He wore either dark corduroys or moontans and a white shirt.  He was unable, actually did not want, to get something out of the Sunday experiences.  He did not understand the spiritual.  He did not trust the spiritual.  As far as he could tell, it wanted to dispossess himself of himself.  He often followed and agreed with the moral lessons in the minister's sermons but always shied off, drew protectively inward, when the minister pressed on to the joys of atonement.  A few of the hymns could almost inveigle him out of himself.   When the congregation rose as one, hymnals open, and roared "Onward Christian s-o-o-o-oldiers, marching as to war,"  he too responded, more than half-throatedly, to that rousing martial rhythm, ready to fight for the Christian team.  "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" produced a tingling in his stomach at "Grant it, Jesus, is my plea-ee-ee-ee," and in "Amazing Grace" his throat constricted and his eyes moistened at "I once was lost but now am found."  But even then he sensed that it was tone, an arrangement of notes, not text, working in him, trying to disintegrate him.   In July 1951, at the phoned invitation of  Zee's grandmother Didi, who was a Nazarene, and the voiced-over urging of Zee and Monk, he pedaled his Schwinn up the hill, standing up to pump and switchbacking half a dozen times to negotiate the 40-degree climb from 8th to 9th on Dayton, and rode in her '46 Buick to a Billy Graham Crusade for Christ at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.  He was dazzled by Billy's handsomeness--that wavy hair, that decisive jaw--and his honeyed North Carolina drawl.  The way he would stalk the stage, in command of his audience, the way he poured out the words, in command of his material.  He was glorious.  Finally, as the choir began to hum ever so softly, backgrounding him, came the moment when Billy called to the unsaved to come forward.  God is speaking to you and calling you to Himself tonight, it is time to commit yourself to Him, surrender your total person, your intelligence, your will, your body to Jesus Christ the Lord, He must come first in your heart, it takes a deliberate act of the will, deny yourself, pick up the Cross and follow Him, you may never have another hour like this, tomorrow might be too late, accept Christ as your Savior, do it now, get up and come down right now, be washed clean, avoid the fires of hell, be with your loved ones for all eternity, your family and your friends will joyfully wait for you, there are aides waiting on the field to help you.  The dwindling light of the long Seattle summer evening was golden, the sky a darkening azure beginning faintly to twinkle.  Dozens of people were rising, converging in the aisles, answering the call to salvation, descending the stairs to the field below.  His pals were going forward looking back at him, Didi was imploring him to go forward, he did not want to go forward, he felt no supernal call to go forward, to be immersed in the evening itself was all he wanted, to be in the midst of all there was but not ever surrender himself was what he wanted.  He went forward.  His friends cheered.  Didi cheered.  An usher directed him to a tent.  An aide in a corduroy sport coat and tie greeted him, wrote down his name, congratulated him, patted him on the back.  They sat on folding chairs at a small table. 

"Wayne," the aide said, "in order to be saved you must first confess your sins and state your acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior." 

He was dumb to tell the aide how sin wormed within him.  He tried to think of sins he could own up to.  He wasn't fully clear on what sin was.  Would his grandmother say it was believing that matter was real?  He had never killed or stolen.  Did swearing and lying count?  A minute passed. 

"Wayne, just think of something," the aide said, growing impatient. 

"Forgive me, Lord, for I know I have sinned," the old man finally mustered, and the aide prayed for him, riffing on the nature of sin and assuring Him that Wayne was penitent.

"And now, Wayne, do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?" 

"I do." 

"Oh, that's wonderful, Wayne," the aide said, grinning.  "I am so happy for you.  The Lord welcomes you home."  The aide presented him with a pocket-size New Testament, King James version, and the old man went outside to join his jubilant friends, who all the way home chattered giddily about their conversion experience and their plans to read the New Testament every day and to purify their lives.  The old man himself was somber.  He thought he had probably done the right thing, yet he was haunted by a sense of loss.  Nevertheless, the next morning he started in on "Matthew" and, as if it were a library contest, read his way through the New.  He tackled the mystifying language, giving himself credit for fighting through the many passages he did not understand. The more puzzling, the better.  "Let the dead bury the dead."  "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."  Those lines had stayed with him for the last 68 years.  Each chapter was a workout filling him with a sense of achievement but not enlarging his soul.  Or did he not even have a soul?  Or were feelings soul?  His mother was delighted, his father uncommunicative.  Although he wasn't quite sure what taking the name of the Lord in vain encompassed, the old man tried to honor the vow he made with his friends to quit swearing and lying.  One drizzly day they all retreated from the vacant lot where they were playing workup and went to Zee's bedroom, where they invented baseball lineups using vulgar names for body parts.  "Balls" was at shortstop, "Butt" at first, and "Pecker" was on the mound, he recalled.  That, he felt confident, was not swearing, although he would never, ever, want his mother to hear him say any words like those.  One of the boys told an extended story about the dam man who was in charge of the dam water, all of them feeling that a literal interpretation gave them moral cover.  Within a year, however, albeit guilt-gilded, he was  saying "God damn it" instead of "gosh darn it," "Jesus Christ" instead of "jeepers creepers," and "hell" instead of "h-e-double-hockey-sticks."

[My family and I also attended.  In fact, we went three times during the week-long meeting, so awesome did we find it to be in the presence of Billy and the Holy Spirit.  As the son of a Baptist minister I, of course, had already become a Christian but, if I may reference your pedagogical specialty, Wayne, Billy's rousing rhetoric--his glamorous ethos, his sin-and-redemption pathos, his text-explicating logos, waving that open Bible like a conductor a baton--fired my neurons in a way that my dad was unable to do in our little white church with its single steeple at 4th and Bell in quiet, gray Edmonds.  Although my views have long since become more complicated, deeper, richer, it's because of Billy that I studied theology and ended up teaching psychology at Big Sur Theological Seminary.  Dave]

[We were there, too.  Was the whole town?  Why didn't we caravan?  But that wasn't the Edmonds way, was it?  Sylvia]

[ I still don't swear!  Gary]

He crossed the street and turned left, passing The Red Twig, formerly Brusseau's-- a bakery-bistro hangout of his and Diane's, where they could meet friends, get good coffee, and split a croissant, fulfilling a social contract, and before that a dry cleaner's, and before that McKeever's Shell, where he bought gas and had the oil changed in the '49 Ford convertible he owned in high school--and at precisely 5:30 reached the Leyda Building at the corner of 5th and Main, a four-way intersection in the center of which was a modest fountain, its torch-like plume about four feet high, set upon a round brick pedestal, girt by a granite bench, and canopied by an open Tinker Toy-like metal pagoda, that forced cars to go round-about.  At one time the building housed Toni's Apparel, owned by Toni Leyda, and Weller's, a men's clothing store that later moved to a new building across Main, just east of Safeway, where as a teenager the old man had bought quarter-inch suede belts in pink or purple, polka-dotted short-sleeved shirts with rounded collars worn turned up, and pegged denim pants, a pastel yellow pair of which he was wearing when first touched intimately by a girl.  Ten years ago, a Starbucks had commandeered this prime commercial location, placed tables outside, and begun beckoning locals and tourists alike to come and have a cup as the espresso machines kept oozing drop by drop.  Brusseau's was gone.   All over the country, even in the Bowl now, Americans were in chains.

[So many chains!  Not just Starbucks and Best Western but systemic racism and sexism and lookism and ageism and ableism and speciesism--not to mention gross economic inequality.  Charlotte]

 5:30.  Open, then, the door!   A crank I am, it occurred to him, amusingly.

"Wayne!" shouted a smiling barista as she turned a key in the lock and bade him enter.  "How are you?  Grande drip?  We're brewing your Ethiopian today." 

"Excellent, LaTasha," said the old man.  "And a maple scone." 

"No high protein feta-spinach-egg wrap?  What's the occasion?" 

"The first day of the test of my life.  Today I start rewiring my brain.  I've got six months to take my hitting, throwing, and fielding skills to a championship level." 

"Really?  You're into neuroplasticity?   The text in my psychobiology class says the will can alter brain circuitry by placing new demands on it.  You can form new neurons as well as the synapses between them.  I mean, you can not only rewire but create new wires!"

"Exactly.  Mindful repetition, I've read in several books helpfully recommended to me by Scribd, builds layers on the myelin sheath that insulates your axons.  Through practice you can build up the sheath so that signals get transmitted faster and more accurately and produce changes in the brain that enable you to refine your athletic skills.  The more reps, the more myelin.  Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect--or, in my case, good enough to challenge my peers, I hope."

"I hope so, too.  This for that thing in St. George?"


Angular-faced girl, cornrowed hair, multiple piercings, rich jewels in an Ethiope's  ears and nose.  She was lidding the coffee, tonging a scone onto a plate.  Another barista, pony-tailed Josh, had stepped behind the counter to help.  The old man checked his privilege as he might his image in a mirror, turning to observe the line growing behind him.  The half-dozen faces were, comfortingly, he had to admit, white.  How guilty should he feel about that?  LaTasha seemed unperturbed in the midst of the whiteness, but of course while on duty she enjoyed the systemic protection of corporate power.

[You don't need to feel guilty about that at all--any more than an African American needs to feel guilty about being comfortable in the presence of other African Americans.  Don't flaunt your privilege--recognize it, accept it, and, yes, enjoy it--as would a brother among a couple of token whites in a mostly-black pickup basketball game at LA Fitness in Lynnwood.  Monk]

[Monk, that's a false equivalence.  In view of what happened in Philadelphia last year, it's clear that Starbucks, like most of America, is a white space and that blacks need permission to share it.  LaTasha, truly a token, has been given permission to work in Edmonds by the corporation and by the local wypipo because she is willing to use her white voice.  Charlotte]

"By the way, Wayne, the other night I referenced you to a friend who went to Edmonds-Maplewood High School as an example of a senior citizen who stays active, and she said she'd seen a picture of you in the Hall of Fame there along with her aunt and your 1984 state championship basketball team.  Elizabeth Ann Mann?"

"Elizabeth Ann!  Sonnet lover, she claimed when we did a poetry unit in Lit Classics class.  Liz Ann, sure.  Eighty winters have now besieged my brow, but I do remember her.  Played her heart out on the court.  A rebound hound.  Teammates  called her 'The Truck.'  Could really use her back bumper to get post position on her defender.  Loved that kid. What's she doing now?"

"Not much, I guess.  Being a grandmother.  Volunteering at the Edmonds Museum.  Watching Netflix with her partner.  That comes to $5.55, Wayne.  Scanning?"

"I am."

He scanned his payment with his phone, sat down with coffee and a scone. 

[Ha!  Iambic tetrameter--I remember!  And thank you for the Elizabethan sonnet!  Liz Ann]

He took a window table and faced the fountain, his back to the entrance, the obverse of a gunslinger's tactic, to protect himself against being drawn in by the clusters of retired men who would soon be pushing chairs around for klatching.  He rolled his shoulders back, forcing his coccyx to make a right angle with the chair's seat, an L rather than the J that came so naturally now, propped up his iPad, logged in to the free Wi-Fi, and opened the New York Times.  He scrolled down the Home page, stopping to tap into the many stories whose headlines interested himand occasionally prompted impromptu fashionings of his own, which he typed into the Notes section on his phone.  Public Employees Forced To Exchange Defined-Benefits Pensions For IRAs Now Exceedingly Wroth.  Apple To Fund iRaq Reconstruction In Exchange For Naming RightsKrugman Flogs Deficit Scolds With Keynes.  He liked reading the news online, except for the surfeit of graphics, especially those animatrons that pulsed and darted like an ophthalmologist's field of vision test and those cataracts that descended the screen and required him to tap for their removal.  Give him a thousand words and keep your picture.  Hard copies, such as those of the Seattle Times delivered to his condo daily, were cumbersome and dim.  The iPad held an entire paper in a bright and tidy six-by-eight-inch package.  He sipped his coffee, enjoying the hint of cocoa produced by the sweet, unvarnished  Ethiopian beans.  The scone's maple frosting made lanes of flavor across the papillae on his tongue, reminding him of maple bars past that his mother would bring home from the town's bakery on Saturdays.  He had been a fat boy.  His mother said he was husky, but he knew he was fat.  Some of the kids at school--but not the All Stars--called him "The Fat Man" after the detective on a popular radio show.  He was ashamed of the name, but that didn't spoil his appetite.  He played many sports, but that didn't keep the flab off.  He simply ate too much.  Not just one maple bar but two; not just one hamburger deluxe but two.  Stacks of thick pancakes saturated with maple syrup, wide wedges of wild blackberry pie à la mode, the ice cream melting over the cobalt stain where the berries had bled through the crust, handfuls of chewy chocolate chip cookies.  He knew nothing about nutrition.  In high school, as his body stretched out, he thinned a bit.  By graduation he had reached 5'11" and weighed 180 pounds, parameters he found acceptable for years.  He could still get up and down the court in pickup basketball games, still get into a good defensive stance and demonstrate to his players how to drop-step and slide.  But in 1977, intrigued by the increasing number of ambitious joggers in skimpy shorts and tee shirts on what were gradually becoming the busy streets of Edmonds--what were they on to?  could running actually be something more than a painful means to  athletic success or improved health?--he read The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx, a Mensa member who weighed 240 before converting to a runner's regimen, running away from  60 superfluous pounds and becoming an evangelist for the sport.

[I actually felt a kind of perverse pride in the irony that Fixx died with his Tailwinds on in a race a couple of years later.  It was as if he took it upon himself to be the exception that proves the rule that running is healthful.  Stu]

["Made lanes of flavor"--I've been wondering how you might incorporate that classic Proustian remembrance.  C'est très agréable.  Solveig]

The old man repented his self-indulgence.  He yearned for the physical transcendence of which Fixx spoke: increased self-esteem, the release of pressure and tension, a longer and fuller life spent sailing on a flood tide of endorphins and endocannabinoids, the runner's high.  He wanted to be strong, to go long, to attack hills, to join the conspiracy of those with lean and hungry looks.   He began to reduce his caloric intake.  Ate two, you brute, eh?  Not anymore.  One would suffice, thank you.  It was easy to talk Diane, a P.E. teacher, into joining him.  They bought Nike Tailwind shoes.  At first they drove from their rambler on Grandview in north Edmonds to the old high school's athletic fields on 6th and jog-walked a few laps, stopping to rest now and then.  Within a couple of weeks they were able to finish a mile in nine minutes. Then, afternoons on weekdays if work and weather permitted, mornings on Saturdays and vacation days, they began pounding the pavement, a small circle route at first, maybe a mile, down Bell to 4th, south on 4th to Howell, up Howell to 5th, then back to the field, gradually widening the circle until they were running from 5th and Howell south to Pine, up Pine to 9th, a steep ascent, north to Caspar, west on Caspar to 3rd, south on 3rd to Bell, and back to the field, three miles in all, waving fraternally to other runners whose paths they crossed.  That distance sufficed for her, but not for the old man.  Eventually he was running another two miles around the track and then loping home while she drove back to shower, do her hair and makeup, and fuss around the house.  Four months later he was competing in the 10K races held in nearby towns every summer weekend--in Lynnwood five miles east, in Lake Stevens 25 miles to the northeast, at Green Lake in Seattle, in Redmond, east of Seattle on the other side of Lake Washington.  His first took him 50 minutes.  So did the second.  Surely, he thought, he was capable of better.  He talked with Stu Cardinal, the school's cross-country coach--the old man had, in 1969, transferred to the new Maplewood High School built on a hill south of Westgate and had become the girls' basketball coach in 1972 when Title IX came into being--who helped him devise a training plan with a purpose.  Twice a week, while Diane jogged a circle route by herself, the old man remained at the track and ran intervals.  One day he'd sprint eight 220s, another four 440s.  Once a week he'd push himself through extended pain to run a hard mile.  The intervals were like vitamins and minerals.  He began to get stronger.  He became able to break six minutes in the mile.  On his two longer runs during the week his pace picked up with no conscious effort on his part.  His heart was teaching itself to beat faster for longer.  His leg muscles learned to eliminate some of the lactic acid that running produced.  He became more lactic-tolerant of that which remained.  As the weeks drew on he incurred less and less oxygen debt.  He broke 40 minutes in a 10K.  After each run he felt justified, purified, washed clean, though not quite all passion spent.  Sundays were a special day for each.  He would run, Diane would drive to services at the Hilltop Presbyterian Church.  Still in shorts, reading the Seattle Times in the Morris chair he had inherited from his grandfather, he would rise when she came in the door, smiled a greeting, and went to their bedroom to change.  As she dropped earrings and bracelet into the jewelry box on her dresser, he would approach from behind and gently cup both breasts.  They would nuzzle as he unbuttoned her blouse, removed it, ran his thumb down her neck chain to her cross of gold, excitement growing for both at this slight sullying, she lubricious, he tumescent, Lucrece awaiting Tarquin, never more chaste than when he did ravish her.   She'd turn to offer the fullness behind her white silky bra, he'd free her breasts, unzip her skirt, which fell to the floor as she stepped out of it, and peel off her panties, which she would wantonly dispatch with a flick of an ankle. Lips to lips, lips to brackish lips, tongue to clit until her writhing welcoming groan, her happy moan, lips to tip, then he inside squeezing her legs between his, a slick tight fit, so literally sensational, driving on through delicious throbs of pain until dumbness set in.  Or in a chair, she sitting on him, eyes glazed, almost exiting on her way up, sliding slowly, teasingly, down to administer a vaginal squeeze, he shuddering, gasping, fingering her breasts, holding on as long as he could as she rode the carousel to her satisfaction.  

[So you "matured," in all senses of the word?  Lucky Diane!  Solveig]

"Wayne," she once said as they lay seeping after, "except for Jesus, you are the heart of my soul." 

"And you are the soul of my heart," the old man said. 

They had first met in 1965 at a District mandated in-service class called "Instructional Theory Into Practice" held on four October Saturdays at the new Edmonds High School two miles from the Bowl.  He was in his third year of teaching at Edmonds, his alma mater, she in her first at recently opened Meadowdale.  He spotted her as he strode past the lectern--trim, bright-eyed, Dorothy Hamill hairdo, a brown flying wedge with bangs down to her eyebrows--and took an empty desk beside her.  They shared  brown eye rollings as the instructor, an enthusiastic  30-year-old, overviewed this "teacher decision-making model for planning instruction" and started in on "Learning Objectives," the first of seven steps in planning a lesson, featuring task analysis, diagnostic testing, and congruence with Benjamin Bloom's cognitive taxonomy.  At the second session, he was there first, same desk.  She, seeming to have expected that, said "Hi," and came to sit beside him.  She wore a white blouse, blue jeans, black flats, and a powder blue cardigan buttoned only at the top.

"Did you try any of this stuff this week?" she asked. 

"Not yet," he said.  "Waiting to see how it all fits together."

The second session covered "Anticipatory Set," "State the Lesson Objectives," and "Input."  The teacher could, for example, get the students' attention by flicking the lights off and on or writing on the chalkboard a riddle to solve or question to answer while he/she took roll.  Having heightened anticipation, the teacher should announce to the students, in infinitive form, what they were supposed to learn in that day's lesson, then proceed with the lesson, identifying and presenting main concepts and skills, explaining clearly by means of such things as examples and diagrams, all the while inviting active student participation.

"I'm Wayne," he said when the session ended, extending his hand.

"I'm Diane," she said, taking it.

"Would you care to get a cup of coffee?"

"I would," she said.

"The Edmonds Bakery?"

"I've never been in there.  Sure, why not?"

They agreed that each would drive his/her own car, as he wished he hadn't put it, from the school, situated in a stark neighborhood of strip malls and apartment houses, down  steep, tree-lined Main Street, past three-bedroom homes with flowering yards, crimson and white petals of azaleas and rhododendrons not sleeping but bright and alert on a welcome Indian summer day, and into the Bowl, which lay all Danäe to a rare blue sky.

"You know," he said when they were seated with their coffee, both having passed on the pastries that filled the upper tier of a heavy glass case, though he coveted a maple bar, "my mother used to send me on my bike to buy bread here.  I always chose white, not wheat.  I really liked watching the baker or his wife run it through the slicing machine."

 "So you grew up in Edmonds?"

"I did."

"It's such a quaint town.  Some day I'd like to buy here.  I grew up in Seattle, on Phinney Ridge, near the zoo."

"An area with charm of its own."

"I suppose.  We lived on 45th, though.  Cars whooshing past all day, going from the U District to Ballard and vice versa.  Of course, what I have now isn't any better.  I live with a housemate in an apartment on Highway 99."

"And I now live not in Edmonds but two-point-four miles away in an apartment on 196th."

"You've clocked it."

"I have.  Give me some time and I'll be living down here again, one way or another." 

"So you can go home again?"

Had she read it?  His eyes kept going back to the cross on the chain around her neck.  Accessorizing?  Testifying?  Talismaning?  But who doesn't knock on wood? 

"I'm planning on it.  Coffee warm enough?"  They had poured it into sturdy mugs from a pot on a two-burner hot plate. 

"I actually prefer it a little on the cool side.  You get more of the flavor that way.  I'm trying to convince myself that there's a hint of cherry in it."

"Really?  You mean coffee isn't just coffee?"

"Nothing is just anything.  I think you always have to pull back the veil and discover what lies behind or beneath."

"You mean like dark matter?"

"I don't know anything about that.  I mean like the spiritual reality behind the material reality.  Anyway, when I was a kid, about 12, my dad started taking my mom and my younger sister and I to Napa Valley for our summer vacation.  This was long before it became the tourist attraction that it is now.  There were only a dozen wineries that welcomed visitors at the time.  We'd stay at the El Bonita motel in St. Helena.  He loved the whole romance of wine.  My sister and I loved the sun and the pool.  Mornings we'd spend going to wineries, my sister and I enduring the lectures and the tastings, all the while whining that it was too hot and we wanted to go swimming.   We'd hit three places every morning for three days.  Linda and I liked Beringer for its cool limestone cave, but the others were drudgery.  My mom and dad would ask about Brix and terroir and whether the wine had been aged in oak or in stainless steel while they swirled and sniffed and sipped. They'd buy a couple of bottles at each place and finally we would go to the park for a picnic lunch my mom had made--we were thrifty and seldom ate out--and then back to the pool, where we splashed all afternoon, diving, holding our breath while we wrestled underwater, and pretending we were wide receivers by jumping off the side of the pool to catch the sponge rubber football that our dad would throw over the water.  So I grew up hearing a lot about wine, and when we were in high school he started pouring us a couple of ounces for dinner. He taught us to always hold the glass by the stem so we wouldn't get greasy fingerprints on the sides and spoil our look at the wine's color, how to suck air in over the wine in our mouths to open up its nuances of flavor--believe me, we did a lot of gagging and coughing as unfamiliar fumes attacked our throats--and to reflect on the wine's structure by considering its acidity and body.  So I would say that this coffee--Folger's?  Maxwell House?-- is thin-bodied, acidic with wild cherry overtones if I'm being generous, just beginning to fall apart because it's been sitting in the pot a wee bit too long, not bitter and flavorless yet but soon to be."

"Who knew? I've always just swilled the stuff for the caffeine, and for something to do, and for a sense of control, and for a connection with my past.  My parents perked multiple pots every day, and on those rare occasions when we would make a car trip to the Olympic peninsula or cross the Cascades to Lake Chelan, on those old two-lane roads that ran through as many little towns as possible, they'd stop every couple of hours and get a 10 cent cup of coffee at a greasy spoon.  I picked up their habit.  I take it you're following in your dad's footsteps?  Drinking lots of wine?"

"Not lots, I would say, and I'm not making any trips to Napa Valley, but yes, I have a glass in the evening several times a week.  I look for decent but affordable wines in the liquor store."

"We should go out for a glass sometime, and you could teach me."

"We should."

They looked at each other.  

"Do you enjoy being a teacher?" she asked.

"Kind of.  I like the idea of getting the kids immersed in real literature and trying to make them better readers and writers.  Getting them to dig in and read closely.  Getting them to communicate their findings in essays filled with textual references.  But to tell the truth, I've been foundering."  Floundering?  He would look it up later.  "There's no spark in my classroom."

"The kids are disinterested?"

"Uninterested, yes.  Inattentive.  I'm only vaguely sure of what to teach and not at all sure of how to do it.   I'm hoping that this ITIP program, as mechanical and formulaic as it is, will give me some practical tips on how to structure my classes.  Jack Foster, whose  Cultural Heritage class I took as a senior and who is now my colleague, thinks it's a farce.  He believes that teaching is an art that you either have or you don't.  'You can't teach teaching', he says.  That's probably true for him.  He inspires just by virtue of who he is.  Most of us are not that powerful.  We need a framework, a tune, upon which we can improvise, like a jazz musician.  Which my father is, by the way." 

"Honestly, I kind of feel like you do.  I want my girls to be educated physically in the sense that they learn to enjoy their bodies in motion, know how to condition them, and improve their skills and techniques in playing various sports.  Right now I just have them line up and count off for teams, then roll the ball out for games.  Soccer now, while the weather's good, basketball and volleyball when we have to move indoors, then softball and track in the spring.  I love those games myself, but I'm not teaching the girls anything."

"What do you think?  Shall we both start experimenting with that anticipatory set stuff and compare notes next week?"

"Let's do.   And"--taking out a Papermate and scribbling on a napkin--"here's my phone number in case you need to call me about something."

[Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt.  So glad you found an athletic person to settle down with!  Solveig]

[I agree with Jack.  Gimmicks take the soul out of teaching.  Teaching depends as much on who you (the teacher) are as what you do.  The acronym ITIP could be said to stand for "I Think I'm Perfect"!  Bill]

Thwap!  He slapped at a fly that had just parked itself on his table.  The coffee sloshed, the fork clinked on his plate.  Uh-oh.  It wasn't a fly, it was a floater. 

LaTasha, bussing the table next to his, giggled.  "Did you get him, Wayne?" 

He chagrinned.  "Nah, false alarm.  I've got a bit of a retinal problem."

His watch haptickled him with a reminder: "A moment of deep breathing can clear your mind."   But he didn't want to clear his mind; he wanted to submerge himself in its turbidity.  As he  sipped some now quite cool Ethiopian ambrosia, happily, he was tickled by the suddenly emerged notion that this could be a defining moment, and ultimately Noted, with much buffering and buffing in the process:

Lucifer's Lexicon (Ambrose-ia for Today's Cynic

Trump l'oeil-- Post-modern art of governing through tweets that present the elision of reality. 

global warming--Modern era of rising earth temperatures, accepted placidly by ordinarily change-fearing conservatives and resisted angrily by ordinarily change-favoring progressives.

micro-aggression--A speech act which, at the macro level, appears innocuous or even complimentary but, at the quantum level, as detected by language string-theorists, produces vibrations derogatory to a socially marginalized group (as when a young female clerk says to an octogenarian of any and all genders, "May I help you, Sweetie?")

post-racial society--An American utopia (in the literal sense of "no place").

bioengineering--Survival of the retrofittest. 

justice--Revenge dressed up in formal clothing. 

multiculturalism--The religious experience of variety. 

[All right, let me in on this! 

the 99%--The vast majority of Americans, all of whom are convinced that the very rich became so by exploiting them and that it's only fair and just that the wealth of the selfish 1% be distributed by means of taxation to the more virtuous 99%.   Monk]

[the 1%--The very richest Americans, all of whom are convinced that they became rich by means of their own talent, effort, and moral virtue and who believe that, although they are of course superior people, everyone could be in the 1% if only they worked at it.  Charlotte]

[woke--State of hyperconsciousness in which one is infinitely aware of the infinite number of ways in which another's use of particular words and phrases further oppresses, demeans, and marginalizes an oppressed, demeaned, and marginalized social group and its individual members.  Monk]

[tone-deaf--Term applied to the self-whiteous whose use of words like "woke" is an unconscionable cultural appropriation and reveals a woeful lack of awareness.  Charlotte]

[stereotype--In regard to a group of people, a generalization that you find offensive.

insight--In regard to a group of people, a generalization that you approve of.

gatekeepers--Editors with whom you agree in regard to their decision to forbid the distribution of a given message in their publication.

censors--Editors with whom you disagree in regard to their decision to forbid the distribution of a given message in their publication.

weaponized language--The rhetorical use of words and phrases to advance causes or present points of view with which you do not agree. 

judicial activism--Supreme Court rulings, as in Roe v. Wade or Citizens United, that are based on interpretations of the Constitution with which you do not agree.  Gary]

[placebo--A medication or course of treatment that others believe in but you do not.

petty concern--Something that others care about but you do not.  Sylvia]

[death--Inevitable ending for all individual animals and plants, the fear of which in humans underlies all religions and philosophies.  Dave]

As he listed other candidates for sanityizing by Satanizing--asymmetry, credentialism, implicit bias, systemic oppression, cancel culture--his phone announced, in a chiming arpeggio, a text from Zee. 

"happy bday bro!  sry 4 l8 ntice but   ~xpctd lnch mtg w/ cmpgn mgr @11.  c u @ 9 ok?"

The old man, who felt secure only when he had a schedule to follow, checked the time.  6:50.  They had originally agreed to meet at 2:00.  He had planned to walk to his bench, return home for Greek yogurt (80 calories, 12 grams of protein) and two tablespoons of peanut butter right out of the jar (190 calories, seven grams of protein), then drive to Harbor Square Athletic Club near the waterfront and lift weights before going back to the condo, drinking a smoothie, and resting for an hour.  Now that had ganged agley.  He skimmed the sports section--the Knicks and Nets had floundered and then foundered and would not make the playoffs, the Yanks and the Mets had opened with wins--squished a last crumb of scone with the back of his fork, dissolved it on his tongue, and edged his way toward the door, nodding to a couple of klatchers.

"LaTasha," he waved, "see you tomorrow.  Tell your friend to tell her aunt that I said hello."

"Okay, Wayne, you got it."

Exiting Starbucks, two quick rook lefts put him back on 5th, aiming south.  Holding memories at bay, bouncing them back when they tried to insinuate their way into his consciousness, concentrating the way he did when he used to run 10Ks, tucking the iPad between left forearm and ribs, carrying the mail the way "Hurrying" Hugh McElhenny used to for the Huskies in the early '50s, risking a spill on the rugged sidewalk, he beelined in a trot back to the condo, allowing snot and tears to dribble down his face in his hive-bound haste.  So much to get done!

He entered the foyer, caught his breath, wiped his nose and eyes with his handkerchief, girded, and began his ascent.  When he and Diane first moved in, he had climbed in loud bounds, knees high, lungs full, feet thumping.  Nearly forty years later he shuffled up noiselessly, taking an infinitesimal pause on each step, right hand on the railing for balance and propulsion, lungs bellowsing, pacemaker pulsing, heart thumping. 

7:00.  "Lexa," he struggled to demand between lung spasms as he entered his unit, "play Rachmaninoff."

"Shuffling songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff on Amazon music," she responded, and fulfilled his hopes by selecting "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," whose opening measures soon had him punching the air--"Bom! Bom! Bom!"--twitching his shoulders, and rattle-hop-stepping his feet as he made a smoothie, pouring six ounces of lemonade into the blender and adding, from huge Costco packages, a large scoop of whey protein powder and a cup of frozen strawberries, plus a fresh banana and eight ice cubes.  As the rhapsody reached the "dies irae" refrain, he poured the blended mix into a used Styrofoam cup from the Gravity Bar, popped in a straw, said "Lexa, end music," and sat down at his desktop computer in the corner of the west wall of the living room.  He finished the New York Times and worked his way through The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report-- cringing at the facile liberalism and conservatism, needing always to squirm away from doctrinal certainties, to resist intellectual bullying, but nevertheless curious (and, curiously, obliged) to see what bits of news they had forced into their Procrustean beds; The USS Mariner, a sabremetrician's blog about the Seattle baseball team; the Everett Herald obituaries (finding today one for the 95-year-old parent of a former student who in 1969 had refused to sign a permission slip allowing his daughter to read The Catcher in the Rye in the old man's American literature class); and Facebook, where he seldom posted but daily peeped to keep up with the activities of classmates and teammates and former colleagues and students and players.  Already, he was happy to note as he quickly paged down, there were a dozen salutations from friends who had been informed of his birthday at the stroke of midnight by an FB algorithm.  He would respond to them individually later.   He checked his bank and credit card accounts--a Social Security payment deposited at Chase, an automatic monthly Comcast cable and internet charge on Visa--and his mail.  The Edmonds Old Settlers' picnic was scheduled for August 11, Classmates.com claimed that his profile was attracting attention, HBO Go had some suggestions for his evening's viewing, Starbucks was pleased to inform him that, as a gold card holder, he was entitled to claim a birthday reward at his convenience, My Fitness Pal had recipes and yoga exercises for him, Scribd had three books to recommend, BookBub had four more, Quora had its usual array of spurious questions and dodgy answers, a softball teammate had forwarded a shaggy dog story, and his high school class steering committee had formally invited him to attend the annual reunion, to be held this year at the Anderson Center Plaza on June 1.

8:15.  Done.  The hard copy of the Seattle Times would have to wait.  He would just take a quick peek at his Twitter account.  Two responses to last night's tweet:  From @eatmyshorts: "WTF?" and from @selectedshortz: "Shinto--embarrassing, not a good pun.  Cupid and Eros--too hard, inclusion of conjunction unfair.  Leer--too easy; also, 'howling' an inelegant way to suggest phonetic correspondence.  Flanerie--'by the Sound' better than 'howling' but answer still too easy; not many famous writers named O'Conner.  Rabbit at Rest--otherwise good but marred by that migrating 't.'  Insouciance--a respectable oronym.  Rolex--works for me (!)  Algorithm--Now that's more like it!"  Discerning, judicious, deserved.  He rinsed his cup and straw in the kitchen sink, went to his bathroom to fetch a tube of Icy-Hot and apply some to his lumbar area to warm and relax his degenerative discs, and returned to the living room for stretching exercises, pleased to see tugboat-led cargo ships coming into and going out of the Strait.  Commerce!  Commoditization!  Commodification!  Man's smudge, man's smell.  Life!  Keep it coming!  

[Commerce, yes.  Commoditization, necessary at times.  Commodification, no!  Not everything can or should be monetized, Wayne.  I really resent the way Edmonds whorishly shakes its booty to attract the tourist gaze.  And why on earth would Gary need a campaign manager?  Is he running for City Council?  Charlotte]

[Yes, Zee is getting ready to announce that he's running for the Council.  Guess what--I'm thinking of running too!  Monk]


The old man was almost always precisely on time for appointments, wanting to keep neither himself nor anyone else waiting.  At 9:00 he parked on 7th outside the fence at Civic Field, still faintly disoriented by the absence to the south of the 50-foot-high, 80-yards-long covered wooden grandstand that had loomed over the football field since the '30s, the place where, growing up, he had joined throngs to watch football games and 4th of July fireworks displays.  Two years ago the aged structure had been demolished by bulldozers and hauled away in trucks in preparation for the development of a modern multi-purpose park now in the planning stages.   Zee, always early, had already set up the pitcher's screen on the infield of the softball diamond and was stretching.  The old man changed into his rubber-cleated shoes, twice teetering against the bumper of his  '15 Santa Fe , threw his bat bag over his shoulder, grabbed a five-gallon bucket filled with softballs, slammed the hatch shut, and squeezed through the entrance to the crude, mangy expanses of poorly-drained clay that had once been the Elysian football and baseball fields of his dreams.  To the west, along 6th, were the blocky old two-story wooden Field House, originally a honey-mustard color, now a startling deep barn red trimmed with dark green, the brightest building in town and the current home of  the Boys' and Girls' Club, some cracked concrete basketball and tennis courts that dated to the '40s, and a relatively new skateboard facility.   In the southwest corner was a pétanque court that reminded him of afternoons spent wandering among pickup games in Parisian parks with Diane.

"Happy birthday, Bro," said Zee as they dapped, then shrugged and bro-hugged.  "How's it feel to be 80?"

"Feels fine.  Feels like 79.  I love the smell of analgesic balm in the morning.  Smells like possibility!  Let's start building up that myelin." 

They wore turtlenecks, sweat pants, ball caps, and batting gloves on both hands in the 45-degree weather.

Zee, who, with his high forehead, slitted, half-opened eyes, full head of full-bodied black hair, lightly lined face and unflappable mien, had for decades reminded the old man of Pierce Brosnan, said "Sorry I had to speed this up, Bro.  I know you like your schedules. But it's already April, and I'm eager to get started on my campaign for Position 8.  Brian has some free time today, and he and I are going to plan for a  kickoff session at the Edmonds Center for the Arts next week and work on a statement for the announcement of my candidacy in the Beacon and My Edmonds News on Thursday."

"So you're really going to do it!  Entering the political arena as an octogenarian--I'm proud of you, Bro!  I'll doorbell for you, distribute leaflets, answer the phones at campaign headquarters."

"Campaign headquarters would be my house on Olympic View Drive, and I've cut the cord on my landline, so I'll be answering my own cell phone.  But I welcome your offer, and I'll put you to work after we get into this thing."

They started, as softball players all over the world do, by playing catch, easy tosses from 30 feet, then moving back to 50.  The old man's arm felt good, rested, recovered from last season's rotator cuff inflammation.   He was pushing off his back, right, foot well, but his body insisted that he land not on the ball of the left but on the outside of the heel to maintain his balance, shortening his follow-through and limiting his velocity.  That could be lived with, however.  Entropy guaranteed that the aging base runners he'd be trying to throw out would be a step slower as compensation.  In ensuing practices, they'd gradually increase their throwing distance, gaining arm strength, until they reached 80 feet, the maximum for both.

The old man kept glancing around as they threw.  "Seventy-three years, Z-man," he said.  "Seventy-three years these decrepit grounds have loomed large in our lives.  I love the old place, but it's long past time for an upgrade."

"I remember it like it wasn't yesterday," Zee said.  "Second-grade class in the Field House because of overcrowding up at the grade school.  Mrs. Hill rearranging her seating chart to split us up because we talked so much.  Playing 'Red Rover Come Over' and 'Farmer in the Dell' with the girls under Mrs. Hill's careful supervision.  And all the times we stayed after school with Jimmie and Jerry and Monk and Buzz and Walt and Dickie and Dave to watch the high school football players practice for a while and then borrow a ball from Coach Howe and get a game going ourselves."

"Right.  But two things still stand out the most to me.  My agony and Jimmie's ecstasy.  That time in Babe Ruth, playing right field, when I chased a deep fly that rolled to the track, picked it up, whirled, hit the football field light pole with my throw, caught the ball when it bounced right back to me, and finally got it to the cutoff man as the batter raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run, our coach, Jimmie's dad, laughing harder than anybody.  And, more to the point for me right now, remember after we graduated we were playing in a summer fastpitch league?  They had set up a diamond on the football field with the backstop facing the grandstand?  And Jimmie hit a pitcher's drop-ball over the grandstand?  That's easily 350 feet, and it was still rising when it cleared the roof.  And with a wooden bat, not these composite springboards with their high coefficients of restitution that we have today!  The rest of us on both teams were happy just to hit one to the grandstand once in a while, and Jimmie rockets it out like Roy Hobbs.  Most awesome swing I've ever seen.  I want to develop one like that."

"Okay, Hobbs, you ready for turn-and-goes?" Zee said.


They practiced retreating for pop flies without back-pedaling.  About 20 feet apart, one would lob a ball over the head of, and slightly to the right or left of, the other.  The receiver would pivot sharply and run hard, trying to keep his eyes on the ball, looking it into his glove on the move.  These were hard for the old man, especially going to his right when his extended glove hand would sometimes obscure the ball.  His declining powers of proprioception  made it difficult when moving to interpret the limited stimuli regarding position and equilibrium arising within his body.  The dulled nerve endings in his neuropathic feet offered little helpful information.  The mac d flattened depth.  Often his brain searched desperately to get a Bradleyan sense of where he was while his body in its own wisdom protectively slowed dramatically, giving the brain time to work.  Until he reached his 70s, he had been a strong outfielder, able to get a jump on the ball, track it, run unerringly to the spot where it would come down, and snag it if it touched his glove at all.  Once, at St. George, in his first tournament there at the age of 60, he had pivoted sharply and sprinted at a 45-degree angle for a ball lined into the gap, collided with the left fielder, who was also running full out, flew backward three feet, his teammate's shoulder bloodying his nose and bending the wire frame of his glasses, and held on to the ball as his head hit the ground.  Now he was fearful and unsteady going back, unable to overrule his subconscious, which insisted he take his eyes off the ball and sneak a peek to avoid a collision or a fall even though he had a quarter-acre of open ground between himself and the fence.   The old man often worked on his balance at home.  Three times a day he would stand next to the couch and, while focusing on the ferry dock, extend his right leg backward and balance on his left for 60 seconds, belaying himself with a hand to the couch if he was unable to control his teetering, then repeat with the right leg.  After that warm up he would place one foot on the opposite knee, hands together over his head in praying position.  If he went 30 seconds without rebooting, he was lucky.  When putting on socks, underpants, pants, or slippers, he would not let himself sit or lean against a wall or a piece of furniture but would stand next to the bed and balance on one leg, falling bedward if necessary. A high school classmate, residing, coincidentally enough, in St. George, he had learned recently on a Facebook feed, had fallen in his bathroom, cracked his head against the countertop, and died instantly.  A year earlier a softball teammate had fallen while crossing an icy street to get to his mailbox, broken his hip, and never regained mobility.  The old man wanted to prevent incidents like those almost as much as he wanted to glide with equilibrium on the ball field. 

He and Zee each took a dozen turn-and-goes, getting to and catching more than they didn't get to or dropped, however shaky the process.

Next came ground balls.  This was a new drill for the old man.  He had been an outfielder for 25 years; this year, his manager had told him, because of his problems with depth perception and balance, he would move to the infield.  Having become a defensive embarrassment to himself and to the team, he was  relieved to get this news, even though it meant he would incur fresh embarrassments as he struggled to learn the nuances of playing the infield.  He and Zee, an infielder since Little League, took turns hitting grounders from home plate to shortstop, going through the bucket of balls, the fielder rolling each ball off to the side.  The old man told himself to get the butt down, get the glove down, get the eyes down, stay on the ball all the way.  If he could just focus, keep extraneous thoughts at bay.  "Down," "down," became his mantra.  "Down" he would say as the bat struck the ball, "down" as he looked it into the glove.  He managed to stop all of the grounders but juggled a few, even though Zee was hitting them only at medium speed. 

"Now, Z-man, the moment I've been waiting for all winter."  Both were sweating, turtlenecks sticking to their skins.  They drank from water bottles they'd tucked into their bags.  "Let's hit."

The old man loved to hit.  There was nothing so satisfying to him as a drive that jumped off his bat and streamed into an outfield gap, or one that made an infielder flinch, or a big fly with back spin that carried beyond an outfielder's reach.  But he produced very few of any of them.  He hit his share of short line drives that fell in front of outfielders, of seeing-eye ground balls, of  bloop singles.  He averaged .600--a few years ago it had been .750--but there was little explosiveness in his swing.  He felt that, although his fielding had declined, he could still improve his hitting.  He thought of Jimmie, puffing out his cheeks with the effort, driving his hips, snapping his wrists, and smashing the ball over the grandstand.  The Natural.  The old man was several fast-twitch fibers short of being Jimmie, but he dreamed of developing a swing like his, a whale of a swing, nasty, brutish and long.  Browsing YouTube on his iPad, he had found a dozen videos teaching techniques for hitting softballs with power and watched them over and over through the  winter, taking notes, rehearsing slow swings in his living room, inspired by the filmed progress of ordinary hitters becoming power hitters using proper swing mechanics.  He had sequenced and memorized the key parts of the swing: grip the bat with the left little finger and ring finger below the bat's knob and wrap the right over the left to increase leverage; get 90 per cent of his weight back on his right leg; tilt the bat toward the pitcher and pull it back until there was tension in the left arm and lat; lift the left leg like climbing a stair, wind the hips in a slight up-thrust, and aggressively transfer his weight in a big step forward to generate rotational power; lag the bat, then let the left arm lead as the weight transferred; hit the bottom half of the ball, unleashing and snapping the wrists; and follow through completely, releasing the top hand and letting the bat come around to touch his back.  Nervously, he got ready.  They started with screen ball, Zee on one knee to his side and slightly ahead of him tossing the ball up and the old man driving the ball into the backstop mesh 15 feet away.  On the first swing he lost control of the bat and sailed it into the mesh along with the ball.  The grip was so tenuous.  He had no control.  Were guys really able to hit like that?

"Power shot," Zee said.  "You just killed the pitcher.  With the bat, that is, not the ball."

"Damn," said the old man.  "This is not how I envisioned it." 

When the bat flew out of his hands a second time, he decided to slow the swing down.  That was better.  He could maintain bat control by halving his  speed.  He was getting the leg drive and the rotation, but falling away somewhat, moving his head and taking his eye off the ball.  Balance again.  Zee went through the bucket of balls.  The old man's timing was off, but he began to put the pieces of the swing together.  Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect.

After Zee had taken his turn, swinging the way he had all his life, out on his front foot, little hip rotation, right hand leading left hand but making good contact that produced line drives and hard ground balls--he had such great hand-eye coordination-- they went to live BP.  Fifty feet away, Zee pitched and ducked behind the screen so as not to get coovered, as the old man took his cuts.  Swing and a miss on the first one.  The grip, the grip.  First things first.  As the balls came dropping down from 12 feet at their apex, he decided to forget power and rotational mechanics and focus simply on contacting the ball while maintaining the grip.  Not a single ball left the infield but he became a little more comfortable with the grip.  When Zee took his turn, he top-hand-lashed  ball after ball, not deep but hard.  Mid-season form.

"A second bucket?" said the old man.

"I think that's enough for today.  You're undertaking a total makeover.  Let things settle.  We'll be back on Wednesday."

"Okay, you're right.  I'm just going to hit for the cycle before we go."

Zee smiled, hoisted the screen over his head, and carried it to his pickup. 

Starting at home plate, the old man sprinted to first base, mud splattering the back of his sweat pants, and walked back.  Then he hit a double, slowing a bit because of the slick field as he pivoted on his left foot to make the turn at first base, then a triple, trying not to lose pace between second and third, then a home run that left him gasping for breath, unable to speak, his pounding heart having reached its pacemakered limits. But he was confident that he would be fiddle-fit for the opening game of the season.

"Join me next time, Z-man?" he said when finally he could.

"I think you know the answer to that.  I'll do what I've done for the past 20 years--play myself into shape."

"See you Wednesday at 2:00," the old man said, "and don't be early."

"Impossible not to be," Zee said.  "I have no control over it."

Unaccountably, as he settled into his Santa Fe and fastened his seat belt for the short trip to the Harbor Square Athletic Club, notions that had been flitting through his mind for several days (he had recently re-read Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death) coalesced and settled down.  He extracted his phone from his sweat pants pocket and thread-tweeted:

#madamsNxNW: Have found the need to develop two new psychological-rhetorical quotients: the Horseshit Quotient, a measure, on a scale of 0 to 100, of the degree to which one deceives oneself; and the Bullshit Quotient, a measure of one's attempt to deceive others.  If you tell yourself that fearing death is pointless because death is inevitable (that  whistling past the graveyard thing), you register a 90 on the HSQ scale.  If you try to persuade others that fearing death is pointless because it's inevitable (that "the coward dies a thousand deaths" thing), you register a 90 on the BSQ scale.


All of the parking spaces adjacent to the Club and its outdoor tennis courts and its satellite tennis dome and the neighboring commercial facilities and the boardwalk skirting the marsh cum bird sanctuary being filled, he circled round to the lot at the Best Western Harbor Square Inn, which fronted on Highway 104.  The popular two-story Club, one of the early gentrifiers of the town, built in 1985 and remodeled and expanded several times since, was upscale, spacious, clean, bright, with multiple large windows offering views of the marsh to the south and the Salish Sea to the west.  The ground floor featured a juice bar with a granite countertop, a space to lounge on couches and easy chairs, glass-fronted courts and rooms for racquetball , squash, aerobics, yoga, and Zumba, two curtained tennis courts girdled by a rubber running track, a full-length basketball court with glass backboards, a swimming pool, and a women's locker room with sauna, steam room, and hot tub.  Upstairs were the men's locker room with its sauna, steam room, and hot tub and two long rooms running east-west, one with cardio and weight machines, the other with benches and racks of free weights and bar bells and multi-purpose stanchions for pull ups, dips, and core work, and an array of ropes, harnesses, stretch bands, medicine balls, balance balls, and kettle balls.  He scanned his keyring ID tag at the reception desk and grabbed the towel offered by lanky Pat Dahl, who had begun his career as a Social Studies teacher and boys' basketball coach at Maplewood in the mid-'80s.  The morning  shifts at the desk and in the locker rooms, picking up towels and replenishing dispensers of soap, shampoo, body lotion, and mouthwash, were filled by retirees in exchange for a minimum wage and a free membership.  "Have a good one, Wayne," Pat said.  "You know, I'm thinking of coming out for senior softball this year."  "Great," he said, striving to be heard over the whine of a blender mixing a post-workout high-protein smoothie at the juice bar for a tall, trim blonde in her thirties holding a gym bag and wearing a scarlet sweater, white jeans, and scarlet sneakers, her freshly blow-dried hair long and voluminous.  "Join my team, the Classics.  We could use an infusion of youth."  The blonde took her smoothie from Steve the bartender and turned toward the door.  "Oh, hi, Wayne."  "Hi, Brittany."  She was someone he talked with briefly now and then as she bounced from machine to machine (she was a 20-minute dynamo on the elliptical) for an hour, getting her morning cardio work in.  She and her husband, Justin, had moved to Edmonds from the Ballard area of Seattle three years ago and opened Harbor Square Micro-Brews.  "You just getting started?"  "Yeah, I was out practicing softball earlier."  "Good for you.  Time for me to get over to the shop.  As Justin always says, those hopped-up ales aren't going to just craft themselves."

He crossed the slate floor, the tiles a mosaic of tan shades, and climbed the stairs, availing himself of a thick oak hand rail.  The locker room floor was a gray wood laminate, the lockers oak, the benches granite.  Conscious of the grainy skin on his upper chest, the crepey skin on his upper arms, and the saggy skin on his drooping elephant butt, ever in the grip of body dysmorphic disorder, he chose a reclusive corner locker and changed into black knee-length Nike polyester shorts and a gray Under Armour  moisture-wicking tee shirt, put his ball cap back on, tucked his phone into a pocket, and extracted a wireless headset from his gym bag.  Entering the machine weight room he spotted fellow Maple Street All-Star Monk, a hard-hitting all-Northwest League linebacker in high school and now a semi-retired hometown lawyer who had given up cigars, lost 40 pounds, and become a Club regular after his heart attack and three-way bypass 10 years ago, and went over to dap.

"Happy birthday, Wayne.  You just caught up with me."

"Yeah, thanks, Monk.  No work today?"

"Oh, yeah," said Monk, who had a broad bald swath on the top of his head and long gray hair swept back on the sides, an obverse Mohawk, like Larry of the Stooges, "I'm due in court at 1:00.  Thought I'd come down here and clear my mind a bit.  I have a client who's suing the city.  He resents the hell out of the officious Tree Board this town has established because it denied him a permit to cut down a maple tree in his front yard at 7th and Walnut.  He's tired of raking leaves every fall, but the Board says that as long as the tree is healthy, it must remain to fulfill its duty to sequester carbon dioxide and keep the Salish Sea from rising up to 5th Avenue.  You'd think an enclave of Druids lived here!"

"Good luck with that quixotic quest, Monk!   Anyway, I just got done with a little softball practice with the Z-man. He's going to announce his Council candidacy on Thursday.  I see him as the Joe Biden of the Bowl, warm, caring, personable, a man of the people concerned about doing the greatest good for the greatest number, only not handsy like Joe."

"Ha.  You're right--Zee has always been above reproach.  I could live with him on the Council--but I'd rather see me there.  I'm going to get the word out next week.  If one octo can do it, why not two?  Let's strike a blow against ageism.  And keep the Council from drowning us in progressive pieties!"

"Hah.  Monk, I love it.  If Zee is Bidenesque, you're Trumpian, at least in your urge to disrupt, to resist.  I already told Zee I'll work for him, but I'm delighted that both of you are going to run."  

"Yeah, I think it's going to be fun.  Who has the better feel for the zeitgeist of Edmonds--me or Zee?  By the way, did you get your evite to the class reunion this morning?" 

"Absolutely.  And I'll be there.  Zee and I have a little presentation to make."

"Not  political, I hope.  If so, I want equal time!"

"No, not political.  Sentimental."

[ Zeitgeist, my ass!  If Monk is going to run, then I am too.  The battle is on for Position 8!  This town does not need Mr. Monken's right-wing views.  It needs me: AOC.  Charlotte]

There were more than 30 other men and women exercising, all of them white.  Every few days he would see an Asian or two, but rarely an African American.   The seniors were talking and toning, staying within their comfort zones, using light weights and taking long, chatty rest periods, some carrying little towels and diligently using Club-provided spray bottles to sanitize after themselves, a few on the treadmills, watching ESPN on the flat-screen TVs suspended from the ceiling, a few reading books while riding stationary bikes, most of them in shorts and tee shirts, many with a BMI below 25, although one man  with a protruding paunch and a woman with a broad backside wore loose-fitting sweat pants and baggy sweat shirts.   The young and the middle-aged were variously more aggressive in pounding the treadmills, in attacking the stair-steppers, ellipticals, and rowers, and in pushing and pulling on the weight machines, sweat soaking the brows and hair of some and being wicked away from their torsos by their fuschia or orange or chartreuse tees or tank tops.  He occasionally encountered a parent of a former student or player, who generally acknowledged him with a wave and a "Hi," although a few, whose kids he had given a low grade or whose daughters he had not given much playing time, looked the other way.   Les Pearson, a retired orthodontist who lived in Woodway Park, his daughter one of many talented writers who had graced the old man's classes and who had for many years been the lead singer for a Seattle grunge band, was there today, slowly riding a bike and musing.  After retiring, Les had taken to writing poetry, self-publishing a couple of volumes which were in stock at the Edmonds Bookshop, and often found his brain generating useful images and phrases as he turned the pedals, his subject the quotidian, his style a fusion of  the laconic imagism of William Carlos Williams and the manic rhythms of Theodore Roethke, whose wife Beatrice had taught the old man's beginning French class at EHS in 1955.  "Hey, Les," he said, "how's the poetry coming?"  "Pretty good, Wayne.  I've almost got enough for another book.  Been looking back and enjoying some of your old blog entries, too.  Those two wine poems, an extended metaphor and a calligram, were a little too form-dependent for me, more artifice than art, but I liked your rather free-wheeling pastiche of Whitman."  "Yeah, thanks, Les.  I got the idea for the Whitman thing one day when I was cutting across the playfield of the City Park on 3rd, kicking at the grassy leavings of the mowing crew and remembering how I used to play baseball and hunt for Easter eggs there.  I'll keep my eyes open for your new book."

Disquieted, as if he had just hit a long but lazy and easily catchable fly and needed to review his swing mechanics, he pulled his phone from his pocket, walked over to an unoccupied chest press machine, sat  down, logged into the Club's Wi-Fi, tapped his website icon, and reread.


Wine Tasting


Call it jammy,

plummy, minty,

buttery, toasty,



Note peppers,

currants, cedar,

honey, apples,



Say it's huge

or supple or

its backbone



Find it glossy,

elegant, profound--

bespeak its utter charm--


but pronounce it


only if metaphor

gives way to moan.


      The Shape of Sensibility


A slim crystal belly embraces blanc

gold ichor atop a stork stem.  Swirl

ed and sniffed,the wine opens herb

aceously.  Tongue-rolled sips tingle

  surprised oral nooks.   Each gent

   ly in-drawn  breath  bursts into

    bright wine flames. Exhalation

     brings exaltation. Even as it's

      swallowed, the wine evolves

        enzymatically.  Such econ

         omy:   glass  emptying,

           sipper  filling  with

              sanguinity.   As

                the moments








     the bottom of the wine glass.              



A Whitman Sampler: Channeling the Good Gray Poet While Coping With Age in the 21st Century


A senior said, What is this grass that I am still on the right side of?

It must be a green sward drawing me forth

An admonishment not to let it grow under my feet

To cherish my roots but not go to seed

To shun the lay-up shot and swing for the pin

A verdant reminder of renewability through medical ingenuity

(Age’s ravages, both core and cosmetic, repaired or riposted

Demeter and Persephone perpetuated by Prometheus and Hephaestus)

A hint that there’s nothing greener on the other side

A lush carpet for the feet to seize upon daily

Because to die is different from what many suppose, and suckier.


O seniors, fellow seniors,

Finding no sweeter fat than sticks to my own porous bones

I sing the body eclectic

I calibrate myself and sing of myself

And what I’ve assumed you can assume

For every procedure pertaining to me as good pertains to you—

The freeze-drying of squamous cell growths from head to toe

The Mohs surgeries

The cataract surgery

The injections of Lucentis for wet macular degeneration

The bone marrow biopsies

The infusions of Zometa for smoldering multiple myeloma

The exfoliations

The periodontic gum grafts

The thyroid oblation

The rotator cuff therapy

The ultrasounds

The DEXA scans

The CT scans

The PET scans

The MRIs

The buckets of blood tests

The exponentiation of X rays

The angiogram

The heart pacemaker

The antibiotics for pneumonia

The antibiotics for recurring UTIs

The Sotolol and Eliquis for a-fib

The Methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis

The Levothyroxine for hypothyroidism

The Myrbetrq for bladder leakage

The cortico steroids for polymyalgia rheumatica

The colonoscopies and endoscopies and cystoscopies

The colon polyps excisions

The testicular cyst excision

The five daily self-catheterizations to countermand the importunity of a puffy prostate

The femoral lipoma ectomy

The sciatic nerve electrical massage


I sing of the craft of

The periodontist

The orthopedist

The dermatologist

The ophthamologist

The endocrinologist

The cardiologist

The rheumatologist

The hematologist

The gastroenterologist

The nephrologist

The urologist --

All those specialists whose Medicaring has preserved my electrical-chemical self 

And who stand by to offer me, if needed,

 Miracle Ears

eSight glasses

dental implants

carotid scrapings

organ transplants

arterial bypasses or stents


carpal tunnel surgery

vascular stripping



bone marrow treatment


metal joints

prosthetic limbs

While I await science’s nano-mapping of the human brain and the concomitant promise of wonders to come:

Tissue regeneration

plastic blood

kidney cleansers

high IQ cancer cell killers

gripping hands

artificial hearts

sight-restoring eyes

dementia-defeating pacemakers for the brain

a copious cornuhopia of embedded nano devices and microchips

a Kurzweilian robotic rebooting of a bionic me

At last readying me—Quantified Self and (O!) Qualified Soul—for an unending ever green passage to India.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then, I contradict myself

(I am large, I contain multi ‘tudes).

[Diane would have appreciated the wine poems.  Although she did love to pair adjectives with wines, she was quite holistic in approach to everything.  I'm sure the moaning was more important to her than the describing.  But she would have disdained Kurzweil and the whole notion of--what can I call it?--deus ex homo?  This even though she had a pacemaker herself!  Linda]

He heard grunting and shouting from the free-weight room-- "Come on, you got this!"  "One more!"  "Give it to me!"--and then a triumphant  scream as dropped weights thudded and clanked on the rubber floor.  Compelled, self-cajoled, he logged out and entered the room, where he found four men in their tank-top 20s, splendid specimens of their kind, slapping hands, dapping, spotting for each other, urging each other to press on when exhausted muscles sobbed for oxygen in the final reps of their dead lifts, bench presses, and squats.  He was awed by their raised traps, rounded rhomboids, epauletted delts, layered tris, busty pecs, ballooning bis, flaring lats, thunderous thighs, globular glutes, and bulbous calves.  After all these years, he was still inspired by, never dismissive or cynical of, the narcissistic glamour of others.   He and Diane, who was eager to play competitive tennis and to push herself in aerobics classes, had been among the first to join the Club when they moved into their new condo in 1985.  Over the years, the old man, who often used to skim Muscle and Fitness in the school library, had tried many workout regimens--heavier weights/fewer reps, lighter weights/more reps, more sets/fewer sets, more time between sets/less time between sets, increasing the weight and decreasing the reps set by set/decreasing the weight and increasing the reps set by set, working certain areas one day (bis, lats, back), other areas the next (tris, pecs, shoulders), more days off between workouts, fewer days off between workouts.  Whatever he did, the goal was always the same: get bigger, get stronger, get mass, get definition.  Keep adding weight or reps or both, don't stagnate.  If you can bench 125 pounds today, do 130 next time.  If you can do 12 pull ups today, do 13 next time.  Keep increasing your max.  Don't settle.  And always, the result was the same: he got bigger, got stronger, added mass, carved definition, all more than acceptable given his age and ectomorphic frame, until finally he sprained a ligament in a shoulder or an elbow and had to take six weeks off to let the inflammation subside, then revert to benching 10 pounds and doing two pull ups,  gradually, over a period of months, getting back to the point where he could, and would, hurt himself again.  But for now, he was healthy.  Following his latest protocol, every third day working all muscle groups in three sets of descending reps--10,9,8-- at the highest weight he could manage that sequence, incrementally increasing the weight only when his tissues begged for more, resting 60 seconds between sets, time spent stretching various leg muscles, multitasking, he'd lifted all winter without injury.

[Wayne, it's healthful to stay fit, and I applaud your effort in that regard.  However, your uncritical acceptance of your body dysmorphic disorder is actually a kind of boasting and may also be heard as a dog whistle for fat-shaming.  Charlotte]

 He tapped his iTunes icon, synced his headset, twisted in the ear buds, and said, "Siri, play 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees."  His pumping-iron playlist was stuffed with songs that had the power to move him--something amphetaminic, surging, soaring, driving, like Benny Goodman's "Let's Dance" or Glen Miller's "In the Mood," something serotonic, bluesy, haunting, like Errol Garner's "Moonglow"--but always he jump-started himself with the feverish pulsation and falsetto orgasmic ululations of the Bee Gees.  Oh, those knifing strobe lights and wheeling, shimmering disco balls!  Those scintillating gauzy green flashes, light motifs, of a simulated aurora borealis in a boogie wonderland.  Those nights at Parker's on Aurora and Pantley's on the Edmonds waterfront and the Landmark Inn in Lynnwood, they the lone married couple, he in his polyester, wing-collared shirt and polyester bell-bottom pants, Diane in her black jump suit with its flared sleeves and flared legs set off by a gold sash belt and open-toed gold heels, ordering the house white, usually Almaden chardonnay ("Thin but clean," Diane judged), waiting for a niche to open in the crush of reveling singles on the dance floor who were presenting, stomping and thrusting and writhing, shaking bootys and breasts in quest of a passion partner for the night, finally seizing an opportunity to demonstrate their repertoire of moves in the Hustle, the 20-somethings grudgingly making room during "Boogie Oogie" or "Hot Stuff" or "MacArthur Park" for their dips and drops and lifts and leans and then nodding or smiling in appreciation as the two returned to their table.  Diane had spotted, one spring day in 1978 a couple of months after they had seen Saturday Night Fever at the Lynn-Twin Theater in Lynnwood, an ad in the Edmonds Enterprise, which had succeeded the Tribune-Review, for disco dance lessons at Kennelly Keys, a music store occupying  the space on 5th between Dayton and Main that had housed the original Crow Hardware before Crow moved to a new building near the marsh, east of Railroad Avenue.   "The idea tickles me," she said.  "Let's do it!"  The idea excited him as well.  To be Tony Manero!  To rule the floor!  Their instructor, Jeffrey, a slender 25-year-old wearing a dark blue blazer, light blue tee shirt, and bell-bottom blue and white striped jeans, who had, he told them later, sailed through all the advanced classes at the upstairs Fred Astaire studio on 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle and won competitions in Las Vegas with his partner Lesley, greeted them at the door when they arrived for their first appointment, looked them up and down during handshakes, and led them weavingly through displays of guitars and organs and saxophones and stereos and amps and speakers to stairs that dropped to a roomy but chilly basement with florescent lights and a linoleum floor and a portable record player.   "You both look like you're in great shape, so I'm going to teach you the Latin Hustle.  Let's start with the basic footwork.  It goes tap-step, coaster-step, walk, walk.  Tap-step, coaster-step, walk, walk.  You both open your bodies slightly on the tap and then close on the step.  Guy goes backward on the coaster-step, forward on the walk.  Girl goes forward on the coaster-step, backward on the walk.  Like this."   He demonstrated both parts.  "Now you try it.  Wayne starts with the left foot, Diane with the right.  Tap-step, coaster-step, walk, walk.  Don't bounce.  Don't try to 'dance.'  Dancing is just walking.  Stay on balance, heads up and still.  Dancing is walking.  Tap-step, coaster-step, walk, walk.  Wayne, don't hop on the coaster-step, just walk.  Diane, that's good.  Now walk together.  Wayne takes Diane's hand in his left about waist high and puts his right hand just above Diane's left hip, Diane puts her left hand just back of Wayne's shoulder.  Practice a few times while I cue some music."  When "Disco Inferno" began to throb, a corresponding surge shot through the old man.  His boundaries dissolving, his autonomy waning, he just felt like dancing, he was leading Diane through the steps, they were Tony and Stephanie.  "Slow down, Wayne," Jeffrey said.  "Don't hunch your shoulders.  Relax.  When you walk-walk, don't mince, land on your heels.  Don't try to do too much.  Just walk on the beat.  Diane, you're fine."  After taking a minute to refocus, they repeated the exercise.  "Better," Jeffrey said.  "Be sure to practice the footwork at home a couple of minutes each day until it becomes second nature.  Now let's get into a basic move, the underarm turn.  All moves are done on the walk-walk.  You go tap step, coaster-step, and then into the move.  Like this."  He demonstrated with Diane, raising her right arm when they got to the walk-walk, and she knew instinctively not to spin on one foot but to turn by walking in a tight circle. "Okay, Wayne, you take over."  They practiced without music, then with music, then went from basic to move to basic to move, developing, the old man thought, a bit of fluidity.  "Relax, Wayne.  Don't get up on your toes." 

After the half-hour lesson, they jaywalked across a quiet 5th to Brusseau's for coffee and oatmeal-raisin cookies the size of salad plates.  

"That was fun," Diane said.

"More for you than for me.  But I like the challenge.  I want to get better.  So we need to practice."

Diane shrugged.  "I guess.  I thought Jeffrey did a pretty good job of teaching, though.  No need for an anticipatory set, because we sought him out.  We were already primed and motivated.  For a diagnostic test he eyeballed us and decided that we could handle--footle?--the Hustle.  He could have done more on objectives and overview, so we would know what we were going to do today and what we were going to progress to in future weeks.  But his task analysis was good.  He really broke down the basics of the dance in logical order and then insisted on repetition while giving us feedback, correction, and praise before moving on to the next phase."

"Praise for you, maybe.  Correction for me."

"But you'll get it."

At home, in their two-bedroom rambler on Grandview, every other evening, as Diane sighed quietly, the old man plugged their portable Hi-Fi into the outlet on the patio and they practiced, first the basic footwork, then the underarm turn, then the two together, for ten minutes.   In the lessons of succeeding weeks--which both looked forward to, Diane with delight, the old man with determination-- Jeffrey would put them through a quick review and then add two new moves.  Double underarm turns, multiple rapid spins, reverse turns, reverse spins, underarm turns leading to grip reversals and double arm turns by both, a brief dos-a-dos before facing each other again, underarm turns leading to drops, the old man adjusting his grip as a cue, Diane pivoting, he pushing his arms downward, she lying back almost supine, left knee bent, right leg extended parallel to the floor, underarm turns leading to wrap-ins in which they would walk together in a tight circle, wrap-ins leading to wrap-outs, Diane reverse-pivoting and flaring her right arm, wrap-outs leading to sit-drops, Diane, having been cued by the old man's cross-body lead, sitting abruptly on her left foot, her right leg parallel to the floor, her arms held wide so he could catch her as she sat and flip her back up, wrap-outs leading to leans, Diane spinning back to his side and cocking her right foot on her left knee as they both leaned to their left and held for two counts, wrap-outs leading to dips, Diane executing a spin-and-a-half back to his side, he taking her right hand in his left and stretching her backward across his body as far to his left as he could reach, her torso parallel to the floor, her left arm extending as if having just tossed a frisbee, wrap-outs leading to lifts, Diane leaping from a spin-in to straddle his waist as they reached out their arms and the old man walked in a circle before lifting her down, or Diane quick-spinning in to gain speed, placing her right hand on his right shoulder and vaulting onto his back, he shrugging her up so she was parallel to the floor, gripping her legs with his left hand and her torso with his right and walking clockwise twice before setting her down.  When  Jeffrey suggested adding solo Travolta-like pointing sequences and independent strutting and hip-thrusting and shadow-boxing and rope-a-doping and fist-winding, like a basketball official making a travelling call, they demurred.   They were uncomfortable with posing and preening, with separating dancers and dance.  They would call attention not to themselves but to their togetherness in motion.  And each week, as the moves multiplied, their home practice sessions grew longer, ultimately becoming an hour every other day.  Even Diane, who preferred doing what comes naturally, conceded that the volume of material necessitated repetition--first to master the grammar of the moves, morphemes, discrete movements like a tap, a step, a lifting of the arm, blending into larger phrase structures like the basic footwork pattern or an underarm turn, then to integrate them into a strategic rhetoric of motifs, a linking of loose, balanced, and periodic figures by means of theme and variation or point and counterpoint or tonal modulation, enabling them, they hoped, persuasively to please the audience with their idiosyncratically stylized blend of élan, emotion, and logic .  The rhetoric, in this patriarchal arena of dance, was the old man's responsibility.  He was to lead, Diane was to follow.  Both liked it that way.  Diane had the better grasp of grammar, the better ear, the intuitive feel for phrasal idioms.  The old man spoke sometimes with an accent or mangled an inflection.  But he found that he actually excelled in improvising choreography, turning moves into meaning, one flowing from another or augmenting another or contrasting with another or parodying another or one-upping another.  A lifelong pre-planner, he was surprised to find himself delighting in the spontaneous creativity required of him as leader.  After the obligatory introductory basic step, he had to choose.  The music wouldn't wait, there could be no dithering.  He had to establish an essence for their existence on the dance floor.  It was adopt and adapt or die.   At first, practicing at home or in the basement of Kennelly Keys under Jeffrey's supervision, he tended to stutter, to repeat basic several times while ransacking his mental and muscle memories for material.  Or, panicked, he might produce an odd permutation like dog man bites, or--what was he thinking?--abruptly break off into a distracting anacoluthon.  But gradually, through repeated trials and errors, he became, in his improvisatory ordering of their bodily movement in space, recursively winging the changes, a creator like his jazz pianist father.  He did not know what move he would next make, what angle he would take, as he did not know what thought he would next think, but he knew that something inspired by the beat would present itself and that he could accept or reject its aptness to that context, with a different something instantly replacing a rejected something in a seamless dance of his heart's composing, a different intuitive algorithm each time out on the floor, he and Diane, who instantaneously read his sines, two nearly one in their ad-libbed charade. 

He would start with the bis.  Imaginary paint cans vibrating at his sides, he strutted to the stanchion in the middle of the room for underhanded pull ups, raising his chin well above the bar he was gripping, ankles crossed to prevent his legs from assisting.  Between sets he leaned against the stanchion, planted his heels, and stretched his calves while swinging his buttocks left and right--"UH, UH, UH, UH, stayin' aLIVE!"--and gazing at the female players in pleated tennis skirts and matching visors on the outdoor courts, the reed-choked marsh in the background.  He returned to the machine room and frolicked with Gerry Mulligan on a rollicking "Sweet Georgia Brown" while curling 60 pounds at one machine and pulling down 100 pounds at another, stretching quads and hamstrings in between.  He continued to work for an hour, severely stressing all of his major upper body muscles while viscerally responding, stomach jigging, skin prickling, heart accelerating, oxygenated blood flooding tired tissues, to "Imagine there's no heaven," "Nobody gets too much heaven no more," "Goin' to the cabin in the sky," "Now I've heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord," "We are family," "I like New York in June, how about you?""J-j-j-jive talk," "The first time ever I saw your face," "You take your hand in mine," "Chances are," "Warden threw a party" (bopping a few steps between sets), and finished with a bit of core work--rotations on the torso machine, simulating the thrust of the hips in his softball swing, abdominal crunches on a different machine, knee and hip raises on the stanchion, and a set of planks on a soft mat.  As he rose to his feet, he put a hand on a wall for balance and looked down through its windowed upper half at the gleaming basketball floor on the ground level.  Why not go down and take a few shots?  Why not enter the basketball shooting contests at the Huntsman Games, since he was going to be there anyway?  With the help of the handrail, he hurried down the back stairs as "And I think it's gonna be a long, long time" kicked in and picked up a loose Wilson Jet basketball, new, its composite skin pebbly and agreeably tacky.  For years he had played in pickup games at the Club, first with all-comers, then, in his sixties, only with the over-40 crowd.  When, on his 70th birthday, he made a step-through push shot from the free-throw line and then a game-winning pullup jumper for a 3-pointer, high fives and wide grins all around, even from the opponents, he decided that would be the climactic end.  He could still shoot, but during those last few years 50- and even 60-year-olds had been knocking him around, zipping by him, or jumping over him as he tried to play defense or rebound.  At 60 he had won a gold medal in basketball at St. George with a team from Seattle, but at 80 he didn't trust his balance enough to try again, even against his coevals.  However, at 70 he had also won a gold at St. George in the Hot Shot competition and a silver in the Free Throw/3 Pt. competition.  Why couldn't he do it again, be a Rocket Man, against the 80-year-olds?  He removed his ear buds, exited iTunes, tucked his phone and headset into his hat, placed the hat next to a side wall, and began to shoot following his old routine, the one he taught his players: first, swishers from two feet, resting the ball on the finger pads of his right hand, launching  it with his wrist, imparting backspin off the index and middle fingers, and dropping  it into the middle of the cylinder, touching no iron, with an exaggerated Michael Jordan follow through, then from five, eight, and 12 feet, working back to the free throw line where, feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, elbows in, ball in the shooting pocket at chest level, wrist cocked, eyes on the rim, he sought to achieve a smooth continuous motion, as if reaching toward an upper shelf, and place the ball just over the front of the rim, eyes never deviating from the target.  At first he was awkward.  Not enough leg, too much arm, a lazy wrist, a wandering eye, but soon his muscles began to remember his old high school form, and he made 22 in a set of 25, confident that he could improve on that.  The 3-pointers were a different matter.  He gradually worked his airballing way back to the 19' 9" arc, pushing hard with his legs and his shoulder, casting off rather than shooting with touch, struggling just to get the range.  In a set of 10 heaves, he made two, one an unintended bank.  This would be a project.  For the Hot Shot contest, a timed one-minute period in which the shooter, rebounding for himself, shot from four different 17-foot spots marked on the floor, each worth three points, and one beyond the arc at the top of the key worth five, he would need to shoot jump shots quickly.  That would be a formidable challenge.  He hadn't jumped much in the past 10 years.  It would take weeks to gain the leg strength and the coordination required.  He moved to within five feet of the basket and shot, gathering and going up (about two inches off the floor) while trying to sync his arm motion with his legs.  He stopped after just 10, knowing that his calves would for days be too sore to jump if he did any more.  But his regimen had begun.  From now until October, he would shoot four times weekly.  As he let the ball roll away and went to retrieve his phone and headset, balding  Alan Barnett, a pulmonologist at Stevens Hospital who in 1999 had tried but failed to prevent the old man's father from dying of pneumonia, and who wore a vintage green and gold Sonics jersey, and bulky Jon Ramsay, a financial planner with an office on 5th, walked onto the floor to warm up for the noon pickup games.  "Hey, Wayne!" Alan said.  "It's been years since we saw you out here.  You gonna join us today?"  "I wish," the old man said.  "Those days are gone.  I've just been shooting around, getting a little exercise."  "Well, we miss you, man.  You were deadly with those  patented 15-foot jumpers."  "Yeah, thanks.  You guys have fun.  I'm heading for the shower."  Time to get back home, where he would eat a can of Starkist tuna mixed with a tablespoon of light mayo and a diced dill pickle (260 calories, 48 grams of protein) and a Granny Smith apple (100 calories) while checking email, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram on his iPad, stuff in his ear plugs, draw his sleeping mask over his eyes, and nap on top of his bed for an hour, grind four scoops of beans from a bag of citrusy Peruvian single-origin purchased at Starbucks and slow-drip a 16-ounce pour-over, settle himself in front of his desktop for two hours to compose for his blog, pour six ounces of frisky Bogle red blend into a burgundy glass and read Carlo Rovelli's The Order of Time for an hour or so, eat half of a microwaved  PF Chang frozen sweet-and-sour chicken dinner (340 calories, 15 grams of protein), munch a double-chocolate Costco Kirkland power bar (200 calories, 20 grams of protein), then spend the evening in front of his 50-inch Samsung plasma, toggling between the Mariners' opener, a couple of NBA games, reruns of Seinfeld and Modern Family, and a book of cryptic puzzles.

He went upstairs to the locker room, which was now crowded and noisy with the bantering of middle-aged professionals and businessmen changing for basketball, and nodded and dapped and high-fived his way back to the corner, where he dawdled in his undressing, waiting for the room to clear to avoid exposing his wrinkled rear to the judgment of the male gaze.  He checked the fitness app on his watch--10,282 steps, 5.2 miles, 520 calories burned--then turned to Twitter on his phone.  Responses already!  "@#Edmonds Landing attendant (former student)--These also rate a 90 on your HSQ/BSQ scale: 'Beauty is only skin deep' and 'Age ain't nothin' but a number.'"   "@#nophonymaloney--Your belief that you can rewire your brain at 80 also rates a 90 on the HSQ. " "@#howardcosell/tellitlikeitis--Suggest you also add a Chicken Shit Quotient, a measure of one's fear of calling out horseshit and bullshit, as demonstrated in the use of rhetoric (politically correct terms, euphemisms, bromides) to sugarcoat painful truths.    If you call someone 'differently abled' instead of 'crippled,' or 'mentally challenged' instead of 'stupid,'  you register a 90 on the Chicken Shit quotient."

He winced.  Then shrugged.

 After a quick shower he entered the hot tub room, flipped the switch for the jets, and immersed himself to the neck for a long soak.  It had been an active morning, walking and jogging, hitting and fielding and running, lifting and shooting, a productive morning, laying a foundation, he was pleased, he was so pleasantly tired, the jets massaging his legs and back as he slowly turned this way and that, the roiling surface water splashing his face now and then, its chlorine fumes, hinting of eucalyptus, vaporubbing  his nasal passages, its steam matting his hair.

[I lost that case--but fought the good fight against City Hall!  Monk]

[City Hall did the right thing.  Not only do trees sequester carbon, but a recent study shows that  proximity to trees is associated with a broad range of physical and mental health benefits for humans.  Charlotte]

[For what it's worth, I've actually never read Roethke, Wayne.  Les]

Latest comments

29.03 | 17:31

Hi Bruce,
I smiled a lot as I looked! Sometimes I didn't quite understand, other times I did! Keep doing this! You are a fun thinker!

05.07 | 23:04

hi! your blog is really fantastic! you are really lucky to have it. I have one but i did not have a single like apart from me

11.10 | 23:42

No longer pray for an outcome. Just do the footwork, if I can see any. I just pray for the grace to willing accept what the outcome will be.

30.06 | 02:37

yo that is so cool

29.03 | 17:31

Hi Bruce,
I smiled a lot as I looked! Sometimes I didn't quite understand, other times I did! Keep doing this! You are a fun thinker!

05.07 | 23:04

hi! your blog is really fantastic! you are really lucky to have it. I have one but i did not have a single like apart from me

11.10 | 23:42

No longer pray for an outcome. Just do the footwork, if I can see any. I just pray for the grace to willing accept what the outcome will be.

30.06 | 02:37

yo that is so cool