The Facebook postings come with regularity. “Put Prayer back in schools.”
Monday, September 18, 2023
Saturday, February 11, 2023
by Rick Baber
When you’ve been around for a long time, experiencing the world for what it really is, you eventually quit believing in things like Santa Claus and angels and fairies and karma. And miracles.
In the words of Jackson Browne, “I passed that point long ago.”
Tornadoes don’t skip over your house while wiping out the rest of the neighborhood because of the Grace of God. The iron beam that fell off the truck on the Interstate doesn’t bounce over your car and destroy the people behind you because you’re “blessed.” The bullet misses your heart by two inches only because that’s the trajectory that was set for it when it left the gun. You can give a starving homeless old lady your last ten bucks and still have a flat on the way home. Field goal kickers sometimes hit those long ones, in the last second.
Shit happens. Sometimes it’s good shit. Sometimes it’s bad shit. That’s all.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “miracle” as “A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency;” also “A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.”
And, as I said, I quit believing in them long ago. But there’s still this one, nagging little thing…
While the events, themselves, have remained crystal clear through half a century, the dates and circumstances have become cloudy. It must’ve been around 1973, a late-summer Saturday, I think. Becky was working and I didn’t have anything to do, so I rode my motorcycle out to Midwest Lime and collected my paycheck for the previous week – around $132 for working the scales at night; then over to Cooper Lanes Bowling Alley around mid-morning to shoot a little pool. There was nobody around to play with, giving me the opportunity to hone my skills alone. I was knocking it out – bank shots and jump balls – and everything was dropping. Top of the world. Minnesota Fats.
Then, Ben Dodd came strolling through the room and spotted me. “Hey Baber. Play me for a qwatta.” Ben liked qwattas.
I played a good first game, but Ben beat me, sort of shattering the illusion of myself I had built up over the previous hour. But I could beat him. So we went double-or-nothing. And that kept happening. Always close. Never enough. Double-or-nothing, starting with a quarter, nightmarishly turned to another close game wherein I had lost $64 to Hustler Ben, and he was ready to quit. He tossed his stick on the table and demanded his money. I checked my billfold and calculated that I had exactly enough left to cover one more bet, IF I didn’t have to pay for the time spent on the table. So I told him “One more time. You win you pay for the pool.”
Ben Dodd wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity.
Grinning like a shit-eating possum, he graciously allowed me to break. I got two solids and ran the table until finding the 8 ball stuck behind his 11. Regaining my confidence, I walked around the table, chalking up, and called the corner pocket near the door. It would have to be a perfect two-bank shot, because all those remaining stripes were blocking every other path. But I was in a zone. I took the shot. Not too hard. Not too soft. The cue ball was true, narrowly missing the obstructions and landing just right against the 8. It rolled slowly toward the corner, then it just … stopped.
Ben went to work, and in no time at all he had cleared the stripes off the table, leaving the 8 at about the center of one end and the white ball directly opposite it on the other end. Determined, I guess, to climax in the slam dunk that short guys like him never got in basketball, he shot hard, and the 8 crashed into the corner pocket he had called. He turned immediately and shouted “Gimme my money!”
His back was to the table and I was already reaching for my wallet. Then, looking over his shoulder, I said “Wait a second…”
The cue ball had taken a rail. Then another. And some more. And it was still slowly rolling toward the same corner the 8 had fallen into. And it sank. He slammed his cue onto the table and stormed out the back door without saying a word.
And THAT was not the “miracle” that occurred that day.
I paid way more for the table time than I had figured on, and, relieved, decided to take a celebratory ride on my bike. Before long, I found myself riding the trails through the woods at Arkansas College, near my (parent’s) home. Back in those days, the area between what is now Lyon College and the subdivision called “College Heights,” including the land that now hosts the baseball and football fields, was heavily wooded. And winding through those woods there were many trails made by Batesville’s finest Hell’s Angel wannabes; and used as escape routes after harassing the out-of-towners who lived in the dorms; or just running from the police for other general reasons. A biker could enter those woods at any number of places, and there weren’t enough cops in town to cover all the exits. Once you reached the woods, it was almost a sure bet you were going to get away.
In time, some of the “Yankees” who lived in the dorms got wise and ventured out there to place trip wires across some of the trails – about neck-high – to exact their revenge. Lots of guys, like me, learned what a calf felt like being lassoed; and got to watch their motorcycles bouncing off the trees as their butts slammed into the ground. It was all part of growing up in a small town.
So, there I was, cruising along, at peace, with no other sound than the gentle rumbling of my pipes, when I noticed the absence of the lump in my hip pocket. Somewhere, at some point, my wallet, filled with my $128 victory money, had vibrated out and fallen on one of those trails. So many trails.
Of course, I started looking. And I rode. And I rode. Never getting out of first gear; always surveying the ground ahead of me for the little chunk of brown leather. Hours of searching; trying to remember which of the trails I had taken.
As the sun was about to set; feeling like it was a lost cause; I was cruising from north to south along the east side of the pond – figuring I’d exit the woods behind the gym onto 23rd Street and go home to lick my wounds, suddenly, a beautiful solid-white horse that had been lying in the tall weeds on that trail sprang to its feet directly in front of me. I hit the brakes without having the presence of mind to pull in the clutch and my bike engine died. The horse had been facing me. It turned as it stood, and ran off in the opposite direction.
What the hell?
I’d been riding those trails for years and had never seen anything bigger than a rabbit out there. Not even a deer. As far as I knew, there was nothing around there but suburban neighborhoods. Certainly no farms within any reasonable distance. I simply could not fathom how or why that majestic animal had appeared, there, of all places. But it was a beautiful sight.
Exhausted. Depressed. I laid my head atop my folded arms on the handlebars, staring at the ground.
There it was!
My wallet was three inches from my left foot. Just lying there, waiting for me to pick it up.
It seems like this should be the end of the story. And from that moment on, I was a believer in miracles. Because, certainly, there was no other explanation for that occurrence. But, it’s the “why” I can’t get passed. Why would a miracle be wasted on a young idiot who had foolishly, almost, gambled away a week’s pay? I didn’t have to have the money. I wasn’t going to starve. I still lived with my parents. I wasn’t going to donate it to some worthy cause to save the life of some Ethiopian child, or buy Toys for Tots. I was going to spend it on gasoline and beer and cigarettes and PizzaBurgers & fries at Tommy’s Kingburger. And I’m sure that’s what I did with it. So …why?
I brought up a satellite image of Lyon College on Google Earth. The pond is still there, fifty years later, and I know exactly where I found that wallet. Next time I’m in town, I’m going back there to see if I can find the answer.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Set against the background of Covid 19 and the political polarization of 2020, reluctant, but hungry private investigator, Jeff Davis, accepts a murder investigation from a wealthy client. The victim – a shady transient – had been killed five years earlier, but her body was only recently discovered. The client’s son is then arrested for the crime, based on DNA evidence, and Jeff’s seemingly impossible quest is to prove the man’s innocence. In pursuit of justice for his client, he angers a rogue DEA agent who becomes obsessed with revenge against the investigator, by any means necessary. Underlying is Jeff’s unpaid fascination with all things alien, which moves closer to answers he and his small group have been seeking for years. “Cherokee Salt” follows “Purity” and “unrighteous god” as the third in this series of Jeff Davis novels. This is the first time, however, the story is told by Jeff, himself.
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Sunday, December 06, 2020
We've had issues converting our paperback books to Kindle formatting. They seem to come out with glitches that confuse the reader. We THINK we have found a solution in simply sending them as .PDF copies. This way, they should appear on your device exactly as they do on the printed page. (Works on our Kindle Fire, anyway!) So, to order the .pdf versions, emailed directly to your reading device, use the tab to the right.
From a phone or other mobile device, scroll to bottom of screen and click "View Web Version."
You can have the book sent to you by regular email - in which case you'd save it to a file and read as you would any other document; or, sent directly to your Kindle - if you provide that address. Of course, you could have it sent as an email and then load it to your device yourself, if you'd prefer. $2.95 per book.
Be aware that the .pdf will appear on your device as a "Document," rather than a book. And it is NOT A DOWNLOAD; we email the files - so please allow up to 48 hours to receive them.
Thursday, December 03, 2020
Over half a century later, I still have vivid memories, even dreams, of being a kid, taking my dad’s 35 cents and running down to the corner station to buy him a pack of Viceroys. Did it many times, way back before snowflakes passed the silly laws forbidding children from making such purchases. There was always a covey of old men sitting around on Coke crates, chewing tobacco and swapping pocket knives and talking about all the world’s problems: Kennedy and “that nigger,” Martin Luther King, and queers, and women who didn’t know their place. They weren’t afraid to say what they thought out loud, because there was nobody around who disagreed with them. And they made no pretense of muting their conversations in the presence of me, a young, impressionable child. If anything, they’d get louder when I showed up. And they were fond of saying things to me like “What are you doin’ here, little girl? You lost?”
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
This changes a man. Whether it’s for the better, or for the worse, remains to be seen. But there’s a change. I can feel it.
The darkness. That’s the worst part. Rats. Snakes. Some other things that I haven’t quite identified. Maybe some of them are imaginary – my tortured mind, playing tricks. It’s gotten to the point that when something crawls across my wet bare feet I don’t even bother to light up my phone to see what it is. Nothing good, I’m sure. And I have to preserve my battery – if for nothing than the clock. The hour will come, eventually, when I can get out of this hole and feel the sunlight on my face. Eventually. But, until then, I can only do what they intend for me to do: sit here, alone, and reflect upon my transgression. My sin. And for all the reflection; all the introspection… I still can’t figure out what I did to deserve this. So I must continue to think about it. It’s for my own good.
All around, etched into the damp walls, are faint remnants of the agony of those poor souls who were here before me. Silent, desperate pleadings for mercy that were never heard by the outside world. Fingernails, ripped from those foolish enough to think they could scratch their way to the surface; tally marks, counting the days, hours, minutes; names and initials. The horror. The horror! Last time I looked, I saw the initials of my own cousin, “M.A.P.” And, to think that I never gave a second thought about his misery when he was last here – there have been many times for him – brings me a feeling of overwhelming guilt and shame. Seems we never think about things like this until they happen to us. It’s just too painful.
So, at least they let me bring my ball and glove. I sit with my back against the wall and bounce the ball off the opposite one; and even in near-total darkness, I manage to catch it most of the time, just using the force. And I count the seconds. And I plan vengeance upon those responsible for sending me here. Is that wrong?
Then, instead of the dull thump, the ball makes a sharp snapping sound, like hitting a snare drum, and it doesn’t come back. “Wilson!” I shout, “Where did you go?” But there is no answer. This, in itself, isn’t so unusual, because Wilson is a baseball, and they don’t talk – but he had always come back before.
I light up my phone and scoot across to the other side of the dungeon. There, I find a tattered poster of Stormy Daniels with a baseball-sized hole through the paper at the most interesting location. I rip the paper off the wall to find a hidden tunnel to the unknown – barely large enough for a man of my size, but I had to try! Without giving it a second thought, I lunge into Stormy’s shaft and begin to crawl, picking up Wilson along the way. Ahead, I see a faint glow, and that empowers me to crawl faster and faster.
It seems like an eternity until I lift off the grate to emerge, and the warm sunlight envelopes me like the arms of a loving mother. In the distance, I hear the shouting of an un-masked crowd chanting “Four more years! Four more years” and see brightly colored flags waving in the gentle Autumn breeze under the orange-tinted sky.
Just to my right … well, way to my right … is a heavily-adorned Indian motorcycle with its own stars & bars flags and some little bears, wearing red MAGA hats, tied to the rear fender. The key is in the ignition! I jump astride the bike and crank it up – and at that moment it all comes back to me.
My crime; that horrible thing that had put me in the hole: posting “Girls shouldn’t be allowed to talk mean to the President!” Exactly that, and nothing else, on a popular social media site which shall remain nameless.
It was a satirical remark regarding a televised CBS interview with the grotesque, titian leader of this gaggle of clowns, in which he couldn’t handle the pressure so he just up and walked out, and left the lady sitting there in her chair, bewildered. And for my tongue-in-cheek witticism it had to be one of these dimwitted romancers of goats who finked me out; turned state’s evidence to get me thrown into the bastille. But which one? There are so many!
I place the motorcycle into gear and spin out toward the slobbering mob, and they scatter like a houseful of witless turkeys when lightning strikes. Grown men, full of pride, with AR-15s strapped to their backs, slinging women and children aside to remove themselves from harm’s way by any means necessary. And there is pandemonium, and the spreading of the ‘rona via their screams.
Black suits surround the Mango Messiah on the stage and whisk him away to Eggbeater and it flees into the wild blue yonder … which is, as already stated, orange. So, OK, the wild orange yonder. Then, they turn their focus to me, and the chase is on.
For miles over the rolling fields, through amber waves of grain, they maintain pursuit, dodging the fuzzy little bears and swastika material flying in my wake. There are the sounds of the engines, and sirens and gunfire, but all I hear is Mick Jagger singing “Sympathy for the Devil.”
I fly over a rise and realize that I am boxed in by five-strand barbwire fences. There is nowhere to go! I circle back toward the advancing gestapo briefly; then turn again, full-speed toward the fence. I jump that one, but there is an even bigger fence on the other side. The Nazis close in from all directions. In a hail of bullets, I crash into the gigantic fence and become entangled in the wire. And they have me again.
The officer in charge appears at the front as I’m removed from the fetters. The nametag on his uniform said, simply, “Zuck.” And he addresses me:
“What we have here … is failure to communicate.”
And I’m thinking “That’s exactly what we have.”
They put me back into the dungeon with nothing but my ball and glove. Stormy’s hole has been filled with pumpkins and sweet potatoes, so there is no way out, aside from getting that orange stench all over myself - and I refuse to do that.
So I toss the ball and count: “One November…Two November…”
Thursday, June 04, 2020
The Book of Trump, Chapter One
© Rick Baber, 2020