February 2017 Volume 14

Fall `In Rome’

Ray Ford
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All of a sudden, bushy-tailed squirrels which for the last three months have spent their time zigzagging behind each other, and snaking up and down the barks of claw-friendly trees, have now stopped. Enough of that foolishness, they seem to say. They can now be seen - each and every one - carrying oversized nuts clenched-in-teeth, and then, squirreling them away in locations which only they will remember.

Something is up. It’s now every-man for himself. And that `something’ is called fall. The freshness of air and the shortening of days, suggest to even these dumb things, that, something is changing. `Mother nature’ just doesn’t – if she can help it – rip us apart, in one fell swoop. Little by little, she warns of things to-come.  

Where did the summer go? What about those books you said you would have read? What about those golf clubs you said you would have swung? Did you paint the exterior aluminum siding? Or did you say, `it can go another year’? And what about that storage shed you said you would have cleaned out? Time waits for no man, fall says. And will this be the lament in my wintry days – that of wishing that I hadn’t left undone, some things I wished that I had done? As sure, as hell! But this is life. Time has seasons. And time will in the end, come to an end. But these are not new lessons. I’ve lived them all before.

 I can see one John Burrows now, rocking on his bowed-legs in shorts, socks and sandals, his dog in-tow. He was one of my mathematics teachers at KC, but taught valuable lessons beside. “Time is up,” I can still hear him saying, at the end of one of my grueling mathematics-exams. At which time, I pleaded for more time. “If we all had more time,” he quietly said, and with a wry smile. That which was left unsaid, was for me to figure-out. His message was subtle but clear. ‘If you hadn’t wasted your time, then you would not now, need more time’.

So now, and looking back, I did what I did with my summer. And now it’s fall, on the shoulder of my winter. Drums rattle and trumpets blare in the distance, as the marching band readies for another Saturday. And so, it must be fall. Foliage takes on a golden glow, as the chilly air blows. And so, it must be fall. “First-down so-and-so,” echoes the sound from Spartan Stadium in the distance, wafted by a northerly breeze. And so, it must be fall. Winter will soon be nipping at fall’s heels. But, what can I do to slow the time? Or should I want to? Hell no. Even in the fall of life, there are still new mountains to climb.

I once worked for a boss at an oil refinery in Pennsylvania many years ago. Come 5 o’clock in the wintry evenings, Howard the baby-faced rough-neck, rubbing his hands together, with the anticipation of a child opening a Christmas gift, would always ask a question to which he already knew the answer. “Well Ray, wha’d we accomplish today?” He knew that hell was freezing-over outside. And that it wasn’t easy for this young-man from Jamaica, with fingers and toes freezing, to go-about his job of supervising work on the oil storage tanks, where spaces in-between, created giant venturis, for whistling winds. “Nothing much today Howard,” would come my reply. To this he would say, “let’s then, give them hell tomorrow.”  

I have always remembered those little exchanges. Because even after many a go-arounds, we will not often accomplish, what we will. But, like the Chicago Cubs, press-ahead we must. We can not lament time past. But we must look ahead to time-to-come. And when that time comes, `let’s give them hell’.

But what about this particular fall? I haven’t enjoyed one as instructively redeeming as this one. Of all the sports, baseball is my favorite. And for me, there’s not a more favorite time, than World Series time – the time when both heroes and goats are made.             

How about Reggie Jackson chugging-around the bases, either for Oakland (’72-’74), and for the Yankees (’77-’78)? He was my first fall hero `in Rome’. How about Carlton Fisk directing that one over `the Green Monster’ for Boston in the 12th inning of Game 6 in the 1975 World Series? He was like a traffic cop at rush-hour. How about Graig Nettles, covering the arc between second and third in ’77-’78 for the Yankees, like nobody ever did? How about Joe Carter pounding one out to give Cito Gaston the first of his two World Series wins in 1992? How about Bucky Dent sending one over Fenway Park’s `Green Monster’ in the 1978 American League tie-breaker and Boston, to its lament? Or how about Kirk Gibson, scooping one over right field in Game 1 of the 1978 Fall Classic, and then pulling on his starter as he touched-them-all? The Dodgers never looked back. These heroics have made my falls warm. But then, there are the goats.

 How about Boston’s Bill Buckner? He let that innocent grounder trickle through his legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series. It let the Mets back in, and they won it all in Game 7.    

I often wonder how I would have lived my life, had I dropped Harold Richardson’s slog-sweep at mid-wicket, off Donald Clare. That, I will never know. I was not known to have held many. But that one, in June 1970, I made sure that I did. I was determined not to be, anybody’s goat, for the rest of my life. It might have been in the summer. But it was my fall. No hero I was. But no goat was I going to be.  Mr. Earl my chemistry-teacher had already made one out of me. And that catch and wickets on the plains of Vere, set my spirit free. But that’s fall. It affords you one last chance to be. You can either seize the moment, to reminisce come winter. Or, muff it, to lament, while waiting for next spring.

And so, happy was I, to see the Cubs win. Their spring began in 1908. And their summer lasted till October 2016. And then came their fall. And isn’t this what life is all about - the fact that one has to forget failure, stay in the game, and like the Cubs, ‘give them hell tomorrow’, year-after-year, until you win? Some of us are meant to suffer-long.     
But come next year, there will be no Vin Scully, who has called several World Series and Dodger baseball for sixty-seven (67) years. And neither will there be any Dick Enberg, the voice of the Padres, who has been calling all sorts of games for the last sixty (60) years. Both have rounded third, headed home, and, called-time.   

Be that as this will be, this `fall in Rome’, was like no other. Not only did the long-suffering Chicago Cubs win, but another long-shot - Donald Trump, also won. And earlier in the year, lest we forget, Andrew upset Portia.

I happened to have been in Mandeville, shortly before that national election this past February. And as I stood on the small terrace outside the old colonial-styled Jamaica Telephone Company building, I felt like the outsider that I am, as Comrades outfitted in their orange T-shirts and equipped with their blaring vuvuzelas, raced uphill, unknowingly, to their downfall. Then on the eve of the U.S. presidential elections, I found myself in a gathering of KC alumni and `Friends of KC’.

I had not been prived to any news from the U.S. as to how things were going. Late in the proceedings I found myself in the company of a Guyanese ‘Walter Rodney look-alike’, who happened to hold a doctorate in mathematics. “I did the-maths, and Hillary has won,” he proclaimed, almost using his right hand to chop-off his left at the wrist, so convinced was he.  

The discussion(s) in Toronto, up to and including my chat with the little Guyanese `Friend of KC’, left me with the feeling, that even though Canada was just next-door, they were in-reality, some distant country. And as I had felt in Mandeville, I felt it in Toronto – outsider-status. They were talking it. But, I was living it.

Then on Tuesday night, when James Carville on MSNBC admitted: “Folks, I’m getting a little nervous,” I immediately switched over to watching England’s debutant Haseeb Hameed - the little 19 year-old opening batsman take his first ball in Test cricket, in Rajkot. Keeping his eye on the whistler, he dropped his wrist and let it go by. Was this too a life-lesson? To survive, you can’t play at every ball.  

By early the following Wednesday morning, then came the reality. `The professor’ to the north, and a slew of professional pollsters to his south, were wrong, and I immediately opened my escape-hatch. `Remember, you are only here to drink milk’.

I then tried by-phone, to get-hold of a trusted elder. He re-surfaced three days later to put things in the `Jamerican’ context. And when he did, it struck a cord. “Don’t you ever again, tell me anything about Sista-P.” I had to ask him why. Incensed he said, “as far as I’m concerned, the US has just elected its Sista-P.” I swallowed hard on that. But then, I had to re-balance my listing ship. “How could the electorate in Jamaica, have been right in February, and the electorate in the US, be wrong in November?” I asked. One can not bowl on both sides of the wicket.

But this is fall – the season of transformation. The leaves change, the air chills, and the Cubs can win. And like the Cleveland Indians, some of us will just have to lick our wounds, and then, `give them hell come spring’.                   

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