The Triple: Third Time’s a Charm

Brand-new t-shirt with the original litho. Thanks, Erik!

I recently found two identical business cards while cleaning up my dresser top’s seemingly perpetual mess. The cards read Golden Senior Softball Club of Sacramento. I remembered picking up one card a year ago and the other about a few months ago. I vaguely recalled being interested in playing softball last year but never got the nerve to even look up the establishment online, and as I type this post, I still haven’t looked up the club online. On the back of the cards, it reads:

Stay Active

Meet new Friends

Have fun playing Senior Softball

Visit our Website for Applications,

Schedules & League History!

Besides the random capitalization that rubs me the wrong way, meeting new “friends” sounds horrifying. Has anyone ever met a new friend before? Usually, the process goes: you meet someone, and over time, you become friends. Anyway, playing softball (even if it is with a bunch of oldsters like me gave me pause. Yet, if there is one team sport I would like to play, it is softball. Of course, I would prefer hardball, but maybe I would regret that preference if I played in a real senior baseball league. But I am talking (typing) out of my ass. So I haven’t tried it. I haven’t even talked to somebody in the club yet.

The following post is not just a reposting of a story I told on this blog back on April 19, 2008, and reposted on October 6, 2017. Since I can’t seem to conjure up any new short fiction and the previous Pilates story is the first post I have written in nine months, I’m posting this story for the third time, but I am adding material to the end that is roughly related. I’m also cleaning up the grammar from the original and second (Geez!) post. Hopefully, I’ll get inspired and start posting more stories soon.

THE TRIPLE

I didn’t remember hitting the triple until Erik, an old college buddy and leader of the slow-pitch softball team, the Dead Seagulls, reminded me in our first communiqué since those days. I hadn’t spoken with any of my old American River College or Sac State buddies for years, but I began searching for old friends about fifteen years ago. For some reason, the details of that one summer I played on the Dead Seagulls have fallen into a black hole in my memory. So when Erik mentioned the triple, it was the key to many wonderful feelings and one bad one.

The team got its name when Erik, his brother Paul, Erik’s high school friend Chuck, and other original members of the newly formed team found a dead seagull on the diamond when the players took the field for their first practice. The dead bird was there every subsequent practice until someone finally removed it. The team didn’t have a name before the seagull incidents, and on the day they registered the team, they couldn’t think of a more appropriate name. (See the image above of a newly minted shirt Erik made for the Dead Seagulls alums. The design came from one of Erik’s high school friends, who drew it during a geometry class one day for $5.)

When I became a Dead Seagull, my father’s business sponsored the team. Usually, the sponsor or sponsors’ names were on the back of the shirts, but as I recall, the shirts were already printed, and my father didn’t have a stencil. My dad didn’t care; he was happy that his sedentary son was moving around, especially playing a sport. Unfortunately, as noted in earlier posts, I have never been good at sports, and my lack of dedication to any competitive game only worsened my athletic abilities.

It seems strange that I remember so little of what was an enjoyable and virtually carefree time in my life. I was in junior college and had developed some good friendships. Establishing, cultivating, and keeping good, close friends have always been problematic. This time was also special because I was playing a “sport” for the first time since I wrapped a 3-iron around a tree on a golf course and walked off, never to play the game again. I placed quotation marks on the word “sport” (there, I did it again) because this kind of softball was more casual than most. For instance, the pitcher was in an offensive position. Each batter would select his favorite teammate to lob pitches, so to speak—whoever knew how to place the ball right where the batter wanted it. I recently read in John Thorn’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game that before the 1860s, pitchers did not try to strike out the batters—only to help put the ball in play.

This also meant that the catcher—my position—had one main job, fetching the pitch if the batter missed or took the pitch. Things hadn’t changed much since I had been in Little League—what the right fielder was in Little League, the catcher was in this particular brand of slow-pitch softball. I would lean against the backstop and pick up any balls the batter missed or preferred not to hit. Because of this, there were no strikes, no balls, no stealing bases, and no pitcher-catcher conferences on the mound. Play didn’t start until the batter hit the ball into play. The only times my position became important were when plays came to the plate, but that didn’t happen much. I only remember two times that the ball came to me faster than a croquet ball.

I once ran in front of the plate to hold the runner at third. The throw came hard, and I remember hearing Erik yelling my name—not in a “head’s up” kind of way but more like a mother yelling at her son to “get out of the way of that speeding car.” Everybody knew I was the worst player on the team, and since this was not a very competitive league, my teammates would rather see me unhurt than depending on my ball handling to save a run or two. The ball came in low and fast, then took a high hop, and I caught the ball right in front of my face—the mitt so close to my nose that I could smell the lanolin oil I had just used to break it in. I remember Erik yelling my name again, this time in a deep breath of relief. It made me wonder if Erik and my dad had entered into a secret pact: my dad not letting go of the check and whispering in Erik’s ear, “Protect my boy from anything that might hurt him, like a ball thrown in his general direction.”

Then there was the time I blocked the plate—like a pro catcher used to do. I remember concentrating on the ball slowing coming in from the outfield and seeing what looked like a freight train coming toward me through my lazy eye. Before the ball got to me, the entire diamond turned upside down, and I could see the backstop and the ball flying between my legs. Then I came down—on my back. I wasn’t bowled over, though; the runner slid between my legs, and as his feet pushed my feet off the ground, I did a somersault and fell on my back. The runner I was attempting to block, and the runner behind him scored. I thought it must have looked magnificent and wished someone had filmed it. Most of my teammates acted as if I did a foolish thing; this was casual competition, nothing worth getting injured. In my mind’s eye, Erik covered his face with one eye, peaking out and praying I was okay. I was.

My batting was no more stellar than my fielding. I don’t remember doing anything but grounding out, although I know I hit safely to first occasionally because I remember being embarrassed about how slowly I ran. I was then, and still am now, a plodding runner. I remember running the pads, actually listening to the footsteps of my teammate behind me getting louder and louder. I am not sure, but I think I recall the base runner behind me yelling to “speed up.” It must have been a drag to follow me at bat. If I reached base, the next hitter would be limited to a single or double because I couldn’t run fast enough to give the hitter who followed me the extra bases he usually would have.

These memories came back when Erik reminded me about “The Triple.” He used the definite article as if there were only one ever hit in the game’s history. As if you were to ask Bob Costas or Vin Skully about “The Triple, ” they would say, “Oh, you mean the one Jack Keaton hit in the ’80s that one season when he was on the Dead Seagulls?” In this league, extra-base hits were as ubiquitous as pop-ups and ground balls in the majors. This three-bagger was memorable because I had never hit the ball so far. When I cranked this one, all I remember was that when I made first base, I could see I should take second. When I reached second, everyone was off the bench and advancing me to third; all the while, I continued to hear screaming from the bench. When I landed safely on third base, I looked over at our bench and saw all my teammates up and madly rattling the chain link fence like crazed monkeys, yelling at me as if I had driven in the game-winner in the final game of the World Series.

It was the most significant moment in my life as far as sports go. I never felt so triumphant, never so—at the risk of sounding melodramatic—appreciated. How could I have forgotten this moment? Why did it take Erik over ten years later to jog my memory? This should have been on my memory’s mantlepiece along with (finally) graduating from college, getting married, seeing my youngest born, a few sexual encounters, and other highlights.

Perhaps the answer to those questions is in what happened minutes later. Unfortunately, after scoring and returning to the bench, I also remember the smiles on my teammates’ faces. They looked as if they were more amused than supportive. I sat down on the bench, basking in the afterglow, and then Ethan, who joined the Dead Seagulls with me, made a comment that may have defined all the looks: “Man, you run just like Ron Cey!” The all-star third baseman was known as “The Penguin” because of how he ran. The comment crushed me and might be why I forgot the longest ball I ever hit. All I could think now was that my teammates rattling the cage had been laughing about how funny I looked running with a 2×4 up my ass. I know they were excited for me—we never cheered fellow players as they cheered me, but I couldn’t shake the embarrassment.

I never played a team sport again. No, I wasn’t so profoundly hurt that I could never play again; we went our separate ways: Erik moved to Poland for a year, Ethan continued college in New England, and I advanced to California State University, Sacramento. After that, the closest I came to competitive sports was being Assistant Manager to my kid’s tee-ball team one season in the early 1990s.

University Maryland kegball players take their time before moving on to third.

Around that time, a friend at work invited me to join his “sloshball” team. Sloshball, as he explained, is softball with a keg at second base. Base runners cannot advance past second until they have drunk a red plastic cup of beer. There were certain dispensations to accommodate the slow drinkers: more than one runner can be on second at one time, and they can advance together when the ball is in play, and both runners have finished their drinks. Players in the field can throw out or tag runners together, creating some unique double-play possibilities, assuming the fielders were sober enough to turn them. Even if you homered, the guy who hit the dinger had to drink a cup when rounding second base. Note: I thought my borderline alcie fellow employees invented sloshball, but I ran into a couple of sites while researching that have to do with sloshball or kegball, including some folks at the University of California, Davis, but they only play annually at a college picnic.

Since I am heavily medicated and am not crazy about beer, to begin with, I passed on the offer. Considering my batting history, I don’t think I would have gotten very drunk had I joined. I’m sure the now fabled triple would not have happened. I would have had to settle for a two-bagger, and I am sure I would have booted all over home plate.

The Triple: Forty Years Later

Sore feelings aside, I think I would like to play with the Dead Seagulls again, but they no longer play softball. Instead, the now-greying Dead Seagulls continue to play virtually as the Dead Seagulls Baseball Association (DSBA): a fantasy baseball league run by CBSSports.com. Erik, his brother Paul, and Chuck now play ball vicariously through MLB players. All the other team owners come from other parts of Erik’s life.

Erik invited me to play a few years back but kept forgetting to sign me up until the 2022 season. I was already a fantasy baseball team owner on an ESPN-run league. In my first year, I did alright. My team, the South Land Park Barking Dogs, ended up somewhere in the middle of the field, but I’m in the cellar of the ESPN league this year.

In my first season as a Dead Seagulls Baseball Association team owner, I am doing about as okay for my first year. Still, it is a far more complex league requiring owners to be more knowledgeable about players than I am or care to be. I can see myself continuing playing in the ESPN league because it is so easy to navigate (not so easy to win), but Erik’s CBS Sports-run league requires expertise in ball players.

As far as the Golden Senior Softball Club of Sacramento goes, I’m going to deem starting now too late. So instead, I will check out the website and investigate how it works, where they play, and maybe even attend a game or two. Then, next spring, I’ll pick up yet another card from my gym’s lobby. Perhaps I’ll sign up, get picked for a team, realize I am now even worse than I was in Little League, on the Dead Seagulls, or the fantasy teams I manage, and who knows, maybe this 65-year-old man will hit another triple!

Observations From the Reformer (the first and probably the last): Crash & Burn & Embarrassment

Yeah, never got to this level. But, geez, that woman’s got some abs!

Besides left-wing politics, writing, reading, and the two original subjects of this blog: scooters and Sacramento area hamburgers, this blog has sometimes seemed more like a blog on yoga than anything else. My interest in yoga lasted about seven and a half years. This blog has featured about 80 posts about yoga or something my practice inspired me to investigate (meditation, Buddism, minimalism, etc.). Seven of the posts made up a series called “Observations From the Mat.”

The eighth “observation” is a draft titled “Why I Hate Vinyasa Yoga,” but I never finished it and probably never will. After the Pandemic, when my health club reopened, we had a new group exercise director, and all the yoga classes (save for a once-a-month Restorative Yoga class) were Vinyasa style. I hung in there for a while, taking two-morning Yinyasa classes taught by the group exercise director, but I started to check out Pilates. Finally, I paid the cash to take the three required private Quick Start Pilates classes the club insists members take to get acclimated to the Reformer before beginning Level 1 Pilates classes. (I was going to bore the reader to death with explanations on what exactly Pilates is and what kind of a widget is a Reformer, but I added links above for anyone who needs answers.)

Pilates is unique and separate from all other group exercises in my fitness club. Even the club’s Group Exercise Schedule does not include Pilates—Pilates has its own schedule, webpage on the club’s website, and director. The short time I practiced Pilates was on a Reformer (see the image below if the reader didn’t check out the link above). Before the Pandemic and the club closing, there used to be a Mat Pilates class available. I have never tried that form of Pilates though I hear it is more physically challenging than practicing on a Reformer. Still, I might be practicing Pilates if I practiced the mat version instead of the Reformer one.

One of the things I noticed from the first Quick Start session is Pilates is similar to Vinyasa Yoga: the practitioner does not stay in a position for very long—a few seconds at best and then moves on to the next posture. The constant movement (or “flow” as it is called in Vinyasa) was a disappointing discovery, but I got over it—it was a new kind of exercise, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. The main reason I remained excited about the new training was the trainer. Sabin was an excellent trainer and highly knowledgeable at Pilates and the Reformer. I felt in good hands.

Some challenges worried me about my new Pilates practice. For the same reason, I could never achieve balance postures in yoga (Warrior 3, Eagle, Tree, etc.); there were positions on the Reformer that required balance. In the seven and a half years of practicing yoga, I could never stick any pose that required less than my two Fred Flintstones on the mat simultaneously. (This is due to being heavily medicated.) Just a side note on me and yoga: I haven’t completely given up on it. I still try to attend my once-a-month Restorative Yoga class, and maybe someday, when my gym ends its blind love for Vinyasa Yoga and starts holding classes on traditional Hatha or maybe even Yin Yoga, I’ll sign up for a class or two.

So, after completing my mandatory one-on-one Quick Start sessions, I began taking Level 1 (group) classes. And they were enjoyable and challenging. I made it a point to sign up for the classes led by Sabin, the Pilates Director. I had it on good authority she was the best trainer. I got to know one of my fellow Pilate students, Nancy. She and I talked a few times before class while the previous course was winded down. She told me she got extra help from a Pilates expert who lived in Greenhaven—a bicycle ride from my house. I asked if it would be okay if she gave me this person’s contact information. She said sure.

I had practiced twice a week for about four weeks when Nancy gave me the trainer’s name, phone number, and hourly rate. I was excited and planned to call the private trainer for a chat and a possible session. It was that same day, minutes before our class was about to begin, when I looked through the window of the Pilates studio door and noticed everyone was standing on the Reformers (as in the image at the top of this post). Knowing the carriages their feet were on were spring-loaded and slid back and forth, all I saw was me losing my balance and landing teeth-first on the adjustable footbar and knocking out my grill. (See the above image for the footbar sans my blood and teeth fragments.) When we finally got into the room and were about to start, I asked Sabin what was with everyone standing on the Reformers. She told me that it was a Level 2 class, and we would not be performing any standing exercises in Level 1. That made me feel both relieved and depressed: relieved because I wouldn’t have to attempt to stand on a moving carriage and depressed because I once again picked an exercise that requires balancing, if not in Level 1, then definitely on Level 2 and Level 3.

It is a bitter coincidence that on that day–the day I got the contact information of the private Pilates instructor and found out I wouldn’t advance beyond Level 1–I lost my balance while executing a pose and fell off the Reformer. Remarkably, I did a tuck and roll on my way down to the indoor-outdoor carpet. (I have a knack for falling on my chest when I had plenty of time to have an arm break my fall.) Sabin saw the fall and complimented me on how graceful I looked. Not agile enough, unfortunately, it turned out I had skinned my ankle. I noticed I was bleeding when I stood up.

I left the studio with Sabin. First, she gave me a couple of alcohol wipes and bandages. Then, she filled out an incident report. She could have returned to the class, but I couldn’t read the type on the form (I left my glasses in my locker). The final embarrassment was returning to the studio to pick up some of my items. Since Sabin had to fill out the form, it cut into their class time. Nobody said a word. They were just sitting around waiting for the class to restart. It reminded me of when I had a seizure in front of my friends when I was twelve—I never got treated the same way. Then and probably now, I felt like I was treated as fragile or not whole. Sabin was very supportive and emailed more than once, wanting to know how I was and that I was welcome back, and she had some modifications for me. She is a terrific trainer, but I didn’t want to show my face again in that class.

One thing I like about Pilates and yoga (and theoretically HIIT, Step Aerobics, and all other group exercises) is that you have a specific day and time to attend and participate with others. Therefore, I feel compelled to show up. Kind of like when I was going to Weight Watchers: every week, you were expected to show up at the meeting once a week, get in a line then, stand on the scale where your weight was noted, and then, hopefully, get inspired by your leader’s speech to do better. Currently, I don’t have that structure. Post-Pilates, I’m working with a TRX system and an indoor rowing machine. Both of these systems do not require much in the way of balancing. However, the nylon straps and handles of the TRX are indifferent to whether I use them or not. Also, the pulley, flywheel, sliders, and saddle of the rowing machine don’t give a shit whether or not I employ them.

As a result, I find lame excuses for not showing up at the club and using them. At least I can’t fall off the couch and bump my head on the coffee table while sitting on my ass reading or watching whatever is on one of my streaming services. Boy, that sounds more depressing than falling off a Reformer in a Pilates class!

Tax the Rich (Bastards)!

Of all the political topics that get me riled up, besides the “man-made
global warming is a hoax,” I think the myth that taxing the rich is a bad
thing pisses me off the most. I’m going through a blogger’s dry patch. It’s like writer’s block, but it’s more like a lack of inspiration to post anything. Anyway, I saw this and felt it was worth posting here.

I like Robert Reich, but I think his idea of making Capitalism work is too simplified. So regardless of my opinion of the Professor of Economics at Cal, I thought this was worth slapping up here. Happy viewing, and maybe I’ll get back to posting more stuff soon. I’ve stopped practicing yoga and now trying Pilates. That should be worth a post! Cheers.

Better Late Than Never

Smedley Butler turned against what would later evolve into the military-industrial complex after helping create it.

General Smedley Butler (Right) with Major General John A. Lejeune in camp at Frederick, Maryland in 1922. (Bettmann / Getty Images)

Smedley Butler Helped Build American Empire. Then He Turned Against It.

I remember reading Smedley Butler’s 1935 War is a Racket. It’s partly a speech the retired general was making around the US and part peace manifesto. I recall reporting my findings to my mentor and college professor William A. Dorman. He made some positive remarks about the little seventy-five-page book, then said something like, “Why is it after people do so much damage that they finally get religion.”

General Butler successfully led the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in Honduras, Central America, Veracruz, Haiti, and World War I. Throughout his military exploits, he earned two Medal of Honors and was up to his time in the military was the most decorated soldier in the American military. After that, he retired from the military and believed that the wars he had helped lead were all conflicts designed not to defend America but to profit US banks and corporations.

The link at the top is from an excellent book review from Jacobin of Jonathan M. Katz’s new book Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. It’s currently out in hardcover, but I’ll be snagging a paperback when it comes out!

New reflectors for my ride (and other boring stuff)

I picked up my Vespa from Scooter City the other day after some expensive work was done on it. Hopefully, the leaky back tire is fixed for good. I’ve been in to have this leaky tire fixed for the third time. This time I put my foot down and told Rick, my trusted mechanic, that I wanted a new back tire. I think Rick couldn’t do it, knowing the tread on the Dunlop Scootsmart was good. He overhauled the old rim this time, claiming there was corrosion in the old rim and that he believed that was the problem. Despite my initial frustration with him not charging me for a new tire, I realized, unlike some car mechanics I have had in the past, Rick can’t see replacing something in good shape and charging me for it.

He also replaced the belt and roller set, including the idle rollers. My GT 200 also got a much-needed lube job. After I okayed it over the phone, he installed the reflectors missing from the scooter when I first bought the Vespa used some years ago. The last two items (replacing oils and filters and getting reflectors) are the only things I really understand and, if I was desperate, could do them myself with the help of YouTube videos. My scooter rides like a top now, and the reflectors are an excellent and needed addition, though this old man doesn’t like riding in the dark anymore.

Reflectors on the skirts of the back fenders and tail.

The bill was steep but fair, and I got a brand new Scooter City t-shirt with it. But, hey, is that Evel Knievel on my new tee?

George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” turned 51 recently

This is an innovative music video written and directed by Lance Bangs (director of many music videos as well as the Jackass television shows) and produced by Dhani Harrison (George’s son), David Zonshine (Dhani’s manager and a record executive).

The video features appearances by: Mark Hamill, Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Ringo Starr, Dhani Harrison, Olivia Harrison (George’s widow), Patton Oswalt, Rosanna Arquette, Al Yankovic, Joe Walsh, Jon Hamm, and many others.

Two of my favorite lefties meet (remotely) for the first time.

AOC in Conversation With Noam Chomsky — Jacobin

I’m sharing a post from one of my favorite political magazines, Jacobin. Noam Chomsky was probably the first great dissident I discovered by myself. (I was already introduced to I. F. Stone, Howard Zinn, and others by my mentor in college the late William A. Dorman.) I later learned just how great the professor emeritus from MIT is. (Also, I don’t think Chomsky is a “leftie” or leftist; I believe he’s more of an anarchist, just to be clear.) Fast forward to 2018, and an unknown bartender from the Bronx defeats one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party. The Congresswoman’s name now can be found in several books about the small but growing progressive movement in America and the co-sponsor of the Green New Deal in 2019 and 2021 and was one of the subjects in the excellent documentary Knock Down the House. She’s also regularly derided on Fox News for just about everything she says and does, so she must be doing something right.


This is the interview hosted by progressive-minded Laura Flanders. Below is a link to an edited version of the interview. You can see the entire conversation at https://lauraflanders.org/.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6M9VxHLqV8

Happy Thanksgiving, Pass the Smallpox Blankets

Something to chew on besides turkey.

Yeah, I know I’m a stinker. Wait ’til 9/11 comes around and I post something about the CIA overthrowing Allende’s Chile on that date in 1973. I guess that’s why no one invites me to parties anymore.

My Scooter’s Long-Lost Twin

How many years have I had my Vespa? I don’t recall exactly, but it has been around ten years. And in that time, I had never seen a Portofino green Vespa Granturismo 200L like mine. (Actually, I did see one while on a Google Maps search of Oxford, England. It was parked on a sidewalk, students from the famous university walking by it with their pixelated faces.) Now I have seen one and touched one. (Even accidentally sat on one.) Last Monday, I was walking back to my ride after working a half-day in Downtown Sacramento. The owner of my scooter’s twin parked his GT200 right next to mine, probably as a friendly gesture. If I had kept the windshield on mine, they would be virtually identical.

My scooter’s doppelganger sports a windscreen. Mine had one, but I removed mine.

My scooter’s twin has some black detail on the back fender, whereas mine is
Portofino green.

I’m a little over a month away from retirement, a month away from regularly
parking here, and my Vespa finally found her long-lost sister. Cruel irony.

Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanksgiving is coming; it’s time to destroy my diet. But, of course, that’s a lie; my self-control and I haven’t been talking for years. My diets over the years have never survived the holiday season anyway. It starts when my wife habitually buys Halloween candy way too soon. So we end up having to buy another bag of “fun size” candy after we wiped out a giant bag of those little bastards, including the miserable York Peppermint Patties, Milky Ways, and the Almond Joys. Hey, someone’s got to finish off those otherwise untouchables!

Thanksgiving isn’t the time for dieting, anyway. Not with my family, at least. The Thanksgiving dinner is too good to decide whether to cry light raspberry vinegarette tears into my salad or eat the good stuff in moderation. For me, Louis C.K. said it best, “The meal isn’t over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”

Besides “hating myself,” there’s one other thing about Thanksgiving I don’t like. It’s the brief yet, for me, the seemingly endless moment before I ignore everyone in the room and get down to the business of ensuring I stay fat. It’s when all heads turn to me to lead us all in grace. A grace that everyone knows will be utterly devoid of—well—grace.

There was a time I enjoyed this preamble to stuffing my face, but that was when I was a kid and my grandfather was alive. When my grandfather said grace, it was all my brother, and I could do from breaking out in laughter. To our ears, my grandfather’s grace was utterly incomprehensible. To us, he mumbled through nearly the entire event, and it was funny as hell. We knew it was over when he finished with the flourish, “…for Christ’s sake!” The final three words—the only words I could make out of the whole prayer—were spoken not as a petition in the name of God’s only son but as if he found a bug walking over the mashed potatoes. Little did I know as I giggled through all those prayers that I would inherit, leading the family in grace around the time I could grow facial hair.

I didn’t sign up for this gig, nor did I draw the shortest straw between me, my older sister, and my younger brother. Perhaps my mother felt I should inherit the job from my grandfather partly because my dad didn’t want to do it and partly because I was her eldest son. But, in all fairness to my mother, I’m sure she thought it was an honor to be given this task. And I’m sure I felt honored to receive the mantle until I realized I didn’t have a talent for it, even after becoming a Christian.

Look up the definition of “pray” or “prayer,” and you will see such descriptives as “adoration,” “confession,” “supplication,” and “thanksgiving” (hey, whaddayaknow, thanksgiving!). The only times I ever prayed to God out loud was when I was a child/young teen. It was more of a crying bitch session than anything even remotely close to adoration, confession, supplication, and absolutely nothing like thanksgiving. I cried to him, wanting to know why he made me so horrible in sports. My brother and especially my best friend Jesse seemed like naturals at baseball, dodgeball, tetherball, anything that required hand-eye coordination. I sucked at all sports. I spent many an evening in my bed crying out loud, asking God why he made me this way. That was the only “conversation” I had with God, and it always felt one-sided, primarily when I remained the suckiest kid on the blacktop the following day.

I grew up and, after a while, stopped whining to God about my lot. However, as an adult, I remained horrible at sports on the rare times I picked up a ping-pong paddle, softball bat, or even tried to pass my driver’s test. (It may not be a sport, but I’m sure Guinness has me down as the world record holder for failing that test four times before finally passing. Even now, no one wants me to drive the car, so I ride a scooter alone.)

I recall complaining to my bride that I knew I was horrible at saying grace and didn’t know what to do about it. She recommended I write down a prayer beforehand. I had been flipping through Marianne Williamson’s beautiful Illuminata: A Return to Prayer and chose one of hers. That worked, but I got embarrassed when someone giggled, and from that point, I went back to my boring, simple prayer. I don’t think anyone at the table understood how difficult this was for me.

At church, I avoided the mid-week prayer meeting because it meant praying out loud and doing it more than once within each gathering. To the uninitiated, a prayer meeting consists of church members and guests talking about concerns and blessings with the congregation, community, and beyond (illnesses, deaths, pregnancies, births, war, travel, new jobs, and just about everything else). Then each attendee would pray over these concerns/blessings. It’s a round-robin prayerathon, and when it got to me, I stumbled through my prayer then surreptitiously glanced at the clock until it was time to go. As a result, I only attended one of these. If I had forced myself to participate in these meetings regularly, I might have become an eloquent prayer reciter, but I didn’t. So praying aloud became as awkward as fielding a hard-hit grounder or hitting a fastball: instead of sticking with it and slowly but surely getting better, I quit. 

Even without the prayer-intensive mid-week meetings, some would have thought after many years attending church and Bible studies, I would have built self-confidence and developed a style of talking to God. But, nope. I even skipped praying and instead listened attentively during communion when the deacons and elders prayed over the elements so I could evaluate the prayers of my church’s uber players. “Wow, Victor, that sounds beautiful. You stuck that one, bro!”

I feel bad about dreading saying grace when I should be honored. So in the end, I say the same tired boilerplate: “Heavenly Father, thank you for these gifts we are about to receive. In Jesus’ name.” I occasionally hear a smart-aleck crack from a family member who recognizes the same old prayer. From time to time, my wife would do a follow-up, cleaning up my lousy prayer, but she never volunteered to be the designated grace giver. My brother’s children (now grown-ups) used to say their Vatican-approved grace after my crappy one. I thought that was great, hoping my niece and/or nephew would take over the tradition. But, alas, it kept falling back on me.

As far as my faith goes, I had become more of a Doubting Thomas than I was when I was first saved. However, this doesn’t make grace any more or less easier. If I was a devout Christian, I am sure my prayers would suck just as bad as they do now. Maybe if I go all Richard Dawkins on a prayer one time, no one would want to hear my devotion to the empty void again.

The funny thing is there are not that many church-going believers at these dinners: a few Roman Catholics, my very devout wife, and me, Doubting Jack, and that’s it, I think. (Of course, only God knows who is saved, as punching the clock at a church has nothing to do with salvation.) The first person I ever heard praying at the dinner table was my grandfather. I believe he attended seminary when he was a young man, and I recall seeing photos of him as a young man holding a Bible. Then the Great War came along, and after he stepped over one too many dead soldiers, he felt God did not exist, or something like that. This phenomenon was common in modern warfare. As humans figured out ways to kill their fellow humans en masse and the dead bodies stacked up quicker, many previously religious people felt a genuinely merciful God wouldn’t allow this kind of thing to happen to his children.

I honestly couldn’t hear a word my grandfather said during those prayers, which makes me wonder if he was no longer a believer; maybe he was mumbling about high property taxes or reminding himself to take the car in for a tune-up next week. But, on the other hand, if he was mumbling no actual words, maybe I should do what he did and belatedly carry on the tradition, “for Christ’s sake!” As for this Thanksgiving dinner, it just dawned on me. It’s an odd-numbered year, so that means my wife and I will most likely be spending Thanksgiving (and Christmas) at the in-laws’ house, where my wife’s father will be doing the praying, which he does very well. Now that’s what I call grace!