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Bob Cudahy

© 2004

Bob readingWriting Conundrum

How can I write about snow
On this summer day?

I charge across campus to the computer lab
Determined to write about
The painting I have just seen
That reminds me of walking in a snowstorm.

But it is ninety degrees.
In three strides I’m covered in sweat.
Around me, young bodies bustle by,
A swirl of tank tops and short shorts,
belly shirts and bucket hats and flip flops.

But I am barraged with heat.
Beaten down by heat.
The sun blazing down and
The sky, blue and clear.
The grass and the leaves,
So green, green, green,
Begin to melt away
My visions of winter.

I know that in a few short months,
I will be swaddled in sweater and coat,
scarf and hat, boots and gloves.
The snow will fly and
The cold will smack me in the face
Like a bucket full of ice water
Whenever I step out my door.

But today it is sizzling and sweltering.
How can I write about snow
On this dazzling summer day?

A Winter Walk

I have walked through these woods many times.
Alone and with family
I have explored these paths.
I know the trees and bushes and
Rotting logs.

Today it is snowing and
Everything is different, hidden.
Not a gentle Currier and Ives snow,
But a wild, swirling Jack London snow,
Burying everything.

The snow covers me as well,
Collecting in thick piles
On my shoulders,
On my hat,
Coating my glasses,
Making it even more difficult to see.

Ahead, a twisted mass
Is obscured by the deepening drifts.

Is it the old piece of canvas tarp
I’ve been meaning to haul away?
Is it the sumac bush, its spiky arms
Now forming a frosty dome?

Or is it some winter snow spirit
Casually bending down
To adjust the binding on its snowshoes
Before it rises up and looks my way?

Big Stink and Frank Get Scared

The bar was almost empty when Frank walked in, which was just fine with him.  It was a neighborhood place,  just dark and grimy enough that most of the tourists wandering through Wringleyville avoided it and headed to the Cubby Bear or Sluggers or one of the other swankier places down the street.  Every now and then, especially when the Cubs were playing Milwaukee or St. Louis or some other Midwest team that traveled lots of fans, the place filled up with out of town putzes that crowded the bar, took up the chairs, ate all the free pretzels, and tipped enough that the bartenders ignored the low-tipping regulars.

The bartender did not bother talking to Frank when he came in.  It had not taken the tender long to figure out that if you were not talking about beer or baseball, Frank was not interested in talking.  They nodded at each other just to acknowledge their mutual indifference.

Frank squinted a little while his eyes adjusted from the afternoon sun to the bar’s darkness. He headed to the end of the bar, past the faded pictures of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Leo Durocher, where Big Stink was parked on a ripped stool, watching the Cubs pummel the Expos.  He grabbed the stool next to Big Stink, got the bartenders attention and ordered another pitcher.  There was no point in pouring from Big Stink’s pitcher.  Big Stink did not plan on sharing.  Neither did Frank.

Big Stink’s name had nothing to do with personal hygiene.  In fact, Big Stink’s personal hygiene was exemplary, in part because of the pressure put on him by the name.  When everyone expects you to reek, you do your best to smell springtime fresh.

No, Big Stink had picked up the name a while back after getting the last in a long string of parking tickets.  It didn’t seem right to Big Stink that he had been ticketed for double-parking for most of an afternoon.  How can you ticket someone while he’s sitting in the bleachers, watching a Cubs game?  He had appealed the ticket in court.  When that failed   he tried other tactics:  he called his alderman; he picketed City Hall; he pleaded with the papers to take up his case; he generally made a nuisance of himself with anyone who would listen and with a large number of people who desperately tried not to.  His fellow patrons decided he needed a nickname to commemorate his efforts.

Big Stink never paid the ticket.  He ended up losing his ’78 Vega as a result, but he picked up a moniker in exchange.

Frank nodded at Big Stink.  “How’re they doin’?”

“Up five nothin’ in the sixth.  Prior is really crankin’.  Expos can’t touch him.”

“Nice.  Sammy?”

“Not bad.  Couple hits.  No homers.”

They watched the rest of the inning in silence, putting dents in their pitchers.  When the inning ended, Big Stink nodded in approval.  “With Prior and Woods pitching like this, I think the Cubs could do it this year.”

Frank nodded.  “Who’s gonna catch ‘em?  Giants got nothing but Bonds.  The Philly’s are clowns and St. Louis will fade.  As long as they don’t screw it up themselves, they should be fine.”

The next inning started.  The conversation ended.  The beer disappeared.  The bartender walked down to check in.

“You guys hear about that joker they’re calling the Yipmaster?”  Frank and Big Stink looked back at him blankly.  “That guy they interviewed on SportsCenter last night?  Claims to be able to give anybody the yips just by talking to them.  Says it’s like putting a computer virus in their brain.”

More blank stares.  Frank turned back to Big Stink.  “Did you order another pitcher?”

Big Stink shook his head.

“Were you going to order another pitcher?”

Big Stink nodded.

Frank looked back at the bartender, waved two fingers at the empty pitchers to let him know that Big Stink was not the only one needing more beer, and turned back to Big Stink.  The bartender huffed, walked away, and returned with the beer.

“Hey, I wasn’t lookin’ to interrupt all your brilliant conversation.  I just thought you guys would be interested.  He says he hates the Cubs.  Says he’s going to give the yips to Prior, Woods, and Sosa so they can’t win the Series.”

Suddenly, Big Stink was interested.  “Whadya mean, ‘the yips?’  Like when a golfer can’t putt?”

“Ya, like that.  Or when a catcher can’t throw back to the pitcher.  Remember that Yankee second baseman a couple years back who couldn’t throw the ball to first?”

Big Stink nodded.  “God I hate the Yankees.  Ya, I remember him.  What about him?”

“This guy claims he gave that guy the yips.  Met him in a bar.  Whispered the magic words in his ear.  Bingo…couldn’t throw the ball to first.  Kept throwing it in the stands, in the dirt.  Anywhere but to first.  Ruined the guy’s career.”

“What the hell do you mean magic words?  What the hell are those?”

“He wouldn’t say.  Says he’s a sports psychologist or some crap like that.  Says he came up with some phrase that always seems to jinx athletes.  Claims it works like a computer virus.  You hear the words, they get in your brain, bounce around a while, and when it comes time to put out under pressure….you get the yips.”

Big Stink shook his head.  “No way.  What a pile of crap.”

“Well, that’s what he claims.”

“So what, he just yells at some guy and that’s it?  No way.”

The bartender wiped the bar with a grimy towel, leaving the bar dirtier than it had been.  “Nah, it doesn’t work that way.  Says he’s got to be right up close.  Gotta have the guy’s attention for it to work.”

Frank’s forehead creased.  “What about over the phone?”

“Man, I don’t know.  They didn’t get into all the details.”

“No way.  I don’t buy it.  This guy’s full of it.”

“I just know what he said last night.  When they called bullshit on him, he said he could prove it.  Said he would get close to Prior, Woods,  Sosa.   Whisper the phrase in their ear.  That would be it for them.  Says the last thing he wants is for the Cubs to win the series, and that this is better than any curse or jinx.  Said this will be the end of the Cubs’ pennant run for good.”

Frank looked back at Big Stink in horror. The next inning started, unwatched.

The beer sat, unnoticed.

“Big Stink and Frank Get Scared" is a small portion of an upcoming novel that is planned to be a combination of  a Don DeLillo post-modernist examination of today's modern society and a Groucho Marx satirical look at vaudevillian entertainment.