Patrick W. Marsh – Executive Editor – On Hiatus Till June 2nd

Hello all you awesome people. Due to the birth of my twin boys, I’ll be taking some time off from Calamities Press till June 2nd. Posts will resume on that date. Shortly after we start publication back-up, we’ll be launching our Kickstarter campaign to raise $3000 dollars in the effort to advertise out sight, redesign, officially launch as a nonprofit, and give back to the online artistic community we’re striving to establish. Thank you everyone for your support. We’ve got a bunch of awesome content coming your way shortly. Childbirth was amazing, like all the atoms from all the galaxies paused to watch this infinite repition of uncensored life. Like all eyes were fixed on that moment. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Patrick W. Marsh – Executive Editor – Calamities Press

“The Greenland Diaries: Backyard 07″ – by Patrick W. Marsh

“So what did the faces do?” Scott said. He felt like he was making progress with Milo, but he didn’t want to insult him like other profilers had in their interviews. Scott had made as much progress as them, he’d watched the videotaped sessions, so now every word going forward would be new territory.

“Why would I know?” Milo said.

“Did you ever theorize about it? I mean, you had the time?” Scott said. He pulled his stomach tight and breathed deeply. He probably shouldn’t have joked with Milo about his situation. Milo was completely unpredictable, and Scott was one wrong mannerism away from this interview ending.

“Lot’s of time?” Milo said. He leaned forward stretching his arms over the table.

“Lot’s of time indeed Scott. How long was I in there again?” Milo said.

“Four hundred years,” Scott answered back.

Milo looked at him blankly.

“You’re getting it Scott, let’s keep going,” Milo said. He sat back in his chair like an exhausted puppet.

“My theory, plan, formula, whatever, was that the faces were linked to whatever was controlling the woods. It wanted to observe us, every inch of our behavior,” Milo said.

“Why would it want to do it, the Unnamed or whatever,” Scott said.

“To study us, we talked to it too at times. The problem is the days mixed together weird. So much time had passed since we were in there, I can’t remember all the events where we figured things out. I only sort of remember the big things.”

“It, it talked to you, the Unnamed?”

“Yeah, multiple times, I don’t understand it.”

Milo tapped his finger on the table like a bent mannequin.

“I don’t understand it. The thing tortured us for years, but it wanted to know how we felt about it all,” Milo said.

“You’re saying it was doing it strategically, like it wanted to know something about you?” Scott said. He was getting sucked in by the forest now too.

“Exactly, it wanted to study us,” Milo said. He looked away at the panel of glass behind Scott’s head. It floated like another world, a flat portal to a world of suspicion and misunderstanding. The government wanted to know how all this was possible, and Milo was biological proof of the forest’s strange power. How did they want to respond? All the government agencies and their lackeys could dismiss this as isolated event. They’d bring in some reclusive scientist to explain a hole in time and space, and Milo would be the sole survivor of some dingbats warp field theory.

“He was preparing for an invasion, Scott,” Milo said.

“What, what do you mean?” Scott said.

“He was preparing for an invasion, he wanted to know our weaknesses, and there is no one more resilient in our world than children,” Milo said.

Milo blinked back some tears and shook his head.

“Um, okay, I’m glad we’re getting there, but let’s get back to the details of the forest a little bit more,” Scott said. He knew if Milo drifted into emotion he’d lose a bunch of answers.

Milo shook his head again.

“What? What details then?” Milo said.

“If you were there for so long, did the seasons ever change?” Scott said.

“Trading Substance for Surface” – Elitism For All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

Thinking about the education problems in this country, reading about Bernie Sanders switching from being an Independent to a Democrat for a presidential run, watching John Oliver expertly deconstruct our current system of standardized testing, and speaking to clients about boundaries, I suppose it was inevitable that eventually I’d pick out the common theme among all those things as they ran through my mind. As someone who became disillusioned with a great many accepted realities, including (but not limited to) those listed above, I’m reminded of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Spiritual Laws” essay): “…they bow the head, excuse themselves with prolix reasons, and accumulate appearances, because the substance is not.”

Often when I tell people that I am a life coach, they say something like, “Oh! I didn’t know you were certified for that.” And then I’m forced to tell them, “I’m not. No one has to be. That’s why I’m a life coach instead of some other legal name for it.” I hear the same things about being an author—people assume I was published through a traditional publishing house. And again with being a meditation instructor. In fact, at discussion panels, I only claim to have a “background” in many things, and yet people still think that means degrees, certifications, or any number of qualifications—all except for actually knowing the material and/or how to effectively communicate it.

It’s not that I object to qualifications and certifications and all that. The idea behind them is that they are supposed to reflect a consensus agreement of a basic level of competency. We still have to see what our own judgment tells us, but it is nice to know the objective consensus. No, the problem I have is with the execution rather than the idea. We have an atmosphere of badly written standard tests that no one is able to officially review, grade inflation in the pursuit of funding and job retention, No Child Left Behind, underpaid teachers with no disciplinary authority, overwhelming higher education student debt, unequal testing standards, and university programs that deliberately try to “weed out” students in high intensity “test and forget” environments rather than doing what the massive student debts are paying them to do and genuinely teach with the aim of student absorption and retention. In that kind of atmosphere, “objective consensus” no longer seems to have much to do with qualifications, and we no longer really know what certification means.

But it’s not an isolated issue. Rather it is what happens when narcissism addresses issues of education. What happens when narcissism addresses diet plans? Agricultural policy? Environmental standards? Diplomacy? Law enforcement? Healthcare? Loving relationships? Economics?

With diet plans, we get loads of pills that help people shed initial water weight or manipulate digestive interactions so no one has to really do work, pants that push all the fat down to make us seem fitter, and fitness clubs that recommend endless cardio workouts that prolong membership dues without giving best results. With agriculture, we get food that grows fast and matures on demand, depleting soil nutrients and thus food nutrients, maximizing weight for sale, large-scale air and water pollution, and a whole lot of dead bees. Of course that pollution rolls into environmental policy, for which we have “acceptable pollution levels,” and rather than trying to stay well back from that line and care about our impact on ecosystems, we push that line and violate it if we think we can get away with it or maximize profits. Maybe there will be fines, but that’s just a tithe compared to the profits to be had in the end. Diplomacy, well, as long as we get what we want, we’ll be civil to everyone’s face while we spy on them, trash talk them, and carry out our own agenda no matter what is best for everyone. Edward Snowden showed proof enough of that, whatever else he did. We’re seeing how corruptible law enforcement is, though I feel silly saying “corruptible” in the case of some institutions that seem to start out corrupt. When police abuse their authority and then cover for each other to avoid responsibility, riots ensue. With healthcare, unnecessary procedures, overbilling, insurance battles and irreconcilable debt seem to rule the day. In loving relationships, we often decide to lie to each other and manipulate the truth to seem better than we are, fool people into dating us or sleeping with us, or generally control the perceptions of others more than fearlessly improving ourselves. And the economics of tax loopholes, wage gaps, outsourcing, monopolizing, layoff-then-rehire-for-cheap recession tactics, predatory lending, bailout entitlement and endless regulatory infractions that again see only the occasional “cost of doing business” level of fine with no jail time are not doing the world any favors.

What does this all have to do with narcissism? To expand on this oft-used word of mine, narcissism is not just about “being selfish.” Narcissism is always concerned with image and never with quality. To narcissism, appearances are everything. If narcissistic behavior is perceived, the observation is met with excuses mixed with explosive rage, and improvement efforts focus on better ways to not get caught or noticed. The image is what is improved, never the quality. I’m not saying image is unimportant, or even that lying is always the worst course of action, but the fixation on image a hallmark of narcissism. Manipulation of surfaces while leaving substance to atrophy is how it functions. That is how we can see increases in educational spending and decreases in educational standards. It’s how the economy appears to recover, but people have fallen even further behind with wages and debt. It never occurs to narcissism to improve behavior. Even when directly challenged to do so, all it hears is “improve your image,” which also entails improving on the ability to obscure its behavior and motives. To narcissists, “being considerate of others” means shielding others from the painful knowledge of the narcissists’ inconsideration.

This is why I don’t feel that all these issues that cycle through the media are solved by one kind of legislation or another. Legislation is the surface of societal behavior. When we are not narcissistic, we use surfaces to express a general motive, sentiment, intention, and even morality. When we forget, the legislation is there to remind us. But for narcissists, surfaces are there to hide behind. More and better surfaces (including legislation), no matter who creates them and who else they serve, always additionally serve narcissism. The problem is not political; it is moral. The problem exists wherever narcissism thrives, not just in the United States. There is a reason why the conservativism we see goes deeper and deeper into intractability and hate speech than ever before, and there is a reason why the liberalism we see becomes more absolutistic, reactionary, and hateful as well. Narcissism has been infecting it all for a long time, and our political, religious, and social identities are all surfaces trumped by our own psychology. The more we see polarization, the more we see complacency and a resistance to inner growth, and bigger and spikier shields arise to keep at bay any influence that might encourage or demand genuine growth, qualitative distinctions, and real substance.

Emerson (my emphasis and brackets):

“Virtue is the adherence in action [surface] to the nature [substance] of things, and the nature of things makes it prevalent. It consists in a perpetual substitution of being for seeming… The lesson which these observations convey is, Be, and not seem. Let us acquiesce. Let us take our bloated nothingness out of the path of the divine circuits.”

Being faced down by the scary surfaces that narcissists hide behind should not scare us into hiding behind our own and acting the same way. And strategies of “changing corruption from inside the system” (I’m looking at you, Bernie Sanders) never work where narcissism is involved, because you cannot, as a separate person, get inside someone else’s bubble of one, and one is the only number narcissism recognizes. Otherwise we should all be arguing that the best resistance strategy for all of Nazi-occupied Europe would have been to join the SS.

These trends will not cease until we decide to be obstacles to narcissism rather than just trying to create obstacles to it. Create an obstacle and narcissism will find a way to hide behind it. Be an obstacle, and narcissism will not hide behind you—it cannot do so without letting you inside the bubble, and that defeats the whole point of hiding behind things.

“Time After Time” – Family Haunts – by PMF Johnson

The tick of cells
being clocked,
the impossibility
of order building out
of entropy… what if
in the flashy start
the first quark spun out
from underneath the incipient
neutrino instead of
from above? Would we
need today two heads?
Would there be still love?

What’s behind, gaining,
shoulders time aside
but we should never look
back to see they say.
What’s ahead pulls
forever away, leaving
only dust behind
or a few stray photons
to let us know what
was. Look at that!

After the world ends in ice,
when that last “put out
the light” presses
the final matter
into it-doesn’t matter,
will our universe hit
another? Atom bounce into
Adam, wake a slumber,
start us over?

“Stony Point Station” – Part 11 – by Joseph Crowe

Wisconsin was pitching, rolling and spinning all at the same time, and the inertial compensators were hard pressed to keep up with the erratic motion of the vessel. Lieutenant Commander Sandeen lurched and stumbled from one bulkhead to the next as he struggled through the battle frigate’s companionways. His left arm was hot with pain from a particularly hard collision with a console as he and the Captain left engineering when the attack began. Captain Cosgrove had hurried topside to reach the command bridge, while Sandeen hustled best he could to his own station back in the Combat Information Center.

The crew members and officers on duty in the CIC were already strapped into the seats at their stations, all of them working at their consoles or talking into their headsets. Sandeen made it to his own chair just as another impact shook the ship.

“Where’d they come from?” Sandeen asked the room as he secured his headset.

The crew member at the long range sensor station reported back, his voiced raised but measured. “I think they’re those contacts we picked up yesterday. One moment, they were where they were supposed to be, the next moment fifteen ships jumped in alongside the convoy.”

“Nothing jumps inside Devil’s Pyramid,” Sandeen said.

“Understood, sir. But they did.”

Just then Captain Cosgrove’s voice crackled through the comm system into Sandeen’s headset. “I’m on the bridge, Commander. Report!” Cosgrove ordered.

All the CIC stations were feeding data to the big holo display, which Sandeen was now scanning. The three-dimensional image it projected was the ship’s sensor’s best approximation of what was happening around Wisconsin. It showed groups of unidentified ships, all smaller than the frigate but fast and maneuverable, darting in and about the images that represented Wisconsin and the freighters she was shepherding.

“Captain, we’re counting at least fifteen marks. Small and fast. Our shields and countermeasures are at nominal, weapons online and hot, missiles are being racked.”

“Copy that,” Cosgrove said over the comm circuit. “Obviously we’ve taken some hits, damage control parties are out, but I think we’re okay right now.”

Sandeen watched the big display as one of the freighter images glowed red and faded away. “Captain, I think we just lost the Euclase. And Cuprite is still breaking up. Corundum is entering Cuprite’s debris field.”

“Alright, Commander. We’re in the big time all of a sudden. We’re going into attack pattern alpha, but watch for the changes. Watch the shield levels. I’m now authorizing weapons free. Do you concur?”

“I concur, Captain. Weapons free.”

“Let’s go hunting, Commander.”

“Saint Peter’s Denial” – Faceplant 56 – by Jacob Steinbauer

If you would be so kind as to oblige me, I would like to use the word nerd as verb. I began to nerd a lot some time into freshman year. My friend, Luke, had an older brother, Dan, and his friends not only played Dungeons & Dragons, but this new collectable card game called Magic: the Gathering. With plenty of strategy involved and card synergy a must, I was terrible at first. My brother’s friend had already started and quit playing, and sold me his box for $20. The cards that I have since mostly traded or given away would now be worth hundreds or thousands. Oh well. Much later, I began to bore of the ever-expanding set of rules (the game is as popular as ever, published in dozens of languages, even with a rule set approaching the complexity of US tax system or federal trade regulations) and the necessity to keep buying in to stay competitive. When some dick broke into Dan’s card and stole his cards—and his general negativity surpassed even the most depressed teenagers I knew, I gave him all my cards except one deck. I don’t know if he still plays or not.

The important part is that I started gaming with the older kids. Dan lived in Kasota, in between Mankato and St. Peter. His friends mostly live in and around St. Peter, and they could drive. Oh, how exciting! Most had access to cars, and racing on the abandoned midnight roadways of Minnesota was common enough. Country kids made up most of the gang, so power sliding on gravel (when the back flies out like in the movies because you’re driving so damn fast) became common, too.

Sure, the police did their job from time to time. One friend had his license revoked along with community service for evading—he knew another speeding ticket would result in a lost license anyway, so why not try? The entire St. Peter Police department had the drivers on a first name basis and vice versa by graduation.

The reoccurring interaction with police had me quite nervous the first time I drove a car. I was fourteen. Obviously without a license or permit of any kind. My friend, Brian, was too tired to drive, so he tossed me his keys one night after gaming. If the caffeine from a half pack of Mountain Dew wasn’t enough to wake me, the adrenaline did. It was 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, raining, and I was scared to death. On the highway, I didn’t push past 30 miles per hour except when Brian nagged. I reasoned that the black sheets of rain (probably a sprinkle in real life) warranted caution, but Brian said driving too slowly would get us pulled over, too. We got home okay, and thus began my training. . . .

Next on the list was power sliding with Brian’s parent’s Ford Taurus. The second time I tried we whipped down French Hill right into the ditch. I pulled us out okay, but, later that day, the car died somewhere between Saint Peter and Le Sueur. No gas. Huh. Weird. We borrowed some from a fixer in a garage, but the car died again as we edged into town.

When they got the car into the shop, they said the fuel line had been essentially shredded. When Brian’s dad asked how this happened, he said he hit a raccoon.

—Bullshit, his dad said. I should mention that Brian had one of the scarier dads. Quiet, no joking, all business. A bit of a temper. In retrospect, I understand why. . .

I sat in his room listening to them, playing Mario Kart, as Brian denied the allegations over and over.

—Maybe there were two raccoons, Brian said, and he offered several possibilities without ever locking into any of them. He shed the questions with elusive, generalized answers and mirrored his dad’s frustration with his own. He was well on his way to being a polished liar, perhaps a warning to me except that we were on the same side. At one point, I asked Brian if I should help pay for the damages, but he shook his head like I was crazy. I think his exact words were: They’ll get over it.

“Signs of Progress” – I Wandered and Listened – by Melinda Giordano

I.

Luminescent ribbons
Curling and dormant under my feet
Trails of slime that sparkle
Tiny rainbows rising to the surface
Of the confused arabesques
That dappled the sidewalk
Like the haunches of van Dyck’s gray stallion
Leading to a life in the dirt
And away from dinner plates
Swathed in mists of
Garlic and butter

II.

Busy little crosses
A panic stricken embroidery
Piercing the beach
A pattern of links
Coiled like DNA
The blueprints of life
And machinery
The laboring hearts
High pitched and fragile
A feather left for a signature
From the constant and scribbling flocks

III.

The waves receded
Like protesting hands
Revealing fields of sand and salt
With designs of tiny burrows
A sweep of blemishes
Shaped like constellations
A marine population netted by the Milky Way
I plunged my hands
Into its midst
Clutching the dripping country
And my palms were tickled
By the terrified claws and antennae
Of a shrieking subterranean world

Along the Winter Rails: 38 – “When All Went Up in Smoke” – by Fanni Sütő

winter rails_1 Copy

The horizon was tainted with smoke. The rocks coughed up shreds of poisonous greyness, soiling the unmoving sky. My breath stuck in my throat and I could see Ginger shaking and turning white with fear. If Storm Voice hadn’t steadied her, she would have collapsed. I was wondering what had happened but part of me didn’t want to know the answer. We were hurrying towards the caves with the highest speed we could reach, dragging ourselves with the strength we gained from hope. Still we were not quick enough. We hoped that when the ordeals were over, we might rest. Were the wings of destruction faster than that of hope? It very much seemed so.

“That can’t be,” Ginger whispered. “The children…What will I do if something happened to them?”

“Maybe it is not what we think. Maybe there is a logical explanation and they are all safe, waiting for you,” Storm Voice tried to calm her but there was no real conviction in his words.

“Let’s just hurry and find out,” I suggested after long, silence-ridden minutes. “There is no point in worrying before we know what happened.” I tried to sound as brave as I could but I was not sure if it worked. But even if something terrible happened, it was better to know for sure than the truth than to give in to fears and our imagination. Our mind always came up with the most horrid images and the worst possibilities. Of course, hurrying was easier said than done. Storm Voice was reaching the end of his strength and Ginger was too broken to support him. It was down to me to make our little group move along. To divert our attention about the more pressing matters, I asked Storm Voice to tell everything he knew about the happenings of the past few days.

“I don’t know much, but what I know I will share. As I have mentioned before, many of us were unhappy. We weren’t treated well and years of servitude and oppression turns even the best men into monsters. And our lot was far from being the best. We served the Masters because that was the only thing we knew; doing all the dirty work for them, finding innocent, lost girls for them. We got tired. Some of us fell in love with the girls we were meant to deliver to them,” he stopped here and looked at Ginger. She blushed and kept staring the ground. “But we were never allowed to see them after they arrived. We felt absolutely helpless and frustrated. It all started with whispers. Silent, angry words. My people wanted change. They asked for it nicely but the Masters denied us everything. They reminded us that they have the knowledge; they have technology on their side. If we ever wanted winter to end, we should help them, we should obey them. But their promises held less and less truth for us. My comrades wanted freedom and they didn’t care what road they need to take to get there. I was reluctant because I hate war; it has taken my family. I was caught in cross fires. I knew that day would come when I had to take sides. Then a few days ago all hell broke loose.

“Stony Point Station” – Part Ten – by Joseph Crowe

Previously: The officers on the battle frigate Wisconsin tour the engineering section, and Captain Cosgrove orders a detour. Meanwhile, Captain Reuter on the ore freighter Corundum gets her hands dirty.

Giorgia Reuter was in the bowels of her own ship. Sometimes when she was down here, she tried to picture their escort’s engine room. Surely Wisconsin’s engineering section was all spit and polish and gleaming surfaces and haptic controls. Meanwhile Corundum’s own corresponding section was what any self-respecting engine room should be: dark and dank and smelly and dirty and noisy and full of nooks and crannies and sharp edges that would leave a rough gash in your flesh if you weren’t careful. Wisconsin’s engine room was no doubt beautiful, but boring. At least Corundum was interesting.

Corundum’s engine room was also too warm right now, but it shouldn’t have been. The days of shoveling coal into a ship’s furnaces centuries behind them, too-warm was not good. Not in a once-modern space freighter, in any case. Too warm meant misdirected energy, and in space that was at best wasteful and at worst deadly.

Giorgia should have bemoaned the fact that so many things on her ship were potentially deadly, but she took some perverse pleasure in that knowledge. She also took great pride in keeping the ship running and keeping her hardy crew safe. Being a mechanic was a source of pride for Giorgia, and she was the best mechanic on the ship. Asher was a fine engineer and mechanic in his own right, but Giorgia knew her stuff and knew her ship.

At the moment Giorgia was in a deliciously perilous position. She lay beneath the primary heat exchanger installation, feeling the anti-slip pattern of the deck plating gnawing into her back. She had both hands wrapped around a pry bar, attempting to lever a stubborn mechanical sensor back into position. Her arms lurched as the component finally gave way and she skidded the pry bar across the deck with a clang.

“Okay, Asher!” she shouted. “I think that’ll do it. Hold on until I get out of here.” She half slid, half crab-walked, on her back to get out from under the exchanger, and hoisted herself to her feet next the Asher. The engineer had his own hands on a manual control rod, and at his Captain’s nod released it. With a little bit of groaning and squealing, the formerly recalcitrant heat exchanger cycled itself back into position without it’s customary ship-shaking rattle.

“Much better!” Asher said as the rest of the engine room crew offered brief smattering of applause.

“Indeed,” Giorgia agreed. She walked over the intercom panel, nudged the talk switch with an elbow–her hands were covered in grease at the moment–and called the bridge.

“Qboda? Feel that?”

The first mate’s voice scratched back over the comm. “No, ma’am. Did it work?”

“Smooth as the proverbial silk. We should be fine for a while now.” It was already noticeably cooler in the engine room with the exchanger back on line–a good sign. She walked over to Asher and accepted the dingy towel he proffered.

“Nice work, Asher.” She gestured towards the cubby that constituted the engineer’s office cum workshop. “A word?”

“Yes ma’am.” He called out to the the engine room crew standing nearby. “Guys, let’s get this place squared away. I’ll be out to help you in a couple minutes.”

The group got to work as Asher joined Giorgia at his cubby. She was wiping some of the grime from her hands and forearms.

“Your people are doing a good job down here, all things considered. I’m really pushing the company to get us pushed up in line for a bit of re-fit. See how it goes.”

“S’alright, cap. We do the best we can.”

“I know.” She paused. “And, I need you to try and play nice with Qboda for me. Little crap like yesterday rattles him and then he doesn’t focus as well as he should.”

“You take all the fun out of life, Cap,” the engineer winked with a smirk.

Giorgia smiled back. “I know,” she said.

Just then the floor beneath Giorgia’s feet dropped away. For an endless-seeming moment she was floating, her body seeming to rush towards the ceiling. In that moment, she had the presence of mind to realize that it was actually the ceiling rushing towards her, and she knew that was very bad.

In another moment, the deck floor rushed back up at her and her feet slammed into it. The impact sent both her and Asher, who had been floating next to her, sprawling on the deck. Then everything was still but for the rumble of the impulse engines that always reverberated through the decks and bulkheads of Corundum. Asher did run as tight an engine room as he could, so most loose objects in the area were secured so only a few items had flown around during the event. Around them, other crew members were helping each other to their feet; no one seemed too worse for the wear, for whatever had happened.

Qboda was already calling from the bridge by the time she reached the comm panel.

“Talk to me, ‘Boda,” she ordered.

“Captain. Something just hit us. Not sure where yet.” Qboda sounded more than rattled.

“What the hell. What’s our condition?”

“Not completely sure. I’m getting some yellows on the panel. I’ve got some people checking now.”

Asher was looking at Giorgia. She nodded to him, which was his release to attend to his engines and crew, which he jumped to immediately. “‘Boda,” she said into the comm. Do you know what hit us?”

“Captain. I think it was one of the engine nacelles from one of our sister ships, the Cuprite.”

“Godamnit. I’m on my way.”

Next: Calamitous things.

“Sleepy Brain” – Faceplant 55 – by Jacob Steinbauer

With the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and the teams concentrating on the upcoming season instead of finding new players for it, I’ll share my final football story.

Loyola was the smallest high school in Mankato, and with football players getting bruised and worse regularly, throwing the little guys to the wolves was prudent at times. When I was a freshman, this happened in the last varsity game of the season, against Sleepy Eye.

Another kid, Eric, took a hard hit and got concussed. Hearing him speak frightened me; he spoke like he had Alzheimer’s. What’s the score? Are we winning? Then twenty seconds would pass, a play would end, and he would forget not only what anyone told him, but also where the score board was most of the time. When he did identify the score board, he would ask who was home—hope thick on his voice—as they were currently mutilating guest. Someone would tell him again, and he would hang his head.

Then the coach suddenly pulled me aside and told I would be on the next kickoff. Special teams. My job was to go straight to the ball. No lane responsibility. No worry about the outside, the end-around or the reverse. Go to the ball. Cool. I could do that. I could show them I could be a football player.

This last thought nearly killed me. Here’s how. Yeah, I was fast. I got down that field before any of my teammates. And there, rushing at me, was a wall of five guys, each with a minimum of two years, four inches, and about 60 pounds on me. I could have tried to weasel around them, but I wanted my coaches to know I could give a hit and take a hit. It was one of those split-second decisions that doesn’t make sense any other way until after it’s over. By then it’s a train wreck.

I should have known how it would end. The exact same thing happened earlier that season in practice when Kenny Hammerschmidt, a senior who could bench almost twice my weight, blocked me on a kick return drill. The word block is technical. The descriptive appropriateness of  upended, smashed, or crushed paints a more accurate picture. I blacked out then, and again in Sleepy Eye.

I remember seeing the sky and then nothing at all. I came to on the sideline with the B-squad coach saying, “Why didn’t you get out of the way?” I could have. But did I want all the older kids thinking I was some kind of pussy? This was football. . . . Better that than a moron.

I looked out at the field and saw the other team kick the extra point. Yeah, they scored on the return. The entire team basically had me to blame, but no one said anything.

The school year finished, summer came and went, and my interest in rock and roll supplanted my desire to roll my bruises through the mud. I think it was the spectacle and the poor sportsmanship that killed football for me. I remember a scrimmage that summer, with the teams exercising, each trying to count their reps louder than the other: competing even before the competition. Then the cleats in the back or digging into a calf, or the knuckle punches when there’s a pile on the ball. The display of manliness appeared to be more important than the game, and I’m a gamer to the bone.

Then, as a sophomore, the coaches had me playing linebacker. Pass coverage? F that. During the scrimmage, a play developed where the quarterback flushed out from the pocket and, not seeing anyone in particular to cover, I ran him down. Sack. Congratulations, right? No, twenty pushups for abandoning my spot. I understand now, but quit the sport soon after.

I probably didn’t mention football for seven or eight years into my relationship with my wife. Then I started fantasy football and am apparently making up for lost time.Who are you? she asked that first year as I spewed names of professional athletes whose actions effected the 17 week game I was playing. Good question. On a fundamental level, I struggle. I think of the line in Catch 22: “…Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.” With the new Vikings stadium coming in and the chance to buy blocks with personal messages, I wonder if there is a way to reference this quotation. To embed a marker of stupidity within the concrete and steel beast’s own guts, to show the world that we recognize how little is at stake here. If so, would they let it through? If someone does, it might make me feel better, win or lose, when I end up there to see it once or twice a year. . .