The Product of the American Dream

   It had been a tough summer for The American Federation of Teachers little league baseball team. One win and eight losses was hardly the season the young ball players had hoped for in May, but as the last game approached there was renewed optimism. Murphey’s Pic and Pay was the only team in the league with a worse record than AFT.  Certainly, the two worst teams competing not to be last place was for most a meaningless game, but for me it was the highlight of my baseball career.  It was not recorded in the annals of baseball history, but on a hot Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1988, AFT and Murphey’s Pic and Pay squared off on the minor league diamond at Make Peace Park.

   I was ten that summer, and had been in a sort of batting slump-no hits, 6 walks, and 11 strike outs on the season. However, for my birthday I received a batting glove, and everything was about to change. I remember well that hot August afternoon. I remember stepping to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and final inning, the score tied at 0 to 0. I remember the chatter “hey batter, hey batter, batter”. I remember my mother’s voice, “Come on, Brett, hit out of the park.” How could I let my mother down? The umpire dusted off home plate. I knocked the dirt out of my cleats and stepped into the batter’s box. My grip was sure. The batting glove locked my hands into the roughed up Louisville Slugger.

   The first pitch came, and I swung with all might. “Strike,” the umpire declared. I heard my coach screaming, “Don’t swing, take the walk!”. I stepped out of the batter’s box, and took a practice swing. I looked towards the home dugout. My coach stared back grumpy with sunflower seeds in his cheek. The umpire announced, “0 and 1!”.  Then I gathered my confidence, and stepped back into the batter’s box. The second pitch came. “Ball” the umpire said, “1 and 1”. I heard my mom’s voice over the infield chatter, “Come on, Brett!” How could I let that voice down? I gritted my teeth and settled into my batting stance with my elbow up. Then the third pitch came. It was low and inside. I stood frozen and at the last moment tried to jump backwards, but the pitch hit my left foot. I was in shock, but I didn’t let it show. I just threw my bat towards the on-deck circle and looked to the umpire. “Hit batsman!”, he declared. ”Son, take your base!” There was lackluster applause from the stands, and I limped down the first base line. I was the winning run, and I was on!

   Now we were at the top of the lineup, and Jamie came to bat. Jamie was a powerhouse hitter. If anybody could come through for us it was Jamie! The pitcher put his foot on the mound, and I committed to a small lead off. The chatter came from the infield, ”Hey batter, hey batter, batter.” The pitcher wound up, and the pitch came. “Crack!” the ball launched off Jamie’s bat and headed deep over the second baseman’s head. I started running. The crowd was cheering. My heart was burning in my chest, and as I approached second base, I looked to the third base coach. He was waving me to third. I ran with all my might. I could hear my mother’s voice, “Go Brett, Go!”. I felt as if I was flying, and soon I reached third base. There the third base coach said, “Stop!” I stopped and looked back. Jamie was on second standing straight up with his hands on his hips. I looked towards the home dugout. The whole team was on there feet. I was safe on third!

   “Good job, Brett, nice run,” the third base coach, coach Cloud said. “Now, Brett, when I tell you to run, run with all your might. You are the winning score.” “Yes, sir,” I replied. The pitcher approached the mound. I had a small lead off. Chatter came from the infield and Adam came to bat. Adam was good hitter-not quit as good as Jamie but still good. I heard my mom’s voice across the field, “Come on, Brett!”. The pitch came, and everything went into slow motion. My entire life seemed to teeter on this moment. I felt paralyzed in another realm, and though my feet were rooted in the clay and dirt, I felt like I had the speed of a Cheetah. I knew then that I would make it home safe. I watched the pitch. It was high. The catcher stood to receive it, but it flew over his head. “Wild pitch, run Brett, run!” Coach Cloud screamed. I took off running as fast a I could. The pitcher was running too. The catcher went to the back stop to retrieve the ball. It would be a close play at home. I dove head first sliding Pete Rose style into home plate. The catcher threw the ball to the pitcher to make the play. Dirt flew in the air, and there was utter silence. The entire season and the entire summer had come down to this. Gradually the haze of dirt cleared, and my hand, batting glove and all, was squarely on home plate. “Safe!” the umpire proclaimed. 

    I jumped to my feet. We had won. The home dugout went crazy. I skipped towards my teammates, leaped in the air, and gave hi-fives with my batting glove hand. American Federation of Teacher’s little league baseball team would not be last place. We embraced the victory, and celebrated with glad hearts.  Then we shook hands with our opponents, and made our way to Dairy Queen. Reflecting now, I may be the only one that remembers when AFT played Murphey’s Pic and Pay for last place. Regardless, that day, I was immortal on the sandlots of time and the unmistakable product of the American Dream!

Written by: Brett Wiley

A Golf Story

 

   I can’t remember when I first became fascinated with hitting the perfect golf shot. It must have been sometime during the summer of 92’. That year, I had bought a set of Taylor Made clubs and began summer break mowing grass and shanking balls. 

   I remember being on the range of the local par three and positioning my feet to align with the fish bowl-perched at the hundred and fifty yard flag. The thought of a fifty dollar prize, for breaking the bowl, was motivation to continue golfing even though the blister on my thumb had ruptured. The drizzling rain soaked through my socks and my mind was tired. I had not yet realized the devotion the game required. However, I was about to. This day, I had my first lesson with a true golfing spirit, the pro at Boca Real par three, Chipster.

   Chipster was late for my first golf lesson. The chain smoking lady at the club house gave me a bucket of balls and told me to wait. So, I went onto the range and shanked every ball with desperation. I had only been playing golf a month. I had struggled. However, I kept at it to please my mother. She got me lessons thinking of my future as an engineer or corporate executive. 

   “Golf lessons are an investment,” she would say. Thinking back, she was right. Though, I did not become a CEO, the five lessons I had with Chipster paid invaluable dividends. Such that, my social and spiritual growth corrolated directly to my pefecting the eight iron shot.

   Half way through the bucket of balls on that miserable day my hands hurt, I was tired, and embarrassed. The drizzling rain compounded my frustration. So, I took a break from my labor and looked up from the divot scarred ground. I moved my eyes towards the club house thinking, is this really worth it? 

   My brain said, “no.” 

   My pride said, “yes.” 

   My heart ached and that’s when I saw Chipster. He walked out of the club house with a casual stride and approached me with confidence, with ease. He was a golfing messiah come to calm the storm.

   “Hey Brett, how you doing? I’m Chipster.” He said extending his hand. I shook it with humility. I was exhausted from bad golf and his smile comforted me. In fact, his whole tempermant was loose and relaxed. I suddenly felt at ease the moment we met.

   “Hey,” I said hiding my shame. Chipster would soon find out how terrible I was at golf.

    “Looks like you’re hitting an eight iron,” Chipster reached for my club.

   “Yeah,” I diverted my eyes, placing the worn rubber grip of my iron in his hand.

   “Well,” Chipster said searching for nice patch grass. “do you watch much golf?” 

   “No, not really.”

   Chipster silently swung my club in a smooth controlled motion. I watched and dried my hands on my shorts. My fingers ached. I quickly examined the blister on my thumb. It was nice to have a break, and Chipster’s effortless swing gave me inklings of hope.

    “Nick Price has the best swing on the tour.” The club head clipped the damp grass. I could see droplets of water rise up from the ground.

   “Yeah.” I didn’t know what else to say. I hadn’t followed much professional golf. Though, I had seen old film of Chi-Chi Rodriquez which led me to believe golf was easy.

   “Have you stretched?” Chipster asked.

   “No.”

    “If you want to play as long as the Golden Bear, you need to stretch!”

    “O.K.” I hoped that Chipster would tell me the secret to golf before the fifth lesson.

    I bent at the waist and touched my toes. I felt dissatisfied, but as I watched Chipster twist his torso right and left holding my eight iron in both hands, it lightened the mood. So, I continued to warm-up-flexing my hip flexer. I felt anxiety leave my body. I took a deep breath, shut my eyes, and all was quiet. The rain stopped. I looked towards the sky. The sun was peeking through scattered clouds. Summer showers never last long, I thought.

   “The rain stopped,” Chipster proclaimed.

    I responded with a sarcastic, “Yep!”. Then Chipster handed me my eight iron. I looked at him and could see his eyes smiling. He motioned his head, and I moved to hit the yellow range ball that had fallen out of the plastic bucket. I maneuvered my club into prime striking position and aligned my feet with the fish bowl. Then I slowly exhaled and swung with courage. I heard the club face make contact, and I raised my eyes to watch the yellow ball take a line drive towards the hundred yard flag.

    “That was good,” Chipster said, “try another one.”

    I lined up another shot. This time I expected to impress Chipster with my power. I swung with all my might. However, I missed the ball completely, took up a big chunk of ground, and an explicative slipped out of my mouth. I tried to hide my shame, but tears formed in my eyes. I was humiliated. There was no hiding it, I was truly awful at golf. I immediately picked up another ball and lined up a third shot. I was wanted to knock it out of the park. I gripped my eight iron tight and blood started to trickle out of my blister. With anger and frustration, I thought to myself, If I don’t make a good golf shot now, I will quit forever.

    “Hold it, Brett,” Chipster said relieving the tension. “Step back from the ball and regroup.”

    I listened to Chipster and stepped back. I took a deep breathe and my composer returned. I realized how defeated I had become. The game of golf was beating me: the game that Chi Chi played without effort, the game that was the source of Chipster’s calm, the game I so badly wanted to learn. I was at my breaking point and my teacher knew it. 

    There was a restless silence. Then Chipster spoke in a low voice, “Brett this is your first lesson and the first thing you need to learn is an universal truth of golf… It takes patience to play.”

* * * *

   The golf swing is a thing of beauty, an extension of ones self, and an accumulation of muscle memory and analysis. Beyond that, however, it is a feeling. It is common for golfers to talk about the rhythm of their swing and a round of golf must be played at a tempo. A golfer must achieve a mental pulse which is crucial to elite play! 

    In the summer of 1992 Nick Price won his first major. He held off Nick Faldo at the Bellerive Country Club to win the PGA Championships. Price came from behind in the final round, parring every hole on the front nine, and winning with a pair of birdies on the sixteenth and seventeenth holes. Price had the best swing on the tour and he was a champion. I on the other hand was a “duffer.”

    Even after five lessons with Chipster and a summer of toiling at the municipal course, I still didn’t have the feel of the game. The decent golf shots I hit were few and far between. I lost balls out of bounds and in water hazards. However, if anybody ever asked, I was playing bogey golf-which was completely fraudulently. Despite its fabrication, I was not shy to show off my lamented score card which recorded a 45 on the front nine of the city course. Looking back on that summer, I might have been too young and immature to take on the game of golf. However, there was something redeeming amidst the misery and that was Johnny.

    It was me and Johnny that summer, and Johnny could make you laugh no matter how many mulligans you took. He could make you laugh when you were teeing off. He could make you laugh after you hooked one over the road. Then Johnny would be laughing hysterically after he persuaded you to take an eight iron shot from some one’s front lawn. Johnny would make you feel good even when you were at your worst, and Johnny would always be up for a game. 

   We played the entire summer and well into the fall. We ran out of sun on the back nine and lost all our balls. We never really got any better, but even bad golf was fun when you were playing with Johnny. During our school years golf was our common ground. Then when we grew up, Johnny would come from out of town to play best ball in the snow. Eventually, I learned to live my life and hit my short irons. Even a bit of patience came my way, and thanks to Johnny when things got really bad, I knew I could always laugh. God, I hope I never forget how to laugh.

Written by: Brett Wiley

 

Memorial Day Weekend

 

e

   School used to be out by Memorial Day, but now kids have to go through June. It doesn’t matter, though, because summer still unofficially begins on Memorial Day weekend! On Memorial Day Weekend there will be backyard barbecues and car washing. We will listen to the Indy 500 on AM radio and sit on rickety lawn furniture. I can feel the cool breeze through an open window. The curtains move like dancing ghosts.

    Children ride their bikes and climb trees. The woods have many mysteries for 12-year-old boys. It takes a dead eye shot to kill a crow with a bb gun. They are sitting ducks on power lines. The girls will follow the boys deep into the tangled wood to skip rocks on the lake and practice their kissing. There is not much else for kids to do on Memorial Day Weekend.

    Al Unser won the Indy 500 four times, the Andretti’s are favorites, and Saturday the Little Five Hundred sprint car race roars till midnight. The grinding engines and the whistle from the Union Pacific Locomotive haunt the children as the lay awake in bed. They dream before they sleep, and everything seems more probable at night. Growing up never crosses their minds and the feeling of freedom grows with the end of the school year near.

   The world gets smaller as one gets older and eighteen is only a few years away. Most of the children will graduate high school and leave small-town Indiana. The rest will wash their cars on Memorial Day weekend and believe life is as good as it gets.

Written by: Brett Wiley

 

Where the Wildflowers Grow

 

 

   Mrs. Washington’s room had been rearranged with much enthusiasm from the children. All the desks had been moved to the edges of the classroom except one which was poised in the middle propping up a record player. Mr. Templeton, the music teacher, was the architect of this mess. He was a bold but very kind man and expressed emphatically that sixth graders must learn to square dance.  

   “Do we have to dance with boys?” Rosaline asked Mr. Templeton.  

   “Why yes, Rosa, and it will be grand like April in Paris, and you may even fall in love.” Mr. Templeton responded. The children roared at Mr. Templeton’s explanation.  

   “Rosey won’t fall in love, Mr. Templeton, she is a tomboy. She plays with frogs and throws rocks at the raccoons that live in the woods,” said Leah. Leah was sprite, inquisitive, and had been wanting to learn to square dance for sometime.  

   “I will fall in love, Mr. Templeton,” said Nikki, “With a wealthy man, and it will be in Paris!”  

   “Well then, Nikki, we need to make sure you know how to dance”, Mr. Templeton replied. 

   After a short discourse over the the square dance steps, Mr. Templeton started the music and the dancing began. There were five groups of four and two children sat out. Cole and Emma sat in chairs at the edge of the dance floor watching the other children clumsily perform a polka dance.

   “I know a secret, Cole”, Emma said.  

   “I don’t care”, Cole replied balancing his pen on his middle finger.  

   “Someone likes you.” 

   “Who?” asked Cole. Emma was silent, and Cole continued to act disinterested. There was tension between them as the other children whirled around the room-laughing and chatting. Mr. Tempelton smiled clapping his hands with the beat. The moment was eternal as, chorus after chorus, the children danced in a fairytale.

   Then with the refrain, the tempo slowed and some of the young dancers missed their steps. Mr. Templeton stopped the record player and the children let out a sigh of relief. The boys wiped off their sweaty hands while the girls fixed their hair.  

   “O.K., class, you’re beginning to look like regular aristocrats, but practice make perfect,” Mr. Templeton announced.  “Emma and Cole, find a group to join on the next song.”   

   Emma grabbed Cole by the shirt sleeve and guided him to Nikki and Tommy’s group at the far corner of the room. Emma and Cole quickly replaced Nikki and Tommy’s previous partners. Then, Mr. Templeton, positioned the needle on the record and the music began. The song was a polka similiar to the last but with slightly slower tempo. Mr. Templeton tapped his foot to the rhythm, held his head high, and with concerned look wandered if he needed to go back to the chalkboard to review the steps. However, the music continued. Cole faced Emma and then turned and faced Nikki. The children moved with the music. Cole grabbed Nikki’s hand twirling her around as the dance demanded. Nikki had a smile on her face as she danced with Cole.

   “Hello Cole,”  Nikki said. Cole did not respond as he swung Nikki to Tommy and faced Emma again. He grabbed her hand.  

   “So who likes me, Emma?” Cole asked. Cole spun Emma to the music. “Someone in this group”, she replied.  

   Tommy and Cole bumped shoulders as Cole made a wrong move and the dance stopped. Mr. Templeton gave hand motions to continue, and Cole faced Nikki again. 

   “Cole, I want to invite you to my house for dinner ”, Nikki declared confidently. Cole showed no emotion but continued to dance, twirl, and switch partners. Nikki smiled at Cole, and Cole acted shy to divert Nikki’s advances. Emma and Tommy discretely observed to see Cole’s response. Cole remained aloof performing the dance steps with ease, and the smile on Nikki’s face vanished. The group dynamics became akward. 

   Cole looked to Emma. She was beautiful. Her auburn hair flowed gently down her back getting caught in the collar of her green polo shirt. She wore a friendship bracelet on wrist that she made herself. She was an athelitic and smart. She could beat all of the guys in football and still was the envy of every girl. She was amazing. Emma caught Cole’s glance and smiled back. Then the record stopped and the music ended. The fifty minute period was up and the dancing was over  

   “O.K., O.K. children, it’s over, I’ll will not torment you any longer with forced song and dance. Put the desks back where they belong. Music class is finished. I’ll see you next week”, Mr. Templeton proclaimed with satisfaction.

   Some of the children moaned as Mr. Templeton gathered his brief case, and record player. Most of the students preferred Mr. Templeton to their regular teacher, Mrs. Washington, but it was time for Mr. Templeton to go. 

   He said, “Goodbye”, and left the classroom holding the record player in both arms.

* * * *

   Tommy and Cole always took the shortcut home from school. There was a gravel path that made a straight route through the tangled trees to the neighborhood where they lived. No one except Tommy and Cole would take the short cut because of the no trespassing sign at the edge of the woods. However, Tommy and Cole feared nothing, and even though there were rumors of a hobo with a shotgun living there, they walked through the woods regularly.

   That day they walked home on the path as usual. Cole had a somber demeanor while Tommy was quit talkative. The subject of conversation wavered between girls and backyard football. Tommy talked and Cole barely listened-grunting responses to Tommy’s rhetorical questions. They were immersed in different worlds but still were the best of friends. Then a small silence came between them. The birds sang their spring songs and they gravel crunched beneathe the their tenis shoes.

   Suddenly, a voice came from deep in the woods, “Come here pretty girl. You’re a pretty girl, aren’t you?”  

   The two boys froze in their steps. “Did you here that man? Someone’s back here. Lets run.”  Tommy exclaimed.  

   “No, let’s check it out”, Cole said with intrigue. 

   Cole beckoned Tommy with a motion of his arm, and the pair took a side trail off the gravel path. They followed it into a clearing and much to their surprise they found Rosaline. She sat on stump all alone feeding raccoons peanut butter crackers.  

   “She’s coo-coo crazy,” said Tommy to Cole.  

   “I heard you, Tommy Lewis,” Rosaline exclaimed, suddenly coming alive.  “Everybody thinks I am crazy, but I am not. I am just different. I am like you Cole, but you’re different in a way that everybody admires. You can be yourself, and they think your great. When I am myself, they call me coo-coo and say I throw rocks at my friends. No, I am nice to my friends, and I feed you don’t I pretty girl?” Rosaline returned to her raccoons.  

   Cole had a curious look on his face as he examined Rosaline. He tried not to pity her, but he felt a little sad. Then he spoke, “Rosaline, we are going to be grown up one day, and it’s not going to matter how weird we are because we’re all going to feel crazy.” 

   Rosaline did not respond, but kept feeding the racoons peanut butter. Tommy and Cole looked at each other in bewilderment. Then Tommy shrugged his shoulders. The two left Rosey to her friends and got back on the main path.  

   The boys were silent as they walked. The woods soaked into their spirits such that they would never forget their home. It was a perfect afternoon in rural Indiana. Any twelve-year-old would be content to spend the remaining sunlight hours playing two hand touch football. However, Cole was stuck in a mood, and this made Tommy uncomfortable. 

   So, finally Tommy, “Are you all right man?”

   Cole looked up through the trees to a cloudless sky and sighed. Then suddenly blurted out, “Nikki invited me to dinner with her parents.”  

   Tommy with his head down kicked rocks. Then he asked, “Are you going to go?”  

   “No!” Cole said with urgency.  

   “Why not?  She is a nice girl.”  

   “Because I like someone else,” Cole confessed.  

   “Who?”   

   “I can’t say right now, Tommy, not until I talk to her. You will know everything at school tomorrow.”   

   “Well, can I guess who it is?” Tommy asked. Cole did not respond so Tommy continued, “Let me see. Could it be Emma Fitzgerald? Is that who you like Cole?”  Tommy knew Cole had liked Emma for some time. Cole was silent.

   The two walked a short distance and approached the end of the gravel path. With the neighborhood in sight, Cole turned to Tommy and spoke calmly, “Hey listen, Tommy, I’ll see you tomorrow at school. I am just going to hang back here for a while.”  

   “O.K. man, I’ll see you later, but if you want to play ball, everybody’s meeting at my house.”

   “Not today Tommy” In that moment Cole possesed a seriousness that made him seem like a middle schooler already. Tommy witnessed it and knew things were about to change.

   “Ok man, see you tomorrow then”, He said making his way down the street.  

   Cole stood at the edge of the woods alone. His heart was flooded with feelings for Emma. He had never before experienced such strong emmotion. He kicked the rocks on the gravel path, breathed deep, and looked up to the sky. Then he had an idea. There were wildflowers growing at the edge of the woods. They were purple, small, and precious. They reminded him of Emma. So, he bent down and grabbed a fistfull. Then he ripped a page from his notebook and wrote.

 

Dearest Emma

I want to kiss you in the

Forbidden forest 

Where the wildflowers grow

For you are as the wildflowers so…

 

   Cole waited until Emma came to the edge of the neighborhood. The he shouted to her motioning with his hand, “Emma, come here!” Emma came with a smile. 

   She was up beat and greeted Cole, “What’s up?” 

   Cole was nervous which was unusual for him, but he mustered his courage and replied, “I have something for you.” 

   Cole opened his hands and gave her the wildflowers and the note. Emma received the gift with excitement and suprise. She sniffed the wildflowers with an expression of gratitude. Then she read the note and paused in astonishment. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she embraced Cole with passion.  

   “Oh, Cole, I have always liked you since the second grade, and you like me too-how wonderful,” she exclaimed. “I will go into the woods with you, but only with you, and we will kiss-how perfect!” 

   Emma and Cole held each other and talked softly at the edge of the woods. When it came time for them to part Cole leaned in and kissed Emma on the lips. It was the first kiss for both of them. A perfect kiss. God smiled with all of nature, and after one last long hug they went their seperate ways filled with joy. Then the sun set gently on all of the people and the creatures of the woods. The sky was clear, and the stars shone with marvelous light. That night Emma and Cole lay in their own beds dreaming of each other and the future which held their love. A treasure that came and flourished like wildflowers in the forbidden forest.

Written by: Brett Wiley       

   

The Virtuoso

 

photo credit: alexanderward12 CC BY-SA 2.0                           

   The young virtuoso began with Chopin’s first etude as the audience sat in reverence. A ceremony had been initiated, and the pianist communicated sublime genius with appregiated chords. Tens of thousands of hours of practice and tens of thousands of dollars in lessons had yielded flawless technique. It was now demonstrated at the young virtuoso’s debut concert.

   The marquee outside the theatre advertised Chopin’s Opus 25, twelve etudes performed by Andrew Michaels. The event was well attended and among those in the crowd were Andrews friends and family, his peers and mentors, aficionados of every sort, and of course music critics. The young pianist embraced the enormous pressure with supernatural calm, and a mystical transedence was achieved as he performed. Every technical complexity of each etude was demonstrated with ease.  The pianist fearlessly attached chromatics and parallel octaves while dynamic staccato notes enraptured the audience.The critics wrote, “The evening was enchanted with magic.”  

   The slow movement, the 7th etude was performed with absolute delicacy. The pianist’s touch was inspiring, and each key stroke produced perfect clarity of tone. Those in attendance testified to the prophetic gifts of the young virtuoso. The nuances of the music were interpreted with great imagination, and the crowd was on the edge of their seats. One of the critics in attendance had already wrote a raving review and left early. A respected career certainly was in the future of the young pianist, but then the virtuoso reached the eleventh etude. Maybe the most difficult, with its distinctive monstrous right hand passages and marching left hand stride counterpoint.  Every ounce of the painist spirit would be challeged for the 11th etude required more than finger dexterity.

   Andrew looked deep into his soul, and tackled the modulations of the 11th etude with unwavering ambition. In the critical moment, he teetered on brilliance, but doubt crept into his conscious. A wrong note, the rhythm was off, his left hand stubbled, then the unthinkable, the blossoming virtuoso stopped and for an instant there was complete silence. Andrew’s hands where frozen; his body was paralyzed, and a low murmur came from the audience. Then laughter erupted and some of those in attendance rose from there seats and headed towards the door. The lights came on in the concert hall and the mood became sterile. This is a bad dream Andrew thought to himself. He held his hands before his face. They had failed him. Then he looked into the dispersing crowd and saw his humiliated mother starring back at him. This was not a dream. Crushed, Andrew violently through himself from the piano bench. Then rushed backstage, exited through the service door, and disappeared into the cruel night.

   6 months later an article was written in the arts and culture section of the L.A. Times. 

Music:

   Extradionary pianist tonight-the mood of the Malibu Restaurant was that of a Parisian cafe. The little know jazz artist Andrew Michaels consumed those gathered with lucid improvisations. The pianist was reminincent of the great Bill Evans. Every idea was expressed with absolute emmotional connection and the control of a Vientiane virtuoso. We hope to see much more of you in L.A. Andrew!

Written By: Brett Wiley

The Death of a Poet

  

   I had lived 81 years, three months, 20 days, and when the morning sun peaked through the bedroom curtains, I told my wife it is time. Sadness formed on her face, but it came as no surprise. The winter had put a cold in my lungs and chill in my bones. I had lived long enough. It was time.

   My sweet wife threw open the curtains, and I pulled myself up in bed. Two pillows propped up my back as I sat upright.

   “Darling, will you bring my poems?” I said.

   She moved quickly towards the den not saying a word. I took a deep breath and found peace. Then shortly after she returned with the old briefcase, I had bought at the thrift store so many years ago. I opened it and found envelopes labeled by the decade. Inside was my life’s work.

   I poured over the hundreds of poems I had written paying attention to the nuance of each line. I made very few changes. However, I was affirmed by the themes that ran throughout the collection: love, the beauty in nature, immortality of the soul. My wife brought me earl grey tea in the afternoon and warm chicken broth in the evening.

   Then the sun set on my final day, and I shut my eyes for that long sleep. My breathing became slow, my flesh became cold, and a vision came upon me. I walked through the nature preserve with the strength of youth. It was Spring. The woods were green and lush. I followed the gravel path around the rusted water tower and up the gentle hill. The setting sun was perched at the summit of the short climb. I was overpowered by God’s love. I had lived well. My reward was near.

   Then out from the light came a small animal, and as it drew near, I recognized that it was my little poodle that had passed when I was still young. She leapt towards me, and I knelt to pet her.

   “Have you been waiting on me buddy”, I said with tears in my eyes.

   She howled like she did when I used to play the blues on the piano, and I picked her up into my arms and rubbed her belly and ears. Then after a short reunion, together we walked into the light. There we were transformed into perfection for all eternity!

Written by: Brett Wiley

Race to Fairmount

  

    Left of center on a country road, autumn in Indiana had come. The marvelous colors: red, orange, and yellow speckled the farm land at harvest time. A hawk on a telephone wire watched over the straight and narrow road. Cumulus clouds hung on a pure blue sky. The car was a Chevy Camaro Rally Sport with a 350 V8 motor that ran like a band of stallions. The speed limit was 45 mph, and I was doing at least 60. My tires fiercely gripped the pavement. Do you remember what it feels like to be young and alive?

   I raced towards Fairmount, IN. to the annual James Dean Festival and car show. It was all backroads from Anderson to Fairmount. I flew past farms, corn fields, and dilapidated barns. James Dean knew these roads. He raced his motorcycle past these same farms. The only difference was then the barns were new. I drove like I was running a race, and found myself lost in the tranquility of sunshine and speed. I fell into a opiate like daydream. However, my only intoxicant was youth. As I approached 70mph, I looked in the rearview mirror at the dust and gravel that flew from the back of my car, and though, I was distracted for only a moment, I did not notice an oncoming truck. It had turned discretely from a side road and now straddled the center line. The Chevy raced faster and faster. A head-on collision was eminent. Then déjà vu, I had lived this before. This time would fate be on my side? At the last moment, I saw the oncoming truck and maneuvered the Chevy off the road. 

   “Stupid drunk.” I uttered under me breath.  

   A solemn moment passed. Then I gathered myself, and got my car back on course to Fairmount. The Chevy hit 70 mph again. I remembered Dean and that fatal crash in 1955. The immortal ones always die young, I thought. The speedometer hit 75, then 80, and the car hugged the cracked and crumbling asphalt. Filled with adrenaline I shouted.

    “I am going to live forever!” 

Written by: Brett Wiley

A Cheap Pair of Shoes

 

 

   When I was a kid the first versions of Nike Air tennis shoes were released. It was paradigm shifting. Actual pockets of air were in the sole of the shoes. Man, they were they slick, and everybody wanted a pair.

   Of course, I did not expect to get Nike Air when my dad took me shoe shopping. However, when we reached the sporting goods store, I found a pair of high tops that had air pockets like the Nike’s. Much to my surprise, my dad agreed that I could get them. I was the happiest kid on the block.

   I couldn’t wait to get home. We pulled the car into the garage, I burst out with shoes in hand, and ran into the house.

   “Brother, Brother. Look at my new shoes”, I said, “They have air pockets just like the Nike’s!” My older brother approached skeptically and took a shoe from the box.

   “You idiot”, he said, “these aren’t air bubbles. It’s just plastic. Those are just cheap L.A. Gear’s. Stupid!”

   My heart was broken, but only for the moment. Once I put on my high-top tennis shoes, it didn’t matter they weren’t Nike’s. My dad had bought them for me, and I loved them.

   The following summer, I went on a father son Y.M.C.A. trip to Colorado. I wore my L.A. Gear tennis shoes and was filled with the spirit of adventure. Take in mind, I was only nine years old, very much a fragile child. However, I did not hesitate to sign up for the climb to the Keyhole on Long’s Peak. It was 10 mile hike up an incredible elevation. It was not a novice ascent, but I welcomed the challenge.

   We started the climb just after daybreak. We had a group of six. Four of which were grown men. The other kid, Jacob, was older, a teenager.

   We were delighted as we hiked through the evergreens. However, as we passed above the tree line the sun became a menace, and we stopped to apply sunscreen. Resting for only a moment, we then continued to zig-zag up the mountain, ground hogs kept us company.

   By the time we reached the bolder field, I was quit weary. I did not know if I could make it. However, I could see our destination in the distance and pushed forward. I leaped from boulder to boulder. My mother would not have been pleased if she knew what I was doing. After I passed the boulder field, we came to a 200-foot vertical cliff.

   I was nervous to make the climb but did not hesitate. The Keyhole was just above the cliff. I reached high pulling myself on to each ledge, and before I knew it, I was on top of the world. I looked down of the opposite side of the mountain. The cliff face dropped thousands of feet into a valley. I had made it.

   We lingered for a short time. Then began our decent. We climbed down the ledges and crossed back over the boulder field. I was out front setting the pace. The group followed-quiet and tired. As we hiked, the glory of nature permeated our spirits, but we kept hearing a squishing sound.

   “What is that?” one of the dad’s asked. Jacob, who was having trouble keeping up, spoke with embarrassment.

   “My shoes. The air bubbles popped.” The men laughed, and I couldn’t help smiling.

   I had never been so tired in my life, but I made it to the bottom and back to camp. As I sat in the lodge that night, I pried my shoes from my feet. My ankles were swollen, and my arches ached. I looked at the soles. The tread was completely worn off, but they had held up. They had brought me to the mountain top and safely back home. They were the best shoes I ever owned!

Written by: Brett Wiley

The Mystic Road

   It was an ideal summer Sunday. Cumulus clouds climbed into a baby blue sky.  And as my wife slept the afternoon away, I drove lost country roads-north to south, east to west-through the Indiana corn. That old jam played on the radio, “Crazy, I’m  thinking, just knowing how the world is round. And here I am dancing on the ground.” I was insignificant yet infinite; no one could find me if they tried. And like a beggar eating his supper meal, the last morsel of freedom in this sick old world was found in my Chevy coupe: on a deserted road, beneath the sweltering sun, amidst the sprawling farmland and dilapidated barns. I was alive but once, free, knowing that I would die . And as I drove, that old song echoed through me, “Am I right side up or upside down. And is this real or I’m dreaming.”

   “Ding, Ding, Ding,” my cars computer interrupted my lucid mind state. I slowed down and looked at the display console. “Oh, Crap,” I said aloud. The car was overheating. I pulled to the side of the road, stopped, got out, and popped the hood. I looked at the engine and noticed steam escaping the coolant container. I took off my t-shirt, wrapped it around my hand, and unscrewed the container lid-steam hissed as scalding droplets of water exploded out. When I looked in the container, I found what I expected-bone dry. I assessed the situation. I had no water to add as coolant or to drink. I had no phone. There were no houses around. There was no one to ask for help, and the nearest sub-division was approximately five miles southward. So, I did the only thing I could do. I started walking.

   I soon found a rhythm-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step. So, I  let my thoughts wander as I fell into a trance. The sun is terribly hot and the humidity makes it worse-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step. Suffering is always rewarded with inspiration-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step. My wife must wonder where I am-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step. Maybe someone will pass by and pick me up-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step. I stopped and looked back. My car in the distance seemed lonely and safe. I wanted to return to it, but I had already come so far and the Spirit was kind. I turned around and continued to walk. No one knows where I am-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step. I wish I had something to drink-inhale, step, step, step, exhale, step.

   The mind is a nautilus shell. A Fibonacci spiral circling down to infinity, circling down to the center of our being. And at the limit where life ceases to be material resides the universe-within our minds, bound in space, not in time. We are in the universe and the universe is within us. All the secrets of mathematics and science are within us. They will come forth and we will know everything. We have always known everything. All the mysteries of the universe are ours. The keys to life are hidden in the memory of our ancestors, and the doors to the unseen have already been unlocked. Oh, the depths of the riches of the neglected parts of ours souls… Mystic forces guided me safely home, and that night I lay on the couch trying to remember my entire life. My wife sat by my side reading. I was weak and slightly nausous, but I clung to the waking world. “Jenny,” I said. “The greatest gift God ever gave me was you.”

Written by: Brett Wiley