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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005 04:48 am

The longest dream

Over the years I edge up and down and sideways. Lose some. And win some.

Summer 1959. I’ll refine my first-baseman skills here at the semipro level, forget college, and go straight to the major leagues. The old, grizzled, arthritic pitcher throws some chin music. I jump cat-quick out of the way, trip, and fall on my back, arms and legs kickin’ like an upside-down dung beetle. The ball breaks over the plate for a strike. Laughter rings universal. I decide to be a professional basketball player.
Fall 1959. Chicago’s Loyola University will pay for my education if I play basketball for ’em. I’ll hone my skills here for a while, quit school, and turn professional. First practice. Jerry Harkness (who in 1963 will lead Loyola to the national championship) dribbles between “my” legs, fakes right, goes left, jumps, floats in midair for an hour, and slams home a dunk. I lay where I tripped — doing the beetle dance again. Laughter bellows universal. I decide to be a standup comedian. Spring 1960. Comedian! Show biz! A can’t-miss. I’m a funny guy — the one who always ends up holding court at fraternity parties, where I regale drunken sophomores with my celebrated body-part-noise jokes. The Second City Comedy Club is just starting out in Chicago. I’ll knock ’em dead on amateur night, be discovered, leave school — make a fortune. I open with a verbal joke. Nothing! Maybe some slapstick? I try my beetle impression. Nothing! A strong finish — a litany of my famous body-part-noise jokes. Nothing, followed by thunderous boos. Obviously my stuff is too sophisticated for this non-college crowd. I decide to be a businessman — because business is the second major alphabetically on the list of majors and I have no interest in anthropology. Summer 1960. I work the summer in a factory. A poster on the factory wall tells me there’s a fight club across town where I can make $25 on Friday nights just by poundin’ someone senseless. I’m the toughest man alive, not quite sure how it happened — but it’s so. I’ll hone my skills at the club level, then turn big-time professional. I win the first fight; another college boy and I trade windmill punches for three rounds, with no harm done. Second fight. No college boy here. I’ve seen cauliflower ears before — this guy has a cauliflower head. No matter — I’ll kick his cauliflower ass! I windmill this palooka though round one, and he never lays a glove on me. Round two, the world’s toughest man drops his left. I wake up on my back, doing that damn beetle thing again. My face looks like diseased-trout pâté, and I’m missing three front teeth. There goes the movie-star career I was holding in reserve. I decide to be a businessman (again) . . . a short-run deal only, just until I can accumulate Big Money, take time off, and hone my sports and show-business skills. After college. Computers are new to the workplace. Might be Big Money in “computers.” I pass a test. I’m a programmer — a terrible programmer; must be a flaw in the test. Nonetheless, I survive. Over the years I edge up and down and sideways. Lose some. Win some. I head a small software company for a while. I’m a “consultant” for a year because “unemployed bum” doesn’t read well on a résumé. I work for a company about to fail. They offer stock options instead of salary. I take the options. IBM eventually buys the joint for inflated money — a big win, but not quite enough money for me to quit work and hone skills in the genres where I belong. Eventually technology and I strike a compromise: I’ll write no more articles titled “The Computer Lie” for magazines, and computer technology will evolve itself so that even I can understand some of it. A fine compromise, but just so it’s understood, I’m outta here as soon as I can escape to the entertainment world. Spring 2005. Someone stole my time. I’m old, grizzled, and arthritic. I retire. “Old?” “Grizzled?” “Arthritic?” Just like the pitcher who delivered my chin music in 1959! That’s it! I was never meant to play first base: I’m pitcher material.
I’ll hone my pitching skills in semipro in the spring and be in the major leagues by next summer.
I’ll look for my old glove, after my nap. Or maybe go to the gym and work on my hook shot, or punch the heavy bag for awhile. Or maybe skip the gym and hone my beetle dance for the grandkids — the littlest one, especially, loves that one. And when I take my three front choppers out and do the palooka impersonation — man, that’s one funny bit. My wife looks up from her book, smiles, and returns to her reading. Life is perfect, just as I dreamed it would be — in ’59, in the summer.
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