The end game 16: Unstuck in time again

Writers. Whaddaya gonna do?

On the occasional languid days when the heat overcomes my desire to do or even think something useful, I wonder if I should do a “Collected Works of Bob.” This is simply omphaloskepsis. I have written a lot in my life, but much of it is wasted ink, or lately, pixels. Still, I’m a writer, despite the lack of proof herewith. The pap I wrote as a sportswriter back in the late 60s and early 70s was more or less how sports was written back in the day.

Here are some writing blasts from the past, presented without ego:

[pullquote]Worst case scenario was that I would die from anaphylactic shock, were I allergic to the venom.[/pullquote]”Under a typical winter sky in Florida — an upside down bowl of cerulean sky sprinkled with puffs of white cumulus — I crouched to get my face close to the ground. The vacant lot near Tallahassee remained summertime green, covered with crabgrass, dollar weed and other opportunistic flora I couldn’t begin to name. The lot was generously pimpled with six-inch high mounds of brown soil. It was warm.

Beneath me, inches from my nose, a roiling mass of angry, reddish ants jittered and tumbled over one another. They rushed around what was left of their mound, which had just been shoveled open by my companion to give me a whiff of the ants’ peculiar odor. Some of the frenzied ants were gathering their rice-kernel larva to haul deeper into the safe earth and others certainly were trying to locate and attack the intruder. If they could find a way to reach me, the whole bunch would have happily grabbed onto me with their mandibles and twisted their rears around to sting me repeatedly, their scented attack pheromone communicating that idea to every ant. I could see hundreds of them.

Worst case scenario was that I would die from anaphylactic shock, were I allergic to the venom. Best case was that each sting would burn like fire. A lot of them stinging me at once would be an inferno of pain. These highly agitated and quick arthropods – including the handful now working their way up my camera strap that I hadn’t noticed touching the ground — were indeed fire ants, the bane of being outdoors in the South. I didn’t know it, but I was about to find out how aptly named they are.

I inhaled deeply. The odor was weak to my mostly dysfunctional nose, but it was a waxy, oily kind of smell, something you wouldn’t expect to get from the dry, sandy soil of Florida’s Panhandle. “Well?” Walter Tschinkel asked as I stood up. One of the country’s foremost experts on the fire ant, Tschinkel was grinning from ear to ear in anticipation, like someone who had just shared a prized personal treasure with a new friend. “Do you smell it?”

I couldn’t answer because I suddenly began the initial steps of the Famous Fire Ant Dance, a popular jig in the Southeast, Texas, and most recently, California and New Mexico. The ants on the camera strap had found me. My own version of this special dance consisted of rapidly hopping from one foot to the other while trying desperately to keep both feet off the ground at the same time. My flailing arms brushed both the seen and unseen from all reachable body parts. Tschinkel just stood with shovel in hand, chuckling. He had witnessed this dance before.” (From a freelance story I wrote in 2005. Accepted for publication, though never published by OnEarth.)

I’ve always believed in free enterprise, the system under which businesses are pretty much left free to make (or lose) as much money as their efforts and talents allow. Lately I have gained an even greater appreciation of this system, since we seem to be prospering by working only half-time. That’s pretty impressive when you think about it.

Or have you not had telephone conversations that run something like this:
“Billing. Miss Charnley speaking.”
“I have a question about my phone bill.”
“Are you a 733 number?”
“Yes.”
“Well I only answer questions about 732 numbers.”
“Can the 733 person help me?”
“She’s out to lunch.”
“At 11 o’clock?”
“She had to go early because she’ll be in a meeting all afternoon.”
“Can I call back tomorrow?”
“She’ll be out of town until the middle of next week.”
“Can anyone else help me?”
“I’m sorry, but she is the only one authorized to discuss 733 billings.”

I must go through at least one such episode a week. The list of excuses in incredible in length and ingenuity. Maybe it used to be true, as Calvin Coolidge said, that the business of America was business. I say the business of modern American business is on “hold” — when it is not out to lunch.” (L.A. Times op-ed page [w/ James J. Kilpatrick, Henry Kissenger, and Philip Geyelin], 7/31/80)

To a dead bird

Rows of walnut trees, sap withdrawn.
Bare branches search the fog for sky,
forgetful of leaves
tossed by the laughing wind.

Blue feathers, brilliant against
the dank of sodden brown leaves,
forgetful of flight
free in the laughing wind.

Persephone is gone now.
She goes to Dis: slowly, slowly,
forgetful of your death,
lost beneath the weeping wind.

See? That’s why there will never be a Collected Works of Bob….

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