History – A Free Short Story by Kathy Kexel

The first week of the the comes to a close. Joseph Courtemanche shared his funny story, That’s the Name of the Game (read it) on Tuesday. Jamie Greening explored the beginnings of the crisis with his story, Patient Zero (read it). I shared my first offering, Bark, yesterday (read it).

Today, we have our last short story for the week. It’s from a late addition to the group, Kathy Kexel. Check out her story, History, here.

We look forward to seeing you next week!

Bark – A Free Story

Dog questioning my existence

We’re close to the end of the first week of our COVID-19 inspired free flash fiction giveaway. Tuesday, it was my good friend, Joe Courtemanche, with his story “That’s the Name of the Game.” Yesterday, another good friend, Jamie Greening, lit up the day with his short story, “Patient Zero.”

We have added a fourth to our mix, another writer who is as down with the sickness as the rest of us. Kathy Kexel will share one of her stories tomorrow, and next week we’ll start all over again.

I originally planned to share a short story I wrote almost twenty years ago but then, after having spent most of the last two weeks at home with everyone, I had another idea. So, today, I bring you.

BARK – By Joseph E Shaw

That dog. That damn DOG is barking again. Can you hear it?

I get it. I know. We’re all on lock down. We’re all on quarantine. We’re trapped in our houses with nothing to do but bounce off the walls and each other. We need to be patient, respectful, civilized – with ourselves and our neighbors – if we’re going to get through.

I get it. I do. But that dog. That DOG!

Here, friend. Step into my house. Let’s get away from the noise. I can hardly hear you with all the barking.

I’m a patient man. I can withstand all manner of offenses. I have five kids, remember? Five, rambunctious kids with boundless energy and a penchant for destruction. My whole world consists of regular offenses that would horrify a normal man. I’m used to it.

But that dog. That DOG! It just won’t STOP. Can’t you hear it? You HAVE to hear it. Doesn’t it drive you insane?

What? No, he’s always been that way. Ever since the Hopkins family and their raucous teenagers moved out last Fall. Sharon and I were glad to see them go, and were just as excited to see a quiet, older couple move in next door.

The Hansens moving in seemed like a dream. No more wild, late night parties in the backyard pool. No cars parked on the lawn. No garbage music blaring at full volume all hours of the night. Just peaceful, quiet, suburban life. As God intended.

But then: the dog. The DOG. Captain Sparkles, they called it. Have you ever heard such a stupid name? Right out the gate, he barked nonstop. I could hardly hear our new neighbors speak because of it.

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” they said. “He’ll adjust in a few days. Then he’ll calm down.”

They put it in the back yard that first night and it barked and barked and barked till the sun came up.

Bark Bark Bark. Bark Bark Bark.

A week passed. Two weeks. A month. The dog still barked. All night, all day, all the time. I hardly was able to sleep. The cruel thing was it would occasionally stop just long enough for me to start to fall asleep. Then, it would start again, and I’d be up for the day.

That stupid mutt. It never shut up. Never.

What? Yes, of course, I tried talking to The Hansens. I am a patient man, I told you. Respectful and civilized. Neighborly, even. I went next door. I begged. I PLEADED. They told me they kept it in a kennel in the basement at night, so there was no way I could hear him.

How could they not hear it? How could they not KNOW? HOW?

Sharon said she didn’t notice the barking, either. She said I was making it all up. And the kids! They actually played with the stupid mutt. The Hansens, my wife, my kids. They all seemed to like each other, and they absolutely LOVED that horrible dog.

So I made up my mind to let it go. I’m a patient man, after all. Respectful. I set my mind to ignore, to endure. That is what you do when you live with idiots. You endure. You act respectably. Civilized. It’s the only way. The RIGHT way.

Speaking of being respectful, where are my manners? Would you like a glass of water? Perhaps a cookie?

Here. Let me take your coat. It’s been so long since we’ve seen people. This quarantine has really made it hard to stay Don’t worry. I will keep a safe, social distance. I promise!

Where was I? Oh, yes: the mutt.

They told us to work from home once the virus started spreading, so I set up my desk in the back room where the kids screaming and my wife nagging could not bother me.

It’s right down that hallway, there. To the left. Come, have a look!

The only problem is the back room is close to the Hansen’s side of the house and, rather than keeping their stupid dog inside like other, more respectable people, those morons left him out all day.

It barked all day long. Without ceasing. A car passes? Bark Bark Bark. The mailman delivers a package? Bark. Bark. Bark. The wind blows a little stronger than usual or a far off car screeches is brakes? Bark Bark Bark. Barkm Bark Bark.

That dog. That DAMN STUPID DOG.

It drove me mad. I had to constantly apologize for it in work meetings and phone calls. My boss said he couldn’t hear anything, but he was just being polite. Just being respectful and civilized. But I knew the truth. Oh, yes, I KNEW. They all heard it. ALL OF THEM. They heard it and they were plotting against me because of it.

Look, I was fine enduring when it was just me. I could be respectful when that stupid hound only got on MY nerves. But this was my job, my livelihood! The lifeblood for my family. The economy was collapsing around us because of the quarantine and the Corona virus. Our lives were on the line! I couldn’t risk my job, let my family go hungry because of their stupid dog and its infernal, incessant barking!

So I made a decision. To be even more respectful. Even more civilized. I was never nicer – to either the Hansens or my own family – the entire day before I killed the stupid mutt.

I was patient – so very, very patient – waiting for the exact right moment to set my plans in motion. Having made up one’s mind to take action against such injustices relieves you of associated pressures. I had never felt so free. So powerful! So ready.

On the right day, when they least expected it, I struck. I sent Sharon to the local Publix grocery store to pick up some steaks and a few other side dishes. The children went with her. The lines were long. They would be gone quite a while. This gave me time to do the deed.

“I have a big project to finish,” I told her when she protested. “When I’m done, we’ll have a nice dinner, maybe invite the Hansens over. I’ll do all the cleanup.”

“Fine,” she said, and stormed out.

It was time. To avoid suspicion, I walked next door, full of joy and good humor. I rang the doorbell and, with a wide smile and ebullient gesticulations, invited the Hansens over for dinner.

“Uh … No, thank you,” Mr Hansen said. “We’re social distancing. Remember?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, friend. We can keep a safe distance from each other and still enjoy a neighborly meal together. A respectful meal. A CIVILIZED meal. What do you say?”

“No. We like your wife and your kids. You’re a jerk.”

They shut the door. Disrespectful to the core, that family.

“No matter,” I told myself. It was all a ruse anyway. I returned to my house as jauntily as I had come, and snuck into the back yard with a shovel. The Hansen’s mutt greeted me from across the fence with his usual, maniacal outbursts.

Bark Bark Bark. Bark Bark Bark.

The wood planks in the fence separating our yard from theirs had loosened near the back. Come! See! Right back there in the corner. Don’t mind the mess here in the family room. I will ask the kids to clean these later. Those last two panels. See them? Yes!

Sharon has been nagging me to fix these panels for years. Thank God for my tendency toward procrastination, for it gave me an opportunity to silence the creature.

I removed the nails at the top and bottom of the two most remote panels, swung them open, and whistled. “Here boy! Come here!” The mutt happily obliged.

Bark Bark Bark. Bark Bark Bark.

The moment it was in our yard, I released the open panels, gently replacing them so as not to startle the dog or draw the attention of the Hansens. It was trapped. With my family gone and my neighbors safely ensconced in their home, I had all the time in the world. I could not be caught!

The dog, unaware of his impending fate, stood at my feet, head cocked sideways, as if questioning my existence. I stared back a moment, then raised the shovel high above my head and twisted my shoulders so as to gain momentum. The dog moved, suddenly realizing my intentions and tried to bark out a warning. I swung with all the force I could muster, striking the mongrel on the side of its head, caving it in. He fell to the ground, his head caved in at the side.

The dog fell silent. The barking stopped. Silence. Peace. As God intended.

I suddenly grew afraid. What if The Hansens had seen? What if my family came home earlier than expected and saw me? All would be lost!

I had to work fast. I used the shovel to dig a hole near the garden in the back, wrapped the dog’s body in plastic, and buried it next to the brick wall separating our yard from the street behind, not far from the wood planks that so recently spelled its doom.

Then, careful as I could and, under the pretense of watering the garden, washed away the blood on the grass and the instrument of death. I even nailed the two loose panels into place. Sharon would have no more reason to nag. I was so careful, so meticulous in my execution. You would have marveled to see! I am, after all a responsible and respectful citizen. We need more civilized people like me in these dark times. People who take care of the world’s problems when no one else will.

Sharon and the kids returned a few minutes later, and were surprised to find me in such high spirits.

“The Hansens will not be joining us,” I told them.

“Great,” Sharon said, tossing the food on the counter. “So I went to the store and bought all those steaks for no reason.” Some people just can’t be happy, no matter the circumstance.

We grilled the steaks anyway and were halfway through a family game of after-dinner Monopoly when the doorbell rang. It was the Hansens. They were worried.

“Have you seen Captain Sparkles?” they asked. “He seems to have got out of the yard. We’re so scared. We hope he’s okay.”

“Oh, no!” I said. “He’s not here, but we’ll let you know if we see him. I’m so so sorry.”

If only they knew the truth. They would be shocked at my cunning, my intelligence. They would marvel at how calmly I remained respectful and civilize even as they came begging to me for help after having called me such a vile name earlier.

They city announced a shelter-in-place quarantine, lasting indefinitely. Sharon and I went to bed early that night. I was full of lightness and joy. The dog was gone! The barking had stopped! The weight had been lifted! I would sleep a long and well-deserved sleep for the first time in months.

Bark Bark Bark. Bark Bark Bark.

The infernal sound of that cursed dog woke me in the middle of the night once again. Was this a dream? Was I imagining it? Or had the dog crawled out of its grave and returned to its master’s yard to torture me further?

Bark Bark Bark. Bark Bark Bark.

You know the truth as well as I do, friend. The Hansens were at fault. They did it to taunt me! They had given me a decoy when I first approached them about dinner. They knew my plans even before I did and were attempting to mock me. Did they think me stupid? Did they think me insane?

I would not fall for it, friend! They would pay the price for their lack of civility! For testing my patience! The world needs more people like ME; not the Hansens with their happy life and monster of a dog. In these sad days, where thousands are dying from unknown sicknesses, where businesses are shutting down, where people are losing their jobs and lives are being ruined, the world needs people who know how to handle problems, who can take care of disrespectful, moronic people who seek to ruin the lives of those around them and bring their communities, their entire WORLD down.

I grabbed my shovel, snuck out of the house, and headed next door.

The moment I was outside, the barking resumed; only now it was louder than before. MUCH MUCH louder. It beat into my head like a drum, pulsing against my eardrums, embedding itself in my brain. Can you imagine it! Can you FEEL it! OH, it was TORTURE. But I persisted. I am a patient man, a respectful man, a CIVILIZED man. There was word to do and, by God, I would do it!

Why do you back away, friend? You are safe here. You have no worries! I have taken care of the dog. It cannot hurt you. Please, take a seat on my back porch. Let us continue our conversation.

The Hansens left their front door unlocked, so I entered through the foyer, much like you entered in through my foyer a few moments ago, and made my way upstairs.

THE BARKING!

It was louder still! It emanated from the walls. The universe shouted at me in the voice of Captain Sparkles, willing me onward to silence the voices that had caused this mess we are all now caught in. I ran to the Hansen’s bedroom.

They were asleep, both of them. But the dog. The DOG. The Infernal hound sat between them at the head, barking its maddening bark, head cocked sideways, questioning my existence, my soul, everything. I HAD to silence it. I raised my shovel, twisted my shoulders to gain extra momentum, and brought it down again and again and again and again.

The barking stopped. The dog, along with its masters, had been silenced. The world was at peace. I breathed a sigh of relief.

It took me several hours to move the corpses of Mr. and Mrs. Hansen to our back yard garden. I worked tirelessly, silently through the darkness, digging another hole next the one I had dug earlier that day.

Right out there by the brick wall. Do you see it? Do you see the elevated earth in the corner? Right there. By God, isn’t it beautiful? So elegant. You would never know I had buried the bodies there if I hadn’t told you. It took me a long time to do, but I got it done. I am a patient man. A civilized man. A respectful man.

Am I not? Tell me, friend. I wish to know!

Sharon and the kids were dismayed to learn that, not only had The Hansens not found Captain Sparkles, they had decided to leave our little community to visit their children in North Carolina. Or so I told them. Sometimes, lying to your family is the only way to keep things civilized.

They pestered me all day long to organize a search parties for the mutt. I ranted and raved. I screamed and gesticulated wildly. I lectured them about the quarantine, how we could not leave even if wanted to, how the Hansens were morons to leave the state and DESERVED whatever they got, whatever the universe had given them, whatever tragedy might have befallen their stupid, flea-ridden mutt of theirs.

The kids hid from my outburst. Sharon grew wary of me, would not stay in a room with me by herself. It’s possible my uncharacteristic screaming had frightened them, especially in juxtaposition with the previous night’s joviality. But I knew the truth. Of course I knew.

I am no moron. I am no fool.

The answer was obvious. They had seen me burying the Hansens in our back garden the previous night. They had been in league with the Hansens all along! They were part of an international conspiracy to spread this cursed virus even further. They had killed thousands and would likely kill millions more if they were not stopped, and I would be the one to stop them.

It was the only way to protect our society. To keep us respectful and civilized. You know this is true, friend. You know.

That evening, as my family slept, the barking started again. Louder than before. So very much louder. I visited them, one by one, with my shovel, and buried their corpses in the back garden next to all the rest. It pained me to do it, but I HAD to do it. Lives were at stake. The fate of humanity hung in the balance. The dog. THAT DAMNED DOG taught me as much. It’s barking is an impetus for societal cleansing, for rebirth. It is a path to the future! The only path to the future! Once this quarantine is over, we will take our crusade to the ends of the Earth!

Why are you afraid, friend? Why do you tremble? Worry not. The dog has started barking again! Can you hear it! Can you feel it! Civilization is soon to return. A respectful, peaceful social order will one day be ours yet again because the work I have done. Because of the work I now do.

And you get to be a part of that. Rejoice! The dog is barking! Can you not see! He has chosen YOU to make the sacrifice! He has chosen YOU to bring forth a new world order.

Rejoice friend. I have my shovel at the ready. There is no one to hear you scream. There is nowhere to run. You will soon join the rest. Close your eyes! Accept the gift that has been given you.

Stop screaming. Close your eyes and rejoice as I raise the shovel high above my head and swing!

Bark Bark Bark. Bark Bark Bark.

Patient Zero by Jamie Greening

Hey there folks. How’s your COVID Quarantine going? Well, I hope. And, if not well, here’s hoping you at least haven’t had to go shopping for two week’s worth of liquor for the third time this week like I have.

Yesterday, we brought you a fresh, new, ABBA-inspired story of Coronapocalypse -fueled mental desperation from the man, the myth, the mentally desperate legend: Joseph Courtemanche. Did you like it? Let me know in the comments.

Taking a cue from “the Sound of Music” by going all the way back to the beginning (a very good place to start), today we delve into the possibilities of how this whole thing started with a brand new piece of flash fiction from the warped mind of Jamie D. Greening. Hot off the presses. Check out “Patient Zero”

I’ll be back tomorrow with yet another short story from YoursTruly to salve the soul and frighten the senses.

That’s the Name of the Game by Joseph Courtemanche

CoronaPalooza

Laddies and Gentlepersons!

You may remember how I mentioned, previously, that a few good writers (and also: Me) planned to share some free content over the next weeks of CovidPalooza.

Well, Here we go again.

If you’ve got no place to go. If you’re feeling down. If you’d like to take a chance on us, here’s the first of those stories from Mr Joe Courtemanche (whose titles in publication will be listed in the comments). A little ditty about sickness in mind, body, and spirit in these trying times.

It’s called “That’s The Name of the Game.”

Give it a whirl and, if you change your mind on Joe’s stuff, Padre Jamie Greening will be here either later in the week with a new story, and Yours Truly will scrape the bottom of the barrel on Friday.

Peanut Butter Sandwiches

“Life is hard, my Grandma would tell me. “Eventually someone will hurt you. When that happens, you get to decide: fight back, or forgive. It’s up to you. What will you do?

As a kid, I played baseball in the field behind my Grandma’s house. We played every day, all day, and each day for lunch, my Grandma made us her world-famous peanut butter sandwiches. These were beautiful: a single piece of toast with a thin layer of peanut butter spread on top. That’s simple enough, but what made them special was she wrote your name into the peanut butter so you knew THIS one was yours.

One day, we went down to our field, but no one could find a ball. “No problem, I said. “My Grandma has one. I’ve seen it. She keeps it in a plastic case on her bookshelf.

I snuck into the house, removed the ball from its case without making a sound, and went back down to the field to play. A few hours later, Grandma came out, asking to see the ball.

What I didn’t know was this ball was a gift from my Grandpa. He’d got it signed by Ted Kluszewski, Grandma’s favorite Red, when he was on a business trip some years ago. As the story goes, Grandpa carried that ball with him everywhere that trip. He was so excited to give it to her.

Only he never got the chance. Grandpa had a heart attack and died in hotel room. They found the ball in his suitcase, his last gift to her. Now, because of me, it was covered in dirt and scuff marks. The signature was gone. When I handed it to my Grandma, she started to cry.

“Life is hard, I thought. “Eventually someone will hurt you. I heard that speech hundreds of times growing up, but I never thought I would hurt Her.

The next day was rough. I struck out six times before lunch break and, when everyone went up for their sandwiches, I hung back, sitting on a swing set nearby. I was too ashamed to go in. Grandma came out later and sat next to me.

“I’m sorry, Grandma, I said.

“I know, she said. “I have something for you. She gave me a plate with two peanut butter sandwiches on it. The first one said my name. The second: I forgive you. I took that sandwich like communion and smiled. Grandma smiled, too, and just like that, everything was alright. All the guilt I felt, all the pain I caused melted away with those three beautiful words: I forgive you. It felt like freedom.

Later that day, we put the ball back in its case, scuff marks and all. You could still see hints of the signature if you looked close enough. We knew it was there, hiding somewhere underneath the dirt, and that made all the difference.

Baseball and forgiveness are sticky, like a peanut butter sandwich. They stick with you. This story has stuck with me most of my life. We’d mention it every now and again at Family dinners, holidays, or when watching a Reds game on television and someone with big arms and cropped sleeves came to the plate. Grandma would pull the ball out at the start of each season to remind that, while baseball is fun, there are sometimes things that matter more.

This lesson came back to me a few years ago. Grandma was out for a drive one day, when someone ran a stoplight at twice the speed limit and broadsided her. The paramedics worked frantically to save her, but she died on the way to the hospital. The other driver, a college kid named Emily, walked away from the accident without a scratch.

We all struggled with this; my mom in particular. For weeks, she couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, had even taken to stalking this kid Emily on the Internet. “She’s on Facebook! she’d say. “She’s on Twitter, she’d say. “Have you seen these pictures? Have you seen her smile?! WHY DOES SHE GET TO BE HAPPY?

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Is it?

A few months later, the local high school had a traffic safety seminar and Emily was listed as one of the speakers. You better believe we went. Mom was oddly quiet about it, but the rest of us? We wanted to see this Monster face to face. But I think something changed, for all of us, when Emily got up to speak.

The worst part, she said, “wasn’t losing my license or the nightmares, or even the physical pain that comes with having been in an accident. No. The worst part was knowing I had taken someone’s friend, someone’s mother, someone’s Grandma.

A little kid raised his hand. “What would you say if you could talk to her today?

“I’d tell her I’m sorry, Emily said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

What we saw, in that moment, was Emily wasn’t this Monster we’d made her out to be. She was a scared kid, sitting alone on her own swing set, just like me when I was a kid. Only now, there was no one to come out, sit next to her, and make it all better.

Afterward, my Mom introduced herself. “The woman you killed was my mother.

Emily lowered her head in shame, but my Mom didn’t stop there. “I heard what you said, and if SHE were here, she’d want you to have this. Mom reached into her purse, and pulled out a little baggie with two peanut butter sandwiches in it. On the first one, she wrote the name Emily. On the second: I forgive you.

Emily took that sandwich like communion and smiled. Mom smiled, too, and just like that, everything was alright. They couldn’t bring my Grandma back, but both women could finally move on. That’s what forgiveness does. It lets you move on. It makes you free.

You can’t lead a life of peace unless you’re willing to forgive, and that’s what my Grandma taught us. That’s what she left us: a beautiful legacy of forgiveness for me, my Mother, my friends on the baseball field, even Emily. I keep the dirty baseball with Ted Kluszewski’s ghost signature on a shelf in my office as a reminder of that legacy.

And, now, all of those who’ve shared in that legacy would like to pass it on to you. Life is hard, eventually someone will hurt You. When that happens, you get to choose. Will you fight back? Or will you share the beauty and the freedom of baseball, forgiveness, and peanut butter sandwiches?

Little Moments – A Toastmasters Speech Contest Speech

Hey everyone.

Here’s my Toastmasters Speech Contest Speech from this year. Some of you have probably already seen a version of this one. If that’s the case: oh well. I did this one two years ago and lost in Round 3, but I always felt like there was MORE to it than what I was doing. So I tried it again this year and I feel like I got close enough to what I felt the speech was supposed to be that I can put this one to bed.

I didn’t win this year. I didn’t even place. I kinda felt that was going to be the case, because the message is kinda Hallmark-y, and a lot of the staging is a bit over the top. I can also see LOTS of ways to improve on future speeches, and that’s what I hope for when I go into a contest: to get better.

Fun notes:
1) I planned to do the speech in present tense but, when I started, accidentally slipped into past tense, so I had to edit present vs past on the fly as I was going. That keeps you on your toes.

2) I lost my place there for a moment right before I go over to yell at Eliott. Nothing stops your heart like being on stage in front of a few hundred accomplished speakers, with your brain going: “Holy ****. I can’t remember what the hell I’m supposed to say next.”

3) I need to lose weight. GOOD LORD.

I may or may not take a year off in 2020. I still haven’t decided. At any rate, making it to District three times in four years ain’t too shabby, especially since I won District once and placed third in the semis. It would have been nice to go all the way this year, but, as I am fond of saying about some of my favorite sports teams: He who loses and walks away can lose again another day.

There’s always next year!

Misplaced Faith in Technology

As people put more and more of their faith into Technology and Systems they don’t understand, what happens when the systems upon which you’ve put your faith are compromised? That’s what AI Security expert Dawn Song wonders.

Artificial intelligence won’t revolutionize anything if hackers can mess with it.
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That’s the warning from Dawn Song, a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in studying the security risks involved with AI and machine learning.

Speaking at EmTech Digital, an event in San Francisco produced by MIT Technology Review, Song warned that new techniques for probing and manipulating machine-learning systems—known in the field as “adversarial machine learning” methods—could cause big problems for anyone looking to harness the power of AI in business.

Song said adversarial machine learning could be used to attack just about any system built on the technology.

“It’s a big problem,” she told the audience. “We need to come together to fix it.”

Adversarial machine learning involves experimentally feeding input into an algorithm to reveal the information it has been trained on, or distorting input in a way that causes the system to misbehave. By inputting lots of images into a computer vision algorithm, for example, it is possible to reverse-engineer its functioning and ensure certain kinds of outputs, including incorrect ones.

Song presented several examples of adversarial-learning trickery that her research group has explored.

One project, conducted in collaboration with Google, involved probing machine-learning algorithms trained to generate automatic responses from e-mail messages (in this case the Enron e-mail data set). The effort showed that by creating the right messages, it is possible to have the machine model spit out sensitive data such as credit card numbers. The findings were used by Google to prevent Smart Compose, the tool that auto-generates text in Gmail, from being exploited.

Another project involved modifying road signs with a few innocuous-looking stickers to fool the computer vision systems used in many vehicles. In a video demo, Song showed how the car could be tricked into thinking that a stop sign actually says the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. This could be a huge problem for an automated driving system that relies on such information.

The tendency for people to take a Utopian approach in removing the human element from everything that makes us human is one of the more dangerous tendencies in which our society engages. Algorithms can be hacked just like databases and web servers. Whatever security we can invent will eventually fall prey to people who seek to destroy and/or take advantage of others.

Something Might Happen

Dad said not to bring my glove. “We’re all the way up in the red seats,” he said.“No one’s gonna hit it up there.” Then, as if to emphasize the point, “No way. Not. At. All.”

But I brought it anyway.

It was an early April morning in 1988. The late ’80s were good years – after Pete Rose had broken the record but before the mess of banishment – when the Reds seemed to always finish second to the Dodgers, Giants, or Astros, no matter how hard they tried.

Dad and I rode a city bus down Winton Road from the northern suburbs, through St. Bernard, through Corryville, past UC, and straight through Over the Rhine like a Barry Larkin line drive, ending up on Fountain Square an hour ahead of the Findlay Market parade. It was Opening Day, the holiest of baseball holidays, and we reveled in our annual pilgrimage.

I held the glove under my left arm. Dad eyed me sideways. “You never know,” I said. “Something might happen.”

Dad got a coffee, I opened a bag of peanuts, and we sat on the steps overlooking Fifth Street. The crowds started to gather. “Tell me the Johnny Bench story again,” I said, and he launched into an elaborate tale of the time, when he was in middle school, he and a friend got a ride home from Crosley Field with the new Rookie catcher, Johnny Bench.

“He rolled up to us in a big convertible and said, “You boys need a lift? Of course we said yes, and he drove us all the way home.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Nothing. We was both too scared to say anything, so we sat in silence the whole way.”

The parade started. Marching bands, decorated Cadillacs carrying politicians, and elaborate floats with local celebrities carrying signs for hometown staples like Goldstar Chili and JTM hamburgers went by in quick succession. When the last float passed, the crowd flowed in behind, following the parade like a jubilant, New Orleans wake, down to Riverfront Stadium for the start of a brand new season.

We made it to our seats high up in the red seats about as far aqay feom the field as you could get.

“You think the Reds have a chance this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad said. “Soto’s washed up, Bo Diaz is a rusted out, chain-link fence behind the plate, and I’m still not sure about Larkin over Stillwell at short.”

I soured a little. He noticed.

“Then again, that Tom Browning is pretty good, Eric Davis can hit the cover off the ball, and with Franco closing, you never know…”

“Something might happen,” we said together, and laughed. It was always easy to laugh when it was him and me.

The game was a tough one. Mario Soto gave up an early lead to the Cardinals. He was, indeed, washed up, which didn’t bode well for the season. The Reds were down 4-1 in the sixth, but battled back to a tie in the seventh and took it to extra innings.

“More baseball for the exact same price!” Dad used to say.

The game was fun, but I wanted a ball. I stood for most of the afternoon with my glove on my hand, ready. Dad just shook his head like he knew something I didn’t.

For a while, it seemed like that might be the case but, in the 11th, Tracey Jones tagged a foul shot off of a Cardinal reliever, and I watched as the ball soared up to our section.

“Go for it!”

I ran down the steps to the front row, reaching my glove as far out over the railing as I could, hoping for a miracle. The ball danced around the webbing at the tip of my glove, then bounced away, falling to the blue seats below. I returned to my seat, dejected.

“That’s alright,” Dad said. “You’ll get the next one.”

But the next one didn’t come. Not then, anyway. Kal Daniels knocked in a run in the the twelfth, “And this one belongs to the Reds!” everyone shouted, mimicking Marty Brennaman’s signature phrase. The Reds won 5-4 and, right then, everyone in the stands truly believed that day’s success would carry us all the way to the World Series.

Opening Day does that to you, somehow. It makes believers out of all of us.

I fell asleep on the bus afterward. Dad carried me from the bus stop tonour house, my glove secured safely in his left arm, the same way he carried his glove when he was young. It was a good day.

It was a good year, too. Chris Sabo got his start, and it wasn’t long before all the kids in my school wanted their own pair of Spuds McKenzie goggles. Danny Jackson won 23 games and would have won a Cy Young, too, if not for Orel Hershiser. Tom Browning threw a perfect game and Ron Robinson came within one strike of the same feat, too.

The Reds hosted the All Star Game, with Barry Larkin – who really WAS better than Kurt Stillwell it turned out – on the team, proving himself more than capable of carrying Concepcion’s mantle.

Dad and I went to a lot of games that year and in the years to follow. But nothing beats Opening Day. No matter how bad the Reds are, no matter how bleak the prospects, on Opening Day anything is possible. On Opening Day, the slate is clean and the entire season stretches out in front of you like a dream.

Another Opening Day is right around the corner. The Redlegs could tank, sure, but you never know. Magic could strike at any time. It happens. All it takes is the willingness to believe, just for a day. So grab your glove, keep your eyes open, and wait for something to happen.

Because on Opening Day, something always does.