Writing Shad’s Tale

Image“SHAD’S TALE” — Page 1

WASHINGTON — As I plunged into Cardinals history for a book several years ago, one of the minor stories that always felt like it had major possibilities was the legend spun by pitcher Flint Rhem. A righty with the Cardinals, Rhem went missing for several days in September 1930 while the team was in New York, set to play a key series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He returned to the team with this fantastic tale of kidnapping, thugs, and forced binging. It was all fiction, of course. Longtime Post-Dispatch columnist and Cardinals chronicler Bob Broeg wrote that Rhem had all the talent in the world but would drink himself out of the game. He certainly drank himself into this story. Still, it was fertile ground for writing. The gaps in memories are always fun to fill, and here were two days — two whole days — carved out of Cardinals history that were blank. What did Rhem do during his “kidnapping”? What could have Rhem done during his “kidnapping”? Maybe he really was ambushed by thugs and forced to chug grain alcohol for two days. Maybe there was a gambling element, because isn’t there always? Maybe he raced around New York saving cats from trees, apprehending robbers, and doing so much good that no one would believe him anyway. Or, as I thought when the opportunity to came to write this story, maybe he saved baseball.

Many months ago, I was asking at the comic shop about a local St. Louis group, Ink and Drink Comics, and the anthologies they had produced in recent years — sci-fi, romance, horror, wild west. A lapsed cartoonist with a comic sweet tooth, I always wanted to try my hand at writing a comic book story. It would be a Continue reading

The Boy Wonder in a Paper Bag

TOWER GROVE — The boy wonder, all of 7 now, returned home from his first day of second grade with a paper bag and an assignment.

He had to pour himself into it.

His teacher had asked each member of the class to take home a paper bag, one about the size of a lunch sack. The students could use markers to color their bag however they wanted. Ian covered his in colorful stars. The outside was decoration, not the purpose. What they put inside was the challenge. The boy wonder’s teacher asked each of her students to put five things — and five things only — in the bag. Those five things had to define the student. She wanted the boy wonder and his classmates to introduce themselves to each other and to the teachers with five things that revealed who they are. This wasn’t the five things they would want on a deserted island or their five favorites things in the world, but five things that said who they are.

With help from his mom, here are the five things the boy wonder put in his bag and his explanation on why each one matters to him: Continue reading

The Last Day of a 5-Year-Old

TOWER GROVE – The day began like any other morning during those months that baseball season overlaps with the school year. I’m up with the boy wonder, flip on the TV, and wait for the inevitable request that comes during the commercials.

“Can we turn on my cartoons?”

“Can we turn on my cartoons?”

“Is Morning Joe over? Can we turn on my cartoons?”

“Baseball highlights, again? When can we turn on my cartoons?”

On this particularly morning, I had a co-conspirator. Rain was falling outside and steadily gaining intensity. While I kept the news on, Ian climbed up – half on the couch, half on my shoulder – to look out the window and provide moment-by-moment weather update. His legs, lanky and lean, draped off the couch, because while he still tries to squeeze into small spaces like a small kid, he is outgrowing them rapidly, like another pair of footie jammies. And that’s when I realized: This was not a normal, standard-issue morning of wrestling for channel superiority.

This was my last morning as the father of a 5-year-old.

“Don’t you want me to get older, Daddy?” Continue reading

“Meet Me in Dyersville”

This entry was written on Father’s Day 2011 at Busch Stadium while the Cardinals played the Kansas City Royals.

ST. LOUIS – My plan was to spend the entire summer of 1994 establishing residency in Missouri and take full advantage of living in a college town without, you know, having to attend those pesky classes that interrupt college.

I spent my mornings teaching swim lessons, my days working as a pool manager (read: lifeguard, but with better pay), and my nights sharing a house with a couple pals from the student newspaper, The Maneater. There wasn’t much sleep that summer, nor much money, but there was always something happening. My parents expected me to leave that for … Ten thousand lakes, the Mall of America, and free-range mosquitoes? They had moved from Colorado to Minnesota, officially, the previous summer and few conversations passed that year without a question about when I planned to drive up to Rochester, Minn., for a visit. I’d blame my work schedule, I’d waffle, I’d ignore their invites. It was their home, not mine. I had no emotional ties to the place, no friends to see when I got there and, selfishly, no reason to go back once I drove away for college.

If I had to visit, I suggested a neutral site. We’d meet at the midpoint.

There was this baseball field, in Iowa, Continue reading

A Freedom to Frag

This entry comes from June 2011, when a Supreme Court decision announced the day before allowed me a chance to exercise that political science degree and civil liberties muscle with this (too long) essay.

TOWER GROVE — The government can fine a store for selling a minor Camels, can punish a shopkeeper for passing a Playboy across the counter to an adolescent, and can revoke an exemption for a bar that lets a toddler stop by for fried chicken. But when it comes to violent video games, the Supreme Court assured this week that the government can do nothing but grin and frag it.

The message is clear when it comes to slaughtering zombies, knifing drug dealers and celebrating the virtual brutality of Duke Nukem.

Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em, kids. Continue reading

A Guiding Star Behind “Star Wars”

JUPITER, Fla. — When we first moved to Colorado, we lived for a stretch at the Hotel Boulderado and Pearl Street Mall was my backyard.

The hotel and my tiny room may or may not have been referenced in Stephen King’s book Misery — as a kid I swear it was; as an adult I doubt it — and it had the wonderful grand, historic feel with that little twinge of unsettling gothic-ness. We’d breakfast at the restaurant on the first floor. We’d stroll Pearl Street in the afternoon. I learned how to leapfrog on these metal pylons that were designed to keep cars from barreling into the pedestrian mall. And we made a second home of the nearby used bookstore. It wasn’t too far from The Daily Camera, right down by the top shoppe Grand Rabbits, and just past the place we’d later go to get my violin repaired — several times.

This bookshop, Boulder Used Books (I think), had the classic smell and look of its name. The main room was a jumble of misfit shelves, drooping with the weight of paperbacks stuffed at various angles. The place reeked of old paper, ink, dust and that slightly vinegary mix of all three that can only can described as wisdom. It’s the same smell I Iater found at a university’s library in Oxford, one that outdated, oh, America. And picking through this island of misfit books and dog-eared novels one day I found a treasure that inspired.

I was 7.

And it wasn’t a book. Continue reading

The Promised Pujols Cartoon

JUPITER, Fla. — It was so long ago that I’ve forgotten exactly how it came up, but it happened not to far from here — down Interstate 95 and just south of West Palm Beach, Fla. I grabbed a fistful of white paper from the Xerox machine nearest by desk at The Palm Bach Post. I raided an art supply store for some sketching pencils, a trusty pica pole, an industrial-strength eraser, a Uni-Ball pen, and fine-point detailing pens. I set up a rather low-frills drawing studio at a glass coffee table. And I started drawing.

It might have been the small self portrait I included on my resume, or the line about drawing a twice-weekly cartoon at The Maneater. Regardless, the sports editors at the PB-Post had a challenge and an offer for their eager intern.

There was a spot in the Sunday paper for a cartoon, if I wanted to draw them.

(Scroll down if you’re tired of reading and just want to look at the pretty drawing.) Continue reading