At The Top of the Hill

Getting older is a process. We all experience it every day of our lives. We either get older or we stop aging. 

I turned 50 last week. It was just like any other day, any other birthday. But it wasn’t. It was a big deal. In sports the number 50 is a big deal. You hit that many home runs or throw that many touchdown passes or score that many points in a basketball game or score that many goals in a season and you have had a monster year. It is celebrated and often rewarded. In sales, 50 is a big deal. You reach 50 in a given time period and you’ve done well for yourself.

When I turned 50 there were a lot of jokes made about being old or over the hill. A couple of ‘Hey, you qualify for AARP now,’ comments were made. It was in good fun, but it is also telling of how we see that number in relation to age. I joked with someone when they said I was over the hill that “I’m not over the hill. I just reached the top of it and now I’m holding on to the tree up there to keep from tumbling down it.”

Go ahead. Picture that. I’ll wait.

Are you done laughing?

Here’s the thing about 50 as an age: it should be celebrated (and mine certainly was), but not for ‘getting old,’ but for the possibilities that are ahead of you when you turn that age. If you make it to 50, then you have lived and experienced things. You have, hopefully, become wiser and smarter and learned from your mistakes. You’ve also had the opportunity to earn a living and possibly been successful at a few things. 

Life doesn’t end at 50. It is a chapter—just like the other 49 you went through—and it should be experienced with the same wonder and excitement as ages 7, 13, 16 and 21. Don’t buy into the belief that you are over the hill. Buy into something more important: that great things were achieved by people over the age of 50. Here are some examples:

Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the Little House books at age 65. Harland Sanders (better known as Colonel) had developed his fried chicken recipe and sold his Kentucky Fried Chicken around the country at the age of 65. Grandma Moses started painting at age 77. Jack Cover created the taser after he turned 50. Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t published until after he turned 50, and let’s be honest here: how many people know of him beyond Dracula?

Here I am at that age where folks believe you are over the hill, that you should begin your ride off into the sunset. I’ve climbed the hill and I’ve had a rocky go at it over the years. But I’m not done. And neither should you be. Life doesn’t end at this age. For some, it is just the beginning. 

I’ve tried making my way in the writing world. I’ve garnered a handful of fans along the way. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Maybe I’ve not found my stride. Maybe I should focus on doing something different. Whatever I choose to do, it will be done after having lived five decades. I don’t know what will happen, but I know I’ve got a lot of miles left on me, and I’m not holding onto a tree at the top of the hill. I don’t need to, and I think I will enjoy the view up here for a while. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to on another.

A.J.

Do You Have A Ritual?

In today’s post we answer another question from a reader. I say ‘we’ because these videos are done by Cate and I, not just me. She puts a lot of time and effort and thought into where we record these videos and how to introduce them. 

Today’s question is from Tara in upstate New York. First, Hey, Tara in upstate New York.

Tara asked, “Do you have a ritual when you finish a book?”

This is something I have never been asked, so thank you for the question, Tara. 


Before you watch the video and get my response, I know a lot of authors who do have a ritual. Some of them smoke cigars—they literally purchase cigars specifically for smoking at the end of a book—some of them have a glass of wine or go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Some folks quietly reflect. This is what I do:

Again, thank you, Tara, for your question. If you have a question you would like me to answer, drop me a line and we’ll answer it. Please, no boxers or briefs questions. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

How About A Birthday Contest or Two?

July is my birthday month. Normally, I’m not big on birthdays. To me, they are just another number. This one is different. I turn 50 on July 8th. That is a big deal birthday. I want to celebrate this one. And I will. All. Month. Long.

I want you, my readers, to come celebrate as well. To do that, we are having two contests during the month of July. They are big contests.

The first one is called 50 Years & 50 Books. Here is how it works:

If we sell 50 print books in the month of July, then we will give away a complete set of my print books to one person. That is 15 books, including a bonus book that has not been released yet, that is slated to come out in August. That is a $157.00 value. The books will be signed, but not personalized. The reason for this is if you purchase a print book, even if you only have that one, you will get another one in the complete set. If you want to give that book away, then I want you to be able to do so without having your name inscribed in it.

Now, here is the important stuff: 1) The books have to be purchased directly through myself or Cate, either on our social media pages or through my website. AMAZON PURCHASES DO NOT COUNT. Please understand that last sentence. If you purchase a print book through Amazon, thank you, but it will not count toward this contest. 2) I hate doing this, but I can’t ship a big box of books internationally. It sucks. I wish I could afford to. That means I can only ship within the United States. I apologize to my international friends and fans. I just can’t afford to do that. 3) 49 books is not 50. 28 books is not 50. The goal is 50, in honor of the age I will turn this month. If we don’t reach 50 or higher, then there is no drawing for the complete set of print books. That sounds pretty crappy, but it really isn’t. The contest is 50 Years and 50 Books. 4) All book orders will be sent out in mid-August, AFTER the contest is over. This will allow us time to package and mail out the books.

I hope this sounds good to y’all and I hope we sell enough books to be able to send out a full set to one person.

The second contest doesn’t cost any money (unless you want to spend some, then by all means, spend away). It is called. 50 Years & 50 Reviews.

If we receive 50 book reviews in the month of July, then we will give away one complete set of my digital books. That’s 15 books, including one yet to be released. 

Now, here is the important information: 1) Book reviews need to be sent to me or Cate, either on our social media pages or through PM’s or through my website, Type AJ Negative. We would also like you to post the review on your social media page (or blog if you have one). AMAZON REVIEWS DO NOT COUNT. If you place a review on Amazon, thank you, but it doesn’t go toward the contest. 2) Book reviews must be new. They cannot be reviews already left somewhere else. 3) Book reviews can be of any of my books. 4) Like with the 50 Years & 50 Books contest, the goal is 50 reviews here. Not 49. If we don’t reach the goal of 50 reviews, there is no drawing. 

You can leave reviews at the following places (as well as your personal social media pages, websites and blogs):

My author page:

https://www.facebook.com/typeajnegative/

The 50 Years Contests Page:

https://typeajnegative.com/50-years-contests/

Or by sending me or Cate a PM through our various social media pages.

I realize I did not post Cate’s information here. Those who know my wife also know her social media pages and they are set to private, so I will not be adding it here. Those who know Cate, please feel free to contact her directly.

There you have it: two great contests in honor of my birthday. I don’t do these things too often, so I hope you will participate. 

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Ava (Free Fiction)

She was on her last legs, my beautiful Ava. The steady clop clop of her hooves had been a constant companion in the silence of the dead world around us. It was the rhythm of my heart, clop, clop, thump, thump, and it slowed more and more as we travelled.

“Just a little longer, girl,” I said. I hadn’t heard my own voice in so long it sounded odd in my ears, weak. I leaned forward and patted her neck. She whinnied and jerked her head away from my hand. “I understand, Ava.”

And I did. 

Other than the ghouls, we hadn’t come across anything living in weeks, maybe months. I didn’t know. Time ceased to exist a while back. Though my hand should have been a comfort to her, all it did was make her uneasy. I thank the ghouls for that—Ava knew to be touched by one of them would bring the end to animal and man alike. 

Still, we road on, me on her back for the most part, but sometimes walking beside her, holding the reigns and guiding her along the trickier trails where thorns hid in mud puddles … and sometimes the ghouls would be there, too. This is where my blade came in handy. It wasn’t much, just an axe blade bolted to an old shovel handle. 

We only had one setback and it came as we crossed one of those muddy rivers. The thorns, thistles and weeds were like hands that groped at us and tried to pull us under. Ava trudged on, me beside her in the waist high muck. We had reached the upslope toward dry land when Ava’s front legs rose up. She let out a shrill shriek and brought her hooves down on the emaciated ghoul. It had come up out of the mud, its hands grabbing for her leg, long nails on each finger that were like rusty needles. 

I slapped Ava on her hind quarters and she bolted for dry ground. Then I drove my blade into the creature with white skin and pale blue eyes and a body void of any hair. It opened its mouth in a howl that echoed in the valley. From the sludge I stood in, rose a dozen more of the dead creatures. 

“Oh crap!”

They surrounded me. I swung my blade, striking as many as I could. At some point a pain formed in my shoulder, sharp and dull all at the same time. I struck another ghoul, one that had tried to sneak up on me, and drove my blade through its throat. Then I trudged through the mud, feeling like I was getting nowhere until my feet found solid ground. I ran. Ava hadn’t waited for me. I didn’t blame her. I looked back. The ghouls crawled to the edge of the mud pit. There were more than just the handful I thought I had seen. I ran through the trees until I came upon Ava. She stood in an open area, her head down, sniffing at her front leg. 

“Hey girl,” I said, put my hand out to her. Cautiously, I inched my way up closer. She snorted a couple of times and backed away from me. Eventually, she stilled and let me run my hand along her neck. I whispered lies to her, even as I stood beside her, trying to get her to relax. “It’s okay, Ava. It’s okay. They’re gone. You’re okay.”

It’s the last part that was a lie. She was not okay. The wound on her left leg was big and already scabbing over. It would close within half an hour and all the infection of the wound would start coursing through her body.

My shoulders slumped. I think she knew how sad I was—she nudged me with her nose, as if she was saying, ‘It will be okay, Jules.’

I think she knew her end was near.

Still, we continued on, me not riding her for a while. And somewhere behind us, came the shuffle of a thousand ghouls.

Three days ago, I saw the huge castle that loomed way off in the distance. With my eyes on that structure, we rode on, rider and horse, horse and rider. She stumbled a few times yesterday and I finally dismounted her for the last time. This morning I noticed the pale blue appear in her normally brown eyes.

The clopping of her hooves had slowed considerably, but the structure—it was never a castle after all—loomed not more than a hundred yards from us. The shamble of ghouls had disappeared at some point during the last three days. I wanted to believe they were gone, had maybe found someone else to stalk and trail, hoping for a kill and a meal.

“Come on, girl. We can make it, then we can get you some help.” I patted her neck, then ran my hand along her once flowing mane. Long strands came off in my hands in a large clump. I stared at the hair in dismay. Time wasn’t on her side. My heart crumbled and its steady beat slowed right along with Ava’s barely trundling gait. 

My shoulder hurt to move it. It had grown stiff since the sludge ghouls attacked us. I let it dangle by my side and tried to move it as little as possible.

What I had thought was a castle three days ago, then just a building earlier in the day turned out to be the remnants of an old train station, one Mother Nature had taken over since the fall of man. The tracks had rusted out and weeds and grass grew up along the wooden cross ties. Intermingled with the foliage were bones, mostly bleached gray by the beating sun. The entrance to the station had been closed off with a giant gate. In front of the gate stood two men, both holding axes, both staring me down. 

“Whoa, Ava,” I said and we stopped about thirty or so yards away. 

“Who are you?” one of the guards called.

“What do you want?” the other one asked.

“I need a place to stay. My horse is hurt and I don’t think she will make it much longer without medical attention.”

“How did your horse get hurt?” the first guard asked. He had a long black beard, speckled with gray. 

This was not a question I wanted to hear. Answering it could mean I don’t get in. Worse, it could mean they try to kill Ava and I don’t get in. Lying was out of the question. From that distance, they could probably see the wound tracing up her leg, the hardened scab, the splotches of skin where hair had fallen out. 

“Back in a mud pit a few days ago.”

“Were there ghouls?”

My heart crumbled a little more. “Yes.”

“What about you? Have you received any wounds from a ghoul?” 

“No. Nothing.”

Black Beard approached, taking long, purposeful strides, his axe in both hands. “Move away from the horse.”

I pulled my blade free and prepared for a fight. “No.”

“The horse is as good as dead.”

“She’s not, at least not yet.”

“The horse dies or you move along.”

I let out a long breath, one that rattled in my chest and sent slivers of pain into my shoulder. “Then I’ll move along. You keep your sanctuary.”

I pulled Ava’s reigns. Her head didn’t move. It had grown stiff, just as her legs had. She shed what little was left of her mane. 

“It’s okay, girl,” I whispered, even as tears filled my eyes.

Ava’s legs buckled beneath her and she collapsed to the ground. The pop of bones breaking made my skin crawl and my stomach turn. I knelt beside her and stroked her face. Her once brown eyes, now the pale blue of a ghoul, looked at me. 

“It’s okay,” I repeated. “You can let go now.”

Ava closed her eyes. The rise and fall of her ribs slowed, then ceased all together. I shook my head. My heart no longer crumbled. It had shattered completely. Somewhere in the distance I heard the sound of shuffling feet. The ghouls were coming. They had followed us, brought by the scent of a dying animal … and a wounded man. I rubbed the spot on my shoulder, felt the claw marks I knew had been there all along. I looked back at the guards. They held their axes in front of them, trying to look fierce and intimidating. I smiled. And the shuffling grew louder in my ears. 

AJB

What Is Love? Hmmm …

True love is an amazing thing. 

My wife is an amazing woman. I can go on for hours and days about how amazing she is. I, honestly, do not deserve a woman like her. We’ve been together 25 years and she constantly shows me what true love is. 

I can’t say that I have always shown her the same. However, I can go back to one time in particular where I showed my wife how much I loved her … and then some.

We were still young newlyweds with no kids at the time. It was a Sunday morning and we were getting ready for church. She came out of the bedroom with a frustrated look on her face. If you don’t know what that is, don’t clean up after yourself for a day or two and you will see it from your significant other. 

“Can you do me a favor?” she asked.

“What kind of favor?” I’ve learned when someone ask you to do them a favor, you should always find out what it is before committing. Some favors are loaded dynamite waiting to explode.

“I’m out of tampons,” she said without smiling. “Can you run to the store and get them for me?”

I’m sure I stared at her for a few seconds in disbelief. She wanted me to go to a store by myself to purchase feminine hygiene products. “Ummm …”

“Please?”

First of all, she should not have had to say please. I had already failed. 

I nodded and said, “Okay, but what am I getting?”

Even though we had only been married a short time, she already knew the most important thing she could do was write exactly what she wanted down. A minute later she handed me a piece of paper with the names of the products she needed. I took the paper, read it and looked back at her. 

She smiled big and gave me a cute, “I love you.” It was one of those ‘I’ll love you forever if you do this for me’ I love yous.

“I love you, too,” I said and left the house. 


Back then, when the dinosaurs were merely dead and not quite fossils, there was still a drugstore chain named Eckard’s, and there just happen to be one five minutes from the house.

I drove to Eckard’s, got out of the car and went inside. I strolled around, not really searching for the aisle I needed, putting off the inevitable for as long as possible. Eventually, I found the feminine hygiene aisle and stared blankly at all of the products. I stood there wondering ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ There were so many different packages with their pinks and purples and blues and greens, and most of them had similar names. 

I pulled out the piece of paper, which had been crumpled and shoved into my front pocket. I read the first of the two items and began The Search For That Which Terrifies Me. This was an easy find. It wasn’t quite eye level but close enough to where i didn’t have to bend over or squat to find it. The second one took a little longer to find. I looked at the paper, then at the shelves, then back to the paper. I did this several times. I even picked up what I thought was the right pack, but it didn’t feel right. I looked at her list again. There was one word that was different, so I put it back and the search continued. 

“A-ha,” I all but yelled when I found the right package with the exact wording as her note. I cringed—physically, to the point of my shoulders scrunching up and me ducking slightly, then looking around as if I had committed a crime and someone had seen it. I picked the package up and looked at it as if it was a newborn child. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I did have somewhat of a triumphant, ‘ha, I found you,’ feeling going on. It’s almost like I killed the wabbit, and in the next scene I would be wondering what have I done?

I thought that would be the difficult part. I was wrong.

This was a drug store and it was Sunday morning. There shouldn’t have been as many people in it as there were. More importantly, there shouldn’t have been as many attractive women in there as there were. Yeah, yeah, I know, why did I notice the attractive women and blah, blah, blah … It’s definitely not what you think, unless you think, ‘hey, he only noticed they were women because, well, they were women and not men, and if they would have been men, then he would have noticed that, too.’ Bottom line: I’m a writer. I notice things. Stick with the story, people!

I left the famine hygiene aisle, head held high, listening to my internal soundtrack playing We Are the Champions. Of course, the lyrics were slightly different:

I am the champion, my friends.

I found the tampons in the end.

I am a champion

Found the pads and tampons

‘Cause I am the champion … for my girl.

Along with the Weird Al-esque singing in my head, I probably had my Bee Gees Staying Alive strut working. My short hair was probably not blowing in a nonexistent breeze, and I didn’t have a beard but a goatee, and I certainly didn’t wear bell bottoms. But I still thought I was The Fonz when I walked into a room. If you don’t know the reference, Google is your friend. I was young and dumb and didn’t think people noticed. I’m probably right. 

As I approached the checkout counter I noticed the pretty young lady behind the counter, and the two pretty young ladies waiting to be checked out. I get in line holding a box of tampons in one hand and a pack of pads in the other. Two more young ladies get in line behind me. See what I mean about too many people in a small drug store on a Sunday morning?

So, here are these five attractive women … and me. The one lady directly behind me glanced at the feminine gifts for my wife and smiled. I don’t know if that was a ‘that is awesome of you,’ smile or a ‘you won’t be getting any anytime soon,’ smile. It was probably a little bit of both. I will be honest and say I was a little uncomfortable. 

The first lady in line checked out, and we all moved up a couple of steps. The young lady behind the counter glanced at me and gave me the same smile the one behind me did, but I could see the smile was in her eyes, too. It was as if everyone was in on the joke, except for me. 

The second lady paid for her items and walked off. I stepped up, placed my two products on the counter. By then I felt naked and alone and as if I were being laughed at behind my back. The lady behind the counter picked up the tampons and looked at them, then at me. She didn’t smile when she asked, “Are these for you?”

I venture to say a lot of folks would have frozen with that question. Is she serious? is she sarcastic? Not me. I’m usually pretty quick witted.

Without smiling and in my best stoner’s shakiest voice I said, “I have a really bad bleeding problem.”

Her mouth dropped open and her cheeks flushed red, and that is how I showed my wife what true love is. 

Y’all, have a good day, stay safe and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Angels–Short Story

Occasionally, I will see something on social media that makes me want to write. It is usually something along the lines of: Tell me how we met, but lie. I love these probably a little more than I should. Today’s story is a direct result of one of those social media posts. Enjoy ‘Angels.’

She lay at the bottom of the hill, her hands folded behind her head, her feet crossed at the ankles. She looked to be staring at the sky. 

I stood at the top of the hill, some fifty yards above her. I looked up to the sky. White clouds hung in a backdrop of blue like delicate cotton balls, as if pasted there by a child’s hand. They were jumbled and close together, trying to crowd out the blue. 

I looked back at her. She still lay in the same spot. 

“What does she see?” I asked myself, then began the slow trek down the hillside. 

I leaned back, hoping not to tumble and break a bone or five or six, or maybe my skull. Occasionally my foot would slip on slick grass or stumble on loose gravel and I would slide a foot or two. At one point, I fell to my bottom and had to grab hold of a bush that had seen better days before death claimed it. 

Halfway down I glanced at her. She wore white shorts and a blue blouse.

The ground beneath me began to level out the closer I got to the bottom of the hill and I no longer had to keep my arms out at the sides and my body leaning in case I fell. 

Thirty feet from her and I could see her shorts were denim and her blouse was loose with a bow at one hip. She went for comfort. 

Twenty feet away and the picture became clearer. She didn’t lay on the ground, but on a blue and white blanket, maybe a towel. Flip flops sat neatly on the ground beside her. A book lay faced down and open on the ground beside the flip flops. I wasn’t sure, but I thought she was smiling, but she might have been asleep. 

Ten feet away and I could read the title of the book: Stolen Angels. Her toenails were painted pink. She glanced at me and smiled. 

“Hi,” she said and looked back to the sky.

“Hi,” I said. “Can I sit with you for a while?”

“Sure.”

I sat beside her, then lay on the ground. A rock gnawed into my right shoulder blade until I moved a foot or so to my right. My hands went behind my head the way she had hers but I didn’t cross my feet at my ankles. I stared at the sky, at the clouds that looked like cotton balls glued on the backdrop of blue by a child’s hand.

“What do you see?” I asked.

“Angels,” she said.

Text–A Quick Story

My phone chimed its usual tone of three knocks on a door, letting me know I had received a text. I picked up my phone, not really expecting a text from anyone and thinking it might be some spammer trying to get me to buy something useless or steal my social security number and bank account information. I frowned when I saw the number was all sixes, like from one of those legal commercials you see on television during daytime programming. The preview message simply said, ‘picture.’ 

I opened the text and clicked on the image. My mouth dropped open and my eyes grew wide. The text beneath the photo of my beaten, bloodied and mutilated body read, ‘Shhh … try not to scream …’

Have You Always Wanted To Write?

Hello out there.

Welcome to another question and answer video. We received a lot of great questions for this and I’ve tried not to be boring. I’m starting to get my legs under me as far as being in front of a camera is concerned. So, thank you for bearing with us.

This video was taken in front of Brookland Cayce High School. This is where both Cate and I graduated. At the very beginning of this video, I was clearly being a goofball. However, it was because of Cate. Just a minute earlier, she messed up the introduction, calling me Jeff instead of A.J. (For those of you keeping score at home, my initials are A.J., but most of the non writing, non publishing, non reading world know me as Jeff.) She had done a marvelous introduction then out came ‘Jeff.’ Her reaction was hilarious, and no, I will not sully her reputation with telling y’all what was said.

Onto the next question, which is from Trish Cline. She asked a question I’ve received before, but she asked it in a different way:

“I know writing is a big part of your life. Have you always wanted to write? Did you make up stories as a child and develop them into full length books?”

Here is my response:

Wait, before you leave, don’t forget about my newest novel, My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. We’ve all had to do that new school year report on what we did during the summer. I used to hate them. I’m sure some of y’all did, too. But did you ever spend your summer vacation in a boys institution? Check out the synopsis below.

On the third day of summer vacation in 1979, three boys walked along the side of a road, laughing, talking about baseball cards, swimming at Booger’s Pond and Sarah Tucker, the prettiest girl in school. How could they know a few minutes later one of them would be dead, one crippled and one about to face the worse summer of his life? 

Wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jimmy Lambert is sent to The Mannassah Hall Institute for Boys. On his first day there, Doctor William English strikes him. It would be the first of many Jimmy would suffer at the hands of guards and inmates. Fighting back is an option, but could it have dire consequences?

As Jimmy loses hope, two unlikely people come to his aid. Will they be in time to save him from the bullies at The Mannassah Hall Institute for Boys? Or will they be too late?

Doesn’t that sound like an awesome read? If so, please consider purchasing a print copy directly from me. Yes, it is on Amazon, but Amazon isn’t exactly author friendly, but that is a story for another day.

If you would like a copy of My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert, click on the purchase button below and don’t forget to leave your information so we can get it shipped to you. We’ll try to accommodate international orders as well, but that depends on the cost of shipping. I hate to say that, but shipping to international countries can be expensive sometimes.

Thank you for coming by for the video and promotion. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

My Summer Vacatrion by Jimmy Lambert

This is A.J. Brown's newest novel. Price includes shipping within the United States.

$15.00

How Do You Work On Multiple Projects?

Welcome back to another segment of Question and Answer with an author. Today, I get to answer a question by Christopher Bonner. A quick back story here: In 2019, I was asked to sit in on a virtual writing class. Being that writing is one of my top one subjects in the world (yes, I did write it that way on purpose), I said sure. I attended several of those classes, and at some point, I began discussing writing with the students. Christopher and I hit it off fairly well, and we’ve had some great discussions about writing since. I’ve been fortunate enough to read several pieces of his work. He’s got chops and a solid grasp of writing and telling stories. I’m really excited to see what the future has in store for him. Keep your eyes out. He is one to watch.

Christopher asked a great question:

“You shared with me how many things you’re working on simultaneously. How do you keep everything flowing and cohesive within the individual stories with that many projects going? Do you have a system to help or is everything just swimming around in your mind?”

Here is my answer:

Are those fishies swimming around up there?

I don’t feel like I answered the question completely, so I will put the rest of my answer in the comments below. 

As always, thank you for stopping by and if you have a question you would like to ask, drop it in the comments and we’ll get them answered. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

When I Was A Kid 1.0

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a great athlete, a baseball player or basketball player, maybe a famous quarterback for an NFL team. Though I knew I would never be any of those, I still had dreams.

One day I had an idea. I placed two cinder blocks (one of them big and thick, the other thin and long), one on top of another, by the brick wall of the house. The big one went on the bottom and became the base for which the thin one sat on in a somewhat leaning manner. This was my ‘strike zone.’ The upper block was what I considered between the knees and chest—the strike zone of the major leagues when I was a kid.

Back then there was a store on State Street in Triangle Plaza called Dodds. It was a dime store (though, trust me, everything was NOT a DIME). They had great things for kids, like a bag of marbles for a buck and slingshots—yeah, you could purchase a slingshot at what amounts to a Dollar General by today’s standards. They also had red rubber balls that were about the size of a baseball. 

My brother and I spent our summers at my grandparents’ house on the Mill Hill near the river. Occasionally, my grandmother would give us a quarter or two and we would go down to Brown’s Grocery (no relation, folks, but if you’ve read any of my work, then you probably recognize the name—I like to pay homage to the mill hill every chance I get) or to the Gamecock Theater (after saving up three quarters, man those flicks were expensive), or to Dodds. Whenever we went to Dodds I would pick up a couple of red rubber balls for less than a quarter. I had to buy two at a time, not because they came in packs of two, but because, after a while of smashing the ball against a wall or the block ‘strike zone,’ the rubber would crack and the ball would split in half. There’s nothing more disappointing than pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees only to have the game end in a rain delay because the ball split in half. 

On days where we stayed home instead of going to my grandparents’ house, I would get one of my dad’s tape measures and mark off sixty feet, six inches from wall to where the pitcher’s mound would be in a baseball game. I would take a thin board and put it at the end of that measurement. This would be my pitcher’s rubber, where my foot would go before each pitch.

I spent hours on end, glove in hand, looking in at invisible batters (usually the hated Yankees or Dodgers), shaking off a nonexistent catcher until I got the pitch I wanted to throw. I had a curve ball, knuckle ball, a not-so-fast fast ball, a two seam fastball, a slider that wasn’t very good, and a straight fastball. Yeah, I had a bunch of so-so pitches. I even had a Dan Quisenberry-esque sidearm pitch that rose on the invisible batters, causing them to flail uselessly at it. 

The way it worked was simple: If the ball hit the upper block, then it was a strike. If it nipped the side of the top block, it was a foul ball. If the ball hit the wall and not the blocks, it was a ball. If the ball hit the bottom block, I would consider that a ball in play and field it. I’d have to glove the ball and make the throw to first (which was nothing more than the same two blocks by the house) before the runner got there. If I bobbled the ball, it was an error. If i didn’t hit the blocks with the throw, it was an error. 

Though I did this for hours and hours, I never became a great pitcher. You see, the imagination is an amazing thing, and though I struck out a lot of nonexistent batters and took my team to a World Series championship (beating the hated Yankees in the process), facing live batters was completely different. 

Now, I will say this, I learned how to throw and throw hard by doing that. I could play a mean third base and ended up playing fifteen or sixteen years of third base in softball. Sadly, I was not a great hitter in either baseball or softball.

My dreams of being a big leaguer ended truly before they got started. I left baseball behind for basketball, a sport I was extremely good at. But for a couple of summers, I was a big league pitcher, and a good one, at least in my imagination. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.