To all you fathers out there (and to some of you single mothers, too, who probably function equally in both parental roles), "happy Fathers Day". My own Dad was a stand-up guy, and I regret that I was never able to adequately thank him for all he did. I never missed the opportunity to express my love and gratitude, especially as he approached the end of his earthly sojourn, but I still feel it was never enough to balance the devotion, the effort, the support and the love that he put into our relationship. Again, thanks Dad. I love ya, man. You always made me feel like you were proud of me, and I hope I didn't let you down when it came to my ineptitude at athletics.
I'd like to make clear here that my Dad did encourage me to pursue athletics. I fondly recall that one of his favorite nicknames for me was, in fact, "Sport". My first memory of this was of him spending hours pitching baseball to me. My recollection is, though, that he never sat me down to go over the rules in great detail. All I had to go on when I first took the field was a vague idea of the concepts of our national pastime, based on watching a few games on our 13-inch Sylvania black-and-white television, a device approximately the same size as our refrigerator. I was more into Howdy Doody, but I had at least seen a few games.
I don’t recall how I got on base in that first game, with Dad faithfully in attendance. I rather suspect that I was walked there by fortunate circumstance. I can’t begin to imagine any reason for that pitcher to purposely put me on base. The opposing team could surely tell by my batting stance that there was little danger of my putting one over their collective heads. I think Dad was more a football kind of guy, as I don’t recall him ever broaching the nuances of slugging. Anyway, there I was, at first base, with two out and our best batter up. (Yet another reason to believe that my occupying first was mere accident.) I must have recalled seeing the pros on teevee as they took a dramatic lead off base, carefully watching what the pitcher was up to. Turns out, I’d no clue what I should be watching for. As I extended my lead toward second base, the first baseman subtly called the pitcher’s name. But I stayed put, as he began loudly exhorting his hurler to look over to first base, which I’d now left far behind in anticipation of a shorter route to second when a hit came. I had such a lead that I could legitimately be described by what I heard referred to as “in scoring position”. Visions danced in my head of mighty Casey (or whatever his name was, in our case) clearing the bases and of myself heroically crossing home plate. Imagine my surprise when the guy on the mound glanced over to first, and seeing my enormous separation from the base, casually lobbed the ball over. My reverie interrupted by a gentle tap from the first baseman, I stood in my tracks for a moment as the other team vacated the field, and it took a second before it sunk in that I’d made a monumental mistake. I was too ignorant of the lingo to even know to call it a "base-running error", at the time. Silence ruled when I got back to what passed for a dugout. I was quickly replaced in the batting order, and no one spoke to me or referred to me in any fashion until later in the game. After second base was demolished by a slide from a glandularly-challenged and mammoth fourth-grader, I heard a couple of the guys wondering out loud what they could use for second base. From down low someone murmured, “How about Steve?” It is to my dad's everlasting credit that he claimed me at game's end, and didn't leave me to walk home. I seem to recall that during that ride home he gently approached the subject of the upcoming football season, perhaps in hopes that I'd fare better at that.
Nevertheless, I proved little better at the pigskin sport. Our pony-league team did go on to win the South Carolina state title, but it wasn’t my fault. I distinctly recall the coach’s appraisal of me when he first glimpsed me in action. He wasn’t referring to any particular position on the field when he stated, “This is the end.” Our moment of glory came at the end of the season in Kingstree, but was short-lived. The team was shamed when the morning after our victory we woke to the fury of the town officials demanding we accompany them to the city square and the resident statue of Colonel Kingstree (or some such). There on the pristine white marble base, etched in indelible battery acid, was the name of one of my fellow bench-warmers, along with the date and score commemorating our defeat of the hometown heroes. I can almost hear the young fool's dim-witted reasoning: “It’s dark, no one will notice.” I feel confident he came later to be a football hero at some SEC school. Fortunately, my Dad was not in attendance.
Thus went my athletic career, despite Dad's most earnest efforts. Basketball-wise, I was a great dribbler. Use your imagination. I was a tall and gangly kid, but was thoroughly outplayed by one of my best friends, Grady Ballenger, who stood about knee-high to an ankle-biter. He would scoot around me and launch an improbable shot unerringly through the hoop. I’d have been faked out of my jock, if I’d been old enough to wear one.
I think I did finally satisfy some of my old man's longing for active and vigorous progeny when in college I became a cheerleader for the Clemson Tigers, and remained so for three years. I was even on the sidelines when the Tigers went to Grant Field in Atlanta and defeated Pop's alma mater, Georgia Tech, for the first time in living history. But Dad quickly wired me cash in order that I might more appropriately celebrate the win with my pals and fellow cheerleaders down at Underground Atlanta. What a guy!
Now if you'll only bear with me a bit longer, I'll tell you what any of this has to do with fruit flies. I despise the little buggers. There have been times when they seemed the bane of my existence. (Yes, I do lead a somewhat sheltered life...) I suppose their abundance in and around my kitchen has to do with all the fresh produce I keep there. Nothing in god's world draws fruit flies like a rotting sweet potato, lying neglected in its bin atop my refrigerator. Unless, by the way, one considers a rotten banana , which is equally messy to dispose of, and comparable to the putid sweet potato in the affections of the fruit fly. This later fruit is what I've come to use as bait in my ingenious solution to the fruit fly predicament.
I take an open-top glass container, install a few pieces of frozen banana (which seem to go over more quickly than fresh ones), and top the trap with an inverted paper funnel. Fruit flies check in, but they don't check out. Once the jar is abundant with the nasty little critters, I have a couple of options. If I'm having a bad day or feel particularly vengeful, I'll spray down the lot of 'em with insecticide, evilly twirling my Snidely Whiplash-style handlebar mustache as I do so. Or, if I am waxing magnanimous, I'll take the jar out into the garden and practice entomological catch-and-release, subsequently cleaning the container and initiating the whole process again.
Lately, though, my trap has gone lacking, and the airborn devils seem to be ignoring it. My current theory is that this is a result of learned behavior, brought on by my moments of gracious mercy, whenever I release the insects that have experienced the horror of my chamber of death. I extrapolate that these little guys eventually make their way back into my kitchen and, now the wiser to my nefarious ways, they (and their genetically pre-disposed offspring) avoid my trap like the plague. What's a guy to do?
So, to tie this back in to my diatribe about Dad, I propose that he was smarter than several generations of fruit flies. (I know that seems a back-handed compliment Dad, but hear me out.)
My father tried his best to get me interested in sports, but to little avail. But he adapted, much like the bugs did. When I began to display an interest in musical pastimes, he went out of his way to encourage me, eventually putting up with band practices in our living room and all the trappings of the long-haired hippie set. Today, when I am gathered with my musician pals in our residential practice space, I remember Dad and his barbershop quartet buddies, assembled around the upright piano, belting out "Sweet Adeline" or "Hard-Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah, GeeAy)". It's a legacy I'll never be able to repay. Thanks again, Dad.