Thursday, September 6, 2018

Is Cleveland cursed? Myths, Legends and Numbers

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Marty Roppelt to my blog with a game of myth, legends and numbers - that seems to hit most of my favorite things, though I must admit, I'm English--baseball will never be my game! However, you're welcome to try to convert me, Marty.

MORTAL FOE'S GAME OF MYTH, LEGEND AND NUMBERS



The novel Mortal Foe has the game of baseball as one of its themes. The game might turn some potential readers off. I can understand that.

It's been said that baseball is a game of numbers. Anyone listening to a radio broadcast of a Major League game would be hard-pressed to argue. Announcers often make the game seem like a deluge of statistics interrupted every now and then by some action. As if that wasn't enough, every once in a while a new statistic is created. Players' performances are measured by numbers, then compared to other players' numbers.

A new or casual follower of the game can go numb in a hurry.

But there's much more to baseball than the statistics. Pardon the blaspheme, hardcore fans.

When I was a kid, I was more interested in the rich history of the game, the stories, the legends and the myths. And there were plenty. That was the area in which some of the numbers meant something to me. I didn't care to compare levels of mediocrity—and believe me, growing up in Cleveland in the 1970's meant watching a lot of mediocre baseball. If one was lucky. No, I was struck by how some of the numbers elevated certain players to legendary status.

Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees played in 2,130 consecutive games. Think about that. It wasn't that he was never injured, or never sick. For 17 seasons he played through every ding and dent. What got him in the end is what killed him: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neuromuscular disease named after him. His record stood for 56 years. That's how tough it is to do what he did.

Gehrig's teammate, the larger-than-life Babe Ruth, struck out 1,330 times. But he also hit 714 home runs. What a testament to sticking to it! One of my favorite Ruthian legends is the Called Shot in the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. With two strikes on him, Ruth stepped out of the batters box and pointed toward center field. He later claimed he said he would hit the next one past the flag pole. Others refute the claim. No one knows for sure whether he actually called the shot. We only know that was where he hit the ball. Home run. What a great story!

Ruth was at the center of a myth, too. He started out playing for the Boston Red Sox, as a dominating pitcher. By 1918 Ruth had helped the Red Sox win two World Series. In winter of 1919 his contract was sold to the New York Yankees. The Red Sox didn't win another Series until 2004, 86 years later.

Of course, the Curse of the Bambino ignores the fact Ruth was still in Boston in the summer of 1919, and the Sox finished the season in 6th place.

Let's not forget the Chicago Cubs' myth. Chicago went to the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers. A man named William Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, got his pet goat, Murphy, into the stands for Game 4. The goat's smell bothered other fans, and Sianis and Murphy were asked to leave. Sianis supposedly cursed the Cubs, saying "They ain't gonna win no more."

The Cubs lost that Series, and didn't win another for 71 years despite numerous opportunities. But they already hadn't won since 1908. No curse was claimed for the earlier 36 seasons.

Researching these curses made me wonder about my hometown team, the Cleveland Indians. They last won a World Series in 1948. But no one has come up with a colorful curse for their 69 year drought. I toyed with these ideas myself, both the lack of a curse and a paranormal possibility.

The result is the novel, Mortal Foe.

Thank you Marty, and yes, you have now ignited my curiosity. I shall now read the book blurb, watch the video, and settle down with coffee and an excerpt!



A picture is worth a thousand words… But what if that image can only be seen through the lens of one camera? What is the snapshot can only be seen by a select few? What if the photo has its origins in the pit of Hell? What is that face belongs to an enemy bent on destruction? This is Buddy Cullen’s fate when he first dreams of his grandfather’s death and then inherits his grandfather’s antique camera and captures an image that haunts him and seeks his death. Can Buddy survive the curse that he sarcastically dubs “Popcorn”—a curse that no one wants to believe exists and stalks the city of Cleveland, beginning with its baseball team—a mortal foe?

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Marty Roppelt was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. His original profession was acting on stage, in local commercials and training films and in film. This means that he has experienced life through a wide variety of day and night jobs, from barista to waiter and bartender to security guard, amongst many others. He lives in Illinois with his wife, Becky, and their eccentric cat, Fritz.
Mortal Foe is his debut novel.

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Excerpt:

My eyes snap open wide.

A shadow faces me from beyond the foot of my bed. I shiver, holding my breath. The tall, bulky intruder seems oblivious. My sleep-hazy mind tells me to lie still. I'll make myself smaller that way, so the invader won't see me.
I'm making myself small…
My brain stirs slowly. A minute passes, then a few more. My eyes take their time adjusting to the darkness. Across the room, the sinister hulk takes the shape of my antique cherry-wood armoire.
My girlfriend, Kelly, lies next to me, undisturbed. She faces away. Her chest rises and falls with each breath, her body radiating warmth.
I don't move. Dread still freezes me in place. A voice in my head, my own voice, whispers a warning to me. The warning is so primal it would wear a bearskin if it had a life of its own.
Don't show the darkness any fear, any weakness.
A familiar neon green beacon, my alarm clock, demands my attention. A quarter past midnight. The glow helps me shake off the drowsy panic. My eyes scan familiar, dark shapes around me—the armoire, the dresser, the doors to my closet and to the hallway, the rumpled down comforter covering my girlfriend.
Despite the need for rest, my eyes won't stay closed. This irritates me. The frustration of not being able to sleep keeps me awake even longer. I can deal with the frustration. But I can't shake this sense of dread.
A dream. Just a weird, stupid dream.
The clock's digits change without remorse, mocking and exasperating me. Twelve forty-seven, eight, nine… Tomorrow won't be good. I risk coming off like a yawning zombie. Twelve fifty-five… I consider pummeling my pillow. My legs swing out of bed instead. The cold of the hardwood floor against my bare feet chases away the last of my drowsiness.
I amble into the kitchen. Sitting in silence in its cradle on the kitchen counter is my cordless phone. My eyes lock on the handset. An urge brews up to call someone close to me, but who should I call? My mom, my dad? Neither of them would answer at his hour, for different reasons, and neither should, of course. Now I expect the phone cradle to light up and ring, as my roused senses try to decipher the dream that woke me, that somehow signaled to me something is wrong…
A dream has me waiting at a ridiculous hour for a phone call from someone in my family.
I grumble to myself. "This is nuts."
The opened refrigerator bathes me in a sudden glare. Unguided hands fumble past paper bags and Styrofoam containers of restaurant leftovers. I finally find a bottle of beer. My fingers close around the long neck, I twist off the cap, and take a swig. The light cord of the ceiling fan dangles near my head. I ignore it. Something about the darkness is important. Not comforting, but…
But what?
Raising a cigarette to my lips, I open the window a few inches, then sit at the table. My old Zippo lighter's top pops open with a metallic clink, the flint makes a quick, scraping rasp, and the flame whooshes to life. I cringe. Did the noises rouse my neighbors from their own troubled sleep?
My gaze wanders past the flame.
Don't show the darkness any fear.
Darkness dominated the kitchen only a moment ago. This flame, this puny, solitary sliver of light defeats the darkness. My Zippo can't signal ships at sea. My 'fridge probably could. Both lights can expose shadowy shapes, however, and the night cannot overcome either light. The only thing that can extinguish the light is me.
Don't show it any weakness.
I light my cigarette and kill the glow of the Zippo.
"Join you?" A voice, half-awake, issues from the doorway behind me. I hope I didn't jump too high.
"Sure. Beer?"
"No. You can fire up a smoke for me, though. Thanks."
Kelly glides past. A wisp of vanilla, musk and flowers, Chantilly, her favorite perfume, follows her. She sits opposite me and takes the lit cigarette I offer. "Should I turn on the light?"
"If you like."
She keeps her seat, apparently liking the darkness better.
I jerk my chin toward the open window. "You want me to turn the heat up?"
"I've got my robe on."
I chuckle. My own total nakedness doesn't concern me. Kelly, on the other hand, wears her gauzy emerald green "robe" only, untied. She might as well be naked, too. I understand, of course. The sheer silk garment's function was never to keep the wearer warm, but to light a fire in someone else.
Kelly toys with her cigarette, rolling it between her thumb and fingers. "Worried about tomorrow?"
"About my department head? He's audited my classes before."
"So, why the stress?"
"Im that transparent?"
Her laugh drips playful sarcasm. "You light up every hour and a half when you're awake. You only smoke more at a bar, when you're bored, or when you're stressed. We're not at a bar. And when I do things right you're definitely not bored." She leans over the table. Her lips pucker into her best Marilyn Monroe pout. "Didn't I do things right tonight?"
"Oh, yeah."
Several hours ago, Kelly left her Downtown Cleveland office after work to meet me at an upscale bistro on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. A glass each of Chianti Classico turned into a whole bottle. She asked after glass three if I could spend the night with her. I toyed with the idea. After a few minutes, though, I finally decided to beg off.
But Kelly doesn't often take long to get what she wants from me. Tonight was no exception. The wine shot straight to my head. The low lights hid the dainty foot that nudged and rubbed my calf under the table. The aromas of Italian cooking mingled with Chantilly in an irresistible wave of sensuality. We passed on dessert. Kelly promised something much more stimulating at my apartment.
Now she sits back in triumph, blowing two perfect smoke rings toward the ceiling. "So, this is stress."
"Yes and no," I mumble.
"Nightmare?"
"Yeah."
"I'm surprised."
"Why?"
"It's just a dream. You're a bright college professor…"
"Journalism, not psychology. Who said I put stock in that stuff, anyway? I woke up, that's all."
"What did you dream about?"
"Funny. Now that I'm awake, I don't remember much."
Why did I just lie to her?
The truth is I remember every detail. The odd nightmare burned itself into my consciousness like a glowing cattle brand.
In the nightmare, my grandfather, photographer Jimmy Cullen, pulled a photo print off the wire that runs the length of his basement darkroom. Grandpop—I've always called him that—held the photo as far from his face as possible. His eyes widened. His ruddy complexion drained of all color. His lips quivered. He acted as if he'd been handed a live hand grenade.
"Grandpop?" My tongue lolled in my mouth with Novocained sluggishness. "What is it?"
 A sudden wind blew. Dried fallen leaves scraped across the pavement outside. Our heads snapped in unison toward the sound. The basement's bare cinderblock walls gave the place a fortress's ambiance, but they didn't blot out the rattle of dead leaves. Grandpop stared for a long moment. He froze as if expecting the walls to give way to the leaves, or to worse. The still house seemed to invite the whispery sounds of death inside and embrace them.
Grandpop spoke. But like a badly dubbed foreign movie, the words his mouth formed didn't match the words that came out. "Alone tonight… Darn it, Maureen… doggone kids' Halloween dance…"
Grandpop plopped down on a tall stool at his work table, exhausted by his outburst. A complaint? The words, the whining and grousing, were out of character. I had no response for him, which is also unlike me.
"No Grandma?" Invisible marbles rolled around inside my mouth.
Grandpop blinked hard, jumping as though he'd been electrically shocked. He jammed the print into a large manila envelope that already bulged with something else inside. The package bore a number written in green ink: nine-eight-five-nine.
Grandpop rose from his stool, a barstool I recognized from my dad's Downtown tavern. He strode toward the walk-in closet at the back of the darkroom. He muttered at the envelope as he passed me.
"Caught you again, didn't I?"
"Caught who?" My voice changed. I sounded like a Munchkin from Oz.
Grandpop disappeared into the closet, leaving me in the darkroom alone. I couldn't bring myself to move. My curiosity was the kind a child suffers when he's told never, ever to do a certain thing. The curious kid in me wanted to see what was going on. The adult in me feared for life and limb. My fear rooted me to the spot.
A "pop" and loss of light announced the death of one of the darkroom's two light bulbs.
"I don't spook so easily," Grandpop hollered.
A car cruised up the driveway. The engine's hum filtered through the fortress walls. The side door to the kitchen creaked open and banged closed.
We were no longer alone.
My heart raced, my joints froze. I wanted to run. My muscles fought against me. Stark terror turned my feet to lead. Footsteps headed our way from the basement stairs.
"Jimmy?" my grandmother, Maureen, called.
My heart slowed but I still couldn't move, despite my relief.
Grandpop met Grandma in the doorway and gave her a peck on the cheek.
"How's my Lass?"
"Missed you." She scrunched her face into a silly expression, a kind of mock pout, uncharacteristic for her. "Atlanta? The Series?"
"Too much traffic. The Indians lost. Missed you, too."
They held each other, their embrace a subtle dance. The surviving forty-watt bulb above us threw weird shadows into the corners of the darkroom. The sounds of our breathing, and the scraping, rustling leaves grew louder in the otherwise silent murk.
Grandma pulled away, cackling. "Cup of hot chocolate and a ghost story for you?"
I almost laughed out loud at her bizarre behavior.
"Nah," Grandpop said.
"I'm going to bed."
Grandpop answered in a melodramatic, fearful tone. "Just a couple more things to do. Then we'll be together again."
His stony expression was the lawyer's before a murder trial, or the soldier's on his way to deadly combat. His demeanor only made his words to Grandma more jarring, more frightful to me.
They kissed. Grandma wheeled and left the darkroom. We heard the groan of well-worn wooden stairs, first to the kitchen, then further above to the bedroom of their old colonial-style home. Grandpop settled again on his stool. He reached across his work table for his Kodak Medalist 620, the camera he used since his enlistment in the Navy two generations ago.
Every once in a while, a dream becomes so surreal that, despite still being asleep, some distant part of the brain announces "This is a dream!" I remember the exact moment, a sort of "out-of-body" experience. I became Grandpop. I sat on his stool and held his camera, but I was still an observer, too, watching myself play his part. I gripped the antique as if shaking a frail old friend's hand. This friend accompanied me—him—through everything from the best of times to the most harrowing hell.
No more experiences would be shared and captured on film. A hot, sharp pain ripped up my left arm. A giant fist squeezed my chest and I gasped in vain for breath. My mind raced away from the Medalist 620 to my grandmother lying in bed, likely dozing while trying to read a book. She would wake, sensing Grandpop was still in the house, and yet gone. She would find him here later. Sadness engulfed me.
I'm sorry, Lass…
I slumped to the work table. As Grandpop, I wanted my last thoughts on earth to be of Grandma, to take the memory of my gentle, devoted wife's face with me on my way to meet God. But my last glance caught a shadow that was not Grandma's, moving toward me from beyond the darkroom doorway.
Then I woke to the strange shadow at the foot of my bed…
"Yeah, I've had that happen before. It's so frustrating."
Kelly's voice, from behind the glowing cigarette tip, jars me back to the waking present. I shake the nightmare out of my head.
"Had what happen?"
"Dreamed something and then forgotten it only a couple of minutes after waking up. Frustrating."
"Yeah."
Kelly takes a drag from the cigarette and stabs the ash tray with it. She shoves her chair aside, composes herself, and glides back around the table, tracing her finger up my bare arm. Her nail scratches a light reddish trail on my skin.
"Know the best way to get rid of frustration, Buddy Cullen?"
"Tell me."
"Showing's better than telling."
I crush my own cigarette out and glance at the phone. Nothing happens, of course. The phone's not going to ring tonight. Not for this. I rise and lay foolish superstition aside. A colleague at Case Western Reserve University, a science professor, once assured me that to attach meaning to dreams is unscientific, a bogus exercise. Dreams, he theorized, might be nothing more than a mash of random thoughts and memories.
Kelly breezes ahead of me, tugging me by my hand. Her urgency mounts. My gaze consumes her. The wispy robe caresses her perfect form. Her cat-graceful step entrances me. She pirouettes, sits on the edge of the bed, and leans back, pulling me down toward her.
Ghosts and demons and other unexplainable things lose their fascination. I lie far less gracefully beside Kelly. Her lips explore the base of my neck, but I still keep one ear cocked toward the phone. She nips lightly at my ear lobe, with a deep-throated chuckle. In a few short moments, she commands my full attention…
The phone rings. I gasp, irritated by the interruption. I'm dismayed, too. I know what the call is about.
"I have to get that."
"No, you don't." Kelly tangles her fingers in my hair and pulls my face back down toward hers. "That's why God gave us answering machines."
I'm conflicted, keyed up but powerless, able to break free but unwilling to try. The machine answers the call, the phone stops ringing. I feel Kelly's smile in the darkness as her lips brush against mine. I lose myself in her, lose every part of myself.
Every part, that is, except the faraway corner of my mind that wonders if Grandma just woke from the same nightmare, and found Grandpop dead in his darkroom.



 







 

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