Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brian Wolcott and the Court of Unrequited Love (PART 3 of 5)

If you need to catch up, you can read Part 1 over here.

The next morning Ali went to the apartment complex office and asked to speak to the manger. She soon found herself seated across a desk from Aaron Spellmeyer, a smug looking thirty-something in a shirt and tie.

What do you want to know about the racquetball court?” he said, flashing an overly whitened smile. “It's just one of our many wonderful amenities here at Pine Ridge Landings.”

Ali sighed and looked at her watch. She needed to get as much information as she could before it was time for class.

Yes, I already live here so I know about the 'amenities,'” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I want to know why the court closed thirty years ago.”

Aaron shrugged and smiled again.

I couldn't say, my management firm bought this property a year ago,” he said. “We just refinished the floor and repainted, one of the many improvements Home Sweet Home Property Management has made.”

Ali laughed scornfully. The only change she had seen when the new management took over was higher rent.

There are no records?” she asked. “The old management didn't leave anything on file?”

Aaron shook his head but maintained his smile.

The previous owners weren't much for record keeping, you could say,” he chuckled.

What about the Building Division?” Ali asked. “Are there any old permits or reports on file? Have you checked with City Hall?”

Aaron appeared to be thinking to himself. He took a deep breath, widened his smile and folded his hands on the desktop.

At Home Sweet Home Property Management we spend our time providing quality housing to our tenants,” he said. “We don't really have time to do all the research you're asking for. But let me assure that the racquetball court is safe and up to code.”

Well, thank you for your time,” Ali said, and she got up to leave.


Brian angrily adjusted his headband and cursed himself. The game had started off friendly enough but had quickly disintegrated into a sweaty testosterone-fueled death match.

Matt had arrived at the racquetball court at the appointed time with a mending Kurt in tow. Kurt explained that the ophthalmologist had prescribed him some eye drops and he was now ready to play. Everyone had put their tubes of spare racquetballs in the corner of the court and started to warm up. Kurt sported a prescription eye patch and he shot Brian an evil look, his good eye full of hate. Brian suspected something was wrong when he made a snarky comment about pirates and Kurt was unperturbed. To Brian's horror, Kurt had simply removed his eye patch and put on a brand new pair of the thickest goggles Brian had ever seen.

And now they were killing him. Brian loathed himself for not seeing the evil duo for what they were: hustlers. But unlike other hustlers, racquetball hustlers didn't play for money. They were just ridiculously skilled in the art of racquetball and masochistically interested in making other players look very, very foolish, which was exactly what they were doing to Brian at that moment.

Kurt had extra reason to see Brian look stupid in light of yesterday's racquetball-to-the-eye incident. Kurt had won the first two games without much effort, with Matt in close second. Brian hadn't scored in the first game, gotten a meager two points in the second and game number three was looking to have a similar outcome. All notions of racquetball glory had fled from Brian. He was breathing heavily and trying to dodge the elbows Kurt was throwing.

Who's the pirate now?” Kurt sneered. “You're playing like you have a wooden leg and a hook for a hand, heh heh heh.”

And a parrot,” added Matt with an vicious smirk. “That's, like, on your shoulder and asking for a cracker and talking a lot and distracting you and making you suck.”

Brian shuddered at the sight of Kurt's injured eye: bloodshot and bulging with the pupil fully dilated.

Shut up,” Brian murmured. “Who makes pirate jokes anyway? Pirates are so trendy and overdone, like zombies and ninjas.”

Kurt laughed loudly, looked over at Matt and then back to Brian.

Now that you mention it,” Kurt guffawed, “You're playing more like a zombie than a pirate. Like you're thinking about eating brains instead of racquetball.”

Kurt and Matt laughed and gave each other high fives. Brian gritted his teeth and tried hard to think of a snappy comeback.

I'll... eat your brains,” he mumbled, hating himself all the more. “Just shut up and serve.”

Kurt and Matt laughed loudly again and shook their heads. Kurt stepped up to the serving line, grinning hatefully. He bounced the ball several times and called, “Game point.” He threw the ball up in the air.

The lights went out. The racquetball Kurt had been about to serve fall back down and hit the floor. The sound seemed extra loud in the darkness.

Not again!” Kurt's voice called out. “What's going on?”

Brian strained his eyes to see but the darkness was complete. He heard Kurt and Matt grumbling to each other and start stumbling toward the back of the court. And then Brian heard a racquetball start bouncing toward the back of the court.

Is someone...” he started to say.

The sound of one bouncing racquetball slowly grew until it sounded like several balls were bouncing and then several more. The sound rapidly grew into a dull roar. It sounded to Brian as if all of their spare racquetballs were bouncing around the court at rapid speed, ricocheting off the walls, floor and ceiling. He heard several whiz past his head.

What's happening?” Matt called in a choking voice over the din.

Brian was trying to feel his way toward the door in the darkness. He stumbled through the hailstorm of racquetballs. The air was full of them, and he could feel them zinging past. One smacked him in the back of the head. Another hit him in the hand, almost knocking the racquet out of it. Brian winced and heard Matt and Kurt yelling.

The racquetballs were flying all around like an swarm of angry bees. They began to pelt Brian all over his body and he broke into a run. He ran smack into the back wall and fell backward. He scrambled to his feet and felt for the door.

Over here!” Brian called out, holding the door open.

Dim light spilled into the previously dark court. Matt and Kurt stumbled toward the door and together the three men ran screaming from the court.

Please tell me what you think of the story so far! Leave a comment or suggestion, if you please. If you really want to endear yourself to me, you could post a link to this on your Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Brian Wolcott and the Court of Unrequited Love (PART 2 of 5)

If you need to catch up, you can read Part 1 over here.

Brian looked over the maintenance man's shoulder as he peered into the circuit breaker box. The maintenance man murmured to himself. He looked at Brian, then at the breakers, then back to Brian.

“The lights just went out, you say?”

Brian was irritated, mostly because his inevitable racquetball victory had been snatched from him, but partly because this maintenance man wasn't taking this seriously. He looked at the name patch on the maintenance man's uniform disdainfully.

“Yeah, that's what I say, Bob.”

Bob looked thoughtful for a moment and said, “Well, none of the breakers are tripped. I don't know why the lights would've suddenly gone out.”

“Well they did,” Brian said without attempting to hide his frustration.

Maybe it's the bulbs,” Bob said, closing the breaker box panel and avoiding Brian's intense gaze. They walked around to the front of the building and opened the door to the court.

Well well well,” said Bob, looking over at Brian with a intentionally neutral smile. “It would seem that the lights are working fine to me, Mr. Wolcott.”

For the first time during the exchange, Brian was speechless. He simply stared up at the lights, which were now shining brightly.

Brian spluttered helplessly. But... but...”

Have a nice day, Mr. Wolcott,” Bob said.


Matt had hastily shouted their apartment number as he left to care for the injured Kurt, and Brian stopped by on his way home. He carried Matt and Kurt's forgotten racquets and tubes of spare racquetballs. Matt answered the door.

Hey!” he said cheerfully and ushered Brian in. “Thanks for bringing our stuff by. Did they get the lights fixed?”

When the maintenance guy came to look, they were fine,” Brian said, shaking his head. “Not sure what that was about.”

Didn't matter to me,” said Kurt, seated on the couch. “Someone had already declared war on my eyeball, so I didn't see anything anyway.”

Kurt sat with his feet elevated on a footstool and held a package of bacon against his injured eye. Brian sat in a threadbare armchair and shrugged. He looked at Kurt quizzically.

“Stop looking at my bacon! Kurt yelled.

Matt plopped down on the opposite end of the couch from Kurt.

He searched for 'what do do when you've been hit in the eye with a racquetball' on the internet,” Matt said, grinning. “That's what the internet said to do, and you should always trust the internet.”

Kurt shot Matt a menacing look and said, “The top search result said to put a cold steak on it, but we don't have any steak.”

Matt tried to stifle a fit of laughter unsuccessfully which made Brian smile in spite of his foul mood. Kurt pouted quietly.

I made Kurt an appointment with the ophthalmologist for tomorrow morning and he'll be fine,” Matt said to Brian. “And anyway, when do you want to play again?”

Brian perked up and started to say, “How about-”

What?!” Kurt exclaimed. He sat up on the couch and glared at Brian and Matt with his one good eye. He pointed an accusing finger at Matt. 

“You're going to play racquetball without me? Me, your roommate of three semesters!”

Matt made a sour face and laughed bitterly.

Of course I am playing without you,” he said scornfully. “I've been telling you to wear goggles for forever and I'm not going to let your stupid face stop me. So how about tomorrow at three?”

Brian agreed.


Ali pedaled wearily up to the mailboxes. It was late, she was tired and she squinted in the darkness. She found their mailbox, unlocked it and sighed as she placed the enclosed bills into her backpack. She heard shuffling footsteps behind her and she turned around abruptly.

Oh, Mrs. Berman,” she breathed. “It's you. You scared me!”

Sorry,” said Mrs. Berman is squeaky voice. “Why are you checking mail so late?”

Just got done with work. You weren't out running this late, were you?”

Mrs. Berman had been Ali and Brian's downstairs neighbor for the past few years. Tonight she was clad in light colored running tights and jacket, her thin white hair in a ponytail. Ali guessed that Mrs. Berman was around 90 years old, but she was constantly running and taught a hot yoga class at the senior center.

Mrs. Berman shrugged innocently. “I'm old, I can't sleep,” she lied.

Mrs. Berman, I told you not to go running at night anymore!” Ali said, clucking her disapproval. “Someone is going to run your ancient butt over.”

The two women laughed. Mrs. Berman unlocked her mailbox and extracted a small stack of envelopes.

I have my flashing safety light,” said Mrs. Berman, locking the mailbox. “And you should mind your business. If it's my time to go, then I'll go. I've been around a long time.”

Ali laughed and then paused for a moment, thinking.

Hey, Mrs. Berman,” she said. “You've lived in the complex for a lot of years, right?”

Thirty. I'd have moved away long ago when the complex went to crap but I'm on a fixed income, see.”

Mrs. Berman was sorting through her mail and Ali asked, “Do you remember when the racquetball court closed?”

Mrs. Berman looked up abruptly, her eyes wide. The bill she had been holding slipped from her hand and fluttered to the ground. Ali bent to pick it up and handed it back to Mrs. Berman, who was shaking.

Yes,” Mrs. Berman said in a quavering voice. “June 13. The complex was new then, I had just moved in.”

Why did it close?”

Mrs. Berman was silent and she looked more than a little afraid.

Oh, I can't say I recall,” she murmured. “It think it was bad... flooring.”

Mrs. Berman,” Ali said in a stern voice, attempting to fix Mrs. Berman with an equally stern look. Mrs. Berman wouldn't meet her eyes.

“Asbestos? I think it was asbestos,” mumbled Mrs. Berman. “Lead paint, too. Most dangerous racquetball court ever.”

Ali put her hands on her hips. “Mrs. Berman, why did they close the racquetball court thirty years ago?”

I've got to go now, Ali,” Mrs. Berman said with a dismissive wave of her wrinkled hand. “I have to go drink my protein shake,”

And with that, Mrs. Berman shuffled off into the night, leaving Ali standing alone by the mailboxes.

Tune in next week for more adventures...

Please tell me what you think of the story so far! Leave a comment or suggestion, if you please. If you really want to endear yourself to me, you could post a link to this on your Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Brian Wolcott and the Court of Unrequited Love (PART 1 of 5)

Dear Reader,
I'm going to be trying something a little different for the next few weeks. I'm writing a short story and I'm going to post it in parts as I go along. Here is Part 1 of 5. It's a lot longer than what I usually post, so don't say I didn't warn you. Thanks!

Brian's grin filled the tiny kitchen. He hugged the newsletter to his chest while Ali ate, waiting for her to ask him about it. She didn't. Instead she gulped mouthfuls of milk and cereal and tried not to look at Brian lest he be encouraged. He thrust the crinkled piece paper in front of her face.

“Did you see the apartment complex newsletter?” he asked, grinning.

Ali gave him an annoyed look. “I have now.”

He sat down beside her at the kitchen table but she got up.

“Can't talk now, baby. I gotta go to class,” she said, dropping her bowl in the tiny kitchen sink. She hurried toward the front door, grabbing a backpack as she went. Brian followed her out into the cool winter morning, still clutching the newsletter.

“Racquetball court,” he said happily.

“Huh?” Ali said as she unchained her bike.

“Our apartment complex is opening a racquetball court.”

“You mean they're building one?” Ali asked.

“No, they're re-opening an old one here in the complex. Newsletter says it's been closed for years.”

“Really?” Ali said. She straddled the bike and looked at Brian quizzically. “How come we've never seen it before?”

Brian shrugged. “I think it's back behind the pool that's behind the laundromat.”

For the first time in the conversation Ali paused.

“I never knew anything was back there,” she murmured. “Why did it close in the first place? How many years has it been closed?”

Brian was smiling, and Ali could tell from his expression that he didn't care. He shrugged again.

“Don't you play enough at school?” she asked. “You've taken a racquetball class every semester since you were a freshman, and we both know you're not in any danger of graduating.”

Brian laughed. “You can never play enough racquetball, and it'll be nice to have a court here in the complex.”

“Who will you play with?”

“You?” Brian said hopefully.

Ali snorted. “Not likely. You're too competitive, and whenever I win, you don't speak to me for days.”

Brian pressed on. “It opens this afternoon so I'm gonna go over and I'll probably meet some other players there. It's a huge complex and there's bound to be some.”


Brian dressed carefully in his racquetball shorts. He added a headband, wristband and goggles. Last of all he reverently put on his racquetball gloves. He looked at his reflection in the tiny bathroom mirror and found it satisfactory. Brian put a new tube of racquetballs under his arm, collected his racquet and headed across the complex.

He threaded through the complex's roving pack of unsupervised seven-year-olds and walked past the mailboxes. Sun filtered through the bare winter trees that grew there and Brian walked happily though the web of shadows they cast. He passed the nearly-empty pool and through the dingy light the building that housed the racquetball court came into view. Two maintenance workers were still cutting through the ivy that had previously covered the building. Brian imagined that was why he never noticed it before. They had cleared away the door area and were working steadily down one wall.

Brian went inside and noted how new everything looked. The floor was new, and the lines and walls had been freshly painted. Two young men roughly Brian's age standing inside. He introduced himself.

“I'm Kurt, and this is my roommate Matt,” said the taller of the two. “We weren't sure anyone would come. Wanna play cutthroat?”

Brian adjusted his goggles and carefully looked the pair over. He smiled inwardly but tried to keep a straight face. He had a better racquet, better gloves and Kurt wasn’t even wearing goggles. Beating them should be easy.

“Let's do it,” he said, smiling. “But don't you need some goggles there Kurt?”

Kurt laughed. “No, man,” he sneered. “I've been playing racquetball without goggles for years and I've never had any problems.”

Matt shook his head. “You've had some close calls,” he said. “That one time I almost got you.”

“Did not!”

“I tell him all the time that he needs to wear goggles,” Matt said earnestly. “The racquetball teacher at school says that a racquetball is perfectly shaped to fit inside the human eye socket and if it hits you just right it will suck your eyeball right out of your head!”

Kurt laughed scornfully. “So are we going to play or what?”

The trio set their spare racquetballs in the back corner of the court and Brian served first. He threw the racquetball up into the air and smacked it toward the front wall. It hit with great force and the crash of the impact echoed through court. Kurt and Matt both awkwardly dived toward the racquetball as it bounced off the front wall and Brian smiled to himself. This was going to be too easy.

Matt caught the racquetball with the edge of his racquet and it wobbled back toward the front wall. Brian walked leisurely to a spot and watched as the poorly-hit blue ball floated back toward him in a slow, easy arc. He swung his racquet confidently.

And all at once Kurt was writhing on the floor and screaming, “Me eye! My eye!” Matt knelt on the floor and tried to calm him. He looked at Brian as if he were a stone cold murderer. Kurt continued to yell.

“I didn't mean to!” Brian exclaimed, his racquet dangling limply at his side. “Did his eyeball, uh, get sucked out?”

“Not sure,” Matt said over Kurt's cries. “He's got them shut.”

Matt appeared to scan the floor for loose eyeballs. Brian had started to do the same when the lights went out and plunged them into darkness.

continued next week...

Please tell me what you think of the story so far. Leave a comment or suggestion, if you please.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

High hopes for 2012

Well, the holidays are over and it's official: I'm old.

For instance, when I was a kid I couldn't wait to get up on Christmas morning, but this year I refused to get up.

“It's a day off,” I told my wife. “That means sleeping in.”

So she put Junior in the bed with us and he proceeded to drool all over me and bite me on the face. At that point I had to get up to avoid becoming a human teething ring and getting gnawed to death.

We opened presents and mine were all awesome. Some were fun and some were practical, but later in the day I saw my younger siblings running around with lightsabers and darts guns and Legos and I got sad. I love all my adult presents, but sometimes I just want a good lightsaber.

How I really knew I was old was when I was talking to my younger brother who is in middle school. I asked him what he was doing for his two week break and he said, “Oh, just taking it easy.” And before I knew what was happening I heard myself whining, “Well enjoy 'taking it easy' now while you still can! When you're old like me you have to work for a living. You don't get any vacations and even if you wanted to take time off you can't 'cause all your co-workers with more seniority already got Christmas off so you have to stay and work and it's just you and you have to run everything by yourself and...”

Merry Christmas, little bro. Cynicism and bitterness are the Christmas gifts that keep on giving.

All in all, the holidays were tons of fun. Tons of family, and, more importantly, tons of food. Also, my son got a huge pile of stuff, which is easy to do when you have grandparents, uncles and aunts on both sides who love to spoil you.

But now all the fun times are over, which brings us to January, possibly the bleakest month ever. The holidays are over, it's cold, it's boring and you have to try and lose all the weight you gained from eating nothing but fattycakes since Thanksgiving (or maybe that's just me). The only bright spot is Martin Luther King Day, but I don't get Presidents Day off so there are no more holidays until Memorial Day.

Even though January is a drag, I think 2012 is going to be my year.