Enjoying a Different Kind of ‘Ball + Chain’

 

Rebecca Lobo, Steve Rushin and family. (Photo courtesy of masslive.com)

I have two new best friends. I’ve known who they were for many, many years, but only recently I have let them into my life on a personal level.

Well, truth be told, they’re letting me—and thousands upon thousands of others; especially those in St. Petersburg—into their lives on a personal level, and it’s absolutely priceless.

Former UConn women’s basketball star and present-day ESPN talking head Rebecca Lobo and Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin have a podcast called “Ball + Chain.”

They’ve put together 35 episodes, so far. I’m about 26 episodes in as I’m still playing catch up, but I’m enjoying the ride. So much so, in fact, that I’ll sit in the car for a few extra minutes, or drive around the block, just to finish listening to a segment … or perhaps the entire remaining minutes of a podcast.

It’s a home run. Or, in Robo-speak, it’s a pure swish.

First, let me say this: A big part of this podcast is right in my wheel house.

A former college basketball star that I once saw play joining forces with an SI writer, who I’ve spent a lot of my life reading?

What’s not to like, right?

But it’s more than the sports talk that keeps me hooked. It’s the people … well, the family, really .. that’s involved.

It’s like sitting on a back deck with friends, listening to them play off each other to much amusement. It’s like being invited to their breakfast nook the morning after spending the night and listening to husband and wife discuss their day in absolutely entertaining fashion. It’s like being in a car, with your friends in the back seat, gabbing about their family, their world, their lives.

And it’s so much fun. Yet it almost wasn’t.

When I first gave “Ball + Chain” a try, I didn’t even make it through the first episode.

There were some major sound quality issues that made listening to it almost impossible.

Many months later, on a recent road trip to New Jersey, though, when I was stuck in a car, driving through Connecticut, New York and New Jersey traffic, I gave it another try.

SI writer Steve Rushin, half of the “Ball + Chain” podcast. (Photo courtesy of jeffpearlman.com)

They fixed the sound issues, making the podcast much easier on the ears, and by the time my trip to and fro was over, I must have been eight episodes in.

I was hooked.

I was a fan.

I had two new friends to keep me company on pretty much every journey I’ve taken since.

If my drive is more than 30 minutes, I switch off my Sirius XM and tune in to the “Ball + Chain” podcast.

And, I repeat, it is so much more than the just the sports that keeps me tuned in and coming back for more.

First some background: Rushin is going to be turning 52 years old soon, while Lobo is soon to be 45.

As such, both are from my generation and for the most part grew up watching the same sports teams, sports moments, television shows and commercials and listening to the same music as I did.

They are my generation and they relish in their memories of growing up during the same era, and as they reflect on such moments, so do I.

Lobo grew up in Massachusetts, Rushin in Minnesota.

Fate, however, brought them together in a New York City bar. It’s a topic that is frequently brought up on the podcast, and it’s as a great of a first-meeting story as there is out there.

Rushin had once written, “Although Wilt Chamberlain claimed to have slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime, I had once slept with 7,138 women in a single night: We were all snoring in the stands at a WNBA game.”

Lobo happened to be a WNBA star at that time and confronted Rushin at the bar during a chance meeting.

Rebecca Lobo, half of the “Ball + Chain” podcast.

“She asked if I was the scribe who once mocked, in Sports Illustrated, women’s professional basketball,” Rushin later wrote. “Reluctantly, I said that I was. She asked how many games I’d actually attended. I hung my head and said, ‘None.’ And so Rebecca Lobo invited me to watch her team, the New York Liberty play at Madison Square Garden. We both reeked of secondhand Camels (and, quite possibly, of secondhand camels: It was that kind of a dive.) But my insult had been forgiven. It was—for me, anyway—love at first slight. She had the longest legs, the whitest teeth, the best-sown cornrows I had ever seen, and I imagined us to have much in common. I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on boxes of Frosted Flakes. I am ludicrous, and she was name-dropped in a rap by Ludacris. We were, I thought, made for each other.”

Give them a listen and you realize, they really are made for each other.

That’s why it works so well, I think.

I have this little fantasy in my head: Rushin makes Lobo laugh a lot and every time he does I can almost picture him smiling with the knowledge, “Yup, she still loves me.”

Their connection to each other radiates through their words and mannerisms. I don’t recognize true love when I see it. In this case, though, I hear it.

The two married and have four children—three girls, one boy—all of whom come up from time to time in the podcast.

I told you it was about more than sports.

The ball and chain—“Who’s the ball, who’s the chain? is a key line in the podcast’s opening ditty sung by Tom, Dick and Harry (Tom is Steve’s brother, by the way)—talk about their lives and everything that happens in it. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters … even grandparents, uncles, aunts and neighbors.

As often as they trade good-natured jabs at one another, they also obviously keep their hearts open for each other, as well.

It’s funny. It’s interesting. It’s touching. It’s just a great listen, from start to finish.

It doesn’t matter if they’re reflecting on Larry Bird, Geno Auriemma, the Minnesota Vikings (or Twins), changing their car oil, or Steve’s inability to cook anything other than microwavable White Castle, they will keep you entertained.

While many podcasts have tunnel vision (i.e., I listen to The West Wing Podcast, too, which is focused just on the hit television show), you never know where “Ball + Chain” will take you.

Each episode is a different adventure, but is filled with enough memories and running jokes that Lobo and Rushin make it feel like you’re part of their larger extended family.

Sometimes, literally, it’s an adventure, too, as Lobo and Rushin discuss their different travels and travails, from airports to hotels to Uber (or Lyft) rides. Or maybe just a mini-van ride to an AAU basketball tournament in Massachusetts, or the local grocery store.

They’ve had some special guests—Lobo’s sister, former NFL player and current ESPN personality Mike Golic and his wife, and the podcast’s producer Deny (With one N!) Gallagher– to name a few. Even when others enter the podcast, it doesn’t throw off the enjoyment.

Semi-spoiler alert: The ending of the podcast with Deny (With one N!) is one of the best endings in podcast history.

The author, a Minnesota Vikings fan despite hailing from Maine, with his old friend, Charlie.

In closing, I remember the moment I realized “Ball + Chain” and I had a special connection.

It came when Lobo talked about a ventriloquism dummy she had received as a gift when she was younger. And, Rushin reflected on what it was like to work as a 14-year-old during a Minnesota Vikings game.

It took me back to a picture of myself when I was younger. Of me, wearing a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt, holding on to a ventriloquist dummy I was given as a child.

Basketball. Sports. A Sportswriter. UConn basketball. A dummy. The Vikings.

How’s that for a fate?

In a different time and in different places, I could have been friends with Lobo and Rushin. We would have shared a lot of laughs.

Instead, I’m just a loyal listener, taking my new friends—one a ball, the other a chain–with me on countless rides to keep me company.

 

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A Family’s Tragic Loss Felt From Afar

I don’t know where the tears came from; from a faraway collection of broken hearts, I suppose.

But they came this morning, uninvited, when I learned Deven Lee Scott had passed away.

She was beautiful. She was 27. She was family. And now she’s gone.

Like I said, broken hearts feeling the pain of losing a daughter, a mother, a friend; it travels over time and space and, if you let it, it’ll hit you hard.

This morning it hit me as a few tears rolled down my face as I learned the news.

If I’m being honest, though, I never had the pleasure of meeting Deven.

She is my cousin’s husband’s brother’s daughter, so technically there is no direct connection to me, no shared bloodlines that run from me to her.

I never had the chance to meet her, to talk to her, or learn about her, though she is, no doubt, somebody who seemed so special to those who loved her.

I never had the chance to look directly into those sky blue eyes, or see her infectious, radiating smile.

And, I never had the chance to meet her children—Aleigha, Jayce, Natalie—just another limb off a branch on the other side of the extended family tree.

Deven was my cousin’s niece, my second cousins’ cousin. So, as far as I’m concerned, she is part of my family and I mourn her death along with all of them.

Growing up, my cousins were my first closest friends.

So many weeks we would travel from our home in the small town of Orrington, Maine, driving 30 miles over hill and dale, to an even smaller town called Garland.

It was there where my cousin Debbie, the oldest sibling in her family of four children, fell in love with Mike Scott.

Mike Scott had a bevy of brothers—Brent, Reggie, Cecil.

Cecil Scott is Deven’s father.

I don’t remember how old I was when I was asked to be the ring bearer at Mike and Debbie’s wedding. As such, I was in the wedding party along with the Scott brothers.

What I do remember, though, is the band of brothers the Scott family had; many of whom would always be around every time we visited over the years.

Cecil’s pain is immense, unfathomable. To lose a child? As parents, we can’t even think of it.

I know this week, those brothers stand beside him, strong for him, as he buries his daughter.

I haven’t seen Cecil in probably 25 years, perhaps at my aunt’s funeral, but I can’t honestly remember if he was there that day.

But, as distant family members are apt to do, we follow each other on Facebook, so we both know what is going on in each other’s lives.

It wasn’t too long ago that Cecil lost the love of his life, his wife, Bonnie. October 2, 2016, to be exact.

And now Deven, gone at 27, far too soon.

Perhaps the only comfort in this, as many people have pointed out, is that Deven is back in the loving arms of her mother.

We can only hope so.

So who was Deven Lee Scott, my cousin’s husband’s brother’s daughter?

I don’t know. I can’t tell you, though I wish I could.

Instead, I have to let other’s speak for her.

Deven was “a thrill seeker and loved the excitement of life. There was never a dull moment when she was around. She loved her family and children endlessly. She had an enormous heart with so much love to give.”

Those are just some of the words that appeared in her obituary this morning.

But those words are not enough.

Online, the place where so many of us are connected, the tributes began rolling in.

“RIP Deven Lee you will be greatly missed,” wrote one friend, in a Facebook post. “You were a wonderful kind hearted person that would do anything for anyone….You are a mother to three beautiful children. I just can’t believe you are gone. Gone but never forgotten.”

“May you rest at peace Deven Lee Scott and may a smile on your face and peace in your heart be with you always,” wrote another. “What a beautiful smile you had and the biggest heart.”

“I can’t believe my best friend Deven Lee Scott passed away,” was yet one more. “My heart is breaking in millions of pieces.”

Many hearts are broken this week, and as of this morning so is mine.

I send out my love and prayers to my cousins for the loss of their cousin and niece, and to Cecil and his other children, Stephanie and Cecil, two others I also haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.

At least, not yet.

May you forever rest in peace, Deven Lee Scott.

A Return To The Links: Giving the Game Another Go

The author captured this photo of a golfer hitting an approach shot earlier this spring.

For pretty much all of my life, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the game of golf.

It has given me many great memories; yet it has cost me dearly, both physically and emotionally.

Today, just two weeks past my 52nd birthday, I’ve made a decision to take the game up again.

I’m Tiger Woods Redux, only paler and fatter and older and nowhere near as good as he is … left-handed.

 

I went out and low balled the heck out of second golf career, spending $300 for clubs, a bag, a glove, 36 balls, 100 tees, and a pair of Nike Golf Shoes.

Less than a mile from house, there is a nine-hole Par 3 course. The Short Beach Golf Course, it’s called.

It’s only $10 a round, so that’s where I’ll start my comeback.

Hole by hole, I’ll play to the future. Getting better, I hope, while both my weight and my score drop lower and lower.

As I sit here thinking about my next first round, I can’t help but dance with the ghosts of my foursome as I tee off on this thought and making it become a reality.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

I was just a boy that day my dad and I went to the golf course in Eddington. Watchoverya, is what I called. Even today, I don’t know how to spell it.

It’s where I first swung a club and even though it’s long gone now–closed, defunct, overgrown, no doubt–it still holds a special place in my heart for that reason.

Father. Son. Bonding over a sport.

Golf is one of my favorite memories with my dad. And that’s where it all started.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

In middle school, eighth grade to be exact, I had a student teacher named Mr. Blodgett.

Donald Blodgett from Penobscot, Maine.

Growing up in a small town like Orrington, Maine, most of my teachers were wily and cagey veterans. Too damn old to be cool or to be able to reach students on a certain level. It was there way or the highway.

They wouldn’t put up with much bullshit and—as good old Robert Bradford, a science teacher, showed me that same year—if you dished out you’d get a punch straight to the forehead.

But, I digress. Mr. Blodgett was probably my first “favorite teacher”, even if he was just a student teacher who would be gone by the end of the year. He was cool and it was fun to be in his class.

Once the school year was over, I was saddened to see Mr. Blodgett go. But one of my favorite middle school memories was playing a round of golf with him that following summer at the Pine Hill Golf Club.

I also made one of my all-time great golf shots that day: A long, winding, twisting putt from one end of the green to the other that found nothing but the bottom of the cup.

I knew where my golf had gone after that. I never knew what happened to Mr. Blodgett.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, though, I found out for this post.

Mr. Blodgett lives in Scarborough and retired from the Old Orchard Beach school system.

I wonder how his golf game is. Chances are when I’m out on the course later this week, he’ll surely cross my mind.

And thanks, Mr. Blodgett, for having such an effect on a student before your career truly got off the ground.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

I was 19 going on 20 and it was at a time when I loved three things.

My new job as a sports assistant at the Bangor Daily News; my new girlfriend, Jennifer; and the game of golf.

Any chance I got I would tee it up and play. Bangor Muni, Pine Hill, Woodland Terrace. My friends and I would even trek to Portland to play when we could.

That summer I got pretty good, or at least I thought I did.

I shot an 84 at Woodland Terrace, a Par 60 course – my lowest score ever for 18 holes. And I shot a 93 at Bangor Muni, my best-ever score on a real par 72-course.

One day, playing the sixth hole at Bangor Muni, a 169-yard par 3, I struck the ball perfectly. Seven iron, if I remember right.

I watched my shot sail into the sky, reach an apex and fall back to earth.

It was a pinseeker if there ever was one and for the only time in my life I thought I might get a hole-in-one.

The ball landed and skipped slightly left, winding up four inches wide of the hole.

I tapped in for birdie. So close and yet so far.

That’s the thing about golf.

You can stink it up for 17 holes and then hit three perfect shots on the 18th and walk off with a birdie.

And that’s what keeps you coming back.

If you can do it once, why can’t you do it all the time.

And doing it all the time is what cost me my relationship with Jennifer. Instead of walking back, I walked away.

Golf got in the way, she got angry and the eyes of another caught my attention.

That led me down a path where I got away from golf a little bit, playing only from time to time.

Did golf remind me of what I lost too much? Hard to say, even all these years later.

But I never forgave the game for what it cost me.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

The last time I played golf was in Somersworth, N.H. The year was 2000? Maybe 2001.

I don’t even remember the name of the course.

I just remember taking a shot, hearing a pop and feeling a burning sensation in my right shoulder blade.

Just like that, the golf clubs were put in a closet for good.

I haven’t played a round since.

How much will I play in the future?

Who knows?

Will my shoulder handle the wear or tear again?

Who knows?

Will I find the sport a bore, a bad walk spoiled and thus have wasted all this money giving it a go?

Again, I ask, Who knows?

But I’m going to try to comeback. Just like Tiger did.

He has the whole world watching.

I have nobody.

So let’s tee it up, let it fly (in whatever direction it heads) and we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, “Fore!”

There is no seeing eye-to-eye on anything anymore

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly fights with New York Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin after hitting him with a pitch along with catcher Christian Vazquez during the seventh inning of the MLB game at Fenway Park on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Boston Herald/Matt Stone)

It’s funny how we can’t see eye-to-eye on anything anymore.

If it’s not the unpredictability and unprofessionalism of the alleged world leader I call “45”, then it’s the obviously out-dated historic stand called The Second Amendment.

Or, it’s the Red Sox vs. Yankees.

Forty-five is still doing what “45” does and The Second Amendment is still a hot button topic even as more of our children die (Yes, yes, I agree, there are many other issues, too), but on Wednesday night I realized that one way to understand the non-comprehensible is too look at it from the other side.

It’s the Red Sox vs. the Yankees and it’s not easy.

You hurt Bill Lee’s shoulder, we throw an old man to the ground. You karate chop a ball out of a pitcher’s hands, our catcher beats the crap out of you for disrespecting us.

Ah, baseball. Ah, the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry.

The two teams are at it again this week at Fenway Park, and on Wednesday things boiled over the top once again.

During the game, some kid named Tyler Austin slid into some dyed-haired kid named Brock Holt.

Let’s be honest here: Had anybody from either Nation – Red Sox Nation/Yankee Nation – ever heard of the other player or even cared about either of them before Wednesday?

As all ball players are taught to do, Austin went hard into his slide. He also went in with his spikes high and to the left of the bag, clipping Holt’s lower leg.

Words were exchanged both on the field and on Twitter.

Red Sox Nation knew it was a bad slide.

Yankee Nation knew there was nothing dirty about it.

Everybody watching the game on television got two stories.

Those watching PIX-11, the Yankees broadcast, were preached to about it being a good slide, nothing wrong with it.

Those watching on NESN were told it was the first salvo of a dirty play, the latest moment in a rivalry gone kind of stale in the 21st Century.

As much as it seemed to be a heads-or-tails issue, truth be told and it was a two-headed coin and it all depended upon the eye of the beholder.

Or, what if the spikes were on the other feet?

Austin struck out in his next at-bat, which certainly made Red Sox fans chuckle. Take that, right!

Well, no.

In the seventh inning, the Red Sox got what the infamous unwritten baseball rules cite as revenge, and he got plunked in the back with a 98-mile-per-hour Joe Kelly fastball.

Austin exploded.

Twitter exploded.

And everything else all depended from which eyes you watched.

Red Sox fans embraced Kelly screaming “Let’s go!!!” as Austin charged the mound from the batter’s box.

Yankees fans laughed at how its behemoth batting due of Aaron Judge (6-foot-7, 282 pounds) and Giancarlo Stanton (6-6, 245 pounds without his wallet) “pushed the pile of players” toward the Red Sox dugout.

As though nobody who adores pinstripes has ever heard the law of physics before.

But I digress.

As I perused Twitter, half watching the rest of the game, two things popped into my head—What I thought and what I knew.

What I thought was this: Did Austin intend to hurt Holt with his slide? Probably not, though it wasn’t as innocent a slide as Yankee fans would have you believe. The spikes were high and inside the bag. Period.

What I know is this: Had the tables been turned, had Holt slid into a base in identical fashion, and had his metal spikes clipped the lower leg of Yankees shortstop Didi Gregrious, New York fans would have been saying the same thing Red Sox fans were.

But alas that is likely to ever happen.

You either support 45 or you don’t. You either think it’s OK to have a tank or anti-air defense missile in your basement or you don’t.

You either support the Yankees or the Red Sox.

Or you watched Netflix last night and none of this makes any sense to you.

Happy 2017-Plus One (at least for now)

Let’s not flush 2018 away just yet, eh?

It took approximately two and half hours to fully realize that the peace-and-love salutations of the New Year were long gone.

From the time “Auld Lang Syne” ended to when the last party favor was sounded, peace and love took a back seat to an inebriated asshole pounding on his hotel room door.

And yelling. Loudly.

“Let me in! Quit being a bitch! What the fuck?!”

On the other side of his door – which just happened to be on the other side of my paper thin New York City hotel room wall – I could hear her crying as she yelled back incoherently.

She let him in – finally – but that didn’t stop the clamoring.

What was I listening to exactly?

A domestic situation? A lovers spat? A brother and sister disagreeing on who gets the family portrait and/or cat after the funeral? A guy downgrading a hooker because he didn’t get what he wanted for his $100?

It was 2:45 in the morning in New York City, but if it had been Atlantic City it’d be 1 to 5 to pick ‘em.

Part of me kept waiting for a gunshot, and for Detectives Briscoe and Green to show up at my door as the Law & Order music played.

Alas, neither came.

Finally, after a while, there was just silence. And sleep came again.

When I left the city for the trip home to Connecticut this morning, there was a note slid into the door-jam of the offending room.

I wondered who the author was.

Was it from him?

“I’m sorry, baby … Come back to me … I’m downstairs in the lobby, waiting for you … You’re my life, baby … I love you … They’re just words, baby …  You’re not really all those things I called you. It was the booze talkin’, baby … I’ll see you soon. Don’t forget my wallet. It’s on the dresser. Love, Man Who Yells A lot.”

Or, was it from her?

“Go to hell you rotten no good piece of shit … You know what you did last night and the fact you were still carrying on about it at two forty-five in the morning proves you don’t belong with somebody like me, so bite me! Sincerely, A Women Who Cries A lot. PS. I flushed your wallet down the toilet.”

As much as my curiosity wanted to get the best of me, and as much I as I had every right to read that note since they opted to be so loud as to include me in the early morning brouhaha, I opted to leave it all behind.

I pressed the elevator button and went down, hoping there wasn’t a dead person behind that closed door. Try explaining that finger print on the note to Detectives Briscoe and Green, as the Law & Order music plays.

Detectives Briscoe and Green (Courtesy of NBC)

I bring you this story because on my train ride home from the city that never sleeps, yet often brings the fight right to your doorstep, I realized that 2018 is simply the end of 2017, only a day later.

On my iPhone I perused my social media walls over and over again; from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, and back again, updating over and over.

I saw so many people saying all the right things about 2018. How we have to be nicer to each other, care about each other more, and do all the right things to make this world a better place.

And then I realized some of them meant they would do so, only after they trashed this person with their words, or relayed/retweeted/shared somebody else’s thoughts on somebody in negative fashion.

Goodbye 2017. Hello 2017-plus one.

The guy I call 45 is still president, the country is still as torn apart as it’s ever been in my lifetime, and people just keep letting me down.

I wasn’t even 12 hours into the New Year when that hit me.

Like dominos falling, though, a second thought hit me soon after.

Why follow the negativity? Why have it as a daily part of my social (media) life? Why let it in?

I have the power to block, or unfollow, or unfriend, or X out people with the click of a mouse … and I don’t have to leave a note in the door to finalize what direction these online relationships are going.

I have the power.

I’ve used it before (after Newtown I unfriended family members and unfollowed long-time friends who made asinine statements) and it made my life better.

Certainly everybody has their First Amendment right to opine in any way they see fit, and I support that 110 percent. But I have my First-Plus One Amendment right to make sure I don’t have to read what I’m tired of reading in the safety of my own living room.

In some cases, I even agree with what’s being said, but if it’s negative, why even say it? I’m just so tired of the negativity. I think back to that lesson I learned as an 8-year-old about if you can’t say something nice.

So I’m going to take my power back.

Maybe I and I alone can make 2017-Plus One feel like 2018, at least to me, personally.

Maybe in my own pathetic little world (yes, that’s a negative, so maybe I’ll just block myself on social media), I can make things a tiny little brighter for me.

And, in doing so, maybe that extra watt of brightness that radiates from me, maybe it might rub off on somebody else.

Just like that the world is a better place. Maybe not a lot, but I’ll take a little these days.

Last week, I read a post about the butterfly effect, about how if somebody goes back in time and does something as insignificant as stepping on a butterfly, it could change the future.

The post asked, if do so something so little today, why can’t we realize we’re changing the future, too?

So here is my note, slid into all of your social-media door jams: Change the future. Think positive. Be positive.

And watch Law & Order. Such a good show.

Happy 2017-Plus One.

Taking a Stand: When are we going to get to the real issues?

Roofers in Waterville, Maine, stand for the National Anthem playing at nearby football game.

So three roofers are standing on a roof.

What sounds like the beginning of a lame bar joke is actually one of the problems with what’s wrong with America, at least in my humble opinion.

Let’s get one thing straight, though: Three roofers taking time out from doing their job and standing for the National Anthem isn’t the problem.

The fact that act is going viral?

I have an issue with that.

My own job puts me in places where the National Anthem is played from five to seven times a week.

I can say with 100 percent authority that in my 33-year career as a sports writer, 99.99 percent of the people within my eye sight are standing when Francis Scott Key’s words start getting sung.

“Oh say can you see….”

A problem in America?

Boy, can I.

Why is something 99 percent of Americans do going viral?

Because the hatred in this country in 2017 for that other 1 percent runs so deep, it’s scary.

Now I’ve gone on the record saying I can’t ever see myself NOT standing for the National Anthem, regardless of the fact that “God Bless America” should truly be our country’s Anthem.

I do support those who want to “protest” by not standing, however.

Their freedom to do that, at least to me, is the ultimate statement of how truly free this country is.

This fall, for journalistic reasons, I’ve been looking around a lot more during the National Anthem to see if anybody dares to take a knee or stay seated during the twilight’s last gleaming.

I’ve seen baseball players two fields away stop their game and stand at attention. I’ve seen adult softball players in the same complex put down their hidden beers and stand at attention. I’ve seen people outside of the stadium stop what they’re doing as the music wafts across the air and disappears into the distance.

I’ve seen people standing in their backyards having lunch, or a swim in their pool, climb out on their decks, face the flag while soaking wet, and honor America.

It’s what we do. Well, 99 percent of us.

So when I see a photo of three guys doing what I’ve seen countless others do “go viral” I can only shake my head.

Only in America.

The fact the National Anthem keeps being an issue, at least to me, is nothing but a deflection from the Orange Glow out of Washington, D.C., to distract us from the real problems this country refuses to deal with.

And that saddens me.

Why are we having this fight?

When are we going to get to the real issues?

If I had to guess, it won’t be until 2020 when the next President of the United States is voted in and has the unenviable task of trying to heal a shattered country.

Five dollars for your thoughts

She asked me if I would buy some oil from her for $2.

That’s how we met, me and the girl who had once been so pretty.

I could see it in her eyes as I looked at her. She had been beautiful once, probably not that long ago, albeit before the demons called on her and changed her life forever.

I didn’t need any oil, but I knew what she really wanted.

I told her I didn’t think I had any cash, until I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out $11 – a ten and a one.

I handed her a George and told her I needed the rest to buy something inside.

As I shopped my mind argued with itself.

She’s probably hungry, my better half tried to convince me. What’s a few more bucks so she can get some chips or some water … something to put just a little bit more color in that once-pretty face.

I also scoffed at myself. Whatever was given to her was going to either get shot into her vein, or snorted up her nose before the clock struck ten.

Every so often, I do this.

I’m approached from somebody asking for just a few bucks.

Sometimes I ignore them.

Sometimes I lie to their faces and tell them I’m using plastic when a roll of bills is burning a hole in my pocket.

Sometimes I reach in and hand it over some cold, hard cash.

Not a lot, mind you. But enough to keep her going for the next soft-hearted dope to come along.

What money they have likely is going to go to drugs or alcohol. I know.

But druggies need to eat. They need to drink water, or soda, or juice to survive before the drugs finally get the best of them and they really do die.

I bought $11.28 worth of sustenance and handed the cashier my $10 bill.

“Could you change this for two fives?” I asked.

Split the difference, I figured.

Just in case.

I walked out of the store and walked up to the woman, looking again in those eyes.

“Here you go,” I said, handing her one of the $5 bills. “I hope it’s not going straight into your arm.”

By the time I let go, I saw her reaction.

I had my answer.

Her eyes told me as they looked down to the ground. The sore near her chin disappeared as she lowered her head.

She tried to recover, tried to recover and stammer out an answer.

“No,” she said. “I need gas for my car. I can show you.”

“If you had asked me to buy you some gas I would have filled your tank,” I said.

I paused.

My heart sank.

“Be safe tonight,” I said, walking away from her and back toward my car.

I just got home and put the other $5 bill on my dresser.