Gévaudan

In the secluded mountains of Jacksonville County, Virginia, a covered bridge stretches across the Bellamont River. No one has crossed the bridge in twenty years.

Some people believe that gigantic werewolves with retractable claws and razor-sharp fangs live on the other side. Would you have the courage to cross the bridge?

Lazarus Kaine

Let wicked images of unadulterated terror rip through your imagination as Joel Eden unleashes a creature that lives in the mind of every human being … fear itself.

Matt Curtis, a senior manager with a consulting company, is overwhelmed with self-doubt. His personal life is falling apart, and his job is like quicksand, threatening to swallow him at any moment. His ultimate fear is being alone and that fear has come to call in the form of a supernatural creature, a man made of shadows answering to the name Lazarus Kaine.

Coach, I Gotta Pee

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional baseball player more than anything. Every day, I threw a ratty old baseball against the back wall of our garage. I worked on my hitting fundamentals, always keeping my objective in mind. I never turned down a chance to play in a neighborhood game. And then … reality set in.

Although I was a decent player, I wasn’t good enough to play at the higher levels. Couldn’t hit a good curve or a nasty slider. Too short. Too slow. Average arm. Inaccurate spitter. Over-zealous cup adjuster. Excessive scratcher. You get the point.

With my childhood dream crushed into a tiny pile of dust, I went to college and got a job like a respectable human being. But I still wanted to be on the field.

After my first son, Chase was born, I waited five long years for him to be old enough to play youth sports. Little League baseball was first on our agenda. On his fifth birthday, I said, “Chase, now you’re old enough to play baseball on a tee-ball team. Do you want to give it a try?”

“Maybe. Do I have to wear a hat?”

“Well, yes. Baseball players wear hats.”

“I don’t like hats. Hats are stupid. They squish my head and make my hair look funny.”

“Look, I played baseball and I had a lot of fun. Plus, all the cool guys play baseball.”

“You’re not cool.”

Oh, boy. I thought this was going to be way easier. “Tell you what; I will be your Coach. How about that?”

“Okay. Yeah, I want to play. But I’m not wearing a hat.”

“Deal.”

Chase and I arrived at our first practice forty-five minutes early to set up the field for our drills. This was going to be great. Forty minutes later, we were the only people there. I sent out the practice schedule in an email, didn’t I? Where the heck is everybody? Ten minutes later, a dad and his son, Charlie arrived. Now we were up to two players out of fourteen for the inaugural season of the Chantilly Orioles.

In dribs and drabs, the other players and their parents showed up with a wide range of excuses.

“We forgot practice was today.”

“Bobby couldn’t find his glove.”

“Spencer threw up as we were getting in the car.”

“Traffic was awful.”

“Wally’s mom doesn’t read her freakin’ email. And her new boyfriend is a worthless drunk. I hate that conniving witch.” (Note to self: Keep Wally’s dad away from the metal bats.)

By the time we finally got to work on the field, we were thirty minutes into an hour-long practice.

We began with ground balls. “Okay, guys, get in front of the ball, glove on the ground. Keep your butt down, Watch the ball all the way into your glove and clamp down on the ball like an alligator chomping on his dinner. Here we go.”

As I hit easy ground balls at my players, they stood and watched the ball roll past them, and then they ran to pick it up. In most cases, four or five kids would run to pick the ball up, and then they would get into a fight over who was going to get it. Finally, one kid would wrestle the ball away from the others and throw it toward the parking lot. This was going to be a long season.

Moving on to pop-ups, I tossed the ball high into the air. Bonk! It hit Spencer in the nose and blood gushed out of both nostrils like it was surging out of a fire hose. It was gross. I got a little woozy. After an ice pack treatment and a big hug from Mom, Spencer decided he wanted to play soccer. Probably a wise decision.

Just enough time was left for some batting practice. The kids looked like bobbleheads with their giant helmets squeezed onto their noggins. Bobby stepped up to the plate. I positioned him into a standard batting stance so he could take a good swing. I carefully placed the ball on the tee. Whoosh! A rush of air swept by my left ear. What the heck was that? Bobby smashed the bat into the base of the tee and the ball fell off.

“That’s okay. Do it again. Keep your eye on the ball.”

I balanced the ball on the tee again. Whoosh! Another rush of air rushed past my left jaw. Holy crap! The kid wasn’t waiting for me to get my head out of the way. He had nearly split my skull open on the first two swings.

“Bobby. Wait until I get out of the way before you swing. Got it?”

“Got it.”

Whoosh! On the third attempt, he missed my head by a whisker. All right, that’s it. I’ve got to do something about this before I wind up on a ventilator.

With my left hand, I grabbed the barrel of Bobby’s bat and held it tight while I placed the ball on the tee. Holding on for dear life, I moved out of harm’s way and released the bat. “Now you can swing.” He missed again. It was time for another kid to take a turn to hit. Bobby burst into tears because he didn’t hit a home run. Apparently, Bobby’s mom had told him that he would hit a home run every time he went to bat. That was the last time we ever saw Bobby. We were down to twelve players after the initial practice.

Our first game was scheduled for the following Saturday morning at 9:00 AM against the Chantilly Red Sox. I told my team to be there at 8:30 AM for warm-ups. They started showing up at 8:55 AM.

We took the field first. I placed each player in his position on the diamond. Within fifteen seconds, they had all moved somewhere else. Some were playing in the dirt. Some were pulling up grass and throwing it in the air. Some went over to the bleachers to find their parents. One kid wandered off to another baseball field and joined a different game. A couple of dads helped round up the strays and put them back into their positions. It was like herding grasshoppers. The game hadn’t started and I was exhausted.

A few batters into the game, a kid hit a dribbler down the first base line. My first baseman, Amandeep, caught it and stepped on first. “He’s out!” I yelled, excited for our first out of the year.

“No. He’s safe.” Coach Todd, the Red Sox Coach, shook his head.

“He was out by ten feet. It wasn’t close.”

“Somebody didn’t read his rulebook.” Todd crossed his arms over his Save the Planet T-shirt and tapped his right Birkenstock on the ground.

“I played baseball for years, Todd. I don’t need to read the rulebook. He was out. Next batter.”

“Coach Alderman, our mission is to create an environment where every child feels safe and successful. We don’t have outs here.”

I didn’t want to make a scene, so I gritted my teeth and complied. I leaned toward Todd’s ear. “For the record, he was out,” I whispered.

“FYI, no one cares, Coach Alderman,” Todd whispered back.

“I care, Todd.”

As the inning unfolded, all of their players got to hit and, after eleven swings, the last batter walloped a three-foot single. “Okay, guys, bottom of the first inning and we’re behind nine to nothing. We need to score some runs.”

“Coach Alderman,” Todd called. “May I speak with you?”

“Sure, Todd.”

“We don’t keep score in these games. We want everyone to feel like a winner.”

“But everyone is not a winner, Todd. That’s why we keep score.”

“Look, I can tell that you’re an ‘older father’ and you don’t understand the way we do things in this century. Maybe you should just have a seat on the bench and let me run the game.”

At this point, I had two options; (1) Take the high road and ignore this jackass. (2) Whack him in the nuts. Oh, how I wanted to choose number two, more than you will ever know.

Fighting my most barbaric urges, I said, “Todd, you coach your team and I’ll coach my team. Then we’ll eat our Rice Krispies Treats and go home.”

“Fair enough.” Todd strutted back to his bench.

In the top of the third inning, my catcher, William, ran up to me and said, “Coach, I gotta pee.”

“Okay. The bathroom is … um … Where the heck is the bathroom?” No bathroom was in sight. Not even a porta-potty. Oh, no. “Tell ya what, just go to the edge of those trees behind left field.”

“You mean pee outside?”

“Yeah, but keep it on the down low.”

“Awesome!” William ran to the woods and let it rip. Then he sprinted back to his position, beaming from ear to ear.

Of course, the other boys noticed what had occurred and they wanted in on the fun.

“Coach, I gotta pee.”

“Coach, I gotta pee.”

“Coach, I gotta pee.”

Eventually, all of my players got their turn to whiz in the great outdoors. The mothers were appalled. The dads thought it was hilarious. Todd was so disgusted, he threatened to stop the game in the name of decency. I thought he was going to have a full-out hissy fit.

Charging through the third and final inning, we finished the game in a 27 – 27 tie. Yes, I kept score. So did every other dad there except that weinerhead, Todd.

While I was eating my fourth Rice Krispies Treat, Todd came over to our bench. “Great game, Coach. You really know a lot about the game and your boys made some nice plays out there.”

“Thanks, Todd.” I could tell there was a big “but” coming.

“But you must embrace the concept that we need to devalue the notion of winning. We want to remove all disappointment from our children’s lives. All children should experience the same level of joy.”

“Here’s the reality, Todd. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.”

“Where’d you get that little nugget? A fortune cookie?”

“It’s a famous quote by Nuke LaLoosh from the movie Bull Durham. It’s a classic line and it’s the truth.”

“Our family doesn’t watch movies or TV. We read books to strengthen our minds. We’re not Neanderthals like you.”

“I see.” I looked over his shoulder and grinned. “FYI, Todd, your son is peeing on third base.”

Honey, I Shrunk My Underpants

A few months ago on a warm Saturday morning, I went to the mall with my family. My wife, Starla, had to buy something for somebody for some reason (no, I wasn’t listening when she explained it to me. I was deeply involved in a very important activity—watching Gilligan’s Island. It was the one where they almost got off the island, but Gilligan screwed up the rescue.)

I agreed to go with her because she promised we could go to Chick-fil-A after she finished shopping. Simple things make me happy, especially a big ol’ barrel of waffle fries.

While she went off to shop, I took my sons to look at the big screen TVs in an electronics store. Oh, how we love to stare at those fabulous creations with the hope that one day Starla will let us take one home.

A 65-inch TV was hooked up to a video camera that captured images of shoppers as they moved through the store. I became very intrigued by one of the unsuspecting patrons caught on camera. The man appeared to be in his mid-50s with salt-and-pepper hair, a couple of chins, a cookie belly, and man boobs. He wore a ratty old flannel shirt and sweat pants with a large ketchup stain on the butt (I don’t even want to think about how it got there). His butt was so big; it looked like it should be hanging out of the back end of a horse trailer.  

Suddenly, two young men joined the large man on the screen. My highly perceptive son, Chase, said, “Dad, look. We’re on TV.”

Yep. The pathetic guy with the giant butt was me. Oh, my God, when did this happen? How long have I looked like the “before” picture in a Weight Watchers ad?

When I was younger (translation: before we had kids), I was a gym rat. I worked out six days a week and thought I was in good shape. Like many men, I dreamed of having a rugged, buff physique like Arnold Swartzinnnnaeger Schwartzzenaegear Sylvester Stallone. Sadly, no one told me that after our first son arrived, everything would change, literally.

For years, I worked long hours at the office and traveled a great deal for consulting engagements. After work, I would go to the gym and burn off the stress of the day. When the kids came along, my daily schedule changed, radically. I put in my 12 hours at work and drove straight home. I desperately wanted to be a great dad and was willing to sacrifice my exercise routine to spend as much time as possible with my family.

The gym became just another building that I drove by on my way home. The manager of the gym categorized me as a “high value customer,” which can be more appropriately defined as “fool who pays us every month and never works out.”

Within a very short amount of time, my six-pack abs turned into a hairy keg. My classic, muscular V-shape disappeared, and now I look like a letter H with a thyroid problem. Our home videos should be titled “Buns of Cottage Cheese.” My friend Larry calls me the Lord of the Onion Rings. I have to wear Levi’s Wide Load jeans.

When I bend over to tie my shoes, I have to make this bizarre “hhhhuuuuuuuggggh” sound, like reaching over my enormous gut is the most difficult chore on the planet. I even outgrew a belt…a BELT. No one outgrows a stupid belt. I’m so big; Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen are in orbit around me.

It seems like every menial task reminds me of how fat I’ve become. Brushing my teeth has turned into an embarrassing incident. When I vigorously brush my molars, my body shakes like 228 pounds of Jell-O in a paint mixer. The waves of lard rolling over my belly make me seasick. It’s disgusting.   

One day, while I was getting dressed, I noticed something strange about my underpants. I said to Starla, “Honey, I think my underpants have shrunk.” [Insert hysterical laughter here.]

Don’t you think the giant slabs of pecan pie and the mountains of chocolate ice cream you eat at 10:30 every night could be contributing to your situation?”

“Noooooooo, I think you left them in the dryer too long and they shrank (shrunk? shrinked? Aw, who cares.). I’m sure that’s the problem.” (Deny, deny, deny)

“Dream on, waffle fry boy.”

That afternoon, I went to Macy’s to buy a new fleet of underpants. I was appalled to see that their definition of sizes did not come close to my expectations. I think of myself as a medium—bigger than some guys, smaller than others. Their definition of medium is the perfect fit for a 12-year-old vegetarian girl. Who makes these size decisions, Lara Flynn Boyle? The large category should be called “underpants for men in their early 20s who still have a metabolism.”

I finally came to the realization I would have to settle for the extra large underpants. It’s awfully disturbing when the fine print on the package says, “May also be used to sail a 28-foot boat.”

Because white clothing gives the illusion of additional weight, I chose the slimming dark blue shades, which were labeled “fashion briefs” (marketing slogan: sumo wrestlers love ’em). Like wearing a pair of dark blue underpants will make any difference when your rear end is approximately the size of the Astrodome. Who the heck do I think I’m kidding? 

I took my new underpant armada home and made the major mistake of leaving them unguarded on my bed. I was going to put them in a secret hiding place, but I was distracted by a Victoria’s Secret commercial, and my brain was unavailable for about 20 minutes.

During this period of temporary fascination, Chase discovered the new additions to my wardrobe. “Wow, Dad, your underpants are huge! Can we use them to make a tent in the backyard?”

My smart-alecky wife chimed in, “Or we could make a hot air balloon and sell tickets for rides at the school carnival. We’ll call it Underpants Across America.”

“Ha, ha, very funny, but they’re not underpants. They’re fashion briefs.”

“Honey, there is nothing brief about those things.”

“Fine. You guys win. I’ll go to the gym…tomorrow.” And on my way home, I’m gonna stop at Chick-fil-A for a big honkin’ bucket o’ waffle fries.

Fifty is the New Black

“Hold me closer, Tony Danza. Count the head lice on the highway,” I sang at the top of my lungs and pounded my air piano as I sat in line at the McDonald’s drive-through. With my eyes closed, I imagined myself performing on stage with Elton John in a jam-packed Wembley Stadium.

“Hey, Pops, move it or lose it!” a gruff voice shouted from the car behind me.

Okay, maybe I had gotten a little distracted and fallen a few car lengths behind in the queue. That’s not the issue. That jerk called me “Pops.” Freakin’ Pops. When did I become a Pops? Probably when I turned fifty.

I used to think people who were fifty were ancient. By the looks of the bags under my eyes, I was right. Now I stare into the cold abyss of fifty-something every morning in the mirror and it glares back at me in the form of someone who looks like a fat, old Tony Orlando.

I know, I should be happy I made it this far, blah, blah, blah. Yes, you’re right. The alternative is a lot worse. But I’m having a hard time getting used to this phase of my life.

Some people try to sell testosterone enhancers and senior workout programs by exclaiming, “Fifty is the new forty!” Ever notice that those people are in their late twenties or early thirties. Morons. They have no idea that fifty is when the wheels fall off your party wagon. Your metabolism grinds to a screeching halt, strangers call you, “Sir,” and the music your kids listen to is beyond intolerable.

Nope, fifty is not anywhere close to the new forty because fifty sucks way more than forty. Why? When you’re fifty, attractive young women say things like, “You remind me of my Dad!” or “My grandpa graduated from college the same year as you.” Ouch. It cuts to the bone every time I hear it.

I believe fifty is the new black because it signals the onset of mind-numbing, soul-stealing darkness that pulls you into the horrifying doom of old age. Oh, boy, that’s really depressing. I should lighten it up a bit. Black goes with everything and it’s slimming. Yeah, let’s go with that.   

The sad truth is I have a fifteen-year-old brain trapped in my fifty-year-old body. Here’s an example. At any point in time, this is the stream of thoughts that could be running through my mind: NFL football, college football, Erin Andrews, cheeseburgers, Raquel Welch, the original Magnum P.I. with Tom Selleck was way better than the new CBS reboot, cheeseburgers, if Jean Luc Picard was French then why did he speak with an English accent, Kate Upton, my elbows are ugly, why are my arms so short, Heidi Klum, I need to fart. Farts are hilarious, fffffrrrrrttttt. The medical term most commonly used for this obnoxious malady is “Being a Fifty-year-old Man.”

My stupid brain constantly writes checks my body can’t cash. “Sure, you can carry that forty-pound bag of dog food out to the car.” “Go ahead, run three miles before breakfast on Saturday morning.” “No, you don’t need a nap. Now get out there and shovel the two-feet of snow out of the driveway.” Not gonna happen. No way, no how. The sad truth is reality and gravity both suck.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in pretty good shape for an old guy. I work out (with very light weights). I walk four miles a day (really slow in one-mile increments). And I eat a well-balanced diet (Oh, who am I kidding? That’s a bald-faced lie.) Yes, I may be a few pounds overweight (A few? Try forty.) but I’m working on it. So, give me some credit for making it look like I’m trying to lose weight.

Recently, I have noticed that I am using phrases that I have never used before like, “Back in my day….” I swear I never said these words until I turned fifty. Now I mutter it all the time without thinking and I sound like a cranky old geezer. And then there is this one, “My back hurts, so it’s fixin’ to rain.” I don’t know when my back went to meteorology school, but it’s right approximately 86.36% of the time.

Adding to my situation is my resistance to change. The most glaring example is the way I use my phone. I insist on texting in complete sentences using precise grammar and punctuation, which my kids think is absolutely nuts. Yeah, I know it’s old fashioned, but at my age, I figure WTF. LOL!

Here’s the weird thing, back in my day … (Darn it! I said it again.) Let’s try this one … when I was a kid in the ’60s and ’70s, we dealt with serious problems like racial tension, unrest in the Middle East, an unpopular war, poverty, hunger, and political struggles with Russia. Fifty years later, we are wrestling with virtually the same problems. We should have figured out how to feed the hungry by now. We should have made huge strides in race relations by now. We put two men on the moon in 1969, but in 2019 we still rely on fossil fuels. What the hell have we been doing for fifty years? Taking selfies and Tweeting. Maybe, instead of staring at our phones all day, we should look up and see where we are going.

Back in the ’60s, we thought that in fifty years we would have a colony of people living on Mars, flying cars, and monochrome bodysuits like they wore on Star Trek. Maybe those things will be achieved in the next fifty years. I hope so because I could really rock a monochrome bodysuit. I hope they have pockets.

Well, it’s late in the day and I’m too tired to solve the world’s problems right now. I’m going to McDonald’s. “Hold me closer, Tony Danza …”

Introduction

My 50th birthday snuck up on me and smacked me in the face with a wet squirrel. I never thought much about getting older until my knees started popping and cracking like a flight of creaky stairs in a haunted house.

The sad fact is my body has a lot of miles on it. If it were a car, it would be a 1961 Plymouth Station Wagon with a bad carburetor, questionable brakes, dents and scratches all over it, wobbly tires, and a hole in the floorboard. The radio works like a champ, but it only plays the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

My mind works like a rusty lawnmower. Some days it works great, other days I can’t get it started. For the life of me, I can barely remember what month it is, yet I can name the entire starting lineup of the 1970 Baltimore Orioles and I know all the words to Freebird. How does that make any sense? At times I can’t remember my kids’ names, but I have total recall of every episode of Andy Griffith Show and Star Trek: The Next Generation. What happened to me?

This blog is not a self-help guide to getting older gracefully. I’m fighting it every step of the way. I’ve made some funny observations about transitioning into middle age. That’s as far as I go. I refuse to make any ground-breaking political or social statements. I’ll leave that to the talking heads on TV. I promise I will not go down the grumpy old fart rabbit holes like complaining about the government, whining about millennials, and grumbling about the exorbitant cost of medical insurance. 

Honestly, I’m just glad I took enough fish oil, blood pressure medicine, aspirin, Nexium, Ensure, Metamucil, and ginkgo biloba to get this blog started before my 60th birthday. 

Thanks for joining me on this goofy adventure. I hope you like it.

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