Flashfiction: “Cutdown Day”

This past weekend was the time when 30% of the roster of each NFL team lost their jobs.  “Why,” I hear you cry, “should I care about millionaires getting fired?”

Because 90% of them ain’t rich.  All those huge contracts you hear about in the NFL?  Yeah, those go only to a handful of guys.  The vast majority of players are making something around the league minimum.  Now, that’s still a good salary by most standards, but it isn’t “retire for the rest of your life” money.

A lifetime of work and training…

A lifetime of pain and injuries and broken bodies…

A lifetime of consequences…

All for an average of three years playing for the league minimum.

Now, I’m a football fan but not a “football guy.”  No, I’m a hockey guy.  I know hockey, and hockey players.  And it’s just worse there.  Take those three years and play them for a salary that is barely middle-class (if that much) down in the minors and that picture gets a lot harder.  The pain and consequences are still the same, though.

Although it was the period for NFL cutdowns that got me thinking, I had to run with something I know.  The piece below is based on memories from a friend of mine:

“Cutdown Day”

Shit, did he hurt.  Two hours of pushing hard, two hours of sprints and hits, two hours of sweat and exhaustion…why do it?

Why do it?

He asked himself that every single morning, now.  He hadn’t asked it as a kid, when his mom would get him up for practice.  He hadn’t asked it in college, either, when the other students Would all praise him for the last game.  He hadn’t it asked it then, but he had to ask now.

His friends from school, they had all gone on to jobs.  Cars and condos and real lives.  Him?  He had three roommates in a rented two-bedroom, a place that didn’t even have his name on the lease.

A last chance, then, to impress the team.  A last chance to keep his place on the ice…and to keep the apartment that the team provided.

When he’d arrived that morning, it had been there, that which he most feared: a note on his locker.

“You’re on the bubble.  As of now, I ain’t gonna keep you,” the coach had said at the meeting.

He had spent thousands Just to get himself to training camp.  Had spent countless hours working the phone to friends and acquaintances just to get the invitation, and now he wouldn’t make it.

A last hour on the ice.  A last hit of water before that hour’s scrimmage, and he felt the coach’s eyes.  Oh, he knew the guy was watching the others, the ones who would get the contract offers, but still he felt those eyes.  Felt the disdain.

He felt the shame, too.  He had never failed before.

“Last chance!” the coach yelled to the milling players.  “Play your way on to the roster, or go home!”

A whistle to start the scrimmage.

Broke and soon-to-be-unemployed, what did he have to lose?  His resume had nothing on it, nothing but the blood and sweat and tears of a life of 5:00am practices and late night games.  How did you sell HR departments on bruises and concussions and pain As a job skill?

Fuck it, he thought, nothin’ left to lose.

He stood under the shower, after, and tried to soak away the blood and bruises from the scrimmage.  Every hit, every shot, every play, had been his last.  He would go home to his parents, broke and ashamed.

He would apply for that job at the call center and give up the dream he had had since he was five.  He would turn into that bitter, drunk guy that every local rink has, the one bitching about the pro career he never had.

After the shower, he wasn’t even surprised when he saw the note on his locker.  His gut still clenched, and his body shook, but that was shame and panic and desperation, not surprise.

Up the stairs, then, and into the coach’s cramped office.  An office that stank of old gear and mildew and hours-long bus rides up and down the east coast.

He didn’t say a word, just sat in the one chair and stared at the folder that sat on the desk, his death warrant waiting to be signed.  He flipped it open without saying a word.  What was there to say?

The papers inside, they meant nothing.  The words meant nothing. They couldn’t penetrate the fog.

“I told you to be ready to go,” the coach said, with no preamble, nothing to soften the sting.  “Practice starts in the gym at 6:00 Monday morning.  Sign the fucking contract and get your ass out of here.”

His hands were still shaking as he signed.

Note 1 — my friend, the guy who so barely made the roster of a minor-league team, went on to play ten years in the NHL…for the league minimum every single year.

Note 2 — WordPress just force-changed their creation and posting system.  Yeah, the option to use this new system has been there for some time, but I’ve ignored it.  Now I have to use it…and I have no idea how to.  I hate it.  I hate it to the point that I’m not sure it’s worth it to keep this blog going.  Sorry, I know that sounds petty, but I want to write, not spend my time trying to use some software idiot’s definition of a “good platform.”  I don’t get paid for this, so why bother?  We’ll have to see…

Flashfiction: “At My Door”

Howling in the night.  The cries of conflict.  The cries of mating and socialization, too.  The cries, also, of loneliness.  The cries, in fact, of those who have a lot to say.

I sat on the porch and listened to those cries.  My cigar lay on the railing, as half-forgotten as the glass of whiskey at my elbow.

I had no time for such, the appurtenances of civilization; the cries were too much.  The wolves were there, at my door.

For too long I had ignored them.  For too long I had tried to live as folks told me I should.  And, for too long, I had failed.

Oh, there had moments of success; moments of highs to beat any endorphin or drug.  But also there had been lows; the lows of pain and loss.  The lows that not even your family wants to hear about.

For far too long those lows had drowned out what was important, in fact.

A stumble, it took.  A tripping fall into a brook, and a string of curse words to make the universe itself blush.  I had looked up, then…

I had looked up into the blue, blue eyes of a wolf…

A shake of her head — as frustrated with me as I was with myself, I guessed — and she turned and walked away.

No queen on her throne had half the presence of that wolf.  Animals, we call them.  Animals who will break their own bodies to help their packmates escape bonds we would find inescapable.  Animals who, in no uncertain terms, put the good of the pack’s children ahead of their own.  Animals who, when you get right down to it, have more humanity than do we.

I sat there, then, and listened to those cries.

I listened, and I thought back over my life.  I thought back over the years and decades, over the opportunities lost and the roads not taken.  I thought, also, of all those lost along the way.

A drag on the cigar, then, and a deep gulp of the whiskey, and I joined the howling.  I had lost, too…

Surprise Flashfiction: “Bedside”

Umm…ain’t it funny how this works?

I just finished a pointless post about writer’s block.  I just finished it…and the block broke.

This particular bit o’ flashfiction does need a writer’s note — this piece is not autobiographical.  From time to time I have to be careful to stake out — at least to myself — where and when my personal truth is separate from my writing.  My dad and I have a great relationship…I love and respect the man more than anyone else in the world.  I’m adopted, if you haven’t been reading this blog long enough to know that, and the fact that I was chosen in spite of all my flaws means….everything to me.

But let’s be honest here, there is no relationship more powerful in writing — in life — than that of parent and child.  There is, especially, nothing more powerful than when that relationship is broken…

Oh and, yeah, you guessed right — it was a song that got my brain to working on this one.


I was taught to play the game.  More than that, I was taught to win.  At everything.  He demanded that, and more, did my dad.  Oh, I didn’t win much — not when he was involved — but all those losses just defined me in his eyes.  Weak.  A loser.  Not like him.

The walk down the hall, then, was tough.

It had taken years to get there.  Years to find myself, to find my own pride.  Years to escape that shadow.  The physical shadow had gone first, but the emotional…that one took a lot longer.

The call had come earlier that morning.  There had never been a voice mail I more wanted to ignore.  Never been a moment I more wanted to escape.

My steps echoed.  The lights flickered fitfully, never quite turning all the way on.  The smell was antiseptic and the air cold.  Every step dragged like a lost soul fighting the river’s pull.

The room was worse.

In that room lay a broken thing.  A thing I didn’t know.  A thing I couldn’t know.

He had come home to die, my dad.

When I stepped through the door, I felt ten years old again.  I was going to be reminded again of failure, and of weakness.

“I’ve tried to do this for years…” his voice was weak, barely a whisper.

I stood back, ready to protect myself.  Ready to fight, or to run.

“I’m sorry.”

I had never seen him cry before.

Flashfiction: “Safe”


“You can’t go alone, it’s just not safe,” the old man said to the younger.

That young man’s answer was hesitant and uncertain, “I figured this time of year would be okay…”

At a small table nearby, I couldn’t help but hear.  Those words, the concern of one generation for another, were all-too familiar.  I could hear the words, but barely.  As if they were coming from a thousand miles away….or a thousand years.

I could hear the words, but the memories were far louder.

My face was wet, the taste of salt bitter on my tongue.  I stood there, exhausted by the fight and ready to quit.  I was ready to quit, but I couldn’t.  I was in far too deep to stop.  I had to see it through.


I shuddered at that sound — jumped, almost — and another shot of adrenaline shot through my system.

“It’s just not safe…” she had said to me.

“This time of year, it’s fine,” I had answered.

Another Crack!  More wet and salt on my face.

Ruffling and rustling, then, almost as loud.  A slight twist of the wheel and the rustling stopped, leaving just the howl of the wind and the roar of the water.

I hadn’t thought we would make it through, my boat and I.  The wave was so tall, and the one sail I had up so small.

Over the top we went, however, and the spray drenched me with yet more salty water.

I laughed, then.  I laughed and I roared and I lived.

Safe?  No, it wasn’t safe, I thought as I looked at that kid.  It wasn’t safe, I wanted to say to him, but life isn’t supposed to be safe.

90D13D63-231E-4FE1-9075-E3223465F80DNote: so, well, I used to sail.  I used to sail a lot.  I’ve mentioned it here before, but I miss the water.  I miss the water more than I’ve ever really said.  Well, to get to the point, one of the things I miss most about the water is the ability to grab a boat and go play offshore for a few hours…or a few days.

With that in mind, I bought myself a birthday present.   Since this is one of “those” years — one of the years where the birthday ends in a zero — I spent way too much and bought myself the present I’ve been needing: I’m headed up to Flathead Lake here in Montana to spend a week sailing.

Remember when you were a young kid and you had a dream vacation coming up?  Heading to an amusement park with your family, or to a big game, or to some place really, really cool?  Remember how you couldn’t sleep?  How you packed and dreamed and prepared, over and over, in the days and weeks leading up to that trip?

Yeah, that’s me right about now.