Article Overview:   It's been twenty, maybe thirty years since you've played adult softball.   Your youth is waning, the Beast of Age Terror has you in his or her sights, chopping at your legs, knees elbows with arthritic fervor.   Still, you brave your age and stand at the plate, in Central Park New York City, waiting for the pitch to tell you time has passed you by, or you're still alive.  What happens?


Monday--July 7, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 663
Striking Out The Beast of Terror In Central Park Softball
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

  GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--July 7, 2003--  The Beast of Age Terror is the pitcher.  I'm the batter.
   I try not to let my knees quaver, or exhibit the fear crawling up behind my eyeballs as I struggle to remind myself to focus on the looping softball's seams, to only swing when the pitch is perfect.
   I fail.  

"Loser" -  I dribbled the ball to third base for an easy out

    I clumsily swat at the first pitch, dribbling the ball to third base for an easy out.   I run hard, half the speed I did thirty years when I was much younger, back when I was able to take on any team, fearless of my ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
   That's all gone.  I am replaced with rickety knees, a girth around my belly, and huffing lungs from smoking too much and too long.
    Sweat pours off me as I grumble to myself that I am "over the hill," unable to compete as I might wish.
     One of the great Terrors of life is age.   It desiccates a person against his or her will.   The force of gravity makes the earth double its resistance against you.   Arthritic pains, like Achilles' Heels, hobble your spirit to run wild and free in the wind.   You feel foreign from life, unable to grapple with the flow of humanity ever increasing the speed by which they swirl around you until life becomes a blur.
     You think of the old buffalo that, shaggy from far too many winter's storms, one day gets the calling and lumbers off from the herd to some sanctuary where he buries his horns into the bark of a tree and waits for the wolves.
     You become walking death.
     At least, for that moment.
     I was beginning to feel that way at Central Park on Sunday.
     For more than a decade I have visited New York City and been drawn to Central Park to the softball fields where I watched the men play one of my favorite sports.
     There was something magnetic about playing ball in Central Park, kind of like climbing Mt. Everest or being a member of the Jockey Club.  
     Over the years I had helped coach my daughters' championship softball teams and considered myself an expert batting coach.    I knew I was good at sports, especially softball, but being good and acting good is a stretch.   
     Now, in the dimming years of my physical life, with only the vestiges of athletic skills left in me, I was facing the worst of all demons--denied the right to play because of time..... because of age.
     Fortunately, I have been on a serious diet and recently shed nearly 20 pounds.  At least I didn't look pregnant at the plate, or feel I was carrying around in my gut a couple of lost bowling balls.

I felt like the old buffalo waiting for the wolves

      But then there are the fading eyes, the frayed reflexes, the lack of timing, and on my back, clutching my neck and shoulders and peering out at everyone was the Beast of Terror, wagging his tail and hissing in my ear as swung the bat:  "Loser!  Loser!"
      Shaking off the Beast is not an easy task.  Once he sinks his fangs and claws into you, he's like a government entitlement, virtually impossible to cleave from your being.  You learn to live with him, like you live with a giant wart protruding from your forehead or a third eye situated just above your ear.
       You're sure everyone can see him riding on our shoulder, ranting and raving and swishing his demonic tail and berating you.  At least you're sure you see him every time you look in the mirror.
      This Beast of Personal Terror rides on many people's backs or shoulders.   He peers out in the mirror and tells them they are too fat, too ugly, too underpaid, underappreciated, too common, too average, too short, too tall, too stupid, too unworthy until the one he rides upon falls into the Pit of Complacency and starts to affirm the Beast's incessant hissings.
       My Beast of Unworth came early.

"L" is for LOSER

       I was always too skinny and had far too long a nose.    I would stand in the bathroom as a teen and look at my profile in the mirror by holding up another mirror behind me so I could see how long and ugly my nose was.    Of course, the more I studied my self-imposed defect, the greater it became.
       Then there my zits, pimples I termed boils, red volcanoes of pus oozing their venom from my face, turning me into a walking smallpox poster.
       What I saw wasn't true at all, at least to those who saw me for what I was.    I remember a girl telling me how good looking I was and I replied, "But what about my acne and long nose?"   And she replied dumbfounded, "What long nose?  What acne?"
       I also knew the word "Loser" was tattooed on my forehead, and, at any time the flimsy covering that hid it from view would fall and the whole world would see the sign.  I feared my facade would be shattered, and there in the naked light, I, Mr. Loser, Mr. Nobody, would stand for the world to point at and avoid.

I was a good catcher and was more than adequate at directing the team's plays but...........could I get a hit?

      So it wasn't without loser experience I stood at the plate at Central Park berating myself.   "What was I doing?  Why had I volunteered to play softball?   Why did I try to avoid the  looming wheelchair?   Why not just stick my horns in the tree and wait for the wolves?"
       I swallowed hard.    My wife, between innings, poured cold water on my head to cool me down, and told me how good I was doing.   I smiled obsequiously, thinking only of my manhood defined by lack of being able to hit the ball beyond a dribble.
       Where had the Marine in me gone?  Where was the brave, courageous combat veteran?  Where was the exceptional businessman who had conquered corporatedom and risen to incredible heights only to fall once there?    Where was the great softball coach's skill, the guy who told everyone how to do it but couldn't do what he said?  Where was the man in the old man?
       "Gone," the Beast, whispered, chomping on a corner of my soul for a snack.  "Gone! Gone!
       It was my final bat.  I had played the position of catcher well so far, making no errors, serving as team coach to remind the players what out it was and where the play should be.  That part I felt good about.  But when standing at the plate, the warrior spirit in me failed to bring home the bacon, failed to make solid contact and drive the ball hard with manly force.   I felt the retreating Iraqi Army, quickly dumping their Special Guard uniforms for civilian clothes, turning coward to survive.
      That was me.  I was swinging at the first pitch, the sucker in my, the coward, unable to sit back an wait for the right pitch, unable to hide my clumsy eagerness to "show off."   
      The final bat.
       I vowed to my wife I would wait, to let three pitches pass no matter what before I swung.
      I settled into the batting box, bent my knees and waggled the bat.    "Wait," I hummed.  "Wait."
      I could feel the Beast on my back, jumping around, clutching at me as a monkey might, chattering and gleefully jabbing at me to distract my attention.
      The first pitch came.   I felt the bat start to go and checked the swing, using all my energy not to swing.   
      "That's the way to wait," came a cry from my teammates.  "Wait for the right pitch."
      How many millions of times had I shouted that to the teams I coached, reminding them all power in hitting is off the right side, culminating when you wait for the right pitch.
      I knew the Beast was unhappy I hadn't swatted and made a fool of myself.

"I am a WINNER" slamming a resounding hit

      The next pitch.   It looped perfectly, arcing down toward the sweet spot.   I watched it.  Saw its seams.  And pulled hard with my left arm, extending the bat.
      The hit was solid, driving toward the shortstop.  I began to run hard, trying not to look at the play so that it might slow me.  My body moved.  My knees didn't break.   The world didn't come to an end.  I made it to first and moved the runner to second.
       I was fulfilled.
       The Beast of Age Terror on my back flew off, screaming and yelling angrily.
       I huffed at first base.  I was redeemed.   I had hit the ball hard, moved a runner, set up a scoring run to help us win.  I had not had a cardiac arrest.   What could be sweeter?
       I grew ten feet, lost thirty more pounds, banished the ache in my knees, sucked in a joyous gulp of oxygen.
       I reached up and wiped my brow and was sure the letters L-0-S-E-R fell away, replaced with W-I-N-N-E-R!
       It was a small reminder that Vigilance takes works.  That Fear, Intimidation and Complacency will haunt us all if we don't try.    In the final moment, I got a hit.  It wasn't a grand slam home run, but it was solid, competitive, worthy.
        I looked up and saw the Beast of Terror flapping his wings, his serpent tail tucked under him, his eyes blazed with anger that I hadn't failed.
        In his place were the Sentinels of Vigilance, old, young and in-between, reminding me that the "attempt is the victory."


July 6--Avenging The Ancestors--An Act of Vigilance or Terrorism

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