Monthly Archives: September 2013

It is Sunday morning, and my wife is in the next room, preparing herself for a day of castrating llamas

It is Sunday morning, and my wife is in the next room, preparing herself for a day of castrating llamas over at the university where she studies veterinary medicine. An 80-year-old man in the state over from ours has gotten too old to take care of his many llamas, and so they have arrived here in our shoulder of the woods. Because of this, she is practicing her knots on her small blue suture board. I am alternating between reading a magazine and stroking my cats. I have a cold, and am feeling sorry for myself. My wife rarely gets colds, and when she does, they stay for a day or two, and she carries on, barely acknowledging her discomfort. Often, they quickly move on to a weaker host — someone who doesn’t spend her/his Sundays castrating llamas and rescuing wild birds. Me — in other words.

I can best her in an arm wrestle, but if our souls were to wrestle, I am certain hers would slay mine every time.

.

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One Lovely Blog Award!

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A week or so ago, the wonderful blogger michaelalexanderchaney nominated me for the “One Lovely Blog” award. I know that there are some folks on WordPress who frown on these “awards.” But I think it’s sort of a sweet practice, so I am embracing it!

When a blogger nominates your blog for this award, the rule is that you have to nominate 5-7 more blogs for the award and also mention 5 random facts (I have 7 below, sorry!) about yourself that you’d like to share.

The facts…

1. I am grossed out by banyan trees with aerial roots, such as the ones you find in Florida, on the Atlantic Coast. Ugh, they’re the worst (and yes, I know, I might be the only weirdo with a strong dislike for a tree).

2. When I was a kid, I pocketed a piece of baseball memorabilia that belonged to my uncle. It was a Ty Cobb autograph that his grandfather (I believe) had acquired after he ran into the baseball great in a bank. I intended on bringing it in for “show & tell” the next week at my elementary school. It was, I’m sure, an uncomfortable moment for my aunt when she found the check in my jacket pocket the morning after I stayed over their house.

3. The most beautiful place I have ever visited is the Mt. Shasta area of Northern California.

4. I admire many, many writers, but my favorite one is David Grann, the New Yorker writer. He’s not a grand stylist, but in terms of researching, reporting and crafting nonfiction, he just blows me away.  The only other writer who has ever had such a strong effect on me was probably Roald Dahl, when I was a kid.

5. I have met very few people in this world that can defeat me in ping pong.

6. I just love The League, the tv show on FX. It slays me.

7. My wife is very beautiful, just gonna put that out there. She is!

here are my 7 blog nominees for the award!…

A Story A Day – many, many engaging flash fictions to peruse here

Reowr – her poetry for kids almost always dazzles

fictitious fishes – “this lit mag of one” has a lot of short stories to enjoy, and some of them are 3,000 words long. The total disregard to internet brevity is Refreshing, if you ask me.

lightning droplets – a fine and generous writer who spends many a post doling out advice to new poets as well as featuring selected wordpress poems on her blog

storyshucker – a strong nonfiction writer with a suitcase (or 3) full of stories worthy of your time

jenni kay writes – a poet with a keen voice I often read, self-publishing a book in her spare time (if I’m remembering correctly)

radioactive eyeball – new to this blog, but her short fictions are well worth exploring, plus there’s a lot of amusing and impressive illustrations by the blogger, some of the work accompanying the written pieces

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Poems I wish I had written but sadly did not…Part 2

 Today I thought I’d feature 4 poems.

The first poem is by A Collection, who’s gorgeous word jumbles usually culminate with a beautiful phrase, such as in this one…

ID

I want a new face, a different

mailbox. Some other

person’s dog.

The 2nd poem, by Posed and Written, brutally sad, pays tribute to a forgotten city dweller  

Graffiti

He added his name to the wall.

To the back drop of a city that didn’t want him.

To back-beat, railway rhythms.

he offered his name.

Among the many, painted bearings of young hearts,

young poets, artists and old soul’s calligraphy pens,

leaving their marks.

Laying his contribution,

his only possession,

the best of him, against stone so that it would finally feel solid.

Supported.

Held up, side by side with those larger than life buildings

with their skyscraping signatures.

His name with the likes of them.

Held higher than the streets would have him believe he was worthy.

His name, painted reckless across heights, waiting for someone to see,

hoping that someone would notice.

His name.

Poem #3 I found over at Reowr’s blog, where my online self can often be found loitering and gawking at the pieces this writer displays.

Hopping Mad

There once was a boy
Who went hippity hop
Everywhere that he went
With a bippity bop.
He’d hop up the stairs
One by one with a “bop”
And down stairs he would “bip”
Every step with a hop.
He loved to go
Hippity hopping along
While singing his
Bippity boppity song.
Even at school he would
Hop in his chair,
And his bips and his bops,
Though quiet, were there.
His parents would ask,
“Why must you hippity hop?
And the bipping and bopping
Must lickety stop!”
And though he was busy
With bops in his head
While hopping on one foot,
He heard what they said.
“Fine! Then I’ll take all of
My bippity bopping
Where no one can tell me
To be lickety stopping!”
And so he went
Hippity hopping away,
But where he is now, bip,
No one, bop, can say

The 4th poem is by Haiku Streak, a writer of ravishing haikus.

Evensong

night comes, we start

the dishwasher—it groans,

scrubbing the day clean

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Bad Teacher blog feature #2 (Elementary School Kids Are Weird)

A few weeks ago, we started up the new school year at my elementary school. This year I have a different role than the one I have had in year’s past. I am no longer teaching physical education, but instead I am helping out in a Special Education capacity (after spending much of my twenties working for a city newspaper, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I want to do with my professional life for the long-term, although I know it has something to do with elementary education).

I love the begining of the school year for all of the obvious reasons. The big one is that it’s just really wonderful to see the kids after a summer has passed. They run up to you, blasting your name out — wanting to show you their new bike or the holes in their mouth where their front teeth used to be. And, as a teacher, you’re genuinely excited to see them too.

Anyway, all that being said, there are some odd aspects of working at a school, and these are quirks that you get at any elementary school, no matter where you work. The kids are so self-centered (it’s natural at that age) that they only see you as wearing a single hat (the teacher one), and nearly lose their minds when they spot you outside of class. They also assume that as an adult working at a school, you know everything that is happening at that school at all times. For a guy like me, in his late twenties (okay 30) and still in an “everything is about me” phase of his life — someone that doesn’t go home every day to a houseful of kids, but rather goes home to do young people stuff — it can be perfectly bizarre to see the way these kids view you.

So two days ago, at 8:30 am, I am heading to the classroom in which I work when I spot this 6th grader. He’s a boy I know fairly well because I worked with him last year during phys ed classes and at recess, refereeing soccer games. I haven’t seen him this year yet, though, because I am no longer teaching P.E classes, but rather I am spending all my time in a 3rd grade classroom as a teacher’s aide.

This boy is a good-natured kid; he’s not an angel but what kid is at that age. He has a twin brother and he and his twin used to constantly annoy each other, to the point where they weren’t allowed to play the same game at the same time ever.

Anyway, when I spot him, I say something like, “Mark! I can’t believe I haven’t seen you yet this year. How are you doing buddy?”

He’s in a straight, quiet line with his classmates, walking to his classroom, and I know he’s not supposed to be talking, but I figure what’s the harm in saying hi to the kid.

In response, Marc smiles wide in my direction and raises his hand to say hi. Suddenly he’s letting students behind him pass him by, as he steps aside, motioning for me to come over and talk to him away from the line, as if he’s got some important business to discuss. I figure we’re gonna be catching up — saying things like, “hey, great to see you,” “what did you do this summer?”, “learn any new soccer tricks this summer?” — after all I haven’t seen this kid for three and a half months.

But, no.

The boy pulls me over to the side, and without a trace of irony, says with a very quizzical look on his face,

“Ian! Ian! is there band today?”

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What Happened at the Air Show

Dear Mrs. Castillo,

My family and I went to the air show 3 days ago. Today, for my journal entry I will not be writing about this air show, but an air show that I went to when I was a boy. We go to the air show almost every year — except for the one after the one I will be writing about momenterily(?).

The air show I am writing about happened about 3 years ago when I was 9. I am 12 now (12-9=3). I went with my grandpa and grandma and my little brother Bobby, who was 3.5 at the time. My grandpa used to be in the Air Force during WWII, so he knows a lot about flying, and plus he wears a hat that says “WW2 Veteran” to most places he goes, but especially out in public. He fought against the Japanees(?) after they bombed Pearl Harber(?).

When we got to the show, Grandpa dropped my grandma and I off and we went up to the ticket gait(?). My grandpa and brother went to park the car.

“That’ll be 40 dollars,” the lady told us. My grandma paid and we waited for my grandpa and Bobby. I could smell the hot dogs and asked my grandma if she might buy me one.

“I sure can,” she told me.

Then Grandpa and Bobby came over to us. And we all went inside.

Grandpa bought us all hot dogs and two beers for him and Grandma. Grandma put her plastic cup to her lips and when she removd(?) it, she had some foam above her lip. That made us all laugh, even Grandpa, who almost never smiles, let alone laughs.

One time I asked Grandma why Grandpa never smiles, and she said it was because “your grandpa is embarassed(?) of his dentures.” She’s probably right, but I can’t help but think that it’s because he’s too sad about my mom.

I should probably tell you about my mom at this point. She died giving birth to me. I guess that’s supposed to bother me. Or at least that’s what Tim, my friend, says. “She died cause of you,” he says. I get it, but I still have trouble believing that it’s my fault when it’s not like I did anything on porpoise(?) to make her die. If it were up to me, she would have lived, duh.


So back to the air show. We walked up the steps and into the bleachers. We always sit on the left side in the third row. My grandma says that my grandpa is a creeture(?) of habit, an expression I looked up on Google. It means, “to do the same thing the same way.” It’s kind of like the way I am sitting in the same seat as I sat in last year in your class, Mrs. Castillo. I guess it just felt wrong to sit somewhere else. Like I knew what to expect from my own seat.

Anyway we were sitting in the seats, and Grandpa finished his beer.

“I’ll be back before they start,” he said.

But he wasn’t.

“Welcome to the Oshkosh Air Show — The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration! Today we have a very special treat for you! Our pilots are ready to put on a show you won’t soon forget! So lock down your seatbelts, folks.”

The announcer always says stuff like this.

So the first plane went up and it was climbing really high really fast. Then it did 2 quick rollovers, like it was a dog performing for a treat. And then it began to fly up side down for a bit.

Eventually the pilot flipped right side up, and the plane started flying lower somewhat now. Suddenly this guy got up on one of the plane wings. And he stood up, and waved at us. He even did a handstand.

The plane kept going lower. And the wing walker continued to surf the sky. I was so focused on him that I didn’t pay attention to the plane, which was dropping lower and lower. At about 30 feet from the ground and about a football field away from the bleachers, the show plane twitched and flew wing-first into the ground.

One second people were oohing and ahing. And the next, they were screaming.

It was hard to tell at what point the pilot had stopped performing and started losing control. It’s weird to think that while everyone was smiling and rooting them on from the ground, the pilot knew he had done something wrong and was about to die.

My grandma hugged my brother and I after it happened, repeating, “It’s okay” over and over. She had one hand over Bobby and the other over me and I let my body relax against her as she did so. I guess it’s a good thing that adults can’t read minds because at that moment, my grandma probably would have been shocked at how not-sad I actually was. The whole time I kept thinking that I should have been sadder, and how maybe there was something wrong with me ’cause my brother and my grandmother were crying nonstop.

Suddenly, my grandpa came running up to where we were in the bleachers. He didn’t have his WWII hat on anymore and he wasn’t carrying his beer. As he did so, I realized that I’d never actually seen him run. It was a weird time to have that thought, I guess, right?

When she saw him, my grandma let me go, and Grandpa took his hands and gripped my shoulders with them so tightly, I thought I was going to need to ice them later.

Then he looked at me with his mouth glued shut for a long time. I looked back at him, too afraid to look anywhere else. “I love you,” he said, finally. And then the muscles in his cheeks began to twitch, his mouth parted, and he was smiling.

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A Geographical Blemish

map_of_australia_travel_print

On her face she had a red stain

the shape of Australia on a map

with jagged coast line

and the head of a dolphin sprouting in the southwest,

I drifted for a time

locating Perth

the “City of Light”

on my way to feed the bottlenose dolphins in Monkey Mia,

she suddenly turned to face me head on

revealing a smile

radiant and assured

“Can I help you?”

we started to talk

and Australia shriveled and fell away

until I saw nothing of it at all.

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The Old Woman and the Paddle

The cats looked at her now with veneration
as she gave chase with her ping pong paddle
after every success she’d say a quick, almost involuntary “sorry”
she’d never killed so much in such a short amount of time
but it had to be done
She couldn’t very well corral them all
out the door
they weren’t cows for gosh sakes
they were miserable little things
carrying diseases on their feet
said the computer
———–
At some point she decided she needed a break from the carnage
and sat down for some coffee and a biscuit
She began to think about how various people she knew from TV
would handle the unique situation in which she found herself
say Angela Lansbury pulled up the blinds to find 35 flies inside of her kitchen
buzzing in unison
like several windup toys operating at the same time
(they’d gotten in, she’d guessed, through some unseen weak spot in the kitchen window design)
what might she do?
Lansbury would take more thought but she thought she had Oprah pinned
Pictured her not having any qualms about systematically smashing them to pieces (though Oprah probably had someone to do that for her)
she didn’t think Tom Brokaw, her favorite newsman, had it in him, though
————–
A few years ago she might have asked her husband or her son
to figure out a solution
but her husband was dead
and her son had (she crossed herself here) moved out and found his own apartment
besides there was something invigorating about the work
it gave her purpose
she was deciding whether something lived or died
———-
and after losing her license
and gaining a twice a week home aide
this was like a gift from up on high somewhere
———-
her sons encouraged her to do crossword puzzles
in order to keep her sharp and “on the ball”
their words
but maybe all she needed was a bag’s worth of bugs and a paddle
to keep her her
———-
She suddenly saw that a fly had landed on her coffee cup
and that’s when she picked up the paddle
and went back to work.
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12 wordpress blogs I am thoroughly enjoying

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I have been on wordpress for less than two months now. In this time, I have happened across some really fine writing penned by folks who have been kind enough to return the favor on occasion and read a piece of my own. And sometimes, my favorite bloggers are folks who don’t even follow me at all. But alas, I am a strong believer in feedback —  and showing enthusiasm for those who are doing their thing creatively and doing it with gusto.

So, without further ado, here are 11 blogs I am thoroughly enjoying right now. These are in no particular order…

1. A Story A Day – Exactly as it sounds. The twist is that the guy who pens them always takes great care to deliver something compelling. My favorites of the ones I’ve read are Poltergeist, Hatchling, and Mr. and Mrs. What’s-his-face

2. adventuresinloserville– a site revolving around a self-professed dysfunctional lesbian couple from Australia (if I’m remembering correctly) that is frequently very sharp and funny.

3. anelephantcant – A very witty dude who takes his blog handle very seriously, but as for the rest of life, not so much. My kind of guy.

4. fictitious fishes– Someone who I just started reading who wrote one of my favorite short stories in a while, called “The Spectators.”

5. Weekly Flash Fiction – I’ve only read a few short stories by this Nashville writer, but I have yet to be disappointed. His pieces are everything my own strive to be but don’t quite yet achieve. They’re dark, weird, and always compelling. For a taste of what I mean, consider his most recent  piece, which revolves around a guest who shows up, shirtless and hairy, out of nowhere at his house and who may or may not be his dog in human form.

6. What Happens to us – A really strong nonfiction writer who writes with aplomb about everything from his dating life to his father’s experience during and after the Korean War in “Excavating the Thousand Yard Stare.”

7. Storyshucker – I don’t read this guy’s stuff enough, but he’s probably one of my 2 favorite nonfiction wordpressers out there. He wrote somewhat recently a piece about magic markers (back when they were still considered magical) and family dynamics — and it was expertly told.

8. Keely’s Graffiti –  Keely is a new poet seemingly interested in preserving the daily unseen and oftentimes unconsidered events of day to day existence. Choice poems include “Backfire” and “Abeyance.” 

9. Reowr – an old fashioned poet! I say that because much of her poetry is of the rhyming variety. I especially love the poems she writes for children, like Sneaking time, and A Wish

10. 300 Stories – Another story a day dude who I read and enjoy. Here’s one of his latest, which I loved.

11. Michael Alexander Chaney – Reminds me of one of those brilliant English professors I had back at college. I understand about two thirds of what they’re going on about, but the two thirds that is landing for me, is enough. Choice cuts include Stop Saying Like — A Dislike ButtonWriters and Rejection, some thoughts on motivation, and his latest —  a diatribe against fall that you must go read right now.

12. Radioactive Eyeball– I am new to this New Zealander’s blog, but I have already read a few pieces of flash fiction that have intrigued me — here and here — so I’m sure it’ll be a regular destination of mine in the near future.

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Stupid Question Of The Day

At the elementary school where I work, there is no such thing as a stupid question

however, when you are fully grown, there are many, many dumb questions

and they are out there

being scooped up by the ignorant, the hurried, and the drunk

just about everyday

For example, today I heard an adult man ask a person behind the counter at a local sandwich shop

if there was “chicken in the chicken salad?”

and then, of course, the earth opened just under his feet

and he fell in

well, that’s what should have happened, anyway

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The Tetherball Match (short story: 2nd draft)

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It was 95 degrees outside, and the playground was on fire. En fuego, if you were a Spanish speaker. And Marcos was. His parents were Mexican-born migrant workers, who followed the crop. And so Marcos spent six months every year residing in a small town in the center of Texas called Harper, and the other six in Napa, California, where he was in the fifth grade at Mondavi Elementary.

In class he was the sort of kid teachers secretly want to clone. Always arrived on time for school. Never talked out of turn. Got the teacher’s permission for just about everything – even to sharpen his pencil.

Out on the tetherball courts, though, the kids knew him as El Corazon.

El Corazon in English means The Heart, and you’ll understand why this was his nickname soon enough. The kid didn’t have much in the way of height but he made up for it in jumping ability. He could get up 3 feet in the air. And he was a brilliant strategist. A real student of the game. He knew every trick in the book, and he’d use them all to beat you.

For 2 years at Mondavi Elementary, El Corazon ruled the tetherball world. Even the teachers would discuss his prowess with each other out on the lawn.

As champ, he enjoyed a number of privileges normal kids could only dream of. He could cut the tetherball line whenever he felt like it and the other players had to let him. What’s more, the diminutive competitor set the rules for all games at the beginning of the year, and as such the tone of tetherball play.

For example, in one of his early decrees, he had outlawed “ropies” during a match. A ropie was when a player grabbed the rope to which the ball was attached and whipped it into the air that way. For Marcos, ropies went against everything he believed. He could tolerate gamesmanship – he, himself had been guilty many a time of sending a kid to the nurse’s office after nailing him/her with the ball in an effort to assert dominance – but what he could not put up with was insulting the integrity of the game. Ropies did just that; they allowed a player to cheat their way to the top.

As for “holdies” – long a hot-button issue at Mondavi Elementary — Marcos had no qualms with this time-honored practice of catching a ball in mid-air and steadying it, before sending it on its way.

That day, when the recess bell went off, Marcos walked, head held high out to the yard. Today was not like any old day. Today was to be his last day at the school before his family took off east to chase the tomato harvest. He wouldn’t be back to the courts for another 8 months.

Much to his disappointment, the school he attended in Texas had no tetherball pole, and as such the boy considered his time there the off season. This isn’t to say he wouldn’t be playing altogether. Marcos Sr., the boy’s father and a talented soccer player in his day, had solved that problem when he rerouted the money he had been saving for a new television toward a membership for the boy to Harper’s local boy’s club, containing, as far as the man could tell, the only tetherball courts for 50 miles. Despite his possessing an uncooperative back from twisting his body into unlikely angles to get at the low-hanging grapes he’d been after for the last ten years, Marcos’s dad still entered the odd pickup game on the soccer field behind the fields of the winery at which he worked. And as such he knew well the zeal in his son’s eyes whenever he discussed the game, even if as his father freely admitted, he did not completely understand this funny sport his son played. In fact, Marcos Sr. was the same way with soccer when he was a boy, talking endlessly of his triumphs and failures on the field with whomever cared or dared to listen.

As was his custom, Marcos on this day did not go straight to the courts. Instead, he entered a soccer game that had emerged on one of the basketball courts. As a child born of Mexican parents, he was practically performing a sacrilege by choosing tetherball over soccer. And the other kids from migrant families who all played soccer told him so whenever they got the chance. But he still had allies in the game, namely Jorge, who harbored a secret affinity for tetherball but only dared play after school when his chances of being discovered were slimmer. There was also, Oscar, who was willing to overlook Marcos’s weird obsession partly because the two had been friends since 1st grade and partly because Marcos’s mom made him Canela Bunuelos every Friday for lunch and Marcos always snuck some to Oscar underneath the table.

Marcos liked to use the soccer game as cover for the intelligence he gathered while scouting out the tetherball competition from the left full back position he almost always requested. After a few minutes of pretending to play soccer, he had noticed something interesting developing. One of the yard duties Lance, a college student who normally spent recess chasing down kickballs and umpiring baseball games, was slapping a ball around the last pole – the one that was never used because it didn’t have tetherball court markings painted on – and looking like he wanted to be anywhere else. As he observed the athletically built, squat man go at it, he suddenly knew what he had to do.

Without warning Marcos strapped on the yellow headband that bore his nickname in bright, thick red letters (his mother sewed it for him), and walked over to Lance to challenge him to a match.

The truth was the boy had been longing for a true test for some time now, and we’re not talking about any of the usual suspects — Benny “the Bull” Gutierrez, Janice “Nosebreaker” Hong, Tina the Terrible, and “Super” Mario Rivers — all of whom had grown undeserved reputations, he thought, out on the court.

When the small boy with the curious headband approached him in the yard and asked to play a game of tether with him, Lance mistook him for a socially challenged lad in need of a friend.

And so he said “sure.” Well this pleased Corazon immensely, but all he did was smile and begin his lengthy stretching routine.

Two fourth graders were in the middle of a game, but they knew to clear out for Corazon. Plus, they were excited about witnessing such a match. In truth, the entire tetherball area and beyond was buzzing with energy.

Even the baseball players came over to root for Lance when word got to them about the match. They clapped into their mitts and howled when the playground aide stepped onto the court.

The other tetherball players didn’t always like Corazon, but they did respect him and in truth, he was one of them.  And, as you can imagine, many of them were pulling for the champ, willing to forgive whatever past drama they had had with the boy for the time being.

Still not understanding the situation, Lance allowed the little boy to serve the ball in.

Corazon pounced on him from the beginning, whipping a serve past Lance while the man was adjusting his eyeglasses. The baseball jocks booed but Corazon was off, twice more bashing the ball just out of reach of the yard duty’s fingertips.

The playground aide took a deep breath. He had not expected the little squirt to possess such a killer spike. As Corazon held onto the ball and prepared for his next move, Lance studied his opponent’s form so he would be ready to make his move. And lucky for the college student, he timed his next leap just right — catching Corazon’s next shot right in his hands, before launching it two trips around the pole.

The tetherball players started to look concerned. This was an altogether new match now, and they knew it.

Lance next snatched the ball out of the air and composed himself once again. The man put everything he had into his next shot, but Corazon was ready this time. He bent his knees as far as they would go, and sprang into the air as if he had an invisible pogo stick. The boy caught the ball just barely and brought it down to earth. Lance could only laugh nervously, and strike a nonchalant pose, as if to communicate to everyone watching that he wasn’t actually trying his hardest. The tetherballers, for their part, went nuts, and started rattling the metal fence adjacent to the court.

Corazon spent his summers picking fruit with his immediate family members under the soul-crushing California sun, and so for him, the heat was just a mild annoyance, like a fly buzzing around a room. But he could see Lance suffering, the ample sweat spreading across Lance’s hairline.

And just then our tiny titan got an idea. The boy made like he was going for the high launch, mentally noting that Lance was already preparing his leap into the air to meet the ball that would be approaching. At the last possible moment he stopped dead, Lance already rising high in the air. And in that next instant, El Corazon did something that would keep his legend alive long after he graduated from Mondavi Elementary — he finessed the ball around the pole in a quick, sharp motion.

Realizing his error, Lance lost his balance and slipped and fell. And that was when Corazon sent the ball three more times around the pole for the victory.

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