Web Exclusives

The Inconsequential, in its printed form, is published in the UK every two or three months and contains the very best in satirical and thought-provoking articles, essays and general narratives from the editors and contributors around the globe.  We are unable to include in any one issue all of the submissions we accept and so, to prevent a lengthy wait for our contributors to see their work in print, we will be uploading the best of these directly to the site.  This page will also carry any pieces by the editors that for one reason or another are not used in the printed version.

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Latest story by (FOI) Bill Kinsella aka Lyons Bernard from  DWG, PA   USA

Pleasant Valley

I swear I think Jesus had less of a challenge when he had to feed the crowd with one loaf of bread and a fish than I did when I had to suit up the Piranha swim team. My name is Emmett Welsh if you want to know and for most of my twenty-seven years I’ve felt well-grounded. But the problems I had while trying to coach a swim team recently made me question that belief and a lot of other things too. You see, the thing with me is I’m basically optimistic and, in retrospect, incredibly gullible.

Try this on for size: I still believe that people are basically fair, operate their lives with good will toward others, and more or less practice the golden rule. How was I to know that the golden rule was now passé and, as far as team sports, had been replaced by the law of the jungle. I hadn’t played sports in a while and when I did, it was in a world far different from Pleasant Valley. Pleasant Valley, you see, is an upwardly mobile town and team sports there are mirrors for parents to look into to check the height and breadth of their success—each parent acting as both agent and coach, every child of whom is a star with a full set of a star’s demands. The coach for Pleasant Valley, I didn’t know, is the individual trainer for each child and trained monkey for each adult. He should be able to: entertain, accommodate, cajole, inspire, delight, and indulge every child and that child’s parents in just the right measure for however long or short the children and their parents want practice sessions and meets to be. I daresay that I was completely unqualified. I assure you, it’s not an easy job and my brief experience coaching Pleasant Valley should serve as instructive aid and warning to anyone else, like me, who hopes to organize and coach what was once known as a team.

My first observation along those lines is this: TEAM as it was once understood is now defunct. The aim of subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole (teamwork) is a critical miscalculation guaranteed to doom a coach in all his futile efforts to achieve it. TEAM today is a euphemism as it applied to Pleasant Valley and I venture to say to all similar upwardly mobile, socially exclusive, and morally superior hamlets. Captured in the abbreviation T.E.A.M it stands for To Excel At Me. Indeed, the most frequent cheer on this new type team is a thousand blended notes of ME, so that at practice one may expect the constant chant, devoid of harmonious relief, of me, me, and me. And the chant of practice becomes the anthem of meets serving as both cheer and jeer with equal effect, resounding continuously from the ample and undiverted breaths of parents and children. The discord created, one must admit, is effective even if not as gracious as the call for good sportsmanship invites. This was a whole other kind of calling to be sure. The Piranhas, and I include the parents when I say Piranhas since, truth be known, the parents were the biggest and best Piranhas of all, were very much a T.E.A.M in this modern sense. A chorus of ME’s was never more volunteered or voluble than it was with the Piranhas. The crowd at Calvary or citizenship of Salem had nothing on them, but on to my story.

First, let me describe the kind of associate a coach has to work with in the newworld of community coaching. What one may expect as a coach in a place such as Pleasant Valley is to be hired and work for a manager whose physical appearance and vitality seem to be constantly diminishing. I was hired by Mr. Flatus Teeny. His emotional makeup and physical stature rather nicely comport with his function. Mr. Teeny is a small man with persistent stomach problems and always looks as if he had just been hit in the head by a baseball and is consequently walking around afraid of the next pitch. He is somewhat enfeebled, walks slightly stooped and in a diagonal direction without an ability to move toward anyone or anything. His lips are permanently puckered as if frozen in place by too many unfortunate kisses. His voice is barely audible and his entire being seems comprised of fear and phobias. He hides a lot, akin to a shell shocked gopher, has no fingernail tips and works best under the command of children. He sets no rules and accepts everything with a kind of amorphous excellence. By comparison to him a jelly fish would be the Rock of Gibraltar. He promises nothing and keeps all his promises. He hates himself almost as much as he hates the people he works for and children he’s told he must have work for him. He is not much help and his most employable quality is that he does not know how to beanything. Mr. Teeny reported directly to the Excellence Goal Officeror E.G.O. as she was known around Pleasant Valley.

I feel safe in saying that each elite town club has its own E.G.O. to deal with.The declared function of the E.G.O at Pleasant Valley is to develop a program of individual excellence for every member of the T.E.A.M while at the same time, and more importantly, calling attention continuously to her own excellence as well as the excellence of all of those who work with her and share her sense of self-interest. Indeed, it was she who coined the useful epithet T.E.A.M. Shewas a short, perfect, woman with sharp finger nails and fang-like teeth who fostered a sense of self staggering in its dimensions of ignorance and arrogance. It is a useful aside to note that this E.G.O–Miasma Love-or MI Love as she was called was also a political aspirant and might best be understood in terms of any good, self-promoting, would be leader of the people. It’s safe to say that as far as MI Love was concerned she had already, in her own mind it seemed, a churning void, been elected to all offices she aspired to and was in her present role as E.G.O.serving out her purpose and destiny. She was someone who had never done a thing in the real world but was now, at Pleasant Valley, making it allhappen. She carried herself with regal deportment and matchless self-importance and she carried around her an admiring ban of ciphers whose own self-identity was instantly more pleasing and promising by association with her. Collectively, they epitomized the best of the Piranhas. Had they been a troupe of actors they would have been equally suited for roles as Judges in 1600s Salem, Gestapo members in World War II, or inquisitors in medieval Spain and in fact performed as a little of each in their present capacity. Under the capable leadership of the E.G.O, this group established firmlytheme-me

theme and executed it with the determination and bluntness of Attila the Hun’s front men. Unfortunately, I was their first victim. It happened like this:

Silly of me, I wanted some rules. It’s not a good way to start a program these days. Rules mean limits and sky’s the limit at Pleasant Valley for each “me” that swims or for that matter doesn’t. (One of the more unique characteristics of the Pleasant valet Piranhas is that you don’t have to know how to swim to be on the team. As long as you can say “me” you’re on and a promising member at that.)

Another mistake of mine that I was quickly and vehemently confronted with had to do with roster size. I wanted to set a limit as to the number of swimmers. I thought that an effective program needs to be a manageable one and therefore limiting the number of swimmers where there is only one team is a must. Flatus Teeny indirectly agreed with me for a moment until he came out of his burrow of an office, smelled the current of sentiment emitted from the parent group on the subject, and then delivered his amorphous opinion, ”No limits,” he said bravely.

“What about cut off dates?” I asked.

He lifted his tiny, shrinking body up, peered obliquely at the E.G.O. and delivered, ”No cut off dates.”

I couldn’t follow his logic on that point and let him know it.  “It will be impossible to have a good practice with these numbers,” I said.

“Nothings impossible at Pleasant Valley,” he whispered.

“Well at least you must agree with me about practice being mandatory if the child wants to swim in meets,” I said firmly.

Mr. Teeny shrank some more, “I don’t know about that,” he said quietly his head turned aside and downward. “You will have to ask the E.G.O.”

“Can’t you ask her?” I said.

“I don’t get along with her,” he murmured, “She thinks I’m ineffective.”

“I thought that was exactly why she wanted you,” I said. And although he didn’t look at me I think I saw Mr. Teeny wince at that remark as he sidled away to his office hole.

I was forced into a meeting with the E.G.O. and Piranha Mothers Support Team or PMS Team as I came to call them. The lack of results of that meeting should have been another warning but hindsight is 20-20 you know.

 

We had the meeting off to the side of the pool at a picnic table that was more or less the permanent residence of Mrs. Hardley, one of the chief PMS mothers and the right hand woman of the E.G. O., though if you ask me I think she wants to be the E.G.O. herself. She has all the qualifications to be sure. She is a heavy set woman who wears a black moo-moo every day and has beautifully quaffed golden hair that sits upon her head in a steep wave. Her finger and toenails are always immaculately painted in a heavy red paint and she has lipstick to match on large, pursed lips that smack whenever she speaks. She smacked abig hello to me when I came over to the table and I knew immediately that she wanted something.

“My triplets,” she smacked out.

“Yes?” I said.

“You know them, don’t you?”

I knew no one but felt afraid to say so. How could I with hundreds of swimmers on a roster that was still growing.

“I’ve seen them” I said.

“Of course you have,” she said with certainty, “Now will they be swimming in lanes 1, 2 and 3 of their medley?”

They can hardly swim the length of the pool,” I said with astonished incredulity.

“Exactly, the ‘Hardley’ swimmers, I’ll have it in the Town Crierin the Cri-Baby section. My family owns the paper, you know.”

“I didn’t but I’m not surprised,” I said.

The headline will read ‘THEY HARDLEY MAKE IT,’ she said smacking and smiling.

“But they could drown,” I said seriously.

“Nonsense,” she said, “I intend to swim alongside them.”

“That’s very motherly,” I said, “but the rules won’t allow it.”

“What rules?” she said indignantly.” We will have to discuss that right now.”

 

The idea of a discussion appealed to me but for the next twenty minutes there was no hope of it. Arguments ensued about who was

going to sit where around the table and then myriad issues were yelled out in voluble and indiscriminate fashion. Each position put forth was more paramount than the last with the issuing party defying all others as to the singular importance of their need to be heard. Voice overshadowed voice in a cacophony of urgency. Accusations went around like programs at the theater and innuendo clashed with innuendo for the attention of the group. Everyone except Mrs. Hardley stood there in a wildconfusion of self-interest and Mrs. Hardley in a feat of myopicperfection appeared to be practicing the breast stroke—her regular breaths smacking out the meter of her argument in a subtle but not ineffective manner, serving nicely as counterpoint to the other more incoherent arguments. I felt hopeless and utterly powerless as referee in what turned out to be a minor melee in comparison with things to come. The E.G.O. grew increasingly dissatisfied with the entire proceeding and finally let me have it.

“What’s all this confusion? Why don’t you exercise control?” She said emphatically.

“I have no control where I have no influence,” I said.

“How dare you address me in such an insolent manner? I’ll not have the hired help dictate demands upon me,” she said ceremoniously. With that slight allusion to social order the E.G.O. perked up the interest of herteam. Seizing upon the moment, she exclaimed in a voice that captured her vision,

Piranhas, C’est Moi!”

“C’est Moi, Moi, Moi,” echoed from the united body.

“I am for my child and my child is for me,” announced the E.G.O., “and who agrees with me?”

“Me, me, me…” resounded.

“As to limits, shall I limit my child? I say no. Who agrees with me?”

“Me, me, me…”

“As to rules, will I set up rules that rule against my child? Adhere to rules that rule out my child? Allow a rule that does not allow my child to be all that she can be? Absolutely not! Who agrees with me?”

“Me, me, me…”

“Accordingly, there will be no rules and no limits if not in our self-interest. Who agrees with me?”

“Me, me, me…”

“My son will swim the fly,” said the E.G.O with imperial flare. And then from around the twelve member group, “And mine the crawl, and mine lane five, and mine without practice, and mine with different practice, and mind by himself, and mine with his hat, and mine with her cat, and mine with his iPod, and mine dressed like Arod, and my in in a boat, and mine will just float, and mine with me…me…me.,” cried Mrs. Hardley. And then the E.G.O and her disagreeable disciples dispersed in all directions. I swear had they been Christ’s original band there’d be twelve different Christianity’s today at least.

I left that so called meeting not assured of anything and with an increasing sense that I was on board the summer program version of the Titanic. There was nothing so much as grandiose expectation floating around that pool and all of it related in one way or another to the opening meet. The only problem for mewas that nobody was letting me in on what exactly was expected of that first meet. In all the frenetic anticipation I was beginning to feel swept away by a tide of presumption that I couldn’t fathom let alone control. I felt lucky to be relived from the mental gymnastics I performed trying to calculate some possibility of a reasonable outcome when I saw Flatus Teeny. The physical rapidity with which he carried out some urgent endeavor defied both gravity and time. It was like watching a human gyroscope as he spun, tilted, rotated, and surmounted a pyramid of parental demand. I almost said a prayer for him.

 

Flatus scurried about like a terror filled ground squirrel instinctively performing duties at the same time he was keenly aware that the talons of ultimatum hung over him. He went from table to table all around the pool and onto the lawn that surrounded it picking dandelions and nervously depositing them into a large white trash bag. I could have sworn I heard him making a high pitched peeping noise as he raced from yellow flower to yellow flower. He must have spotted me and came at me diagonally. He pulled a crumpled up piece of paper from his back pocket when he was right next to me. He handed me the paper that resembled a grocery list. Agitation defined his every breath as he handed me the paper and, just before speaking, he let out a shrill peep before gasping for air.

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

“It’s my allergies,” he wheezed, “I’m terribly allergic to dandelions.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “May I help you?”

With that poor Flatus fell. It seemed that some of the children nearby started sneezing enough to cause a slight hysteria among the mothers of those tormented kids with the result being an on-the-spot anti-dandelion campaign. Plans for the immediate and complete eradication of any “little yellow flower” got handed down to Flatus by the E.G.O. after she convened with the sneeze and wheeze coalition of mothers. Nobody thought of helping poor Flatus though. He was just commanded to execute any and all members of the dandelion army that sat camped around the pool.

”Take no prisoners” was the instruction from the E.G.O. By thetime I met him, Flatus must have picked off a thousand of the yellow army and the combination of bending over to wipe them out with the noxious effect the flowers had on him nearly destroyed him. He was slumped over, flushed, sweating and looked very much like a gerbil in anaphylactic shock. The poor thing collapsed right in front of me. He was taken away by ambulance and after several transfers admitted for the most appropriate care. Muchlater he let me know that it wasn’t the flowers that had levelled him but my offer to help. He said that in the ten years he had been scurrying around that summer sweat shop, mine was the first offer to help he had ever gotten. The unexpected shock of generosity to his already weakened system made him topple like a cut down weed. He just couldn’t handle the gasp of gratitude experienced involuntarily after my offer with his ability to breathe so impaired by the weed work he was doing and fell under the weight of goodness.

The list he had handed me feebly appeared to be his scribbled notes of what needed to be done before the opening meet. It was written in a frenzied hand as if by a man held captive by a terrorist and could hardly be deciphered. Icouldmake out the rather cryptic scrawl of six letters though and in doing so felt immediate empathy for Flatus as I read s.o.b.e.g.o. Eventually, I made out those same six, tortured, letters spread systematically throughout the marching order list.

There were thirty things to do on that list. I scanned it dumbfounded and not a little confused as to what the whole thing meant. I wondered if the list had been given in error since Pleasant Valley involved the swim team. I brought my confusion with me to the E.G.O. “What is this list for?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I’m glad you have your assignment,” she said, “And how will you handle the pre meet Bonfire?”

What?” I asked.

“The Bonfire,” she insisted, “How will you arrange it?”

“That’s absurd,” I said, “It’s summer and this is a swim team.”

“And every year before the season opener, we have a pep rally and Bonfire,” she declared.

“It’s summer,” I repeated, “and very hot.”

“We’ll just ignore the temperature and think fire. It’s done at Eton and will be here,” she asserted holding up a magazine entitled Prep School Traditionsand flicking an article at me.

“It appears to be for soccer they hold the bonfire,” I said glimpsing the page. “And it’s done late in the fall at the end of the season. Look at the scene in the photo; it looks cold and people are dressed in sweaters.”

“Seasons will not dictate to us,” the E.G.O barked, “We’re beyond all that and will have a Pep Rallyand Bonfire.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do” I asked in disbelief.

“You” she said pointedly in a tone of bewildered arrogance, “You, are to organize the rally and do the cheers.”

“You’re out of your mind,” I shot back; “I’m a swim coach not the entertainment committee.”

“You are what I tell you to be if you wish to coach for Pleasant Valley,” she said bluntly.

I was silent, not because I was intimidated, although I was somewhat, more because I couldn’t believe the effrontery of this woman nor the scope of influence she believed she possessed. Momentarily aghast I stood frozen considering the possibility that she did indeed have some imperial reach. I thought that I might not be coaching at Pleasant Valley very long and that reality waylaid me, for despite the turbulence so many egos created, I did like coaching. Another thought worked its way into my enfeebled consciousness: Coaching, real coaching may no longer exist. That made me sad some more.

To change my mood I resolved, because it was a short season, to try and carry out the duties of my job, however irrelevant and however many, with the good natured and determined spirit of coaches I remembered from my youth. I’d be dedicated and concerned —a leader, a friend and mentor to the children in my charge- and would tackle all that came at me with aplomb and genial enthusiasm. That, I believed, would add a pretty feather to my coaching cap and just might inculcate some semblance of sportsmanship and esprit de corps to the ranks of the Pleasant Valley Piranhas. This I hoped for more than I believed I’m afraid but the sun was shining and the sky was blue and at that moment all seemed right with the world. In hindsight, my hopes were hopelessly naïve and accounted for my, probably foolish, reluctance to abandon ship before it went down –and go down it definitely did.

The night of the first meet was helter-skelter and surreal. By this time our roster covered twenty pages with a team that approached 500 in number, the youngest of which was a six month old infant girl called the Prodigywhose great grandmother had made the reserves for the 1922 USA Olympic Swim Team. I was told the Prodigywould swimin the remnants of her great grandmother’s 1922 monogrammed suit. The lady’s name was Patricia Irene Paulson but all that appeared on the suit was PIP.It seemed half a name to me. The oldest member of the team was a 29 year old man called Dunker by his teammates. He had an incurable case of acne and had spent the last ten years at prep school and was finally going to Johns Hopkins,his Dad’s Alma Mater, in the fall.

I hadn’t the slightest idea who was who but came up with a meet sheet anyway by concentrating on the forty or so swimmers who at one time or another had come to practice. I posted the meet sheet and as I expected no one read it—which was somewhat of a relief since I didn’t have to explain my decisions, at least not then. That irked me though and I suddenly began to understand the evolution of Flatus Teeny.

Nobody mentioned the meet sheet since the most important thing at that point was determining where to build the Bonfire. After animated and vociferous debate, sounding like the cackle of crows, the E.G.O decided the Bonfirewould be set up in an area directly opposite our team across the pool that was normally reserved for the other team. How could that be, I wondered. I brought my question to the E.G.O.

“Where will the other team sit?”

“What do you mean by the otherteam!” she blasted, peering at me as if I was speaking Egyptian.

“The other team,” I said incredulously, “you know, not us.”

“What other?” she screeched.

“Other,” I said, “other—don’t you know what other means?”

I realized at that moment that the word and concept were completely foreign to her-that she was devoid of any inkling even that the world consisted of people outside the reach of her finite awareness. All she could do at that moment was to demand that a song be played around the pool the entire meet and the song would be Love Makes the World Go Round. I just stared at her.

The other team in this case was 25 children from the inner city who neither expected much attention nor required it but came to the meet with what seemed like the singular purpose of behaving and performing as best they could as a TEAM. They seemed like a refreshing anachronism that reminded me vaguely of my youth and of notions I had growing up about what TEAM meant and had recently lost. They gathered in a small corner of grass next to the parking lot just outside the perimeter of the pool space. When they weren’t swimming the members assisted the coach and quietly cheered each other. They were completely ignored by the Piranhas who, collectively, exhibited just the slightest awareness of their presence and in no way were inconvenienced by it. There was, however, one soft spoken Piranha father who, being good in math, had quickly discerned that the other team swam well. His, practically silent, announcements of the score as it happened were but infinitesimal blips on the otherwise placid scene of self-indulgence that comprised the Piranhas demeanor. It wasn’t until he mustered the courage to announce as loudly as circumstances would allow that “the Piranhas are losing” that anyone heard him. And then, instantly, he became the pariah of the Piranhas, someone who was obviously spreading false truths, slanderous pronouncements, and blasphemous, outrageous lies designed to incite foment to upset the pretty applecart of the Piranhas fragile calm. He was ridiculed and mocked the way a mad scientist who had been too long bottled up with his own experiments might be. How could such an improbable score be real was the consensus. “He’s crazy,” I heard several Piranha parents say. Eventually, the score keeper took his daughter and left with the other team. The other team that had come to Pleasant Valley, done their business, and left after two and a half hours the clear victor of the meet. Nobody knew they left—few, really, knew they had arrived. But arrive they had and they slaughtered us in every way another team can. But for the Piranhas the meet just kept going and the Bonfire—continually stoked—kept burning.

The Bonfireblazed for the better part of three days and in that period every sixteen and seventeen year old girl swimmer had been dunked or made topless by Dunker. He far exceeded the implication of his name and his mother, blind to her son’s limitations, extoled the virtues of her boy and praised his prospects. ”Oh just look at Dunker,” she said proudly, “What a boy and to think this fall he’ll be doing his best at John’s Hopkins. They have no idea how lucky they are,” she said tearfully.

A little while after the heartwarming speech of Dunker’s mother, late in the afternoon of the third day of the meet, a terrible wail came from over near theBonfire. Mrs. Hardley, while trying to ignite a competitive fire in her little ones, became victim to her own unbridled enthusiasm. It so happened that while singing them a cheer she’d collected from Dartmouth and had waited her whole life to use, she allowed the only part of her body bigger than her ego to get too close to the flames of distinction that burned behind her. Her erstwhile cheer proved of little use as her triplets froze with fear. The animation with which their mother delivered her altered music led to la fine di un’ariaunparalleled in the history of college cheers, the ranting crescendo curtailed only when the singer joined her audience in the pool. What a splash the song made but in the deafening roar of the song’s ending, Mrs. Hardley and her brood missed the gunshot that started heat 800— the Hardley Exclusive. All the Hardleys hardly moved until the operatic Mrs. Hardley having now recovered, situated herself in the turbulent waters around her three four year old boys and urged them on as they bobbed, thrashed, and sank—their corpulent cheeks as blue as the bluest blue bloods.

 

     Even with all the commotion the almostHardley event caused nobody paid that much attention to it because of another near simultaneous outburst issuing from Hardley’s role model, the E.G.O. The E.G.O.’s frustration had reached full throttle and needed to give vent. The most horrendous caterwauling imaginable and terrifying screams launched from her regal presence like an

air raid.

“What do you mean, we LOST!!! What undefinable insolence!!! What gross lack of comprehension of the purpose, function, and prominence of this T.E.A.M! What sort of half-formed, pathetically acquiescent, and utterly useless excuse for meaning are you trying to convey to me? Don’t you realize we CANT lose? We are NOT losers!!! No matter the score, we did NOT lose, you see? Because there is NO score except the one we post.”

That litany and invective went on uninterrupted for the better part of an hour but despite her efforts to make me understand the Piranha gospel of delusion I remained recalcitrant and that deeply infuriated the E.G.O. An ominous, demented, look possessed her. She stepped away from me but stopped after several yards, turned around slowly, and fixed another hair-raising look upon me. Then there was silence.

On the heels of that gut wrenching look a grotesque and  earth ending silence fell around the pool until very quietly at first and then with increasing volume and rapidity the unmistakable and chilling sound of snapping teeth issued forth from all over the place around the pool. And it spread all around the grounds and seemed now to come from out of the earth, trees, and sky. You see, the word had spread among the Piranha swimmers that they had been defeated and this infuriated the entire school of Piranhas-mother Piranhas, daddy Piranhas, and the mothers and daddies of those mothers and daddies. All were enraged and now snap…snap…snap ate up the night.

Before too long I was dispatched by vehement men with their hysterical wives and children following like blood thirsty jackals. A kangaroo court comprised of the E.G.O and her toadies convened and I was hauled before them.

“IS THIS POSSIBLE?” the E.G.O screamed.

Impossible, I thought, but nevertheless happening.

“What do you have to say for yourself? She said accusingly.

“Well,” I said sincerely,” I think the other team was better.”

Screams of defiance and rejection followed and I was carried off to the Bonfire.

Alas, the Bonfire thathadserved as their symbol of success and prestige for the Piranhas now became their fire of retribution where I, standing for failure, would be summarily dispatched. I was tied to a post and mounted above the fire. Oh too late had I learned the danger of dispensing the truth to those whose only concern was feeding the fires of entitlement. Woe is he who dares to interfere with fantasies of delusion by upsetting false equanimity with even a modicum of reality.

Ropes were wrapped around me by an Eagle Scout piranha and his large toothed mother. Colorado Cowboys couldn’t tie a thing up better than they did. I could not move on the pole but squirm I did in my mind when I saw an approaching procession of little piranhas step up to the fire and drop their sucked-clean pop sickle sticks into the flames to stoke it and cook me. I was spellbound and bemused and quite hot. This must be another of those ridiculous “traditions” the E.G.O had taken to heart. But then women—–mad as hell judging by their contorted, fanged-filled, faces—came up to me with their balling swim brats in tow and began dumping large pieces of wood into the fire. That increased the warmth with which I viewed the world. Enough, I thought, “This joke is a bad one and has gone too far.” I was now angry and took a stand as best I could while mounted to a pole. With my objection, a handkerchief was stuffed into my mouth and secured by a tightly knotted bandana, the knot of which was tied by the same skillful Eagle Scout whose ropes encased me. I was helpless in every way and not a little concerned. (I had learned about crowd behavior studying the French Revolution in college and thought it quite possible that a good many of the Piranhas were descendants of the sans-culottes.) My warm feet were now starting to bake and I moaned a muffled objection that got swallowed up by the fire’s growing roar. Larger and larger and more and more pieces of wood were coming all the time and my body as well as the distance between me and my maker seemed to be shrinking. Smoke billowed in whirling rings and I contemplated seriously my fragile mortality.

It’s not clear to me what happened next since I must have succumbed to the effects of smoke but when I awoke I was atop a large white horse—my stomach astride its bare back and shoulder pressed down upon the horse by a huge smoke stained hand. Apparently, earlier that day a lunatic had escaped from the mental hospital located adjacent to Pleasant Valley. The man had stolen a horse from a local farm and rode around most of the day in search of some providential signal. He found it in me I guess because he called me again and again, Joan of Arcs disciple, in the most impassioned voice that I’ve ever heard and will not soon forget. And when we were finally corralled by the policemy fanatical savior told them in no uncertain terms that he was prepared to die to save me from the flames of the pagans. I must confess that his zeal was touching.

The Bonfire’slong since doused and the Piranhas are back to normal, if you want to call it that. I no longer have anything to do with them. I took a job as swim coach foe the patient’s team at the mental hospital next door. And I have to say to anyone considering coaching —you might try doing so at a mental hospital. My initial trepidation about the job has vanished entirely and by comparison with the Piranhas. This team is the most reasonable, adjusted, and appreciative a team a coach could hope for. That’s my biggest piece of advice to all prospective coaches, find the right team. (As a side note you may be interested in knowing that Flatus Teeny is on my team now. He’s a lot better swimmer than he was a coach—I can tell you that.)

Bill Kinsella aka Lyons Bernard

 

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