Teeth That Are Not Grinning.

“What is that place all about?” asked Billy Gilbert of his companion.  “What’s the story behind that house?”

“That’s where some people died a long time ago” replied Justin Smart.

“That” was a split-level house which was identical in most ways to the ticky-tacky suburban houses that stretched out into the distance in all directions with the regularity and identicality of tombstones in some great cemetery.  Extending from either side of the house were similar dwellings with neatly trimmed lawns and properly manicured hedges and shrubs, pressure-washed driveways and houses painted in soft grays and blues and off-whites.  Many porches had American flags poking out from the walls like medieval infantry waiting to receive a cavalry charge.  Here and there was a pink lawn flamingo or a garden gnome.

 

“I call B.S. on that” Billy declared.  “That house hasn’t even been there for ‘a long time.’ What really happened?  Somebody die there or something?

“No man.  Somebody died there before that house was built.  Or ‘Somebodys’ would be more accurate.  At least that’s what my Old Man told me.  There used to be a farm house there, and one day someone who lived there when crazy and shot everyone else that was in the house, and then shot himself.”

Billy thought about that for a minute while he stared at the house.  The paint on this house was the same as on all of the others, except that on this house it was faded and wrinkled, peeling and tearing away from the wood like old skin from a bad sunburn.  There were ragged holes in the outside walls that looked as if somebody had used it as a target for shotguns at close range.

 

Grass grew from cracks in the foundation and in the driveway.  A tumbleweed had blown up onto the porch and was wedged in the corner, near the knob-hole of the door that had long been nailed shut.  Everything about this home suggested disuse, or worse, dys-use; it did not seem to be merely neglected, but positively tormented..

An obscenity spray painted in bright blue just above where the tumbleweed rested actually provided an unexpected hint of color, or cheer, into a setting which seemed to suck color and/or cheer our of anything that came near it.

“So, what are you saying?  That this is some sort of story like ‘Poltergeist?’” Billy asked, and then vocalized “Do do Do do Do do Do do” like the theme from “Twilight Zone.”

Justin just shrugged his shoulders.  “I wouldn’t know man.  I didn’t see that movie.  And I ain’t suggesting nothing.  Pop just told me that somebody killed a lot of people in that old house and then killed himself.  They bulldozed that old house when they build this development and put this house right on top of the foundations of the old one.  People who lived here knew about the place and wouldn’t buy it, and people who moved here learned about it and they wouldn’t buy it either.  Now it really looks like shit and nobody will buy it for any price.”

“Yeah” Billy started.  ‘It do look like shit.  Looks like somebody wants to sell it though.”  Billy pointed to the ‘For Sale’ sign that still stood in what had once been a front lawn.  “Maybe that dude has high hopes of cutting a deal.”  Billy pointed to the sign which was now faded and hung from one chain, the other having rusted through and broken, probably during a wind storm, such as was common in that town on the Plains.

On the sign was a picture of the realtor who was offering the house.  His decades-old hair and clothing styles showed how many years had gone by since that house was built and offered for sale.  “I’ll bet that guy is retired by now” Billy said with a laugh.

The sun had long since dropped behind the row of poplar trees that defined the property line at the back of the house. Shadows were creeping across the front yard and had climbed past the bare feet and crawled up to the knees of the two boys.

“Come on, let’s go”  Justin said.  “This place gives me the creeps.”

“What” Billy exclaimed.  “Are you a-scared of ghosts?  Billy was new in town and always acted with a sort of bravado, as if he felt like he needed it to be accepted.    Justin had been born in this town and felt no such need.

“Scared?” Justin asked.  “You bet your ass I’m scared.  Nobody screws around with that place.  Come on; I’m walking.”

Justin began to walk down the sidewalk and soon Billy caught up with him.  “Baaawwk, bawk bawk baaawwk” Billy said, imitating the sound of a chicken.  “Come on, man.  You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?  Come on.  Let’s go back there and see if we can get inside.  Grow a pair, dude!”

Justin flared at Billy’s insult.  “Look man.  Why don’t you leave shit alone that you don’t know nothing about?  You want to screw around with that place?  Well, do it on your own time.”Justin turned and continued to walk down the sidewalk, into open sunlight and with the house to his back.

Billy ran past Justin and turned to face him.  “Look, man.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t know that place freaked you out so much.  Let’s just drop it, OK?  My bad.  Sheesh!”

Justin was truly upset, but knew that it really wasn’t Billy’s fault.  Any new kid in town could make the same mistake.  “Yeah, man.  Let’s drop it.  You’ll learn all about that place soon enough, but I don’t feel like talking about it now.”

Billy looked quizzically at Justin.  It was now his turn to shrug his shoulders.  The two boys resumed their walk down the sidewalk.  Billy was probably thinking about the mystery that was presented by this decaying bit of construction rotting in the middle of Suburban America.  Justin was thinking about the branch of his mother’s family that was wiped out in the place where that mouldering, brooding house sat.

The Pepperoni Bowl

Welcome, sports fans, to my annual NCAA college football rant.  With the exception of the Army/Navy game, the college football season is over and the postseason is only two weeks away.  On Saturday, December 17, the college bowl season will kick off with the New Mexico Lobos and the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners facing each other and the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque.  After that will come the Hawai’i Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, the Raycom, AutoNation Cure, the Poinsettia and the Famous Potato Bowl’s, among others.  I call these the “Pepperoni Bowls,” for no good reason other than to poke a little fun at their averageness.  But don’t let that lead you to believe that I look down on those bowls.  In fact, quite to the contrary, I love those bowls.  In fact, I love them much better than the Snob Bowls that will be played later in the season.

There are many equally good reasons for my affection for those bowls, but the primus inter pares is that I love the kids who are playing in them.  With the exception of a few of the Power Five teams who have fallen upon hard times, you will see teams from North Carolina Central, Grambling, Appalachian State, Toledo, San Diego State, Houston, Univ. of Central Florida and Arkansas State, among a host of others, lining up on the field for what is one of the biggest days in their athletic lives.  These kids will play their guts out on that field, and for that I salute them.  This is what they signed up for.  The kid from Arkansas State knew that he would never play for a national championship, but he put his heart on the line every single day during the season in order to be chosen to represent the Sun Belt Conference.  And when Arkansas State lost to FCS opponent Central Arkansas and started out 0-4, their season looked like it was over, and over badly.  Instead, they rallied, put away one challenger after another and fought their way into their Pepperoni Bowl.  Do you think that those kids are one iota less pumped than someone from Alabama who has been a stud all his life, who’s path to the NFL is already in sight, and who’s academic performance is, well, not part of the conversation?

I have already heard the snot-nosed talking heads chattering about how we should do away with the Pepperoni Bowls and go to a 16 team playoff scheme for college football.  I really wonder why they are saying that.  It isn’t like any of those sycophants are going to be sitting in the stands while the Pepperoni Bowls are being played.  They will be in New York, or Los Angeles, or licking boots on some sideline in Columbus, Seattle, Tuscaloosa, or wherever the hell Clemson is.  Those worthy members of the chattering class won’t be in the stands watching the Pepperoni Bowls, and those stands will probably not be filled with fans either.

What will be in those stands however will be scouts from the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, and a lot of other NFL teams that truly suck and are looking for bargains to be found and drafted in the late rounds.  You know, the Dak Prescotts and people like that who come up to the bigs out of the Pepperoni Outlands and make a monumental impact on NFL teams’ performance?  A few scouts for the Seattles and New Englands and Dallas’ and Detroits will be there too.  How do you think that they stay on the top?

So that’s it.  A short speech for me, as it turns out.  I am as excited as I can be to be entering this wonderful time of the year.  Talented, motivated, gut-busting athletes will take this opportunity to show off their skills.  Fans may not fill the stands, but they will fill chairs in front rooms, sports bars and man caves, and they will watch and cheer for these blue collar kids who are saying “I can do this too.”  This, to me, is when it really counts, and I cannot say enough or be prouder of these kids who answer the puerile blathering of the talking heads by pouring their blood, sweat and hearts out onto the fields of the Pepperoni Bowls.  I’ll watch them over the Chosen Ones any day of the week.