In kindergarten, I accessorized my “Save The Planet” t-shirt collection and kelly green stirrup leggings with a Fisher Price doctor’s bag. I was going to be a doctor, probably a heart surgeon.  My delighted parents added kindling to the dream by providing me with doctor stuff to play with – a subscription to the Time-Life Science Library, a chem set, and best of all, in fourth grade, a projection microscope.

Teddy Ruxpin. Does anybody remember him? If not, Teddy Ruxpin was an audio-animatronic toy bear into whose backside was built a cassette tape recorder that played stories with names like “Help Teddy and Grubby Find the Treasure of Grundo!” The whole process involved something called “differential pulse-position modulation,” which means Teddy Ruxpin’s mouth would move along with the “pulse” of the audio, creating the illusion Teddy was actually talking to you. This doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but remove the mediocre “Grundo” cassette and replace it with Mötley Crüe’s “Shout At The Devil” and you’re onto something. You’re onto animatronic blowjobs. And for a ten-year-old, this kind of mischief is the ne plus ultra of existence.

First of all, no self-respecting ten-year-old is going to be caught dead owning a Teddy Ruxpin. This is why younger brothers and sisters—neither of which I had or have—were so important. Larry, a friend of mine if only out of disgruntled, juvenile, sexually frustrated convenience, had a younger sister who had a Teddy Ruxpin and, once we had successfully locked her inside her closet, we’d run over and tear into her toy chest, rip out the “Beware of the Mudblups in the Land of Grundo” tape and rock out–quite literally–with our cocks out. Now, “Shout At The Devil” was a crucial soundtrack for three important reasons:

1.) “Shout At The Devil” kicks ass.

2.) If you squint just right at the album cover (see inset), the Crüe can be construed as hot babes, except of course for Mick Mars, who makes a solid case for the ugliest specimen in rock and roll.

and

3.) By throwing in that breakneck glam, Teddy’s mouth would move with extraordinary speed, prurient speed. Ideal blowjob speed.

Larry’s mother must have wondered where all her Pond’s cold cream went, because it became evident early on that Teddy Ruxpin’s unlubricated maw was too abrasive on our penises and the cold cream, applied liberally to the top and bottom of his trap, made the process exceedingly more pleasurable.

It was the summer of 1985, a year designated by the United Nations as “National Youth Year” and, unofficially, “The Year I Really Started To Experiment With The Possibilities of Places I Could Put My Penis.” The year of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, whose exploits I followed with what my father referred to as “unhealthy enthusiasm.” Of astronaut Barbie (who, while exotic and cosmic, could not be fucked, we determined).

Larry and my crapulous affair(s) with Teddy Ruxpin came to an abrupt end when we decided it might be fun to stuff both our dicks inside Teddy Ruxpin’s mouth to the Crüe’s “Too Young To Fall in Love,” for whatever reason. The zeitgeist? Probably not. Our stiff, chubby little worms were too much for Teddy. The bear began to seize, Vince Neil’s vocals began to tremble and as it turned, no amount of Pond’s cold cream could provide a means of egress for our desperate little dongs. Teddy Ruxpin clamped down.

At first, this malfunction was cause for laughter. We scooted around Larry’s sister’s room, howling at the scenario taking place. After Larry’s sister punched her way through her closet and found us in flagrante, our howls took on a different timbre.

“Cathy, get out!”

“It’s my room, Larry! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO TEDDY? MOOOOOOMMMMMAAA!”

Momma. What a terrible thing to hear. You hear of men in battle, the toughest bastards around, screaming for their Mommas. Momma. Oh, Momma. Oh this ends badly. Larry’s mother, who for some reason never recognized that for weeks her daughter would be regularly locked in the closet while her son and his best friend face-fucked a toy bear, would now find a horrific scene. Two boys with their penises stuck inside Teddy Ruxpin, pants at our ankles, as Cathy, who would have been around eight, yanked on Teddy from one end while we made every attempt to extricate our dicks from the bear. A real sordid tug-of war.

Ben Taub is the hospital you go to in Houston if you’ve been shot, stabbed, burned to an exothermic crisp or get your penis stuck in a talking bear. It’s a ghastly place. Larry’s mother drove both Larry and I to the Ben Taub emergency room, where, naked, we sat crying in our humiliating position, penises partially digested by Teddy Ruxpin, “Shout At The Devil” still roaring out of Teddy’s speakers. A man who appeared near death, covered in gore and waiting around to postpone his reward saw the two of us in the waiting room and spoke.

“The world is a sea of rats, isn’t it, boys?” he said, through thanatoid chortles. Larry and I looked at anything but this pestilent old street crazy; we weren’t prepared to acknowledge anything or anyone.

“A fucking sea of rats,” he repeated, fingering one particularly gruesome wound with grubby fingers.

Larry and I were eventually ushered into a foul-smelling room, attended to by a Dr. Kaplan. He asked us our names, the usual drill. We mumbled our names, through hoarse tears. Then he said this:

“You two probably think this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen don’t you?”

“I dunno.”

“I dunno.”

Dr. Kaplan applied something stronger than Pond’s cold cream and withouted us and our tormented members from Teddy Ruxpin. I wondered if he liked Mötley Crüe, if it bothered him–I wouldn’t have wanted to offend anybody’s sensibilities. He gave us hospital gowns and told us to wait, that we’d have to be checked over one more time, just to make sure no permanent damage had been done. Relief. I was relieved for a moment, until I decided to ask,

“Dr. Kaplan. Is this the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?” Dr. Kaplan seemed relieved to be asked.

“Thought you’d never ask!,” he said, continuing,” My first year as a resident, I saw a man who tried to cut his own head off with a chainsaw.” This didn’t seem much weirder, just bolder, permanent.

“Gross,” I said. Larry continued crying, sure he was going to “get in trouble.” Get in trouble? Larry, we’re in trouble, dude. It’s terrible, this kind of trouble. You go along just fine, skirting disaster until you don’t. Then what? Then tragedy. But just before it’s tragic, it’s not. We were so close to not being in this situation. Was something else at work? This is an argument for God. Not a benevolent God, just a God. You could argue everything is an argument for him/her/it.

“The weirdest part, though,” Dr. Kaplan went on,” he almost did it. But he didn’t. He lived.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Swear to God, he did. Do you want to know how they sewed his head back on?”

“Yeah.”

“They removed most of his anus and used that tissue to reconnect his neck and head. Talk about a butthead!” Dr. Kaplan laughed uproariously. We laughed nervously. What the hell just happened? Nix. What would happen? We would have to go home soon. What would my parents say? Was this something to be grounded for? This story would get out. Fifth grade was around the corner. I still hadn’t the slightest clue what to do with my penis. No hope, no salvation, existential hunger. Rotted, sweaty teeth. Parental love wears thin. This is the age one acquires enemies. This is when we are at our worst. This is a story, ammunition, a big powder keg, a cache of hellhounds. We didn’t want blood, but we got it. The story would get out.

But until now, it hasn’t.

Of course, how could one compete with the new kid, Davey Martell, a military brat transfer from California who took 5th grade center stage, charging 50 cents a head to people interested in watching him auto-fellate himself in the boy’s bathroom? One couldn’t. The worst part? He wasn’t even that flexible.

Sometimes the world is a sea of rats.



I hit the ball so fucking hard that as I approached second base, I remember thinking I should probably send a letter of apology to the ball’s manufacturer.  “Sorry I obliterated your product.  Nothing personal.”

***

July, 2003, Newton, Massachusetts

To the extent that men playing softball can be taken seriously by the outside world, I assure you that our league was viciously competitive.  To be fair, most of us were competing against the aging process, against the passing of our athletic prime so many years before, and competing against the emotional scalding you endure when you try to explain to someone that you play softball competitively, as they roll their eyes.

But back to the hit.

I don’t even remember if we were winning at the time but I do remember taking a pitch deep into right center field.  As I took off for first base, I recall thinking that it had been several games since I had hit a home run.  There was no fence in the outfield, so the only way you got a home run was to outrun the throw home.  I bore down.

As I rounded second, I lost sight of the ball, which was now somewhere behind me in right center field.  I looked towards “Bips,” our third base coach, for the signal to either hold up at third or to go for the home run.

Steaming towards third, I locked eyes with Bips, who looked back at me as if I had just asked him to name his top five favorite German theologians.  His stare was blank.

I realized that Bips, though physically standing at third, was mentally somewhere in the Bahamas.  I would have to blindly gamble on whether to go for it or not.

I recall thinking, “I’m fast as shit- I’m going for it.”

And so I did.

As I tagged third and made the turn towards home plate, I caught a final glance at Bips, who continued to stare at me as if we were just meeting for the first time (we had known each other for 20 years).  I gritted my teeth and charged towards home, arms swinging to drive my momentum through the final yards.

The ball entered my vision from the left , as I was about halfway down the line.  The throw first hit the ground, then bounced up into the catcher’s mitt while I still had a good three yards to go.

Our league had a rule where you always had to slide into the base when the ball was in the player’s hand or on the way.  This was to avoid injury, both by accident and fist.  So I did not have the option of taking the catcher out.  Instead, knowing I was dead to rights I lowered my right knee to the ground and slid right into him.

What happened next is one of the most horrifying moments of my life.

Sliding forward, my left foot hit straight into the catcher’s shin guard, and then time slowed as I watched my foot bounce back into my ankle, and then seemingly fall out of the joint.  My left foot folded ninety degrees inward and I lost the next 30 seconds.

I have been told that the scream in which I then indulged was of the blood curdling variety, but I don’t personally recall it.  I just lay there at home plate, out, and thinking to myself, “Shit- all these years and I’ve never broken a bone.”

My friend Marty was the first one to reach me from our bench.  He got right in my face, looked me in the eye, and with one of those overly-calm voices that people use when everything is spiraling out of control, said, “Joe, something pretty fucked up just happened, OK?  You don’t want to look down there- OK?  Just don’t look- look at me.  OK?  Just look at me.  You don’t want to look at it.  We’re calling for help…”

I took his advice, never again looking down at my ankle.  Even worse, while I could feel my foot hanging at an obscenely unnatural angle, my right cleat was still a good foot from home plate.

Fucking Bips…

Players came by and checked on me, including the opposing team’s catcher, who offered an apology, though he was completely blameless.  It was simply a freakish accident.

I noticed the wife of one of our players getting sick behind the bleachers, apparently from simply looking at my ankle.  Her reaction confirmed the soundness of my decision to not regard my dangling extremity.


***

The guys in the ambulance were vintage Boston- thick accents and absolutely no sense of propriety.  They were wearing street clothes, too, which I thought was weird.  It was like they had been mowing a lawn when the call came to get me.  The two EMTs in the back were having a field day.

“Jesus fahkin’ Christ, buddy.  What the fahk were you thinkin’?”

“Yah, we only see shit like this in fahkin’ cahr accidents.”

“Buddy, you were a fahkin’ mile from home plate.  Didn’t yah little league coach evah tell you to look at yah third base coach?”

“Jimmy,” one of them called to the driver, “Can you see this kid’s fahkin’ ankle?”

“Holy fahk!” I heard from the front seat.

“Hey pal, you evah have moah-feen?”

“Morphine?  No, never,” I said.

“Well yah gonna.”

“Great.  I can scratch another one off my list,” I said, finding a little bit of humor in this silvery narcotic lining.

One of the EMTs called ahead to the hospital and requested authorization to give me morphine.  He received it and went to town.

After a few moments, I said, “[h]ey, did you guys give me enough?  I’m not feeling anything.”

“Pal, yah lit up like a Christmas tree.  It’s werkin’.”

“You sure?”

“Yup.”

“Then can we put on some Allman Brothers or something?” I said.  “I need something to kick this into high gear,” I said, as I began giggling uncontrollably, still believing the morphine was ineffective.

The EMTs shook their heads at me as I, unable to stop laughing, continued to try to persuade them that I needed more.  Amazingly, I believed it.


***

When they wheeled me into the ER, I was still lying on my right side, clad in my dusty, sweaty uniform.  I had been in this position since the ill-advised slide, frightened to move my left leg at all, due to the freakish sensation of my left foot flapping in the breeze.

The ER doctor was a tiny woman with gigantic empathy.  She smiled sadly as she took a look at my ankle, asked me a few questions, and gently poked my silly little foot.

She said “[i]t doesn’t look like a break, but it’s a complete dislocation.  I’ll be right back.”

I lay there feeling the morphine wearing off and trying to imagine all the creative ways my girlfriend would surely find to call me a jackass.  We had, only weeks before, brought home two golden retriever puppies.

Puppies that were not yet housebroken.

Our “house” being a tiny one bedroom apartment on the third floor of an ancient building on the busiest street in Cambridge.

A building with no air conditioning.

In the hottest month of the hottest summer in a decade.

In that moment, I understood that her summer had just gone from zero to crappy in about an hour.


***

The ER doctor reappeared with two massive dudes in white doctor coats.

“Mr. Daly, you know what we have to do, right?”

Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that they would have to pop my foot back into place.  Missing this detail was likely a consequence of the morphine coursing through my veins.  But drugs or no drugs, the way she asked the question led me to believe that the process would be considerably far from pleasant.

The female doctor began directing the two other doctors to hold me down, which raised my anxiety significantly.  I could not recall any experience in my life where being held down was associated with something fun.

Then she began, “OK, on my count.  One… two…”

Hold it!,” someone shouted suddenly.  I think it was one of the guys holding me down, but I had my face buried in my forearm.  “Give him some more morphine.”

My hero.

They shot me up with more morphine and then got back to business.

“One… two…  three!”

I know my scream was loud because when it eventually stopped, the entire emergency room was silent.  Not a single word could be heard from the waiting room, the nursing station, or the other patients and doctors around us.  Just the beeps of the machines.

But my foot was back in place.

***

My girlfriend soon arrived and she did call me a jackass shortly thereafter, having long mocked me for being a grown man playing softball.  She did take fantastic care of me, which was no picnic for her on a number of levels.  While I spent the next couple months beached on the futon, whacked out on Percocets and red wine and watching “Blind Date” reruns, she had to carry two puppies up and down three flights of stairs easily ten times a day in sticky New England humidity.  This of course earned her both rock star status and lots and lots of bargaining chips in future negotiations.

I attended the final game of the series on crutches.  We won the championship, and the guys gave me the game ball, which still sits on my kitchen counter to this day.  It is the one ball the dogs do not get to chew.

My left ankle has lost a considerable amount of flexibility, and whenever I run for too long, I experience sharp pains through the area.  Still, I came back the next season, although I moved from second base to right field.

When I moved to San Diego a year later, I entered the San Diego Adult Baseball League’s open draft and got taken second in the AA division.  I lasted one season, batting somewhere around the Mendoza line before hanging up my cleats for good.  My ball playing career, which begun at age eight on a tiny field in Worcester, Massachusetts, ended on a dusty field just north of the Mexican border, twenty years later.

Given the constant reminders that my ankle provides me, I reflect on the accident pretty regularly.  I don’t have many regrets with how it all went down, but if I could change just one thing about the entire experience, it would be this:

I would have asked someone to take a picture of me lying at home plate with my foot hanging off.  Seriously, how fucking cool would that be?




When I was eight years old, I took dancing lessons. Besides the standard tap, jazz, and ballet, the studio included a beginner gymnastics class. I refused to do tap, tolerated jazz and ballet, but enjoyed the tumbling. I had good balance and appreciated the capacity of my small body to bend and twist.

One night, I was turning cartwheels in the house—no, probably not a good idea, but kids have a different concept of danger—and I hit my head on a wooden bench. The impact stunned more than hurt me. I sat on the floor and said, “I’m fine, Daddy,” then touched my forehead. Dripping. I vaguely recall being hauled into the bathroom, my blood a left-behind trail of spots in the green carpet.