The chips, glass of green olives, and 2-liter Mountain Dew moved slowly along the conveyor belt, getting closer and closer to the cashier and her red lipstick. Herman Beeline didn’t know her name or her birthday, but he knew she was big…big in lips and big in breasts and she liked to talk, mostly about coupons which was more than enough for Herman. He envisioned her as the lady who would one day make him big brown paper bag lunches with little notes tucked inside, notes that had thoughts on them and these thoughts would occupy Herman’s mind as he earned his keep, delivering the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania newspaper.
Herman thought about grabbing the chips, eating a few and then reaching over the conveyor belt and touching the cashier’s forearm and in the process, end his anxiety, maybe her’s too – that feeling of being totally alone. He woulda rolled the dice if his mom wasn’t there. She knew he eyed the lady cashier and she knew he liked to eat and sealed packages were never a deterrent so she pointed with her index finger for Herman to look away from the lady and the food and it wasn’t that Herman was overly obedient; he was just scared by his mom’s still eyes so he chewed his nails and when he completed all ten, he swivelled his head 180 degrees and looked at the rack of movie star magazines which didn’t take his mind off the cashier, but then he spotted a magazine he’d never seen before, about the size of a baseball digest; it was a 1979 farmers almanac.
Herman grabbed the almanac and opened it up. There were weather predictions, horoscopes and an article on “nuclear families.” He read a few lines. It reminded him of his own family – a house, a mom, dad, brother, and dog named Raja, totally nuclear, but then his father flew the coop, headed north to Alaska, “To live off the land.” The brother went to jail for robbery and when he got released, he joined the Moonies or got abducted by them and disappeared. The dog died of cancer and so did the “nuclear family.” It was just Herman and his mom after that and despite here being strict when it came to food, she was loose as a lush about booze. She became Herman’s personal bartender, every night at sunset…Long Island Ice teas, Harvey Wallbangers, straight whisky, or whatever other concoction she invented.
Herman didn’t like that word nuclear. it reminded him of his family that once was. He flung the Almanac like a frisbee and then stomped up and down the grocery store aisles, grabbing cereal boxes and syrups and throwing them to the floor. He was eventually asked to leave and when he refused, a big armed security guard escorted him out of the store. That’s when he really started thinking about nuclear, about the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant meltdown two months earlier, on March 5, 1979 and another Three – Three Rivers Stadium – home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the same state as the nuclear meltdown. It was then that Herman knew; he knew it as certain as a mouse knows how delicious cheese is; he knew that Three River’s Stadium was built on top of a nuclear reactor and one day it too would suffer a melt down too and then what? a Kent Tekulve submarine pitch would disintegrate before reaching Manny Sanguillen’s glove? Omar Moreno chasing down a deep drive would stop in mid-stride and tip over, hyperventilating. There’d be no more heckling Mike Schmidt of the cross state Phillies as fans melted into their seats and disappeared like his nuclear family brother had.
Herman needed to know the future, to warn people of this nuclear meltdown at Three Rivers Stadium, to keep them far away on the day, the players too. This was a big deal in the small, newspaper delivering life of Herman Beeline. He was being called upon to be a super hero in real life, an RS, a Radiation Savior and no surprise that RS also stood for Runs Scored to inspire the Pirates in the 1979 National League East pennant race.
Herman knew scientists and he went to see them and they told him to take notes, collect data. “Of what,” he screamed. “The end is near.” He went to priests and pastors and rabbis and gurus and they all told him the same thing – to look towards the hills, that the answer was there, in the unknown, but Herman had no time for mystery and mystics, he needed specifics, the when Three Rivers Stadium would suffer a nuclear meltdown.
He called a palm reader he found in the back of the very paper he delivered and the palm reader charged him three dollars and told him to never take wooden pennies and that did Herman no good so he consulted an astrologer from the same paper and she gave him a date – July 20th. That’s when the nuclear reactor under Three Rivers Stadium would suffer its meltdown and well, that was only four days away and John Candelaria was scheduled to pitch for the Pirates, against the Astros.
Herman needed help to spread the warning word. He closed his eyes in search of a strategy and the cashier with red lipstick immediately came to his mind. She came in a slide show montage, all the images he’d seen of her, of receiving cash and doling out change, her blushing and smiles and dancing in place. God, she was perfect. He raced back to the grocery store and explained to her his predicament, Pittsburgh’s predicament. He asked her name. She told him. Sandy. They talked about coupons, the wind and well, she accepted her role as Radiation Savior 2. They made capes with RS on the back. They printed out fliers, warning citizens and players of the nuclear reactor under the stadium and the impending meltdown. They contacted the local media – newspapers and television. No one listened.
On the day of the game, Herman and Sandy sat in the bunker they had dug and listened on an AM transistor radio and an amazing thing happened. There was no meltdown and the Pirates won, a complete game by Candelaria and a home run by Phil Garner off the Astros J.R. Richard.
Sandy never made Herman brown paper bag lunches, but Herman bought a flask of Smirnoff and mixed it into sunny delight orange juice and he invited Sandy for a drink of a “screwy delight” and a wander down by one of the three rivers and so they went together and a deer was there, standing on all fours, looking calm, eating grass, and eyeing them every once in a while.
November 7, 2022 at 8:08 am
This is genius Steve. You really put a finger on how all of us are searching for belonging. And you do it in the most fantastic, surreal, heartfelt way. The tie-in with the falling apart of the nuclear family and the “melt down” of the nuclear reactor is brilliant. And how ironically that does, at least for a little while, bring Herman a sense of belonging. So good!
November 7, 2022 at 9:49 pm
Wow! Thanks Bob. How great that this resonated with you. Excellent. Means a lot.
I’m excited like you that Herman enjoyed a little belonging and that he got to avoid radiation and share some eye contact with a deer.
November 7, 2022 at 10:23 am
I will raise a glass of vodka and orange juice to toast this entertaining “screwy delight” of a read, Steve.
This tale held my interest and carried me along merrily through its many twists and turns.
I enjoyed so many of the details in your writing _ such as the palm reader advertising in the classifieds of the Altoona newspaper, and readers like Herman finding it and responding to it.
I’m not so sure Herman wasn’t right about the nuclear reactor under Three Rivers Stadium. It might explain how skinny Barry Bonds morphed into such a distorted hulk…..
November 7, 2022 at 9:43 pm
Thanks Mark. I’m glad you enjoyed this. I miss newspapers, especially the low budget, local ones, with the astrologer and palm reader ads in the back. I still can’t get on board with reading too much online. I prefer the paper in my hand. I guess I’m getting old and unwilling to adjust to the times. Oh well.
You mentioning Barry Bonds morphing into hulk cracked me up….got me thinking about Ben Oglivie, all 160 pounds of him and yet, he still hit 41 dingers one year. Have a great week!
November 8, 2022 at 5:59 pm
Garner swiped a bag that day as well much like Herman swiped Sandy’s heart… or I like to think anyway.
I saw an actual newspaper in a driveway in Oklahoma City this past weekend. Part of me wanted to go take it and bring it inside and read it front to back. Excellent post from title to end.
November 9, 2022 at 6:51 am
Thanks Double K. You’re right. Garner did swipe a bag that day. I didn’t notice the first time I looked at the box score. And me too, I hope Sandy and Herman have more drinking adventures along one of the rivers.
November 10, 2022 at 12:24 pm
This is really great Steve. You’ll be disappointed in me, but I haven’t picked u a newspaper in years. I still read the local free rags though. Three Rivers was imploded in 2001, and I’d like to think Herman was there with his mild schizophrenia and a 12 pack of Iron City beer.
November 10, 2022 at 5:40 pm
Thanks Gary. Me neither. Haven’t picked up a paper in a while. I did visit my parents a few months back and they still get the paper version of the paper. Provided some throw back moments for me on the john, reading the baseball standings and dreaming. Iron City Beer! That sounds great and so does a beer tailgate party to watch a stadium implosion. I’ll bring the beer!
November 10, 2022 at 4:16 pm
Where I live, there are deer everywhere–you have to drop the speed about 10 MPH on the vehicle this time of year, because they’re very skittish, as they must know that rifle season is opening in a couple weeks, and sometimes they stare at me from my backyard, wondering why I chased away the neighbor who used to hand-feed them ( they moved to be near family, it wasn’t me), so in my world our spotted brown friends are pretty unremarkable, but if I see a lone deer on the North Shore, I will say “Ahhh…”
November 10, 2022 at 5:38 pm
I think you may be right wk about deer knowing the season is near, but then again why do they always come back to the same spots or maybe they don’t? Maybe it’s a fresh group of deer each hunting season? I met a deer in Milwaukee once, beside the Milwaukee River. It was the longest I’ve ever held a star down with an animal, dogs and cats included. It was kind of beautiful. I felt like one of those characters in a sci fi novel where nature has been practically eliminated.
There aren’t much deer around here, in Montreal, but tons of squirrels. I’m always afraid one is gonna jump on my head. Talk about skittish. Squirrels win the gold in that.