Pasta day changed my life.
Small bowl, $2.95, large bowl, $3.95.
I went small.
Ziti. Sausage. Peas. Green Peppers. Black Olives. Marinara with meat.
No onions. Heartburn you know. Enough agida in a Sportscenter editorial meeting without adding onions.
Had I brown-bagged it that day, none of this would have happened. A new career happened because I forgot a ham sandwich.
It was a Tuesday. Or possibly a Thursday. I’m trying to be as honest here as possible in case I somehow make it on Oprah and she starts calling me on some of the facts.
You only need to look at me to know that while I can remember exactly what I ordered to eat, I don’t remember exactly what day I did it on. But it was pasta day at ESPN.
About noon-ish I think. I’m walking back over through the catwalk, white Styrofoam small pasta thing in my hand, minding my own bringing my lunch back to my desk business. Halfway cat-walked, the door at the end I’m heading to opens and out comes one of my several thousand ESPN bosses.
Out into my own personal cat-walking space. You can’t hide in a catwalk, especially if it’s just you and the guy you want to hide from cat-walking.
Normally I would pretend that something important just happened outside the catwalk, or that the Styrofoam thing in my hand was melting, or that the carpet was the most interesting catwalk carpet I’d ever seen, anything so as to not have to actually make eye contact with any of my several thousand ESPN bosses.
But, it was two weeks to bonus time. The closer to bonus time the more time I spent looking at the faces of those who would be deciding my bonus. Late October was my smiling time. And this boss approaching me was one of the guys who actually put his name on my bonus check.
For him, I smiled, and talked. “Hey,” which for me was like a paragraph since talking was all that stood between me and my desk and eating.
I “Hey-ed,” smiled, and kept walking while doing the 3% bonus-math in my head.
There’s no way I “Hey-ed” like I wanted some sort of response.
We are now having a serious breach of catwalk-etiquette. A catwalk is nothing more than a laid-down elevator, and therefore should conform to the basic elevator rule of two head nods. I get in to what should be just my elevator to begin with, but find someone else in my elevator space, so I give him my half head up-down elevator nod, of which he returns the same since we are now sharing personal public space.
But there is never a third nod.
A third nod and I hit the stop button and spray some nasty aerosol in your face. Perfectly acceptable third-nod-elevator-self-defense.
There is also never an answer for, “Hey.” Had I wanted to fake like I wanted an answer I would have said, “Hey, how you doing,” but kept walking anyway since everyone understands that none of us really care how the other people we are trying to avoid, feel.
But this being two weeks until bonus day, so I stop. It was right about here that the beginning of the end of my career started.
“Don, by any chance do you fish.”
“Do you hunt.”
I’ve known this boss for 15 years so I can say “Nope” instead of “No” and not suffer bonus dollar deductions.
“What do you do outside.”
“Stay inside as much as possible.”
“Not much of an outdoor kind of guy are you.”
“Nope, don’t like being inside the outside.”
“Hmmm. Pasta day huh.”
A week later I was an Outdoor Writer.
They told me that I was going to write about the outdoors while I was sitting in my cubicle with no view of the outside. For me to see what I was about to write about I had to stand on my tippy toes. And look around a building column. And over two big gray file holding things. And through my immediate supervisor’s office, if his door was open.
I was a complete outsider to the outside. I prefer the outdoors to have a window between me and it. I have nothing against the outside, as long as it’s out there, and I’m not.
I was supposed to be someone else.
When I was born I was born to not be me. I was born to be the dead guy. My life was supposed to go like this, “Ooops.” I was a drive-by on earth.
My career was over before I started. I already came and went before I even got here. I’m trespassing. On life.
I was born dead, but lived.
I’m an accidental adult. The accident that happened. That keeps happening. Happen, happens in spite of me.
Originally, I wasn’t even a white guy. I wasn’t born your typical Caucasian.
I’ve changed colors. I arrived color coordinated, a newborn fashionista.
I began blue.
Blue eyes. Blue arms. Blue legs. Blue body. Being blue is being born on borrowed time.
This was the plan for db”¦he came”¦he left”¦next. The future doesn’t belong to those born blue.
I was born dead on Father’s Day, 1952. Years later my father told me that his first Father’s Day present came DOA. And that would be me.
I wasn’t supposed to be db, either. rb, was supposed to be me. My mother wanted to name me Reginald Barone”¦I was supposed to be a Reggie.
But being born already deceased changed that. Time speeds up when you are born having already run out of time.
From what I have gathered over the years, Reginald was not on my Father’s top ten names for his first born son”¦didn’t even make the first 100. “I wouldn’t name the dog that,” he once said when the two of us were in our living room and my Mother was not.
Dad in fact named the dog, “Pepi.” Only my apparent death at birth may have spared me from being a “pb” instead of “db.”
My birth mother wasn’t there for my birth.
Helen Barone, my birth Father’s wife chose my birth to be “natural,” which in 1952 meant she came around and woke up a couple of days after I came around for the first time.
So here I was, pretty much having come and gone simultaneously, my Mother was unconscious which meant her ability to name me Reginald was pretty much off the table, and my Father was down the hall, on a whole other floor, chain smoking in a waiting room and thinking exactly this, as told to me in that same living room that my Mother was not in”¦
Which at that precise moment in time in 1952 was actually very astute on my Father’s part because one floor above my chain smoking Father, “Crap” was happening.
And that crapwas me.
Being born dead and all.
My Mother always used to say I was a problem child, “From the start,” she was very literal that way.
This was how my Father told me of my birth:
Dad: “You weren’t, you know, planned.”
I was completely unaware of that fact having being as I was at that exact moment, “in-utero,” planned for or not.
Dad: “Birth control back then wasn’t what it is today.”
Mind you, he’s telling this to the BIRTH he wished he had CONTROLLED.
Dad: “It all just happened so fast.”
db: “What did?”
Dad: “You know, Mother and I weren’t married very long, barely a year or so”¦”
Trust me, this is not the conversation you want to have with EITHER of your parents.
Dad: “”¦we had just moved into our first house….”
Yep, I’m a breaking in the new house kid”¦
Dad: “Took the money I saved up from the war, couldn’t really spend it fighting on the islands, and bought a new car too”¦”
Or, breaking in the new car kid”¦
Dad: “And suddenly, she’s pregnant.”
She, would be my Mother, and pregnant would be me.
I’d be chain-smoking and saying “crap” too.
I was named, Donald, halfway through a priest’s bummed Benson & Hedges smoke.
Dad: “So I’m sitting in Children’s Hospital waiting room and this priest walks up to and asks if I’m Don Barone.”
I know that exact feeling”¦but that story is down the road a bit (my wife and I got married by the priest whose name was in the bible we found in the drawer next to the bed in a Rhode Island Holiday Inn”¦)
Dad: “I say I am and the priest sits down next to me, bums a smoke, and says there’s a problem”¦”
db: “What problem.”
Dad: “He says, ‘Do you have a name for the child.” I ask why, you know I hated that Reginald thing, and the priest looks right at me and says, ‘The baby needs a name so we can baptize him and deliver Last Rites.”
Happy Father’s Day, Pops.
Dad: “And Helen”¦”
Priest: “She’s fine, being attended to”¦”
Translation: Dad dude you’re on your own….
Priest: “What shall we name the child”¦”
And the priest and my father sat alone in the waiting room and smoked Benson & Hedges, “”¦until a nurse walked down the hall and motioned for the priest to come with her.”
Dad: “So the priest gets up to leave and he turns to me and says, Mr. Barone, I need a name”¦you know it all happened so fast”¦so I look at him and the nurse and I ask”¦I have to ask”¦is it a boy or a girl”¦and the nurse walks over to me, bends down and says, ‘It’s a boy, Mr. Barone, a baby boy”¦so I says to her”¦okay”¦then give my son my name.”
No matter how many times Dad told me this story, it was always at this point that he would turn and look at me, stare actually, realizing that, Jr., was the one he was telling the story to, and Jr. wasn’t supposed to be here to hear it.
Somehow, I had survived my birth. And I wasn’t named Reggie. My temporary name stuck.
I am db.
And my favorite color is, Blue.
I grew up on a street with one tree. A new tree on a new block. Post-war homes for post-war families with soon to be post-war kids.
Dad’s war ended in a corner house, the first end of war house on the block. Dad had the first post-war sidewalk, the first post-war driveway, the first post-war tree.
571 was the address, a black and white ranch home for a black and white family. A Ford in the driveway, a Philco in the living room, Hop-A-Long Cassidy linoleum in the baby’s room. My room. I drooled over the western plains, crawled on the Rio Grande, took my first steps over the Sierra’s.
Grew up with horses, mountains, rivers, lakes, sunrise and sunset, and never left my room. Outside was my life inside. I was several years old before I realized the outdoors wasn’t flat, cold, and scattered with cookie crumbs.
To this day I remember the first time my mother opened the kitchen door and I walked outside. It was a black door, the cement porch was painted green, to my left was a white trellis with red roses, on my right, the outside.
My mother held my left hand, my father held my right, and we inched me across the porch, tottered on the edge, took one step off, then a gentle lift off guided by two hands to swing out to the grass beyond the gravel carport.
And when I landed I’ll never forget the feel of grass between my toes. And when I sat, the lawn I held in my hands. Nothing like the linoleum outside inside my childhood bedroom.
I remember those first steps outside.
I was 4 years old.
I spent the first three years of my life in a prison of plaster. Turtle boy. A total body cast my shell. My jail. The floor was my world, I knew people by their ankles. Shoes.
Outside began where my windows ended. My parents used to joke that I was an easy kid to baby-sit, put me on the floor, come back a couple hours later, and I would still be there.
I was packaged pretty much head to toe. From under my arms to the balls of my feet I was 1952 State-of-the-Art Plaster. I could move my head, I could open my mouth, blink, move my arms, hold things (but not pick them up if those things fell). That was me, that was how I grew up thinking me was.
This was my normal.
No other part of me could move. I was head, arms, and hands. Nothing else. Except once every three months when my parents took me to the hospital and people in white smocks took a circular saw with a long black cord and cut me out. They would saw up one side of my body, walk around the table, then saw up the other side.
Once they unplugged the saws, two guys with masks showed up, each carrying a hammer and chisel. And a lady in a white hat. The lady had curly hair, red lipstick, some sort of pin things that kept her hat on, and she chewed gum.
The lady with gum would stand at the head of the table, behind my head, and then bend over so she was looking directly into my face. Then she would grab my shoulders and pin my arms down.
And the guys in the masks would place the chisels in the saw line, and start hammering away.
I was three years old and I just watched the lady in the white hat chew gum.
And then came freedom. For a few minutes.
They painted cold orange stuff all over my naked body and sent me back to the prison of plaster. One white swatch of dripping water and globs of plaster at a time.
Layer by layer they would wrap me up into another cast (much later my grandmother would tell me she always thought I was born gift wrapped), this time a slightly bigger cast, one I could grow into. And my parents would take me home and put me back down on the linoleum where I could see the Rio Grand, close up.
I will never forget the taste of linoleum.
I will never forget the sound of chisels and the smell of doublemint.
I will never forget what it felt like to not be me.
To not be the child in the cast. To be free.
If only for a moment.
Which is why the universe hid my ham sandwich on me. And created, pasta day at ESPN. And skywalks, and thousands of bosses.
And once again took the cast off so I could be someone not me. An indoor guy inside the outside. An outsider to the outside.
Because the universe knows, that for me, the feel of grass between my toes, the smell of a lake breeze, the taste of rain on my face, will always be, magical.