Felix Hernandez for $46!?!?

I sit on the edge of my shitty wooden chair as the bidding for Felix Hernandez blows past all reasonable estimates. Said chair is at the head of a large, boardroom style table, overflowing with burgers, corned beef hash, cheese fries, beer, and 12 scheming, devious fantasy baseball fanatics who I call my friends. It is our annual dynasty league auction draft located in a private backroom at Smith & Wollensky’s Steakhouse in Manhattan, and you can cut the tension with a butter knife right now (because butter knives are all we have; if you thought $100/person would get you steak at a steakhouse, you thought wrong). The bidding for Felix is down to two people, me and Greg.

“I’ll go $41,” a stone faced Greg announces from the other end of the table.

“$42,” I quickly fire back. The time for games is over. Felix is the last available “ace” on the board. The only other aces who were free agents in this year’s auction, David Price and Zach Grienke, already sold for $45 and $44, respectively ($260 budget). I bowed out of the bidding on both of those guys once the price hit $40, thinking I might be able to get Felix at a slight discount. Hah!

A brief silence falls over the room. “$43,” Greg finally squeaks out, sounding pretty unsure of himself.

I know a bunch of teams have cap space this year, but this is getting out of control. Felix Hernandez had a down year last year! There are red flags! I’m supposed to get him at a discount, goddamnit! I bite down hard, and try to summon some throwaway wisdom to help me rationalize the reckless bid I am about to make. “Fortune favors the bold,” I meekly blurt out to the room. “$44.”

The silence stretches on for longer this time. Greg looks like he might be ready to call it quits. “Alright man, I think I’m going to …” he stops mid-sentence. “Actually, nevermind, I’m going $45.”

You have got to be kidding me! Just at this moment, our waiter rolls in a cart filled with the 12 tequila shots we ordered earlier. I am at my wit’s end. Throwaway wisdom is not going to do it anymore. I need liquid courage! I stand up from this fucking horribly uncomfortable wooden chair, grab one of the glasses filled with a little too much tequila, and fire the shot back like a champ. “Felix Hernandez for 46!?!?” I shout out to the amused faces staring back at me from around the table. I did it! Felix is all but mine. No way Greg goes $47, he almost quit at $45!

“$46.50,” Greg says …

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Man vs. Crane (a huge bird)

“I’m telling you, Mike, golf sucks,” my dad says, as he quietly laughs under his breath. “Just come with me to play basketball like you usually do.”

“Don’t listen to that,” my brother-in-law, Jay, quickly fires back. “It’s going to be a beautiful day. We’ll bring some brews, ride around in a golf cart … you’ll love it.”

I never played a single hole of golf in my life. I have been to miniature golf courses and driving ranges, of course, but never played a round of golf. People seemed to absolutely love it, though, abandoning their families for entire weekends to play. I’m in Florida for Christmas break, and will probably never get a better opportunity to give it a shot than now. So against my father’s advice, I decide to hit the links.

“Alright, what the heck. Let’s golf,” I announce to the room. “Worst case scenario, I don’t like it and never play again, right?”

“Awesome. See you at 6 AM tomorrow morning,” Jay flippantly remarks.

Right from the start, I feel completely out of place. I am dressed in my Jordan basketball sneakers, Jordan basketball shorts, and a collared t-shirt (what, I’m not an animal), while my appropriately dressed brother-in-law is decked out in full golf gear. My sister and our friend, Ally, tag along as well, probably sensing they do not want to miss this impending disaster.

The first nine holes go about as well as you would expect it to go for a first-timer. Swings and misses, chunks of grass flying everywhere, shanks, etc … I start to just throw the ball from the tee. By the 10th hole, I call it quits to just hang out in the golf cart and sip some beer. That is until we reach the fateful 18th hole.

“You gonna play the 18th hole?” my sister taunts me from her golf cart.

“I guess so. Maybe I can finish this outing on a strong note,” I optimistically call back.

With a determined look on my face, I grab my driver, and step up to the tee. I clear my mind, pull the club back, and … shank. I smack the ball way off to the right side. It lands at the foot of a tree, right in the middle of this mini garden.

“Just take a mulligan,” Jay calls out.

“No can do. Gotta play the ball where it lies,” I respond. I am a man of principles, if nothing else.

I walk over to my ball, in the middle of this garden, and prepare to hit my way out of this conundrum. Jay, Ally, and my sister all gather around me to watch from a safe distance, with mocking looks on their faces.

This feeling of dread comes over me all of a sudden. I notice this small Crane (bird) about five feet away, just staring at me. And then I hear it.

“Cuh Caw! Cuh Caw! Cuh Caw!” comes a screeching battle cry from somewhere behind me.

I quickly turn around to see a giant, four-foot Crane swooping down from the sky, unmistakably aiming right for me. Her face adorns a blood red crown, as if she is wearing war paint.

I completely freeze, but mentally I am preparing to fight. The golf club being my only hope, I get ready to knock this thing back to where it came from when it gets in my wheelhouse (I’m much better at baseball than golf, thankfully). The last thing I want to do is hurt an animal, though, so I plan to hold off for as long as possible. The giant Crane lands just a few inches in front of me. She expands her enormous, five-foot wingspan in an extremely threatening manner, clearly letting me know it is time to leave. I very cautiously turn my back to the enormous bird, and slowly start to walk back toward the safety of my family and friends.

“It’s going to start pecking at your legs!” Ally cries out in terror, as they all run as far away from me as possible.

I fearfully peak behind me to see what is going on. The Crane, right on my heels, immediately unfurls her wings again, and starts to launch herself in flight right at me. Fuck the cautious approach! I put the jets on and sprint the hell out of there. After reaching the open fairway, I get the courage to turn back around. The Crane is holding her ground at the very edge of the garden, wings fully spread in a final warning. I drop to my knees in relief. Jay, Ally, and my sister fall to the ground as well, cackling uncontrollably in hysterical laughter.

“Get me out of this hell hole!” I yell to nobody in particular.

When we finally get back to the house, my dad is standing right by the door with a small smile on his face. “How’d it go?”

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

TSA at JFK

“Michael Halpern, please report to the TSA station. Michael Halpern to the TSA station,” comes blaring over the JFK airport loud speaker system.

My ears perk up, as I sit at Gate 25 waiting to board the plane to West Palm Beach, Florida to visit my parents. Oh shit, did they really just announce my name over the loud speaker system? And they want me to report to TSA?

Beads of sweat start to form on the top of my forehead. My mind starts to race. They clearly want to give me some kind of rectal exam, checking for drugs, right? Or, at the least, they are going to strip search me. Maybe they are going to put me in a small, windowless, fluorescent room, leave me alone for hours, and then come in and fire questions at me until I break. Or until I’m so worn down and confused I would be willing to admit to anything.

I am definitely going to miss my flight now. Maybe even worse, this could be my last moments as a free man. They are going to ship me off to Guantanamo Bay! They don’t even need evidence to throw you in Guantanamo! They will put a black bag over my head, and my family will never see or hear from me again. I should call my family and tell them I love them one more time, before it is too late!

I tentatively leave my gate, and start to walk over to TSA. Dead man walking! I have no drugs on me. I am not a terrorist. But I have seen the Youtube videos! TSA agents can do whatever they want!

The TSA station appears up ahead. My worries quickly turn into a full on panic as I approach the agents at the desk. “Um, I think I heard my name announced over the loud speaker,” I am barely able to croak out.

The agent menacingly looks me up and down. He begins to reach down towards his hip. His hand appears from below the desk, with a plastic bag. “Sir, I think you dropped your ID at the security checkpoint,” the agent said, as he reaches into the bag and hands my ID back to me.

“Thanks man,” I blurt out, with a huge sigh of relief on my face. “I really appreciate it. Keep up all the good work you guys do!”

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

Hidden Gem: Carl Schurz Park (and a little Nas)

With Nas’ song, “NY State of Mind,” blasting through my headphones, I stride through the open gates and down the boardwalk leading to the grounds of the Mayor’s backyard.

Bright orange sunlight is ripping through the clouds, bouncing off the gentle waves of the East River, and landing on the sleepy park that is just waking up. Birds dance and dive against this awe-inspiring backdrop, performing aerial stunts the Cirque du Soleil could only dream of.

With an imaginary music video playing out in my mind, I breath in the scene in front of me. Sitting on a bench to my right is a white-bearded man, dressed in a white linen shirt and pants, his long white hair overflowing out of his straw hat. He stares out at the East River with a ponderous look on his face, occasionally jotting down mysterious notes on the pad he holds in his hand.

A homeless man lies asleep on a bench to my left. A shopping cart sits next to him, full with the entirety of his life’s possessions. Fluorescent signs warning of fluoride in the water adorn the outside of the cart.

Suddenly a beautiful woman in full athletic gear whizzes right past me. The determined look on her face reveals she is ready to kick the day’s ass.

Up ahead, a few people are walking their dogs, others are riding their bikes, and even more are enjoying their morning coffee while reading the newspaper.

This is not the image most people conjure when they think about New York. But Carl Schurz Park is exactly the kind of hidden gem New Yorkers flock to when they want a break from the concrete jungle.

I take one last deep breath before I turn to walk back through the open gates, back into the city I call home. Nas’ voice comes exploding into my brain as the song nears its end, “Nothing’s equivalent, to the New York state of mind … New York state of mind.”

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com