The “third rail” referred to the electrically-charged conductor on the tracks of urban railroads. Touch it and you die.
The metaphor was clear. There were some political issues so emotionally charged it didn’t matter what your position on them was, you die just by touching them.
I’m about to touch a third rail that makes Social Security look like a lukewarm coffee pot.
The difference between males and females.
During the cold snap, when any body part froze to anything outside, the Brown family— yours truly, wife Sue and 17-going-on-Olympian goddess step-daughter Kayla—were huddled in front of our television watching the baseball channel.
Well, one of us was watching the MLB Channel. The other two were crocheting and texting/ breaking up with/taunting/ manipulating teenaged boys. The program was a riveting interview by Bob Costas on the 1986 baseball post-season, as operatic a time as the sports world has ever brought us.
It ended with the iconic Bill Buckner error, which gave the Mets a win, and ultimately a world championship. It also featured two apocalyptic playoff series, one of which produced allegations of cheating which last to this day and the other a home run so crushing and dramatic that the pitcher who surrendered it eventually succumbed to despair and took his life.
Costas’s studio guests, watching the highlights a quarter century later, were three men who were principals in the drama, Boston Red Sox pitchers Calvin Schiraldi (who lives in Austin) and Bruce Hurst, along with Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson, who hit the ground ball that Buckner infamously booted.
Heavy, heavy stuf f. I kept sneaking sideways glances at my wife and step-daughter and noticed that—in those occasional moments when they weren’t springing from their seats attending to perceived needs every time one of our 487 pets twitched a whisker—they were actually paying attention to the television program.
Their gazes seemed to be especially intense when the screen shifted from video highlights to Costas, Schiraldi, Hurst and Wilson in the studio.
For some reason they seemed to pay special attention to every word Hurst uttered.
Finally, Kayla inhaled and I knew she was about to speak. I snapped to attention, wondering what moment of high drama had lifted her from the planet iPhone into my beloved world of baseball.
“I can’t bee-leeeeve he’s wearing that horrible green tie!”
“Yeah,” my wife chimed in. “It looks like neon. Does it have a battery?” (snicker) “And with those slacks!” Kayla shrieked.
“What about the guy with the beard (Schiraldi)?” Sue asked. “He’s wearing a T-shirt with nice dress pants!”
They both smiled, knowingly, and dissolved into little “thesemen what-will-we-ever-do-with them?” peals of laughter.
I wanted to cry but there’s no crying in you-know-what. “You’ve been watching this for an hour and when you finally say something it’s about BRUCE HURST’S TIE!” I sputtered.
“It’s green,” was the reply, in unison, as if that ended this argument and any we might ever have in the future.
“But what about Billy Buckner and the error and how Red Sox fans finally forgave him and the bitter disagreements with the Sox manager that have festered all this time and......”
I was cut off when T. J., our furry cockroach, uh, adorable cat, choked on a hairball and Sue and Kayla panicked, then saved his life by coaxing him to throw up onto the nice 2012 Central Division Champs T-shirt they had just given me for Christmas.
Mouth-to-mouth would have been the next step.
For some reason my mind flashed back to 1984 when the women’s softball team I coached was tied for first in the city league and I thought I was going to manage us to a last-game win.
I gave specific instructions to each batter before she went up to the plate and, to my surprise, each one looked me right in the eye, paid attention like they’d never done before.
We won. Overjoyed I thanked them for their intense attention.
My second base person led a team giggle. “We weren’t listening to you,” she said. “You have on those big mirror sunglasses and we were fixing our hair.”
In the battle of the sexes I think I’ve figured out my role.
Prisoner of war.