The Coaster (#Fridayflash)

“Hey dad, you seen my T-pass? I just had it”, said Ralph.

“Check your room”.

“I did, it’s not there”.

“If I find it, you have to clean your room.”


“I said, if I find it….”

Ralph’s dad peeked into his son’s bedroom.  For a second, he thought the room had been ransacked. Socks, t-shirts and jeans spilled out of an open chest of drawers.  Dirty clothes had been flung about – a tube sock dangled from a lampshade.  Wadded up pieces of loose leaf, a rainbow assortment of sharpies, some with their caps missing, and a colorful collection of college brochures littered the floor.  The copy of Great Expectations he had purchased for Ralph last week peeked out from under the bed, still in the Barnes and Noble bag.  Ralph’s MacBook Pro doubled as a plate for a half-eaten hamburger wrapped in foil. Some wayward fries lounged comfortably on a beat up piano bench under his desk.  Ralph had bought the piano bench at a yard sale for 5 bucks along with some Yes albums for .50 a piece for the album cover art, not the music.  He’d never heard of the band and thought the records were giant CDs.  Album covers and vinyl  LPs decorated his bedroom walls.

“I found it”, said Ralph’s dad.


“On your nightstand.  Now I want this room cleaned by tomorrow.”

Ralph had used his T-pass as a coaster for a 72 ounce can of i-Energy drink. And his dad noticed something else – another coaster, a baseball card inside a plastic sleeve under a Pom Tea glass with bits of orange juice pulp dried to the sides. He picked up the card. Bryan Nolen, pitcher for the Arkansas Catfish, a AAAA affiliate of the Ozark Spelunkers.  On the back of the card it said Nolen was an ambidextrous switch hitting pitcher who had recently pitched no hitters from both sides. Height: 6’6″; Wgt: 112; (that had to be a misprint) College: Bardmore State; Home: Drayton, NY. Nickname:  The Hudson Valley Hurler.

Bryan Nolen.  The thought of an ambidextrous pitcher intrigued  Ralph’s dad, so he googled him to find out a little more. Bryan was born Bryan Walker Nolen.  He earned an academic scholarship to Bardmore State College where he majored in linguistics. He spoke a little Spanish, his mother’s mother tongue, and could understand German, but couldn’t speak it.  He had studied the morphology of dozens of endangered indigenous languages and had discovered that English and Spanish had borrowed heavily from them.  Nolen was not only gifted academically, he was quite an accomplished athlete.  He had captained the nationally ranked Bardmore ultimate frisbee team in his junior and senior years.  At a frisbee tournament in Topf, TX, a major league recruiter saw potential in Nolen’s arm.  He was so impressed by his ability to accurately toss from both sides that he offered Nolen a minor league baseball contract on the spot.

In his first year in AAAA pitching for the Catfish, he threw a no-hitter as a lefty serving up mostly knuckleballs.  In one game against the Faulkner County Hush Puppies,  he caused a bench clearing brawl when he threw a pitch over the batter’s head from the left, and then switched to the right arm for the next pitch and beaned the batter in the ribs with a fastball.  The batter charged the mound and hit Nolen in the head with an aluminum bat, knocking him out and ending his baseball career. When Nolen came to, he was in the hospital and couldn’t speak.   He wrote notes in gibberish to his friends and family until a leading polyglot neurologist realized he was writing backwards in Spanish.  “Erbmah ognet” for “I’m hungry,” and so on. One day he miraculously began speaking German fluently during the day and Spanish at night. He had apparently lost his English completely.  Some in the family feared he had been subjected to a dangerous government experiment. The neurologist said the condition was rare, but theoretically possible, given that Ralph’s mother was a native Spanish speaker and that his paternal great-grandparents were German-speaking Swiss immigrants.  The ability to write backwards in a foreign tongue, though never before documented in a head trauma victim, had been observed in several lightning strike survivors.

Bryan eventually re-learned English, though he was not always easily understood with his thick German accent.  He struggled with irregular verbs and used of lot of slang he picked up from watching 70’s sitcoms and movies – “right on”, “dynamite”, “far out”, “out of sight”, “groovy man,” and “you dig?” And sometimes when he was really tired, he’d launch into backward English with a southern accent. “ll’ay yeh”.  He also discovered another talent – he could understand cat and dog language, an ability he turned into a hit show on the Reality Channel doing pet interventions for the rich and famous.

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