birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Orange, Pierrot, Hoodie, Speedo

My Red October Hoodie

I grew up pretty much indifferent to sports. I went to Dodger games from time to time, but never felt any attachment to the team. I'd cheer for my home town, but would leave the game not caring ultimately who won or lost. I moved to Washington, DC in the summer of 2007. I was fairly recently out of college and had just moved to a city where I knew literally no one.

The Washington Nationals had arrived in DC two summers earlier, relocating from Montreal due to a general lack of interest in baseball from Canadians and the League's desire to return the game to the nation’s capital after a 30+ year hiatus. They too didn't have many friends in DC.

Exacerbating that disinterest, the team was abysmally bad. Multiple years in a row they made a run for worst-ever season record in a sport with records dating back to the 1870s. Not to mention, DC's weather is famously bleak. Games would be delayed for rain routinely. Nationals Park borders the Potomac (yet has no view of it) and conditions are swampy even on a good day.

I started going to games, because they were cheap, and the Park was a quick metro ride from home or work, and really I had very little else to do. In this empty, brand-new stadium, I would wander down and sit in a chair next to the home team dugout.

I came to know the grounds crew and the players. Without even realizing it, for the first time in my life, I had a team. I was emotionally invested in the outcome of games that had literally no bearing on anything in my life.

I left DC in 2010 to return to Los Angeles and something strange happened. The Nats started winning. We drafted a handful of once-in-a-generation talents. We made smart trades. We became perennial playoff contenders, winning our Division in three of the past five years.

I could no longer go to home games, but I would see the Nats when they'd come to Dodger Stadium each summer. I'd put the dates on my calendar as soon as they were announced.

In 2016, something even more incredible happened. The Dodgers and the Nats both won their respective Divisions—there would be Nationals playoff baseball games two miles from my home and 3,000 miles from theirs.

For an unreasonably high amount of money for a cotton and polyester garment, I bought something I never thought I'd need—a loud red Nationals hoodie—the requisite attire for October baseball.

For someone who lives his life so as to avoid confrontation as much as possible, there was something uniquely magical about showing up to Dodger Stadium wearing that bright, fresh-out-of-the-plastic red sweatshirt emblazoned with a white “W.”

I arrived at my section, the notoriously rowdy outfield bleachers. The usher, whether by incompetence or a sick sense of humor, sent me to the wrong side of the aisle, so I had to walk almost completely across the front row of section. A red sore thumb sticking out in a sea of Dodger blue. A chorus of boos from 1,000 or more Dodger fans grew louder and louder with each slow step I took.

Why I found this moment so satisfying, I still can’t say. It still doesn't seem quite right to me that I even have a favorite sports team. Let alone one I like enough that I would risk my own safety to brandish their colors.

As the 2017 season comes to a close, the Nats and the Dodgers are quite likely headed to another playoff confrontation this October. And my red hoodie—the vestment of a proud infidel— is still sitting in my closest, waiting on the shelf, ready to be deployed.

—D.T.

One Pill Makes You a Fraternity Member

At Eureka College, it was Homecoming and that meant floats, an activity in which I did not participate, and homecoming skits, an event in which I, as one of three "drama-jocks," (as we were dubbed), were dragooned. We were to write the skit, provide music (original lyrics) and make it so amazingly funny that we'd win over thuggish, evil Tekes, who lived down the street.

It helped that our housemother, who kept her door shut against all but the local police, was a seamstress and she kind of liked me.

So we concocted a plot which I've forgotten except for improvised lyrics to the Stones' "Satisfaction", and the appearance in a doorway of the stage, of a six-foot tall, 300-pound white rabbit, Bugs Bunny feet, full-size ears, poufy tail.

That was me, thanks to many fittings by the housemother over a week.

The crowd went nuts.

We thought we'd lost narrowly, but a fraternity math-jock spotted an arithmetic error a couple weeks after Homecoming, and the committee awarded First Place to us. There was no cheering by now, but there was a fifth of Jack Daniels, and we made do.

—J.B.

Orange

The summer I turned 17 I went to summer school in Cambridge to study Criminal Law, British History, and, naturally, Shakespeare. I was not the shining star in any of the classes but I was on my own for the first time and able to fully comprehend that if I wanted to eat a snickers for lunch, I could eat a goddamn snickers for lunch. My outfits were carefully selected from a particularly good shopping trip I'd taken with my Grandmother at the Georgetown Mall. Bright colors were in and one outfit was entirely orange. To be fair it wasn't really an outfit but two different pieces of clothing I put on in the dark one morning. The realization that I was a walking human embarrassment only took a moment, but the bus doors had shut and we were off to London to take in some museums and shows. For one such show, a hilariously condensed version of some Shakespeare classics, I was seated next to my crush's best friend. He, I noted, laughed at all the same parts I did and I made sure to look adorable doing it. After intermission, he didn't come back. They went off drinking somewhere and I was crushed at the lost opportunity. If only I had made friends with him, I could have ingratiated myself with his friend group and sidled up to my dream boat, I lamented. What instead happened, as it was told to me, was that his entire friend group started referring to me as Orange. This would have been mortifying but somehow they found it endearing. If I hadn't worn orange that day I probably would have gone by unnoticed. It was only by being someone who owned two pieces of orange clothing that they noticed me and I wound up losing my virginity to my crush only a mere night or three later. (I was ready. The opportunity presented itself. We shared a diet coke afterwards). What I'm trying to say is go ahead and be yourself, even when you meant to wear a better outfit or mask. For instance, it would only be years later that I realized I was, of course, in love with my crush's his best friend and I never told him.

—G.S.

Softball

In my hometown, everyone played softball. Nearly everyone. It was the local pasttime for every girl over the age of 8, and many adult leagues. The state championship would descend on Memorial Park every summer, further fueling the local attachment.

So it was with some pleasure that I was assigned (drafted? pulled out of a hat) to the J.R. Michael's softball team. It was sponsored by a downtown boutique, really the only boutique in town, run by two ladies who'd named it after their respective sons. The place was the center of all things preppy in Mt. Vernon.

Our uniforms that year were a tasteful tan with burgundy shorts, and the store name written in a burgundy script across the front. The shorts were the polyester athletic variety, which never fit me well, as I was still so small. The t-shirt, however, was better. I was number 4, which I'd decided was my favorite number. And I had my nickname -- which I also think I'd chosen -- on the back. The letters were ironed on by the local sports shop.

J.R. Michael's rarely, if ever, won a game. I'm not sure what our major problem was. Mine was surely that I was too small and increasingly nearsighted to ever be good at sports that involved throwing a ball. But we looked sharp.

— R.R.

Susan Bristol can suck my big toe

I have always had a struggle with fabric. Cotton was my friend, except for the damn annoyances called tags in the backs of my shirts. Silk was sublime if I ever had the opportunity to wear it. I was content with jeans, khaki pants, and such. My mother knew this about me, but for some reason, after we had lived in Connecticut for a few years, she found it necessary to buy for me, and force me to wear, a Susan Bristol sweater.

For those not familiar with such a torture device for one such as myself who is ever so slightly tactile sensitive, it is a wool sweater, often hand knit, with lovely knitting around the neck, generally of a pastel color pattern. They are the hallmark of preppy. My mother, being a native Californian, had resisted the urge to conform to the New England ways of dressing, including her insistence on wearing open toed shoes in November, but for her darling daughter with the long brown hair, conformity was the name of the game and goddamnit, I was going to wear the damn sweater.

There was nothing I could wear underneath this beast to make it any more comfortable. The sleeves itched at the elbow, and right under my armpits. Tiny but sharp as hell fibers found their way through undershirts, t-shirts, button down shirts, and the beloved turtleneck. My skin was never safe. The additional knitting around the neck made it especially snug around my own neck, and by the end of the day, the skin around my neck looked as if I had my own necklace.

— S.J.

The outfits of autumn

Football, one learns if one is born in the South, is a religion. As with all religions, it is rooted in tribalism. This is why I have worn red and white my whole life.

Our family trips when I was growing up almost always involved going to where I was born, Birmingham, which meant two- or three-day drives from our home in Northern Virginia. By the time I'd get back from Alabama, I'd have picked up a Southern accent. I also had picked up, courtesy my father, a number of red and white outfits, those being the colors of our Tuscaloosa tribe.

One of my cousins (everyone in Birmingham seemed to be a cousin, once or twice removed) owned a sporting-goods store. One year, my father had made for me at Fred Sington Sporting Goods a red jacket with "Alabama" stitched in large white letters on the back. I wore the thing on my first day back to school in my freshman year in high school. And the second day. And the entire year -- starting when it was far too hot to need a jacket and continuing into the days it was far too cold to wear only a jacket. I look back at this with cringing bemusement. I even went to the trouble of tucking my long hair under the jacket so the lettering showed: Alabama.

My tribe.

Roll Tide.

— J.G.

The Tableaux

Six of us, high school senior boys, gather in a bathroom near our school’s auditorium. We strip and put on speedo bathing suits and bathing caps. Then we are covered from head to toe in gooey vegetable oil colored bright silver. We are warned that we have to be back to the showers in no more than 30 minutes. We scamper down the hall on a butcher paper trail to the stage. We are the last event of our school’s “Gym Show.” The evening program is an exhibition by the top gymnasts of their skills on the rings, high bar, parallel bars and all the rest. Though I am not a gymnast, a gym team friend persuades me to be in something called the “Tableaux.” This consists of a series of heroic poses struck by the six of us, while classical music plays and spot lights change colors shining on our shimmering silver bodies. My favorite pose is on the bridge of ship grabbing the helm and struggling to steer the vessel through a storm, with a soundtrack that includes thunder and lighting. We do it for three performances and with each show we have a harder and harder time trying not to laugh out loud.

— C.F. 

The Worst Costume, Ever

The best thing you could say about that pierrot costume is that it taught me all I know about sewing.

I needed something to wear for Hallowe'en at work, and I figured the easiest thing to make was one of those black and white pierrot costumes, which I figured everyone at work would call a clown costume, and that was okay. It sort of is. I guess.

Since I'd gotten my ex, then my wife, a sewing machine for Christmas one year, I knew she had one, and even though we were no longer together, I figured I could get in the condo we shared and use it while she was at work. We'd, maybe, agreed that I could do that, or something like that, when we split up.

I believe I went to a sewing store, or maybe it was a Sears or Pennys to look over the patterns that I remember my mom always using when she sewed. To my luck, I found just the one I was looking for and, best of all, it told me how much fabric I'd need to finish the costume.

So, I bought the pattern and the black and white cotton fabric that the costume demanded, and headed off to her home to start putting it together.

Maybe I'm some sort of genius, but I had no trouble laying out the pattern over the fabric and cutting the pieces out, and not even too much difficulty sewing the pieces together.

Really, I just followed the directions.

The only part that gave me any trouble was the neck ruffle, and that was mostly because I had some sort of issue with the bobbin thing and the thread kept turning into tiny ball shaped messes instead of sewing in a nice, straight line.

But ... I was able to do it and wore it proudly while letting everyone at work know that, no, it wasn't a clown, it was a pierrot.

— R.K.

 

 

Eggs, knives, aftershave

Granny, Nano, Mimi