Those Pesky Dead Flies in the Perfume (When Success and Shame Go Hand-In-Hand)

“Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.” — Bob Dylan

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes has so many thought-provoking verses. One of my favorites is Ecclesiastes 10:1 which goes like this:

“As a dead fly gives perfume a bad smell,
So a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”

The longer one lives, the more opportunities one gets to experience this seemingly universal conundrum. Why is it that so many of our heroic or gratifying experiences get marred by a dead fly in the ointment? Here is a stroy from my life, by way of illustration.

A Sort Of Heroic Moment

When I was a kid, playing baseball was something I lived for. It seems like we played every day while I was growing up, whiffle ball, baseball, Little League, Pony League and sandlot, stickball in the streets.

I played high school ball on the Freshman team, Jr. Varsity and eventually got a Varsity letter in my Junior year. Mr. Dennison, our JV coach, seemed to like my hustle and my sophomore year I started the first game at shortstop. Unfortunately I struck out twice against a kid with a mean curve ball. There were several infielders and Mr. Dennison left me on the bench the second game, giving someone else a chance to earn the starting position.

In the third game I also started on the bench, which is not where I really wanted to be. The opposing pitcher was a hefty fireballer but he was also a bit wild, and in the late innings, after a strong base hit and an error he walked the bases loaded. Coach D. came over and said, “Think you can hit this kid?”

I said, “No problem,” and I believed it.

I loosened up and planted myself in the batter’s box waiting for the pitch. He fired it chest high down the middle and I smashed it over three hundred feet down the left field line, foul. Strike one.

There was a big sign out in left field that had the numeral 300 in black letters on white background. As the ball flew past it I knew exactly what it meant. Now I knew I could get around on him.

I used a Richie Allen 33" bat and loved the sound it made when you connected, and that one connected. After checking the bases he started his motion and once again fired the ball in like a cannon.

I once read an article about Henry Aaron that noted how quick his wrists were, so I did special exercises that one of our coaches showed us in order to strengthen our wrists and improve their quickness. And when I swung, the bat once again struck the ball with force and sent it flying out over the left fielder’s head past the 300 foot marker, again just foul.

Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season, was a left-handed hitter who played in the original Yankee Stadium where the right field fence curled in to 297 feet. Many of his homers were no further than I was hitting them that day.

So now it’s bases loaded, the count two strikes. I told myself to hold back just a tad, determined to keep it in play. We were down by two runs and it seemed important to come through so I could earn my spot as a starter. The pitch was, of course, another speedball, since that was the pitch he relied on. I remember it being a little high, but I was on it. Crack! You could tell by the sound it was a goner, this time flying out to right center field between and beyond the outfielders.

The first run already scored before I reached first. As I rounded second I looked toward home to see the second and third runs score. Then I glanced to my right and saw that an outfielder was retrieving the ball. As I tore toward third the kid coaching raised his hands signaling me… to what? Was that a signal to slide or to stop?

I executed a beautiful slide, but came up a foot short of the bag. Because I thought the ball was already on its way, I tried to stretch my foot, but I was still short. In point of fact, I had enough time to stand up, knock the dirt off my uniform and take a step onto the bag, but thinking the ball was incoming I just kept stretching. Finally the ball arrived, the third baseman tagged me out, and when I got up to go get my glove — it was the third out — the whole team was laughing. To everyone watching it was hilarious. Or rather, hilariously stupid, depending on your point of view.

I did earn my spot as a starter, and by the end of the season had the fewest strikeouts on the team, second best batting average and a lot of good memories. That ridiculous moment trying to stretch my leg a foot was like a dead fly in the ointment though. It’s impossible to think of that game-winning drive without recalling the silly way it ended. There’s something humiliating about such public stupidity.

Which brings to mind the time I jumped out of a moving car thinking I would impress a lass I had a crush on. Alas. We’ll save that for another day.

Originally published at on October 21, 2018.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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