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Meaningless Phrases

They say the devil will tell a thousand truths to make you believe one lie. I believe that's true. But I've discovered some other methods the devil and his allies use. He will make you ignore or disbelieve a truth because someone you don't like subscribes to it. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. You've heard it said and you've seen it on bumper stickers. In fact, it was on that jalopy driven by that derelict who tried to pick up on your wife at the rest area on the way to the Grand Canyon. Your neighbor said it at a barbecue one time. That was when he was three sheets to the wind and talking about those damn politicians. Your neighbor can't spell politicians. His battery of political theory consists of phrases he's heard in songs sung by alcoholics who are richer than he is but don't sing much better. But none of that affects the veracity of the statement.

The Paul's Pizza team in the blue jerseys were looking good in the city flag football semi-finals. They had played well, but were now down one touchdown with only minutes left to go in the game. Jason crouched on the line, focusing on the hole he would sprint through when the ball was snapped. His friend Todd was quarterbacking this play, and although he sometimes came across as arrogant, Jason had confidence in his judgement and ability. They could still win this game.

The ball was snapped and Jason bolted forward, hooked left, and spun around to find himself all alone. "I'm open!" Jason waved his arms over his head. "I'm wide open."

Todd looked his way and then flung the ball toward the crowd of yellow jerseys surrounding his teammate Craig. Jason was disheartened but not surprised when the tall blond kid from the other team ended up with the ball. Four plays later, the game was over and the Paul's Pizza team was out of the championships.

Back on the sidelines Jason approached Todd. He raised in hands in a shrug. "I was all by myself. There was no one between me and the goal line."

Todd was seated on a bench wiping his face with a towel. He slung the towel around his neck and looked up. "Why didn't you let me know?"

Jason's mouth fell open. "I was screaming `I'm open! I'm open!'"

"I heard you." Todd took a gulp from the squeeze mug his wife handed him.

"Then why didn't you throw me the ball? I was wide open."

"You know how many times I hear that phrase in the course of a game?"

Jason was bewildered. "I just thought I'd conveyed my point with an economy of words."

"It's washed up, overused; it's become a cliche. Everybody who's ever had a cousin on a high school team or watched a football game on TV uses that phrase."

Jason just looked confused.

Todd put his arm around Jason's shoulders as they walked toward the parking lot. "Do you know Teddy Randolph?" He asked in a conspiratorial tone. Jason nodded.

"Teddy uses that phrase when he gets open." Todd dropped his arm from Jason's shoulder and waited for his apocalyptic point to hit home. He was met with a thousand yard stare. "Teddy Randolph can't tell the difference between a football and a meatball with the help of a dictionary and a whole staff of Russian scientists." Todd gave Jason a brotherly whack on the shoulders and continued with his wife toward his car.

Jason just stood watching him retreat. "I was wide open," he said softly to himself.

On the way home, Todd was explaining to his wife what a doofus Terry Randolph was. They were waiting at a stoplight when a noisy four-wheel-drive rumbled up alongside. Six chrome driving lights were perched atop a spray-painted show bar that was bolted to the rusty bed of the truck. The battered barge was driven by a long haired kid without a shirt. He sported a beard that would make even the most socially secure peach blush in shame. Todd wasn't convinced that the charming youth had ever been closer to a horse than he himself had been to a winning slot machine, but he proudly wore a cowboy hat. In the stained brim of the hat rode a colorful feather alongside a packaged prophylactic safely secured with a hat pin through its middle. Todd shuddered to think of his sister going to the movies with something like that.

His sister wasn't in any immediate danger, however, as the young Marlboro man's attention was at the moment being monopolized by a buxom peroxide blonde in a tank top that wouldn't cover a cabbage patch doll with any degree of modesty. She was cackling like a loose fan belt and dangling a lit cigarette precariously in her fingers. Todd wondered how she could get the Camel filter into her mouth without stabbing herself with her long, purple fake fingernails.

In the back window of the truck, behind the inevitable gun rack, was a bumper sticker that said Four-wheelers do it in the dirt. "Great," Todd chuckled to his wife, "Now we're reading observations on life by someone who flunked the entrance exam to flagman's school." There was another sticker on the other side of the window that they couldn't make out because of the angle, "But it could only be one of half a dozen meaningless phrases that grace this kind of vessel," reasoned Todd.

The light turned green and the truck left with a chirp of tires. As it pulled ahead, Todd simultaneously read the phrase and subconsciously purged it from his credo: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

Frank Leany

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