hand still up. Kaye said, “Great, let’s do it,” and gave the band the beat. My mother tugged at my father’s coat, saying, “Milt, you’re embarrassing me. Please sit down.” My parents’ friends urged my mother to relax. Danny Kaye and my father sang their alma mater’s fight song:

149 is the school for me Drives away all adversity Steady and true We’ll be to you Loyal to 149 RAH RAH Raise on high The red and white Cheer it With all your might Loyal all to 149. The crowd went crazy.

My new dream goes like this: In the middle of the desert, my father takes off his boots and shakes out pebbles, dirt, dead leaves. Lizards crawl around, looking for shade under rocks and short shrubs. When he untwists the top of the canteen, he finds nothing inside.

You drank all the water, he says.

Yes, I say, I was thirsty.

That’s all we had left, he says. We won’t be able to survive.

A quarter mile away stands a giant cactus plant.

I’ll race you for the water in the cactus, I say.

He unstraps the canteen from his belt, takes the backpack off his shoulders, and gives both the canteen and the backpack to me. After stretching his legs by touching his toes and doing deep knee bends, he builds up sand to serve as a starting block and crouches down in a sprinter’s position. With his feet buried in the sand, his shoulders hunched over and shaking, and his head pointed straight ahead as if he’s a bird dog, he rocks until he’s set. He’s serious.

Who’s going to start us? I ask.

Runners, he says, spitting into the dirt, take your marks.

Are you sure—

Get set.

I’d hate for you—

Go, he says. He gets off to such a good start that I think maybe he’s jumped the gun. I chase after him, calling out that in order to be absolutely fair to both parties involved we should at least think about starting over again, but he ignores me, clenches his fists, and lengthens his stride, kicking up pebbles. Bounding over the desert, avoiding rocks and brush, we approach the cactus plant, which is huge: four stems curve up from the base and one major stem sticks straight up into the air thirty feet like a thick green finger.

I can hear him gasping for breath when I edge up on him, but I have nothing in reserve: my head’s bobbing up and down; my neck muscles are straining. He brings his knees up higher, all the way to his chest. He sprints away from me, shouting, racing for the cactus, really hitting his stride, his arms and legs working together smoothly and powerfully.

My knees buckle and I tumble into the dirt headfirst, arms stretched out flat to break my fall. I scrape my hands on rocks. My dad takes the knife out of his pocket, cuts a low stem of the cactus, cups water in his hands, drinks. He wins. He wins again. He always wins—except in the sense that in the end he’ll lose, as we all do.


Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

The Immortality Institute: Excerpt from “Nanomedicine” by Robert A. Freitas Jr., J.D., from The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Lifespans, edited by members of The Immortality Institute (Buenos Aires: LibrosEnRed, 2004). Reprinted by permission of The Immortality Institute.

London Review of Books: Excerpt from “Holy Disorders” by Hilary Mantel (London Review of Books, March 4, 2004, vol. 26, no. 5, www.lrb.co.uk). Reprinted by permission of London Review of Books.

New Directions Publishing Corp. and David Higham Associates: Excerpt from “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower” from The Poems of Dylan Thomas, copyright © 1939 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. and David Higham Associates.

The Wylie Agency: Excerpt from “The School” from Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme, copyright © 1976 by Donald Barthelme. Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency.


David Shields is the author of eight previous books, including Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (winner of the PEN/Revson Award), and Dead Languages: A Novel (winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award). A senior editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published essays and stories in dozens of periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer.

He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is a professor of English at the University of Washington.


Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine (2004)

Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography (2002)

“Baseball Is Just Baseball”: The Understated Ichiro (2001)

Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season (1999)

Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (1996)

Handbook for Drowning: A Novel in Stories (1992)

Dead Languages: A Novel (1989)

Heroes: A Novel (1984)

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