Thursday, April 12, 2012

bottom of the eighth

            The heavy sprinkle’s slop’s making a popped bubble-wrap sound in the camera mics, and you can hear it-- almost like a wonderfully rich sort of static-- over the broadcasters’ voices. We’re gathered around the TV in the clubhouse, some guys on foldouts, most of us slouched standing up, gabbing a bit, but mostly eyes glued to the tube. Our playoff chances had been so-so for most of September, hanging back by 4 or 5 games in the division for the most part, but we hit our stride late in the month and had made a mad dash for the top: putting together seven Ws in a row to close things out, and luckily Baltimore had taken to losing more often, and so we’d come out right dab smack tied for the thing with the O's still playing one last muddy game in Boston for the title. We’d done our part, beating Texas 4-0, and now were just waiting on those damn BoSox to eke one out over those damn orange birds.  
            It’s 4-4 in the top of the seventh, and we’re mostly a bit nerve-wracked standing around, not really saying too much. Some guys are icing up, and there are a few pitchers in the trainer’s room getting worked on. But most of us everyday guys are drinking Gatorade in our shirtsleeves and flip-flops rooting for The Sox. Which for me was rough, because I mostly hated anything from Boston, and especially those fucking Fenway pansies. I sucked it up though, and did my part. It wasn’t pleasant.
            So, we’re cussing at the TV like a bunch of drunk armchair managers, ripping the umps a new one on any call that didn’t go Boston’s way. And they’ve got Frank Sally on the mound, who was a soft-toss Junker from another era. He even had a knuckler he floated up there every so often. It was agonizing to sit there and wait for the damn pitch to flounder over the plate. The guy really took his time on the bump between pitches too. And when that rookie catcher Boston had goes out there to the mound, mostly Sally’s probably thinking, “Ah, kid. I’ve been in this game longer than you’ve been alive. Get back down there in the squat and leave me be, son.” All of this stalling and waiting around, well, it wasn’t helping our nerves any, that’s for damn sure.
            I was pacing a bit, and doing some standing around too. Fran Hurd was next to me, and he was chewing giant wad of gum that he kept adding to as the tie wore on, and he was shuffling his feet a lot and doing a lot of staring at the iced champagne on the table behind the TV. I’ve got to admit, it was hard not to. All of that bubbly waiting for us to pour all over each other, if only the Sox could pull this one out. Fucking Baltimore. What good ever came out of Baltimore? What? John Waters and Edgar Allen Poe? Shit. That ain’t a fly’s piss. Fuck Baltimore. Seriously, fuck them.
            So, we’re nail-biting and the likes, and Fran’s chattering away next to me between innings. A rainout didn’t seem likely; it’d let up to more of a mist by then. So that was one less thing to root against. It’s still tied in the 8th, and we’re all losing what’s left of our patience, which as ballplayers we usually have in spades. But this was pushing it. I mean, we’re here stuck at 162, all knotted with the damn O's, and it’s getting on past midnight, and we’re all worn out from our own big victory too that night, and still we’ve got to sit around and endure this one last shot that those shit-eating birds are giving themselves, all of us praying that it’s in their own foot this time. Fran was making it worse by peppering me with all kinds of stupid rhetorical questions: “What’s Sally waiting for out there? Throw the damn ball, you sumbitch! Shit, what’s the holdup?” Or stuff like, “Fucking Lionel Jeffers. What a sad sack. No guts. Can’t hit for shit. Just bean him. Bean the motherfucker. But, shit, that’ll be like a moth landing on him with Sally Boy out there. Shit. Come on you nutsacs! Hit it where they ain’t. You got the big old Green Monster out there. Use it!” It was starting to wear on me, but I didn’t want to let on. I kept my game face on and kept myself distracted with hope.
            In the bottom of the eighth that dumpy shit-for-brains Morris England comes up with a guy on third and one away, and so we’re all hoping for at least a medium-deep fly ball to get a run in. Reevey was at the 3rd, and though he’s no speed demon on the base paths, he was quick enough to scoot on home on anything hit out to right or center. We had our rally caps on for him, I’ll tell you that.  
             It had never occurred to me before just then that I was going to have to change my life. Everything about it, the life I was leading, was false and ignoble. There was nothing real about who I was. It was all a big 4-pitch walk of a lie. And it was all going to have to change.
            Anyway, so Fran’s jabbering on, ribbing all the O's and rooting for those bastard BoSox. Most of the guys around the TV were keeping pretty mum though, just kind of mumbling and jeering a bit, but mostly tapping around and trying to look more relaxed than interested. Though their intent was not liable to be mistaken. It was just an act, like anything else in The Bigs. A pose. Trying to look cool, calm, and collected for the crowd. Sure, we had our moments of expressing joy-- unadulterated stuff at that-- but they were few, and only at the proper time and under just the right conditions. Nobody wants to take one in the ear for showing the other guys up. Just round the bases, you know, and don’t even smile after hitting that dinger. No flipping of the bat. No standing around ogling the ball’s arcing flight from the plate. That sort of stuff. It’s a code, an unwritten law of the field, and you’ve got to respect it or be prepared to pay with a dent in your batting helmet. Being humble, it turns out, as much of a staged act that it is, is part of being in The Show. Even the umps go along with it, if they know what’s best for them.
            So, bottom of the 8th, and wouldn’t you know it but that dumpy ass, hillbilly, sumbitch England swats one to left center, and the O's centerfielder Mosser’s got a bead on it, and he’s got a good arm, and it’s not too deep, so we’re a bit iffy on it, but most guys are cheering with an arm or two up, and we’re all standing and rowdy now. Mosser comes in and nabs it quick and unleashes a fucking pearl into the plate on one hop, and Reevey’s flying down the line like he’s Usain Bolt or something, and we’re mostly all holding our breath and clenching our fists and all the likes. It seems there is going to be a play at the plate.
            There was a nuisance prickling me, and I started tumbling things around in my head. I thought things like, “We live on a pie-slice shaped spit of land. The air’s mush and we drift as much as possible. Nobody’s holding the remote, or it’s out of batteries maybe. We hobble around on stun, lost and crushed by our own habits. Doing the same things over and over, not wondering once about the intent of it all, or if there’s even anything outside of our little cubicle of doings, drapes pulled and hugged hungry.” The hardest part about it was zoning out all of this mental somersaulting, which had always been cake for me, like when I was up at the plate; I could just push everything else out of my mind, go completely blank, and just react when the pitcher went into his windup. There was no time for a moment’s twinge of thought. I couldn’t hear or see or feel anything at all. It was just a tiny scrape of emptiness, and I could exist in it without even being sentient of it. See ball; hit ball. That was it. The body did the rest. Muscle memory. But, really-- I was sort of starting to get-- there’s not a difference, really, between the two. It’s mostly a trick we play on ourselves to get the job done. And, well, I guess I wanted out, mostly to be done with all that. It was like I was leading seven different lives, and it was hell trying to keep it all together, and separate too, mostly. I don’t know if that makes sense. But, at the time, it seemed vital to my understanding of keeping my head above those old proverbial stormy waters of the soul’s darkest night. And then I start noodling about how my worth is measured by my bank account, how nobody feels close to me. And my distance was a thing achieved at a great loss, mostly, to my quality of life. You know, mostly, isolation pays the rent in loneliness and fatigue. Friends hover and chase, but are never a constant, never a thing to be counted on; and when I check my luck in the mirror I see a horse darker than any darkness I’ve ever known.
            And so the TV, the guys all jumbled around, the clubhouse moments away from a rowdy champagne-bath celebration, and me contemplating my life’s great mysteries, mostly. It was like the moment there was calling a timeout, and I stepped out of the batter’s box of my existence and, well, felt mostly outside of everything happening around me. Mostly, it was almost or nearly like God had hit pause on the DVD of my life, or something. I don’t know. All I remember thinking was how little all of the things going on around me at that particular juncture in my time here on earth meant. It all mattered less than a Rookie League batting title. There was a space there that I could just sort of fall right into, like a lazy fly to left, and I was wafted into it. Fran’s blabbering, Reevey barreling towards home, the coaches sprinting over to catch a glimpse, the sportscasters voicing their best imitation of the dramatic, all the sunflower-seed shells scattered on the glazed linoleum.
            Well, you know, I just mostly started having the oddest of thoughts. I started backtracking to something that’d happened to me when I was a kid, growing up in San Francisco. I don’t know what brought it on, or what the exact nature of the memory was, or perhaps it was mostly just a jumble of odds and ends of things, stuff that my mind kind of blurred and mangled and glued back together after all the years gone. But at first I was brought back to this one night (which, like I said, mostly, could’ve been a bunch of nights stitched together). It was quiet that night. Just the steady jangle of the cable car tracks, and some bird across the street losing its voice with high-pitch squealing yelps. I was up late, as I a lot of times was, as I had a pretty bad case of insomnia mostly when I was younger. I got up out of my bed and went to the window, pulled open the drapes, and had myself a look out in the street there.
            The streetlights seemed so bright, pellucid even, really, and their orange or yellowing light didn’t seem diffused at all, but more direct and important. Sometimes that same light seemed stifling to me, like it’d trap me inside the windows or something. That night it struck me somehow just how still and pretty things were out there under those sodium-yellow lights, the parked cars basking in what seemed to be an effervescent glow-- mostly like a scintillating, or, I don’t know, polished aspect of the moonless night. The sidewalk was sparkling too, like it had diamonds in it (or, mostly, that’s how I thought about it as a kid, or how it “seemed” to me, I guess, mostly). I just sat there staring out the window at what must’ve been probably like 2 or 3 in the morning, which to a kid is an unimaginable hour to be alive in, like the distance to the moon or something. The trees seemed unique and isolated creatures, their flailing leafless branches like the scrawny limbs of some Dr. Seuss monster, unable to move but thrashing about in their tiny plot of ground nonetheless. I mostly just started thinking about how it was all like some massive, wide-angle shot of a street scene late at night, like a picture taken with a God-sized camera, if that makes sense. Nothing was happening. It was all just a moment stolen from the clutches of time’s constant onslaught.
            I started humming. Not on purpose. At first I didn’t even know that I was doing it. Nobody would’ve noticed. All the guys mostly being gathered around the TV and intently watching the play at the plate and all-- getting ready, or so they hoped, for some serious backslapping and champagne dousing. But mostly, I guess, it just snuck up on me unaware. It was like waking up from a dream with a song stuck in your head, and you just can’t figure out how it got there, mostly. So, well, you catch yourself humming it and are like, “What the fuck? How’d that get there?” That was mostly how it was. I guess sometimes you scuffle and claw and hold on to get caught up in a moment, to be “in the moment,” as they say. But once you get in the moment, well, mostly, all you want to do is get out of it. You don’t want to be “in it” anymore. That’s the thing, I guess. Like a comebacker smoked right at your cap. And you wave a glove up there and half-duck too, no time to do anything but react; but, also, mostly, I guess, all the time in the world to be there, right there, in that precise instant. And you are. You are there. Alive. Not waiting. Not bunting a guy over into scoring position. Not looking ahead to the top of the ninth. Not going anywhere. Just there. Solid. Stable. Alone. There. There. There. See? And that’s all you are, and all you can be. Ever. You know?