Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

I lost my job today and ducked into Sammy’s Bar and Tavern. I saw a news report this morning that said it’s the highest unemployment rate since 1980-something, and then another that said the 70s. In Sammy’s though, people ate burgers on Texas Toast and watched the Cubs game. Summers in the midwest give people an excuse to show far more skin than you would ever care to see. But there is a ballgame on and the man at the bar peppers his fries, offers the bar tender one and says, “You look like you could use something to eat.” She smiles gracefully under the brim of her Cubs hat. She has strong legs and a deep tan and heads follow her during commercial breaks. The bar is mottled dark wood and has a shine as a woman at the end spins her cocktail. There are plaques behind the bar that say things like, “Golf is like sex: When it’s good, it’s terrific, and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good,” or “DANGER: Beware of occasional foul words and flying debris in this seating area.” There are pictures floor to ceiling of celebrities from ten-years-back with their arms around the manager and owner, our beloved Sammy, smiling over a pint as he holds it in front of him. 

There is a ballgame and beer, cut off shorts, an open dart board, and the door is wedged open with yesterday’s newspaper. I order a pint or two and for that afternoon, all that matters is who’s on third and that the squeezable red ketchup needs a refill.

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love is more thicker than forget.

— ee cummings


There is a park in my hometown that was built on a toxic waste dump. I played baseball there and remember warm evening sun and tanned faces, the feeling of the ball in my glove as I grabbed it from the sky, and the nervous excitement that came with every at bat. A park built over a garbage dumb, how novel. Yet mid-season one year, we switched practice locations. Apparently, the cancer rates among the inhabitants of the park’s surrounding houses were astounding. They closed the park, erected a giant white dome, and men wearing what appeared to me at the time to be space suits, were seen all over the south side of the tracks. I remember the phone call about the new practice location, the closing of the park for cleaning, the new back alley route I needed to take to get to my friend’s house since his street was under the dome, but my brother told me something yesterday that would have sounded like a distant lie if he hadn’t insisted on its truth, that when the dome was up, I told people it was our town’s concentration camp. Besides being inappropriate and insensitive, it makes absolutely no sense.  How my brain went from space suits to World War II Germany is beyond my comprehension. I am offended by a statement I myself made, and more than that, have no recollection of making it.

I am at the point in my life when I start forgetting things. A fifteen-year-old need only remember inside jokes and the names of acquaintances for a decade of life. As that becomes two decades, as it has for me, as the events and information in life doubles, some things simply slip away. Memory is not a filing cabinet to be sorted, organized, and called upon in a manilla folder, nor can a year be measured in gigabytes. Recollection is a dangerous and cruel angel that seems to have no reason to its selection. The scent of a girl passing behind me in a Paris café seems to last longer than entire years of my life. I struggle to remember the texture of my grandmother’s hands yet can tell you the telephone number of a soccer coach I had and hated in elementary school. And then there are the memories that leave with no goodbye, stories lost, and without them, I am left with an incomplete picture of myself at a given age. Photographs present me with a complete image of myself but absent is the backstory, the whole picture. Photographs can be penetrating and perplexing because of this — I remember this shirt, but what is that wall behind me?  

That was once my smile?

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I used to have an old man as a neighbor who would tell us a story about wild geese flying over a lake. He told us every summer back when the only thing you had to worry about was breaking in your baseball glove and the only pain around were bee stings and scraped knees but the old man knew what flower to pick and rub on them to make them feel better. Come to think of it, I don’t remember the story anymore, but I bet I could find the flower in his backyard.

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“Did you hear about Hawaii?” my father says.

“What about Hawaii?” I say.  I heard all about it last week, but tango on they say. 

“Your sisters are taking your old man on a trip!”

“Oh yeah?  You’re going to Hawaii with Caroline and Margaret?”  They live in New York.   Even I admit that it will be nice to see them. 

“That’s right I am.  My dear Caroline!  My lovely Margaret!  Oh, my girls.”  My dad cut a watermelon at the kitchen table covered in the same waxy plastic tablecloth as when I was a kid.  He takes large bites and spits the seeds into the sink.

“Can you believe that?” he says.  “Me!  In Hawaii!  I wish I could tell the old guys in the warehouse about this.”

“That sure is great, pops.”  My father has been retired for over a decade.

“Just think, this time next month, I’ll be dancing the hoola with some beautiful Polynesian on my arm!”

“Quite the vision, pops.”

He finishes cutting the watermelon, placing the slices onto a plate and shoves it toward me. 

“You want some of this?”  The juice dripped down his chin onto his shirt leaving a wet mark so that his nipple almost shows. 

“No thanks, pops.”

“Just think, this time next month I’ll be sipping Sangria out of a pineapple as a cup!”

“Sangria is from Spain, pops.”

“Well, make it a Piña Colada then!” he says, getting his coat on.  “I’m going to the store.  I’m going to get something special for our arrivals.”

I know exactly what he is going to get and I feel like a kid with monsters in his closet.

It is midwinter in Chicago and the cold comes hard.  My father though, leaves without his hat and the door open behind him.  The kitchen chills quickly.  I sit and the let the cold air fill the room like someone trying to prove a point to himself.  My sadness is stronger than this cold.  I shake it and close the door.

Our parents left our childhood rooms intact.  I head upstairs.  My sisters still have old baseball posters on the wall.  They would listen to the Cubs game on the radio after school, keep stats of every inning, every pitch, and recount it back to my father when he came home.  It took them hours.  And he listened to every word.  I tried to ignore it up in my room, concentrating on schoolwork surrounded by bare walls.  My father stopped helping me with my math homework when I hit third grade.

I lie in my bed and my feet come off the end.  I used to have a dream here in this bed, a nightmare even.  My father would get home with a paper bag under his arm, glowing.  He’d call us kids into the kitchen and say that he brought presents for us: three pineapples, one each.  My sisters got beautiful ripe pineapples with green tops that pointed sky high.  My pineapple was smaller, less plump, and its green top drooped and turned brown at the edges.

I had that dream every night as a kid.  It came back again when my mother died and I started coming here every weekend.  

And here I am, staring up at the ceiling again, trying to drown out the sound of my sisters’ laughter downstairs, now on a flight over, night in Chicago, pick up a third passenger and off they’ll be. 

I wonder what my goodbye will be.

I should have at least gone to the store with him.  I grab my jacket and run out the front door, closing it as it locks behind me.  I can still catch him.  I run down the steps to see my father, half-a-block away on his way back, exposed hands turning blue, extended arms, holding two pineapples up over his head, up toward the sky.

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