Thursday, November 30, 2006

I did it with four hours to spare

For anyone who's never written a word of fiction, and perhaps this extends to non-fiction as well (although most non-fiction today has more fiction in it than truth), you may not get how difficult it is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It's mentally exhausting, it really is. But, I finished today, and yes, writing that much in that little of time comes at the great expense of quality, but hey, I got the story down, and I'm almost done with it. Now, that does not mean I'm done with the whole book. No, that means I'm just getting started. Now comes the good part, the part where you fill up holes, get to delete all of the crap (and there's a lot of it!), develop characters, polish the language...

And now, in the words of the great JTM, here's more, more, more.

Chapter 6, part 3

Being at the ballpark was great, but there is no place like home, when fans clad in the same colors as you cheer for your team instead of against it. The electricity in an opposing team’s ballpark is different – it is more like static, clinging to Casey with a crackling sound, an annoyance, really. A’s runs were like getting shocked, like rubbing feet against the carpet in the dead of winter, when the necessity of artificial heat sucks the moisture and the life out of the air.

A.J. had a horrible game, going 0-4 with two strikeouts and committing two errors. It was Griffey who saved the day, aged Griffey who played like The Kid who had been lost to his own mortality for so long. He seemed to inspire the younger players, those who were rookies or had only been in The Show for a couple of years, players who had grown up idolizing the legend and now had more than their dreams come true. They all played with a level of intensity Casey had not noticed during the season.

Sometime in the sixth inning, Sidney received a phone call from A.J.’s agent asking them to come to a small gathering at the hotel after the game. The invitation overwhelmed Marin, whose reaction was a little more than bizarre, like A.J. had murdered her parents or something.

“What’s wrong?” Casey asked.

“You didn’t tell me you knew A.J.”

“So. Is that a problem?”


“Why? Do you know him?”

“Well, I’ve never met him personally, but my ex, Michael, is one of his best friends.”

Casey dropped three dollars worth of beer, sending it splattering to the ground and dripping down the concrete under the seat in front of him, soaking whatever possessions the person sitting there had stuffed under the seat, the very thing that pissed Casey off at a ballgame.

“What?” she asked, confused and more than a little frightened about what he would say next.

“This world is too fucking small.”

She waited for him to say more, but he was silent. He looked at the field, but it was not baseball he was seeing.

“Casey, what do you mean?” She admitted to herself that she was a bit frightened by this unexpected anger. Was it anger? Sidney watched with interest. Even bimbo was paying as much attention as her tiny brain could muster.

“You know how both of us had relationships with cheaters?”


“Well, it appears that the cheating is connected more than we could have imagined. See, Anne cheated on me with A.J.’s friend Michael.”

“Are you sure it’s the same guy?”

“Unless A.J. has more than one close friend named Michael, more than one guy who spends an inordinate amount of time with A.J. Sullivan.” Casey turned to Sidney, but he and the bimbo had left their seats. He suspected Sidney knew something else about the situation and had escaped before questions were asked.

“Can we not talk about this now. I really don’t want to think about it,” Marin said.

“But you’ll go to the party, won’t you?”

“Sure, why not?”

What a strange coincidence, Casey thought, what a horrible coincidence. And to think its epicenter is in Cincinnati, Ohio, one of the smallest big cities in the United States of America. And then, more sinister thoughts crept into his head. Why had A.J. Sullivan, who could have signed with the Yankees for much more money, signed with the small market Reds? Was there something in the city that drew him to it? And why had Sidney run away?

He returned to his seat a couple of innings later but avoided eye contact with Casey and Marin. The Reds sent Oakland fans home, disappointed and facing elimination. Don’t worry, Casey muttered under his breath. You’ll take the next two games and then we’ll see what happens.

The party was at a hotel in San Francisco, not the team’s hotel, but a swanky hotel on Nob Hill. The quartet were some of the first guests to arrive, as the ballplayers were at their hotel. They probably should stay there, Casey thought. Oh well, no matter. Or are they going to lose because they are coming to this party? Real athletes would get a good night’s sleep and gear up for the game. I suppose untouchables like A.J. Sullivan don’t need their beauty rest. Although he did play like crap today…

There was quite a spread on the table, smoked salmon, caviar, filet mignon, staples of the well-to-do pantry. Casey scooped up some caviar and shoved it into his mouth. I could get used to this, he thought.

Marin touched none of it, even after Casey brought a plate to her. She sat on a plush leather couch trembling and staring at the ground, and Casey recognized vulnerability in her. Something inside him stirred, something warm and inviting, but he did not have his lens to see inside himself. He sat down next to her with something resembling compassion, putting his arm around her as if to protect her form whatever it was that she was afraid of. She grabbed his hand in a moment of intimacy neither of them had been prepared to share, but the moment was broken with the entrance of the Cincinnati superstar, A.J. Sullivan.

“Good evening, everyone. Is that victory I smell?”

Was that an entourage following him?

“And who is this smoking hot woman next to you, Casey?”

“This is Marin. Marin, meet A.J.”

“I hope the pleasure is not solely mine,” he replied. “Marin – that is an interesting name. I do believe I’ve heard that name before. But where?”

Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the only other Marin I know.”

“Ah, yes, the name fits you well, for Marin as a beautiful place.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but a light bulb popped up over his head. He frowned, raised his finger to speak again, and changed his mind. With something on his mind, he walked away without further words.

“Oh my god, did you see his face? He knows who I am!” she whispered to Casey, who had come to the same conclusion. Marin seemed to think this fact was more important than Casey did, and the tension showed up in her shoulders. He stood up and began to rub her shoulders from behind the couch, and A.J. returned. He leaned over to Casey.

“You do realize…”
“Just found out tonight.”

“So you didn’t know? You sure you aren’t just trying to get back at Michael?”

“No. Look, can we not talk about this?”

“Whatever, man. Be careful, though. You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

The tension traveled up Casey’s arms from Marin to his own shoulders. What was that supposed to mean? The whole situation was turning out to be too much drama. At that moment, Anne popped into his mind. Things were much simpler then, but now they both had fallen into the same traumatic circle. He changed the subject.

“What happened today, man? 0-4, 2 errors? Too much partying?” He gave him a playful jab.

“No man, but the other guys gotta do some of the work, you know.” His ego wiped a grin onto his face, and a fleeting “what an ass” passed trough Casey’s mind. Had he been this pompous all season?

“So, two double plays tomorrow, think the other guys will pick you up?”

“Two DPs? Ouch. Have some faith, man. We’re going to end this thing tomorrow.”

“You want to bet on that?”

“Yeah, how much?”

“Five hundred.”

“Ok, five hundred. You have yourself a deal.”

“And another five hundred says you ground into two double plays.”

“You do realize I do that less than any player in the Majors.”

“Yeah, but you’ll do it twice tomorrow.”

“My friend, you have yourself another deal.”

“I want it in cash.”

His egotistical smirk was classic – Casey kicked himself for stopping by the hotel to drop off his camera before going to the game. A.J. walked away, and Marin pulled angrily on Casey’s arm.

“You told me you weren’t into that!”

“Into what?”


“Number 1, I never said that. And Number 2, relax, it’s just a friendly wager.”

“That’s a lot of money to lose.”

“I’m not going to lose, and he can afford it. He makes fifteen million dollars a year, you know.”

“You’re not going to lose? Show me your crystal ball that gives you all of the answers!”

He moved around the couch, sat down next to her, and tenderly took her hands into his.

“Relax, Marin. I don’t know what happened to you in the past, but remember, I’m not Michael.”

She said no more, but Casey saw something like fear in her eyes in that dimly lit room. Light comes in various degrees of wholeness, each degree having a distinct meaning. Sunlight is, of course, the only pure light, the giver of life, painting the world with multifarious hues of reflection and refraction, illuminating Truth and Beauty that grace the soul of the Earth. It is no wonder that most sin occurs at night, when the sun is lighting some other part of the globe.

In the sanctuary of a private home, one can control the amount and quality of light that colors a room. Track lightening, overhead lighting, wall fixtures, table lamps, desk lamps, standing lamps, 75 watts, 60 watts, 40 watts, candles, night lights, day lights. When a person leaves his home, relinquishing control over his life to the outside world, he is subjected to all kinds of artificial light, none worse than the fluorescent light that plagues his eyes during the day, office light, harsh, attacking the pupils, a weapon also used in the torturous practice of sleep deprivation. The light of the corporate world.

How did humanity function without artificial light, a reality the modern world simply cannot understand? How is it that there are still parts of the world who live without it? Think about the places you visit in a day, places outside of the office. The drycleaners. The grocery. A clothing store or shoe store or bath store. A mall, a shopping center. A big box store. The library, post office, bank. A café, restaurant, bar. A bar, a haven for sinners. Dark, murky, sinister light slinks its way through a bar, distorting features, hiding colors, allowing shadows to take their place on the stage.

The lighting in the hotel room mimicked bar lighting. The darkness crawled out of the characters in the room, some force that seemed to suck the good from the air. Each moment, each glass raised, swallow, chew, each word that fell from the mouths of the guests was pernicious, perverse, capable of choking a soul to its death. For a brief moment, Casey felt like he was looking at the party through his lens, a myopic view of an underworld that was becoming a part of his own new life. He saw Sidney, the bookie, driven by a desire to earn easy money and circumvent laws and decency to fatten his bank account. He saw A.J. surrounded by woman as if they were toys, A.J. the ballplayer who earned millions of dollars by playing a game for a living. He saw a large man eating in a corner, fat with gluttony and greed, sucking down delicacies with stubby, grimy fingers and unaware that the world did not revolve around him. The room was full of his type, and Casey saw it all, came to understand Marin’s fear of Michael’s world, but the vision passed in an instant and then it was gone, reshaped into a simple party in a hotel room in San Francisco. He found himself convince Marin to have a good time. After some wine, she did, either letting go of whatever it was she was afraid of or succumbing to the darkness again, but that night’s darkness would be washed away in the morning like sand and rocks and dirt on the coast of the Pacific.

Casey and Marin had no plans for their last day in the city by the bay, so they woke up late and went to brunch. For the first time since they had met, they found conversation difficult and awkward. They had shared the same personal disaster, the most trying times in their lives, but instead of uniting them, each became a symbol of the pain from their pasts.

They decided to explore parts of San Francisco reserved for residents, places and streets and small parks not normally plagued by tourists. A walk down residential streets broke down the barrier between them as tourists and people who extolled their lives in San Francisco. They turned down a side street, an alley really, passing some of the houses, beautiful Victorian structures that breathed life into the city’s character. Marin took particular interest in the prismatic flower gardens that contorted themselves into the tiniest gaps in the concrete front yards. They moved forward with no destination, few words, and happened upon a small bookstore in a location that was not the most ripe for a thriving business, giving the place an air of mystery that made it worthy of exploration.

The musty smell of knowledge escaped the store as Casey opened the door and stepped inside, like he had just rubbed a magic lantern and freed a wish-granting jin. Thousands of wishes lined the shelves, and where there were no shelves, they were stacked in crooked columns to the ceiling. The air smelled old like wisdom and nostalgia and was mixed with library silence until a short cough reminded them that life existed outside of what was in those books.

“Hello?” the coughing voice called out from somewhere in the store.

“Hi,” they both replied in unison.

The voice yielded to years of experience of knowing that if customers were looking for something specific, they would ask, otherwise they were just looking. Casey and Marin roamed the store like they were visiting a church and the books were sacred objects. Casey found the fiction section and scoured the titles for something he could read now that he had the time to do so. He could not remember the last time he had read a book that was not baseball related and looked forward to catching up on years of missed stories, both classic and new. He picked up a few basics to start with: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Hamlet, and Catcher in the Rye. He also picked up a copy of Shoeless Joe, the novel on which his favorite movie was based.

The man behind the counter had come to resemble the books in the store, lines on his face like pages, worn, a musky smell about him, the look of ancient wisdom in his eyes. He looked happy, at least content, like he had accomplished what he had wanted in his lifetime.

“This is a great store you have here, although I must admit, we would have never found this place if we hadn’t been wandering aimlessly about the city,” Casey told him.

“And it is exactly the wandering types that I want in my store,” he said with a smile. “Knowledge should be revered, kept in a special place. I try to make my store a special place, not some 50,000 square foot box where mass-produced words on a page exist for profit, not knowledge,” he snapped, though his disgust was not directed towards Casey or Marin. The man’s caustic tongue did not fit his aged sage’s profile, but was more the behavior of a spoiled senior baby boomer who had grown accustomed to getting everything he wanted. “I’m sorry,” he continued. “It’s just that people used to come here despite my location, as I specialized in rare books. I never needed marketing. These days, no one respects an old book anymore. They buy paperbacks, abuse them, use them as coasters or doorstops or to balance tables. The number of true collectors is dwindling. People would rather have shiny new copies with horrible pictures on the covers rather than a first edition leather bound treasure. It just makes my day to see two young people come into my store and treat my books how books ought to be treated, as venerated objects of knowledge.” He picked up the stack we had set on the counter and looked at the titles. “You know,” he began with a reflective frown, “there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction, especially in this day and age of venomous political garbage topping the best seller lists, like that one vile woman, the one who looks like a man, what’s her name? My memory’s not so good these days.”

“Ann Coulter?”

“Yeah, that’s her. Such hatred for her fellow man. In my day, people treated each other with respect, even if they had opposing viewpoints. Now, people just say whatever they want to each other, and it doesn’t even have to be true or based on reality.” He paused again to remember something, but he could not pull it to his conscious mind, so he simply sighed and looked at the books again. “Ahh, good old Holden, poor kid. You know, I met Jerome once. He was Jerome back then, before he became initials and disappeared from civilization because it was so uncivil. Anyway, Jerome told me to call him by his first name after I had called him Mr. Salinger when I first met him, but he said “Jerome.” A lot of people called him Jerry when they were referring to him but I don’t know if they ever did it to his face. Well, I was in New York City at the time, not really doing anything there except pretending to be a writer. I wasn’t very good at it but I thought I could be at the time, so I moved to the city and got a job at a magazine that published some of Salinger’s short stories. I got my hands on an invitation to a party with some real writers and he was there. This was before he became a soldier, when he was still young and still whole. In his mind, I mean. I stared at him half the night too nervous to speak to him. You gotta understand, he had this presence that just dominated a room. Both men and women were drawn to him, not in a sexual way, although there was that, too. But he was really the life of the party, any party he went to. Well, I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself after a few glasses of wine, and I told him I wanted to be a writer. And you know what he said? He laughed and said ‘You can’t want to be a writer. You either are a writer or you aren’t. So are you a writer or aren’t you?’ I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just stood there until he frowned at me. Then he changed the subject and started to talk about the war, something I had been following a great deal, so we had a lot to talk about, almost a half hour conversation. I noticed people were staring at me like they were angry I was spending so much time talking to him, so I said I had to go and the next day I decided I wasn’t a writer. Soon after that I left New York. Salinger got drafted in ’42 and he was never the same after that, although he wrote his best stuff post war.”

Regret passed through the eyes of a once happy man, or was that envy over Salinger’s talent? We all have dreams, Casey thought,. Only some people get to fulfill them, though. It just does not seem fair. Casey wanted to hear more but it appeared that the man was done talking for the day, fatigued by it, not used to visitors – strangers wandering in from the street. They thanked the old man and returned to the sunlight and fresh air outside the store.

“I’m glad we found that place,” Marin said as they walked away. “The whole experience was interesting. Something different, something real.”

Casey was silent, however, thinking about a story of Salinger’s he had read in college about a soldier who returns from a war and ends up killing himself, something about a bananafish. How had it gone, exactly?

“Are you ok, Casey? You look pale.”

“I’m fine. It’s nothing. I was just thinking of Salinger, that’s all.”

“One of lit’s greatest mysteries, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” he said, though he did not agree. Salinger’s retreat from society was no mystery to him. No, he understood completely.

Early afternoon had come in like a tide, so they stopped to grab a bite to eat and some drinks before heading out to Game 5.

“You relate to him, don’t you?” Marin asked between bites of fish.



“I don’t know enough about him, but his war experiences, yeah, I can relate. I, too, have retreated from society a bit. Or had until I met A.J. Sullivan and the Reds started winning.”

She looked at him and nodded, as if her thoughts were causing her head to vibrate.

“So baseball really means that much to you,” she said, not as a question but as a conclusion.

“Yeah, it does. The ballpark is my place of refuge, the game a three hour escape from reality and the problems that plague the world.”

She nodded again, processing a new understanding of him though her mind, pushing out judgment and her previous conception of him as just another man after her body. This man was real, he was in touch with his soul. He had seen horrible things, treacherous things, that had defined humanity for him, had ripped his being to shreds, and she saw him struggling to put the pieces together again. She no longer cared how he made his money, because she understood that he was searching for answers, that he needed time, and that he was not like Michael, that he would not stomp on anyone to get what he wanted, for he had seen stomping, sometimes literally, and she knew he could never turn into a monster like Michael.

At least, that is what she convinced herself.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

True Love

chapter 6 part 2

It had been years since he had been to the Bay Area, a place that felt like a foreign country compared to Southwest Ohio. Or maybe it was Southwest Ohio that was a foreign country to him these days. Even the sky is different in California. It is the light, an indescrible variation in color, contrast, and shine. Casey noticed it as soon as he stepped out of the airport, remembering not so much the quality of the light, but his time there with Anne. He had not foreseen such a rush of memories and feelings. Even baseball could not protect him.

Poor Oakland. Not the enemy A’s, but the city itself. The four of them would be staying in San Francisco, the city closer to perfection than any other city in the world. Oakland was the ugly stepchild of the Bay Area, forced to take the hand me downs of San Fran, the ugly corporate buildings, the crime, the ghettoes. Why would they choose to stay in Oakland, a city with nothing to do, when The City sat under that California light, its architecture, music, and character an accurate reflection of its respect for and celebration of life?

Every street was a reminder of her, every glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge, every cloud of fog. His reticence was not fair to Marin, and he tried to engage in conversation, tried to be close to her, but his heart! His heart and his mind did not have such a good relationship.

“Who was she?” Marin asked as they walked Fisherman’s wharf during the day of Game 3.

“Anne,” he said quietly, as if the mere mention of her name could shatter the wind off the bay. He stared out into the water, avoiding eye contact and hoping she would not continue.

“How long?”

“Nine years.”

“Wow.” She thought silently about it for a minute. “Mine was seven.”

“Yours?” He was thankful the focus had been taken off him for a moment, off Anne.

“Michael. He cheated.”

“So did Anne. Only I just recently found out about it. We broke up two years ago.”

“Four for me. I still haven’t gotten over him completely. We were supposed to marry.”

“Us too and me neither.”

“I can tell. You spent a lot of time together in this city?”

“We lived in Monterey for almost two years and came to the city on many weekends. Many, many weekends.”

“What happened?”

“The war happened. The war turned me into a beast. I pushed her away.”

“You were in the Army?”


“Where was your permanent duty station?”

Fort Bragg.”

“Hmm, interesting…” A frown crossed her face, as if she were putting together some sort of puzzle in her mind.

“What’s wrong?” Casey asked.

“Oh, nothing. Say, do you want to get some beers? I know it’s only one, but I know of a great place.”

“It’s never to early to start drinking. Especially when you’re trying to drown painful memories.”

“Amen to that.”

“She led him to the bar she had mentioned, which was in a part of town not overrun by tourists. They passed by a few Reds fans along the way who rejoiced at the sight of his cap, and an instant bond was formed between them, a feeling of kinship, even though they would never see each other again. The bar was a small place on a side street with a small sign above the door that read “Icarus,” the name of the bar he presumed. Inside was a darkness hard to imagine in the prime of daylight, and there were several people inside enjoying that darkness with drink and company. The two of them were intruders, strangers who could not avoid the inevitable stares and silence that befalls such an intimate kind of club. At least, Casey thought they were strangers, until someone shouted, “Marin!” which was followed by a chorus of recognition, and looks of envy were shot Casey’s way. There was the whole “I didn’t know you were in town” bit and the how’ve you beens, whatcha doin’ heres, and how’s Puritanlands. She grabbed Casey’s hand and pulled him to a corner table, shouting, “Manny, can you get us two Anchor Steams?”

She seemed to take a bit of pleasure in Casey’s confusion, like she reveled in the air of mystery in which she had just wrapped herself. She gave him that seductive smirk, the one that had drawn him to her in the store, the one that caused him to ask for her number, to ask her to accompany him to Oakland though he did not know a thing about her aside from the curves of her body. And here she was, introducing him to her strange, mysterious world, and he found her even more attractive.

“Are you from San Fran?”

“All over. We moved around a lot, but I spent a few years of my childhood here. My parents were from the area.”

She said “were.” That was a clue about her life, wasn’t it? That meant they were dead, did it not? Then they had something in common. She did not know anything about him, either, so the mystery was not all hers. Was it weird that he had asked here out here? Was it weird that she had accepted? Was it purely for sexual gratification that he had asked and she had accepted? They really seemed to connect and had none of those moments of awkward silence and gaps in conversation.

“This is my brother’s bar.”

“Oh, I see.” Is he here?”

“No, he’s in San Jose for the day – he owns another bar down there. I called him and am going to hang out with him tomorrow for a bit.”

Interesting. Is this why she agreed to the trip? Marin did not seem like the type to use people, so Casey relaxed, and they talked about San Francisco and less serious topics. Before they knew it, it was time to meet Sidney and bimbo at the ballpark.

“So, what do you do, anyway?” she asked him on the way to the stadium.

“I’m, um, in between jobs right now.”

“So how is it that you’re able to throw wads of cash around? I mean, there’s this trip, then you had it at the store, you bought that camera, and you’re not even working.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit personal considering we hardly know each other?”

“Well, I’m trying to get to know you better. And it matters to me. One of the biggest reasons Michael and I had problems was because of what he was into. He was involved in some sort of gambling ring. It grew too dangerous for me, and quite frankly, I don’t want to get involved with someone who is into shady ‘business’ again.”

Oops. What was he supposed to say? He tried to rationalize it. It was just a temporary thing, right? He eventually would get a legitimate job – he just needed a break from it all, just temporary, just temporary. She never had to find out, right?

“I have magic powers that allow me to predict the outcomes of baseball games – I’m making thousands off it!” She laughed, and he had avoided the conflict by telling the absurd and unbelievable truth. She could never claim he had lied to him if she ever found out.

Anne’s dominance of his sentiments did not extend to the confines of Oakland’s stadium, as they had never been there together and Marin was helping to keep her out for a time. He could not help by worry about her finding out what he was doing, and he often had to pull Sidney to the concourse to tell him what was going to happen. It was all rather stressful, but he had fun nonetheless – it would take a lot to ruin a Reds World Series game. The Reds lost the game, no suspense there, but the game was interesting up to the end, even making Casey doubt his feelings about the outcome. The Oakland fans were brutal, shouting obscenities at them and even throwing peanuts until bimbo went to fetch a security guard. Then, of course, came the after game chemistry project with Marin.

A thick fog conquered the next morning, potentially thwarting Casey’s plans to roam the city with his camera. Marin was going to spend a few hours with her brother, and they would meet up for a late lunch. His window of time to himself was short, but the fog forced him to change the plan. Rather than going to the high points of the city to take photos, he had to stay on the ground, under the fog, focusining on people rather than pretty scenery.

Native Americans once believed that cameras captured a person’s soul. They were right, to an extent. Casey looked into their souls through his lens, making copies with light and bent plastic, immortalizing single moments in time in a way unlike anything God had every done since fossilizing dinosaurs. Photography is truth, undeniable evidence of personality and emotion. Through the lens, he saw things he would never have noticed had he been looking at rose colored pretty scenery. He saw indignity manifest itself in homelessness. He saw helplessness in the eyes of drug addicts. He saw insecurities in stock brokers and bankers. It was not all negative, though. There were love struck couples, proud mothers, and playful children. He saw idealism, ambition, and hope.

He captured the image of a man in an Army field jacket pushing a shopping cart full of possession up a steep hill. How did he get that jacket? Was he a veteran? How did he become homeless? What was in the cart? Could he make it up the hill? Where was his family? Casey had no answers to these questions, but he did have the truth at that particular point in history. The man was struggling to push the cart up the hill. His weary face told the world he was tired of pushing, tired of struggling, tired of fighting just to survive. There were lines on his face that made him older than he actually was, lines that measured the time to death rather than the time from birth. The light and lens saw this, recorded it, turned it into a timeless story.

Casey had seen war, but his was not that different from the struggle of the man. Imagine the indignity of begging, the frowns, the stares, the get a jobs. There were different kinds of suffering, he supposed. The juxtaposition of the armies of homeless in the city with one of the highest costs of living in the world was startling. Click, click.

Hundreds of images were stored on his camera by the time he was supposed to meet Marin, and he trekked to the meeting pint somber and more in touch with reality. The fog began to thin, he snapped a few scenery photos along the way, and by the time he reached his destination, the sun was shining in every sense of the word.

She had chosen a place owned by a friend of her brother’s, a stuffy bistro indentured Casey would have never considered. Marin’s brother eyed him with scrutiny, an older brother, no doubt, watchful, suspicious of Casey’s intentions. The lunch was rather uncomfortable as the brother was persistent in his questions. “In between jobs” was not a satisfactory answer, nor was “I’m not looking until after the Series.” An alarming sensation slithered slowly into his mind, an idea, a worry that perhaps his association with Sidney, that the profitable sorcery of his imagination was producing a shroud of sinister mystery about him, enough to cause Marin’s brother concern. Why else would he have reason to distrust him, why the questions, the frowns? It seemed much more than protection – there was a hint of preemption in his voice, an offensive cast over his words, subtle but threatening nonetheless, as if he were trying to repel Casey, to ward off his advances towards his sister. It certainly was a different kind of battle, one fought in an extra sensory field, and Casey scowled at the implication that he wasn’t good enough for Marin.

She had seemed so powerful, so confident, even arrogant until he saw her next to her brother. Her power paled in comparison to him. Perhaps it had something to do with the Italian in them. That imagination of Casey’s ran through mobster movies, stereotypes, and clichés until he laughed out loud.

“What you laughing at?”

“Oh, nothing. Say, can I take a photo of you tow?”

“Sure,” Marin replied. “Why?” asked her brother.

“Oh, well, I bought this new camera recently and am learning how to take photos of people…”

“New camera? Looks expensive. Can you afford that, being unemployed and all?”

“Not to worry, I have a sizeable savings.”

“Who’s your father?”

“What? I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“I assume that since you seem to have money, you come from money, so who’s your father?” he replied like a bully. He had some nerve.

“First of all, I don’t come form money, I earned what I have.” Did I? “Secondly, my father is dead, and thirdly, I don’t appreciate your questioning or your tone.”

“If you’re going to date my sister…” he stood up.

“Frank, sit down.”

“I just asked if I could take your photo. What’s your problem?”

Marin pulled him down and kicked him.

“Are you a reporter or something?” he asked.

“No. You know what? Forget it. I won’t take your picture. I just thought you guys might like a photo together. Forget I asked.” Frank’s face softened Casey’s standing up to him must have changed his mind or something. He relaxed, sat back, took a sip of Chianti.

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just, she’s my sister, you know? I don’t’ want her seeing just any guy. Come on, take the photo.”

“Sure, sure,” Casey said with a wave of te hand and withheld satisfaction. It was his turn to be suspicious, but he would refrain from the questions. He snapped the family portrait, finished his wine, and was happy to see it was time to head to the ballpark. A Reds win was just what he needed to recover fro the uncomfortable lunch.

Marin apologized for her brother’s behavior on the way there, making excuses for him that Casey ignored. He remained silent as Marin fretted about what had happened. There was a tension between them, but it was not the good kind. Some seven dollar beers and some baseball later, he was over it. She put her arms around his and laid her head on his shoulder sometime around the fourth inning, and though his initial reaction was to pull away, truth was she was turning him on, so he let her stay there until his arm went numb and he escaped to the bathroom.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cluck U, Corporate Baseball!

One of the worst things about baseball these days (among many bad things) is the millions of dollars companies spend to put their stupid names on stadiums. Think about how ridiculous the names sound. Minute Maid Field. Citizens Bank Ballpark. Petco Field - makes me think of dog food.

The Nats are preparing to auction the naming rights of the new stadium. Despite taking loads of taxpayers' money, the team is keeping the $4 - $10 million it gets for naming rights instead of giving it back to the city who struggled with even getting the stadium built. Of course, not having Congressional representation makes the District not a democracy, so who cares what the people wanted, right? Why not spend their money on a $611 million dollar stadium, whose price increased drastically due to mostly bickering and the city council's inability to make decisions.

I'm thinking since the whole stadium issue has been one big mess, the name should reflect that. That's why I'm advocating giving naming rights to the fast food chicken chain Cluck U. Cluck U Field. Hi, hello, and welcome to Cluck U Field here on the banks of the Anacostia in our nation's capital!

Friday, November 24, 2006

chapter 6 part 1

Sidney’s connections landed four tickets to Games 3, 4, and 5 in Oakland, and though Casey wanted to ask Anne to go with him, he asked Marin instead on an impulse and despite hardly knowing her. Sidney would bring the latest blond bimbo along for the ride. Casey loathed the idea of someone who did not care about baseball taking up prime, precious seating in the stadium, but as usual he said nothing. After all, Sidney was the one who got his hands on the tickets.

Drug users often say using is like a religious experience. Casey now understood what they meant, for World Series baseball had become his drug, a high like no other he had experienced. Sleep was difficult, but his increased energy level staved off fatigue. When the day of Game 1 arrived, he jumped out of bed at 6am, dressed, and headed to Vivatma’s café for some coffee and a bit of breakfast. The Cincinnati concrete was littered with suits and Reds ties, caps, red skirts, buttons, pins, and earrings, the spirit of the game captivating the suckers who had to go to work and the lucky few who did not. Cincinnati was the new Boston, at least for a week.

The café was full of the same red dress, fuller than Casey had ever seen it, like everyone had hopped out of bed full of energy and enthusiasm, a morning rarity in the real world. Eons had passed since Cincinnatians had felt something other than boredom about life, about its beauty, its joy, the natural highs that make life worth living and living to its fullest. No doubt this joy would inspire a few to make substantial changes to their quotidian rituals, perhaps pursue a long forgotten dream, write a novel, go back to school, go to rehab, propose marriage. In a world plagued with dull routine, when humans have only four or five hours a day that belong to them, inspiration is a rare commodity, lost to those without circumstance or luck, those who go through life’s motions pretending there is not anything more to it, those who experience adventure and excitement through television and movies, convinced that their own lives could never be more than average and dull. The people in the café seemed to have grasped llife’s promise and possibility. The buzz in the café was a jovial symphony playing for the audience of a loving god, for there was no room for wrath or hatred in the Queen City at this time. Well, there was some room for hatred of the new enemy, the Oakland A’s!

Vivatma and Casey exchanged pleasantries after he took a seat by the window. Vivatma was genuinely glad to see him, as it had been a couple of weeks since he had visited, and he had never stayed to eat breakfast. Vivatma’s enthusiasm was such that he promised to make Casey a special breakfast, and he disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Casey free to take in the atmosphere of the café. There were some new decorations adorning the walls, including a framed copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer from a few days ago with the headline “Reds Win the Pennant!” and a photo of A.J. Sullivan with his arms raised into the air after the last catch had been made. Casey, too, had saved that paper, putting it with the 1990 World Series paper, the San Francisco Chronicle cover of Bonds’ number 71 and 72, and Rose’s 4192.

A girl of about ten got up from a table and moved closer to Casey, clapping her hands in an innocent and annoying manner. She wore a bright pink and blue striped shirt with bright blue pants, an outfit no adult with any taste would ever be caught dead in. Still, this was the way children’s clothes were designed – bright colors and patterns and general cheeriness. Adults were confined to drab blacks and grays and browns, and if lucky, a maroon or green sweater on business casual Fridays. Red, the brightest color in the rainbow, was permissible this week, even expected, because a game played by adults had brought some of the childhood cheer back into living.

Next to the newspaper was a framed 8x11 photo of A.J., who had hit 36 “longball home runs” and had achieved diety status in Vivatma’s eyes, though he was a lesser diety than Dunn. Casey had brought along a gift for Vivatma, a ball signed by both A.J. and Adam. He wondered if Vivatma would not put the ball on an alter to worship it.

Conversations throughout the place were punctuated by players’ names, A.J. was most frequently heard. One woman asked another about his marital status, another pondered the size of his package. How is it that no part of a celebrity can escape public scrutiny?

A half a day stood between them all and the start of the game, but they had waited seventeen years for this day – what was another 12 hours? The excitement made those hours feel like years. Casey would have to find something to do to kill some time. He planned on wandering down to the Inn Between around 3pm, but what would he do until then? The freedom he had gained by not having to work afforded him endless possibilities to occupy himself. He would have to get some sort of hobby. If the feelings worked during the World Series as well as they did during the playoffs, he would not have to work for a year, not to mention winnings he could earn next year. That is a lot of free time.

The world was his – he would travel to see it all, experience new things, eat new foods, taste new beers. But it would have to be during theoff season – he did not want to miss his beloved Reds defending their pennant and hopefully their title. Yes, travel was it, he decided. He would leave after the World Series was over, and he knew the place he would go, the place that was in his blood: Ireland.

“For you, specially made,” Vivatma said as he brought out a plate of red food – eggs, potatoes, some stuff he did not recognize.

“Why, thank you, Vivatma, looks great.”

“I made it red for you-know-who…”

“The Reds,” he responded smiling. “I have something for you, too.” Vivatma’s eyes lit up like a child’s. Baseball can do that to a person. Casey pulled the ball from his coat pocket. “Signed by A.J. and Adam.”

Casey had though there was no room for more joy in the café. He was wrong.

“Oh, thank you so much for this beautiful gift! This means more to me than one thousand blessings from the gods! This is my most cherished possession! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“No problem, Vivatma. Thanks for being my baseball buddy.”

“Baseball buddy, yes, I like that. Please, eat your breakfast while it is hot. It is, as they say, on the house.”

There must have been something to Vivatma’s belief in his gods – the food was divine. He finished up and said his goodbyes, promising to come back soon, and left a tip twice what his breakfast would have cost.

He still had not decided how to spend his day, but he found himself gravitating towards the stadium as if someone else was moving his legs. The town was flooded with red, its brilliance enhanced by a perfectly clear sky populated by a resplendent sun. The scattered trees were past their autumn primes but still full enough to be considered beautiful. They, too, wore red.

He circled the stadium, floated around it really, not alone in his anticipation, as the enthusiasm of others had carried them, too, down for an early morning jaunt around the ballpark. Casey decided to cross the river to get a look at his church from the other side. It had been years since he had walked the bridge, and eh had never done it without his father. Memories were inevitable, the blue steel carried them to the forefront of his mind, and even the joy and excitement of the World Series could not keep back the pain associated with the memories. He hurried across the swaying and shaking bridge to the dry, stable land on the other side, staring at the new stadium as if the old one had never stood next to it. It was the same skyline, though.

That skyline was damn photogenic. Too bad he did not have a camera with him. As he walked along the river to the newly developed Newport area, it occurred to him that he had a wallet full of money that he had intended to take to the bank later. Surely there would be an electronics store or a camera store among the new businesses in the area. Voila.

The new camera was top of the line with the highest amount of memory, good for hundreds of photos. The salesguy looked at him like he was an alien when he forked over cash for such an expensive purchase, the second person who had reacted like that. Was plastic so prevalent? No wonder the country was mired in debt. He returned to the banks of the Ohio and sat on a bench to read the camera’s manual, convinced that he had purchased a new hobby, something to occupy his newfound freedom. Click, click, click, click, click…He snapped dozens of photos of the stadium and the Cincinnati skyline. He mapped photos of barges and tugboats. He snapped photos of the Ohio’s aesthetically charming bridges. He snapped and clicked the day away as he traversed the streets of the Queen City, stopping people clad in Reds gear, capturing the images of handmade “Go Reds!” signs in store windows, immortalized the National League Champions banners the city had hung from lampposts. He photographed the smiles and joy of baseball, the cure for his misanthropy. At least while there was still baseball to be played.

Though the lens, he saw things in people he had never noticed. The joy of baseball served as a filter to their souls. He saw vulnerability. He saw desperation. He saw suffering and pain and despair, and he saw baseball was holding them down. These things would return when the thrill of winning had faded into the dull gray sky of a cold Midwestern winter, when the ice and snow that froze the life in people would cover the diamond and the surrounding city streets. The lens became the most intimate relationship he had had since Anne.

At 3pm, another celebration of life began at the Inn Between. The shutter did not close there, either. Liquid joy flowed through the place. Toasts were made to the players, the owner, the General Manager, to life. Ties came off, jerseys went on, caps covered the heads of nearly everyone there. Casey bought a round for everyone who was on the terrace in exchange for the freedom to snap photos without asking. The fading daylight added to the magic, as if God were dimming the lights for the show to begin. When it was time for the gates to open, a buoyant crowd nearly ran to the stadium, even those who had moved like turtles for years. And the, he heard the words that brought tears of joy to his eyes.

“Programs! Get your World Series programs!”

He bought one. He bought one of everything that had World Series on it. Click, click, click! The hungry crowd was about to feast after 17 years of drought. Click, click! There would be no wlaking in after the game began; seemed like most of the crowd was already there, three hours early. Click!

The new enemy finished up batting practice some time later. Seats were alreadyfull an hour before the game was to gein, a half hour before all of the extraneous pre-game junk was to take place. Suddenly, 45,000+ people began to spontaneously chant “Let’s go Reds!” The chant lasted a solid five minutes. It was like a prayer.

Cincinnati native Nick Lachey sang the national anthem, a reward for his loyalty to the city despite his fame. There were corporate types who gave out meaningless awards to other elites, some dancers who had nothing to do with baseball, and the announcement of a contest to win some gas-guzzling, ego-coddling, leviathan of a vehicle. When it was finally time for player announcements, Casey could not even hear what Sidney was saying next to him, such was the thunder. A tear came to Casey’s eye. Could life get any better than what was occurring at that moment?

Adam Dunn is a horrible player in September with a career .211 batting average during the rusty month. As it turned out, however, he was Reggie-like in October. He sent two balls into the seats during Game 1, knocking in six players in his four at bats and outshining both A.J. and Game 1 starter Aaron Harang, leading the Reds to victory and Casey’s wallet to bursting. Fans shut down the streets of the city as they marched in impromptu parades, chanting and screaming into the wee hours of the night. Not a soul complained.

Game 2 was a slugfest, a festival of fireworks and cheers. It did not begin that way, however, as Cicinnati’s rock star pitcher threw six shutout innings before the manager made a bad decision to pull him with a 2-0 lead. Suddenly, the score was 8-8 in the 9th inning after each side blasted three home runs. Casey’s feelings never went sour, however, and the whole crowd seemed to feel victory, too, for they never grew silent, never grew weary of standing and cheering, which only grew louder when the game winner hit chalk in rightfield. Another victory, another celebration, onto Oakland they would go.

“So, do you know who’s gonna win Game 7 yet?” Sidney asked on the plane.

“Still nothing. I hope that isn’t a bad sign. I kind of like it, though. It sucks knowing we’re going on this trip and the Reds are going to lose two of three games.”

“Just think about dollar signs.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He sighed and laid back to take a nap.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chapter 5 part 3

More, more, do you like it?

I definitely do not miss JTM commericals.

The two of them were the most attractive couple in the bar, as had often been the case in the past. She had obviously gone to the same lengths as he had for appearances. They greeted each other, made small talk, and picked the labels off their beers.

“What is it you want?” Casey finally asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Why did you ask me here?”

“I just wanted to talk to you, to see how you were doing?”


“Why not?”

“What about Michael?”

“What about him?”

“What does he think about you meeting me?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

“Really, Anne, something seems to be on your mind. What is it?”

She stared hard at her beer like she was trying to squeeze herself into the bottle to escape. She had changed, he could see that. She had always been bold, defiant of tense situations, a kind of diffuser. Next to him sat an unassured, nervous wreck of a woman, a broken woman too afraid to say what she was desperately trying to spit out. What had happened to her?

“Look,” he said. “I know about you and Michael – A.J. told me about it, told me about how while I was off fighting a war for a country that doesn’t deserve it, you were fucking him – and you did it after I had given you a ring, after you had pledged to spend your life with me.”


“You wrecked my life, Anne, you know that? You broke me, broke my heart, and then you think you can just march into my life again like nothing had happened. What is it you want, Anne?”

He caught a glimpse of her eyes as she tried to look at him before they sank back into the bottle. Green eyes, a green different than diamond green. Anne green. Heartbreak green.

“He asked me to marry him.”

“Damn it!” Casey screamed as he slammed his fist onto the bar, knocking over an empty glass at the spot next to his. “You asked me here to tell me that, to torture me, to reopen wounds that still have scabs over them? All of this time, I thought the problem with our relationship was me, was what I had become as a result of the war, but I was wrong. It was you who was the problem! You emotionally abused me, made me feel guilty about leaving you to go to war, all the while your cheating ass was in another man’s bed! How the hell did I not see this?”


“I’m still not over you, goddamnit! I still hurt, still dream about you, still fantasize about you. I haven’t had a relationship since you – I haven’t even had sex more than a handful of times, and you bring me here to pour your wretched salt!”

“Casey! I said no.”

“Damn it, Anne, if you said no, why did you even bring it up?”

“Casey, it’s over between us, Michael and me.”

“So what does that have to do with me?”
“I need someone to talk to, someone I can trust. I need you, Case, I do.”

“For what, sex? You want to use me?”

“No, Case, no. You are such a good listener, someone who doesn’t try to give unwanted advice. Oh, I’ve missed you.”

“You have some nerve.” He called the waiter for his check. “You know, until I found out that you had cheated, I desperately wished that we could get back together somehow. Sometimes the hope, no matter how irrational it was, kept me going. And to think, when I was suffering in the wretched desert heat, where humanity was as scarce as water, thoughts of spending my life with you buoyed me in the sea of my misery. I’d lie awake thinking only of you, staring up at the infinity in the sparkling sky and remembered your eyes and your smile and every curve and crevice of your body, and you kept me alive over there. Did you know when you left me I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks? Did you know I had to beg to keep my job, that I took those two weeks off without pay, that I had to beg the landlord not to kick me out of our – my – apartment? Did you know…”

“Casey, please stop!” She began to cry.

“Did you ever love me?”

“Yes, I loved you! I’ve never stopped loving you. But you had become unbearable. I couldn’t take anymore.”

“Couldn’t take anymore? I was gone for the better part of two years! How could you get sick of me if I wasn’t around?”

“It was when you were around, and then the fact that you weren’t around, and then that distance in your voice when you called, and the coldness when I was near you – all of it. It was like your soul had died.

“My soul did die! It was shattered into a billion pieces like the mutilated bodies I had to see!”

The anger was fading from him. He did not know if it was her tears, memories of the war, or a simple desire to change the subject, but he was not going to continue the argument.

“Look, I didn’t invite you here to argue. Won’t you stay and watch the game with me?”

As always, his heart ruled his mind, and he conceded to her wishes. They locked up the past, at least the bad parts, and watched the Minnesota Twins lose yet another playoff game. He was aware that she kept moving closer to him throughout the night, and he responded by putting his hand on her thigh. And then he took her home.

They spent the night and half of the next day trying to make up the last two years. Casey managed to put thoughts of Michael out of his mind and pretend she was his Anne, the Anne he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with. It was like riding a bicycle, one he got off when she left in the late afternoon. He called Marin soon after the door closed and asked her to dinner – he did not want to have time to think about Anne and if anything further would happen between them. The chemistry with Marin put Anne out of his mind completely when they were together, so he spent as much time as he could with her. Was it a rebound if it was two years after the fact?

The Reds defeated the hated Dodgers to win the Division Series and head to the National League Championship Series, where they would meet the even more hated, the most hated Cardinals, the Wild Card team. The Deadbirds.

Anne called him, but he told her he did not want to be disturbed until the end of the World Series, and to excuse him, but he needed more time to sort things out. Meanwhile, he saw Marin nearly every day.

Game 1 of the National League Championship Series with the Cincinnati Reds, what magic those words had, words that fans had waited a dozen long, losing years to hear. That they had to play the hated Deadbirds added fuel to the desire for victory. It was a team he hated even more than the evil pinstripes, especially since the evil Deadbirds fans had berated him on the Viva El Birdbrains blog, as he liked to call it. All he had said in a comment earlier in the year was to give the Reds some respect, and he was subjected to “We’re World Series Champs, you don’t deserve respect.” We’d show them.

Cincinnati had once been a baseball town. Riverfront Stadium was a cathedral; players like Rose, Bench, Morgan, and Robinson were saints. What had happened to the city was up for debate, but attendance at games had dwindled past the point of pathetic, especially for a first place team. Despite having one of the lowest average outing costs in the Majors and five dollar tickets that were good seats, people complained about the cost of going to the games and used it as an excuse to stay home. The stadium also allowed people to bring in their own food and soft drinks to the games, yet people still felt the need to forfeit outrageous sums of money for concessions. Beer had to be purchased at the stadium, unless one carried in a bag of “magic peanuts.” Casey often put two bottles of beer in a one gallon Ziploc bag and filled it with peanuts he bought cheaply at the grocery, fooling security into thinking he had an uber-appreciation for the salty snack. Truth was, he used the same peanuts the entire season, as he did not like peanuts. They also served as an insulator, keeping the beers cold for several early innings. Magic peanuts.

He did not feel the need to bring the magic peanuts to the NLCS on account of his winnings, a stack that was growing faster than he took from it. He even put down money in the team store for a Division Champion shirt. Such luxuries had been unavailable to him on his indentured servant budget. It felt nice to spend a little money.

The kinetic atmosphere rippled through the stadium like a seismic occurrence had disturbed a dozen years of dormancy. The whole ballpark shook as Casey had never witnessed it. Oh yes, Cincinnati had most certainly fallen in love with baseball again.

Casey and Sidney took their seats in the box with the intention of standing most of the game, at least if things would go the right way for the Reds, and Casey had a good feeling they would rip the Deadbirds to shreds, knocking Chris Carpenter out in the second inning. When he mentioned it to Sidney, he was immediately on the phone. The odds were against the Reds; even though they had won the division, they were still considered underdogs on account of the size of their market and national television’s disdain for MLB parity. Fox and TBS network executives were pissed that the Reds had beaten the large market Dodgers – a shit town like Cincinnati could never draw viewers! Over in the American League, the Wild Card Blue Jays were playing the small market A’s. With the Yankees having been knocked out in the Division Series once again, things were shaping up to be another “low” ratings October, though baseball still won its time slot, and the networks still brought in oceans of ad revenue. Revenure. Manure. CincinnatiSt. LouisOakland – that team from Canadia – ah, the horror!

Crisp autumn air mingled with the electricity emitted by the crowd while objects burned with the radiance of individual suns under the glow of the stadium lights. A perfect chill clung to sweaters and caps and gloves, a welcome chill warmed by the thrill of excitement, a culmination of spring’s rebirth, summer’s lethargy, and the machination of September’s playoff drive. The sight was art, more beautiful and more valuable than anything created by Michelangelo or Monet.

The game was a stunning display of raw power in which sluggers sent baseballs sailing through the glowing blackness, igniting explosions of multifarious light from the smoke stacks and sounding off decibel levels that rivaled anything Boeing could produce. During the last few innings, not a soul sat down. With arms raised, legs jumping, and hearts soaring, fans watched the beloved baseball team in the white and red uniforms capture victory from their bitter enemies. Casey earned three months salary in one night.

The next night was just as thrilling, just as profitable, and just as victorious. Casey toyed with the idea of traveling to the hated town of St. Louis, enemy territory, but he counted his chickens and decided he would wait until it was time to go to Oakland or Toronto. He would spend the next three games at the Inn Between and wait for the team to come back to Cincy. They would win it in game 6; he could feel it.

The Deadbirds took Games 3 and 5 and Casey found himself in the regular box for Game 6, the taste and sounds and sights of victory sending his pulse racing. Sidney, who had seemed unconcerned by the results of regular season games, was jumping up and down like a kid on every pitch.

The team was down 3-2 in the seventh inning, but the whole stadium could feel a comeback. They just knew. Even Sidney said, “Is this what knowing feels like?” Casey nodded, then laid out what would happen. Freel, infield hit. Dunn, surprising everyone, sacrifice bunt. People would call it a stupid move by the manager. Griffey, double to right center to tie it. A.J. Sullivan, a ball into the river. Reds up 5-3.

Billy Bray, who had come into his own and had been a lights out closer in September and October, throws pure adrenaline to the plate, striking out the first two batters. St. Louis is down to its final out, and the game turns into a cliché as slugger and Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols steps to the plate. Bray winds and delivers. Swing and a miss on a bullet inside. Ross fires the ball back to Bray. Second pitch hits a Hoffman like 100 mph. Strike two. Prince Albert and the defending World Champions are down to their final strike. It feels like an earthquake inside the stadium. Probably outside it, too. Bray winds and delivers. Albert swings, hits a deep drive to leftfield, the not so swift footed or agile Dunn makes a beeline for the fence, tens of thousands of eyes affix themselves to the lucent sphere lighting up the dark October sky. Dunn is at the wall looking up, jumps.

The Cardinals season ended on a highlight reel stab by a guy who usually makes blooper reels. Every negative feeling, every problem of 45,000+ evaporated into the volcanic joy that erupted as Adam picked himself up off the ground and held up his glove for the umpires to see. The Cincinnati Reds were going to the World Series.

Suck it, network television.

The stadium poured into the streets and set out for the town, ignoring the fact that it was a Tuesday night. Police looked the other way as bars stayed open as late as people were willing to celebrate. Employers ignored the arrival times or absences of their employees the next day. Managers and executives, too, were part of that crowd. Affairs of the city would be put on hold for the next week or so. Nothing but joy flowed through the whole small market area; Casey had no care in the world aside from Reds baseball. He watched the Oakland A’s defeat the Blue Jays while at the Inn Between – it would be a rematch of the 1990 World Series, the last time either team had been to the Fall Classic, a battle of small markets and another nightmare for the Fox Corporation. Casey geared up for a seven game series and was grateful that the feelings were not giving away the ending for once. This was what made life worth living.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chapter 5 part 2

The celebrations, the beers, and the utter freedom produced a sleep that lasted well into the next day, a mere two hours before 4pm game time. Casey jumped out of bed as if misery had gone to Hell, the thrill of the previous night’s outcome mingling with the anticipation of Game 2. The Earth was a baseball to him, the present the only time that mattered. He did not feel wrath towards people or bad about the stack of cash on his dresser. It was a short-lived euphoria, however, the end brought about by the United States Postal Service in the daily mail delivery.

It was a letter with a familiar postmark, a foreign postmark, that of Babylon, of Hell. A few drops of ink held such power over him, like Siva, that he felt the need to sit down. Why not open it later, after the game, after October, after something, any other time? It sat in his hands with its menacing stamp, its destructive aura burning his hands and heart. And then the fear kicked in.

Was this a friendly letter, one that talked about the boredom of the desert, the dust, the oppressive heat that turns your pee orange even with a camel pack strapped to your back? Or was it the other kind, the one that reminded you of your mortality, the one sent to inform you of something that breaks your soul? His trembling hands struggled to tear it open.

“Dear lucky bastard,

How’s civilian life? Full of comfort and pleasure? Sorry I haven’t written in so long, but I have a good excuse. I have some news, both good and bad. The good news is that I’m still alive. The bad is that I have no legs…”

The letter slipped from Casey’s hand and fell like a rock to the floor, like a bomb. It stared at him from the spot where gravity put it, watching and waiting for its prey. Casey felt like he was face to face with a tiger or a tyrannosaurus rex or a tank. He left it there, crouched in its predatory spot, and he slid into the bathroom to take a shower, vowing stoicism until he escaped his apartment to the one place that could save him: the ballpark.

The sky looked like the cover of that movie “Fright Night,” which terrified Casey in his youth and still gave him the creeps when he thought about that horrible demonic face in the clouds. He tried to avoid the movie with every trip to the video store, but it inevitably found its way to him every time. Was this an ominous sign? Would the Reds lose this game? Or did it mean something far worse, far more sinister, something more along the lines of the news in the letter? Or were they just clouds?

The hated Dodgers scored four times in the top of the first, and the Reds were well on their way to defeat. It had been a decade and a half since the two teams had been in the same division, but remnants of the rivalry still lingered in the hearts of everyone old enough to have a memory of it. The Division Series intensified the memories, bringing long forgotten moments to the forefront of the brain, images of Norm Charlton plowing into catcher Mike Scioscia at home plate, Orel Herschiser defeating Danny Jackson for the 1988 Cy Young Award, the demons in blue getting to go to the 81 playoffs because of the strike even though the Reds had the better record, taking the 73, 77, and 78 division titles, leaving the Big Red Machine looking up at them in the standings…

Hated Dodgers winning! A cold breeze made its way into the stadium, sending a tumultuous whirlwind of hotdog wrappers across the filed. Some lost their caps. Beers blew over, cursing was heard. Stairways filled with a few who thought it necessary to take cover, as if mountains of garbage could cause them harm. Suddenly though, everything stopped, like the flying objects and all sound had hit a brick wall, dropping to the ground motionless, dead. People watched the stillness with anxious curiosity as a green tinge painted the sky. Casey waited for that horrid face to appear, and then, with the faint sound of a train whistle announcing its arrival, the face was there, only it was a funnel-shaped face.

The tornado was on the other side of the river, and no one in the stadium could do anything but pray it stayed over there, for the exits were clogged with people who found it unnecessary to hurry in a potential life and death situation. The players, who led privileged lives, had run for cover within the bowels of the stadium. Women and children cried, men yelled at each other, everyone pushed and showed their true natures. Disgust passed through Casey – these people were mere animals. Whoever claimed that man was a rational creature never left the cushiness of his ivory tower, never experienced disaster, the closest to the state of nature humanity could come.

Casey watched with morbid fascination as homes and cars were tossed into the air like popcorn. Some security guards appeared from the dugout in an apparent attempt to exacerbate the situation. Casey saw what was coming before they even began to send people to the clubhouse and sat back in his seat to watch the crushing mob trample itself as its members tried to save themselves at the expense of anyone who dared cross their paths. As the tornado approached the river, Casey tried to mentally prepare himself for what was to come, envisioning tomorrow’s headlines, wondering who would be blamed for not evacuating the stadium earlier, what the death total would be, and when the series would resume. Nature seemed to change its mind about visiting the stadium, however, and the tornado dissipated by the time it reached the water. As quickly as the storm had come, it was gone, leaving people battered, bruised, and embarrassed by their beastly behavior.

Aside from some debris littering the field, which could be picked up in five minutes, nothing had occurred to force the cancellation of the game, so after much deliberation, it was decided to play on. The Reds were crushed, series tied 1-1.

In the morning, Casey found his image scattered across the city, as a photographer had snapped his picture while he had been sitting calmly among the crowd of animals. The caption read, “A Reds fan reacts rationally in a sea of fear.” But had it been rationality or something else? Was it a refusal to let the harsh hands of the real world enter his sacred palace, his only place of refuge, the bastion of his sanity?

It was a travel day as the series moved to LA, so he had much time to think about all that had happened in Game 2, God’s attack on his life, wrath for betting on baseball? What a selfish thought! That a higher power would destroy so many people’s lives just to show one man he was wrong was an arrogant notion for which Casey was ashamed. It was like those guys who pointed to the sky after hitting home runs, selfishly believing that God had helped them in their GAME, while poverty, disease, and war ravished the world. War. The word war always triggered contemplation and deeper thoughts than what so and so’s batting average with runners in scoring positions was. Casey’s eyes move to the letter, which remained in the spot it had fallen on the floor. With hesitation, Casey moved towards it, bending to pick it up like it could explode.

So his buddy had lost his legs. To Casey, the worst part of the news was not the fact that his friend had lost his legs, but that the first thought that had come to Casey’s mind was “That could have been me.” He recognized his survivor’s guilt, questioned it often, tried to rationalize it. It isn’t my fault I survived when 3000 others have died. It isn’t my fault I had the misfortune of keeping my limbs, my senses, and my mind while 10,000 others are missing pieces of themselves. It isn’t my fault. I’ve done nothing wrong. There is no fault here to pass out, no blame but the blame of the policymakers, the ivory tower think tanks ruled by ideology and thoughts of profits. It isn’t my fault, it isn’t my fault, it isn’t my fault…

With relief he finished the letter without other shocking news. He would have to write back, but he didn’t have the mental energy, the stamina, to do it right away. That’s when it hit him, however, that he had the time to do it, that he did not have to go to that wretched office anymore, and that he would have to find something to do during his days. He suspected he would have to find a job in the off season since no winnings would be coming in, so he took up the paper with his face on the front and searched for the classifieds.

That obnoxious little communication device sounded out before he could locate the section, screaming to be answered, most likely with someone he did not want to talk to waiting on the other end. What had been a wonderful invention by Alexander Graham Bell had become just another modern nuisance, a way to make profits or waste idle time instead of doing something productive. He hated the thing, but something compelled him to answer it this time.

“Hi, Casey, it’s Anne. I saw your picture…” The tense silence that followed echoed the silence that had occurred before the tornado. “That must have been scary.”

Scary was one of those words that kids used, like big or sad, that adults were supposed to have better words for, more meaningful, more mature, more complicated. Frightening was the adult term, or terrifying, horrifying, petrifying, harrowing, chilling, unnerving.

“Scary, yeah.”

“Why were you just sitting there instead of trying to get out?”

“What was I supposed to do? There was nowhere to go. The exits were clogged, a mob was trying to get into the clubhouses through the dugouts, and if I had run into the middle of the field, there would have been nothing to shelter me. So I just sat back and watched the idiots act like pigs in a barn that has been invaded by a fox.” He realized that such critical statements were a big reason she left him, but he had nothing to lose.

“I think I would have been out of my mind! You look so brave sitting there while the people panicked around you.” No snarky remark? No negative comment? He had been prepared to snap back at whatever she said next, but there was nothing but a compliment to snap at. Brave. Not courageous, not audacious, not undaunted, fearless, defiant.

“Do you want to go for a drink after work? We can go somewhere that has the playoffs on.” Why was she asking him out for a drink? What about Michael? He needed to think about it, but he said “sure” before he realized he needed to think about it. The heart is mightier than the mind far too often.

That heart, forever wavering anxiously within him, was wracked with worry and doubt about the wisdom of the meeting. Two years lacked enough time to heal from such a lengthy relationship. It was only drinks, right? And he’d have baseball to keep his mind off invading memories.

What to wear? Nothing in his bachelor’s closet was good enough. If he had been at work, he would have had to wear one of the ragged suits that had become his civilian uniform, but now he was free to wear anything but nudity, and that anything was nothing good enough. The stack of winnings looked up at him from its perch on the dresser, and he knew what he had to do – shop. He did not hate shopping like a lot of guys did; he just did not have a shopper’s endurance. One outfit chosen for one particular occasion – like meeting the love of his life and the knife in his heart – was a task he could handle.

The clothes had to be black. Black was sexy, sharp, and the color of the havoc she had reeked on him. He could do jeans but fancier was more impressive, fancy and black as night, black as space, as a vacuum, as nothing. If only he had a friend to help him decide – he would have to rely on the salesperson, hopefully a woman or a gay guy, whose purpose was to sell and sell more, not help a guy look good for drinks with his ex. He would have to be up front, make the salesperson understand he would only be purchasing one outfit for the evening and that he could not be persuaded to buy more. That meant he would have to shop downtown and avoid malls, where store employees were paid a pittance and made to believe that a discount on merchandise was a fringe benefit. Downtown was a better location anyway, since he could walk.

The salesperson was indeed a woman, a stunning, beautiful woman with perfect curves, a living mannequin who knew how to dress a man. Attraction was imminent, the instant chemistry between them was noticed by other sales staff throughout the department, envious sales staff who were virtually salivating as they watched the two interact. When he told her what he needed with a hesitant reason, it only drew her closer to him. In a few short minutes, she had chosen half a dozen pairs of pants, all of which fit him well. She really knew the male body, and he could not avoid thoughts about what else she could do with it aside from dressing it.

The flirtation continued through a dozen shirts and a search for shoes and socks and a jacket. A birdlike saleswoman who had been watching them intently fanned herself with her hand while an awkward woman whose calves and ankles merged with heels that were too high for her to walk on nodded in agreement. Shopping had never been such fun.

“What’s your name?” he asked after a half hour of dressing and undressing.

“Now you ask?” she said with a seductive smirk. “Marin. And yours?”


“Like Sean?” The woman had made a baseball reference – she was even more perfect than the thirty seconds before.

“Yeah, like Sean.” He fumbled with a button he had missed until she reached over and buttoned it for him. “So, Marin, this has been fun. Do you have a phone number?”

With that same seductive smile, she replied, “Casey, who is it you are meeting this evening?”

“Oh, um, her, well, she’s an ex of mine. We haven’t been together for two years. We’re just having drinks.”

“And you’re going through all this trouble just for drinks?”

“Yeah, well…” He let out an embarrassed, breathy laugh and shrugged. “I hadn’t known you this morning.”

“You don’t know me now.” Both of them were breathing shallowly, hearts pounding. She had already crossed the professional line in buttoning his shirt, but she longed to touch him further. “So you’re going with this one?” she asked as she held up a navy shirt in an attempt to ignore what she was feeling. She had convinced him that navy would look nice with his Irish blue eyes. Piercing was what they said.

“Um, yeah, with these pants.”

“The ones that fit your nice ass perfectly.” Had she really said that? She hadn’t meant to – it just slipped from her mouth. “I mean, that go with the shirt. And the shoes? Which pair was it? This one?”

“Yeah,” he said with a schoolboy’s grin. They moved towards the register through the thick air of sexual tension. His trembling hand reached for the wallet in his back pocket, carefully so as to not interrupt the flow of pheromones. He produced such a stack of bills that Marin found herself instinctively flinching. Casey looked at her in horror – did she know the money was tainted, the product of criminal activity, corruption, the underworld he had only seen in movies? And the word criminal passed through his mind like a man in a ball and chain, a criminal, images of stripes and bars floating with him. Criminal? He wasn’t a bad guy; he wasn’t one of them. If anything, he was a victim, a man fleeing the indentured servitude of the corporate world. Why was his skill – the feelings – not a legal means to make a living? Who made the rules anyway?

“Do you always carry that much cash on you?” she asked as if she had any business in the matter.

“No, I just took it out to buy clothes and a few other things. I don’t like credit cards, don’t trust the companies.” It was true. He had had problems in the past with them and no longer wished to fund their scams with his patronage. He found it odd that a salesperson would question the form of payment a customer presented, and he was happy that his answer made her relax and return to her flirtatious state.

He did not want to leave, but as he walked away, he was determined to see her again. He wanted nothing more than to run his hand down her body, down those legs, over her back, her neck…even though she had not given him her number. Or so he thought, until he took his clothes out of the shopping bag and discovered she had written a number on the receipt. He broke out into a big, love struck smile and fell into his bed to release some of the tension that had built up in the store. He could not prevent images of Anne from floating into his head, however, and he stuffed Marin’s number into his wallet as he left to meet his ex. He was only meeting her for drinks, after all.