Rated PG (Language)
Chapter 3—Opening Day at Shea Stadium, April 12, 2004
Pro • base • ball – noun.
1. A game of ball between two nine-player teams cranked on steroids and amphetamines, washed down with coffee, usually for nine innings on a field that has as a focal point a diamond-shaped infield (‘the bling’) with a home plate and three other bases, ninety feet apart, forming a circuit that must be completed by a base runner in order to score—the central offensive action entailing hitting of a pitched ball with a wooden bat and running of the bases, the winners being the people who steal the most money in ridiculous contracts, television deals, endorsements, food and beer concessions, and ticket and paraphernalia sales from the fans who watch. (See: fanatic.)
2. The ball used in this game, being a sphere approximately three inches in diameter with a twine-covered center of cork covered by a former horse’s skin not typically volunteered.
Franklin Thomas Weiner was his real name—after a mint, an English Muffin, and a private part. Diplomatically polished and an empathetic soul, he was never a moneymaker like his name bespoke, but at fifty-one he had a fair share of ‘nooks and crannies.’ His friends thought he should have become a dentist, so people could see what it was like to have a Weiner in their mouth. Franklin Weiner was not considered a ‘person of faith,’ not by ordinary definition, but he tried all his life to make good with people. Standing with his hand poised on the front door of the Tongue Sheen House, a quiet bar on a busy street in Queens, he relished the moment before going inside.
How long has it been? How would I measure that, exactly? Hours? Episodes? Epochs? He pulled open the door and went inside.
Adjust the eyes, walk down three steps and take a look around. Wait… The place looks the same, including the patrons. A bald, pudgy older man sat at the end of the bar by a juke box, smoking a slimy stogie. An old man—scruffy, thin and stooped—stood on the footrail at the other end of the bar, pointed his crooked finger at the bartender and yelled, “Crank! Got-flangin’-dangin’-doggit!”
The bartender tried to pacify the crusty old dodger, “Okay-okay, calm down. I’ll tell him!”
“Punky nun-chuck slingin’ chinks…” the old man went on, waddling off to mutter to himself in a dark corner toward the rear. The pudgy guy smirked and didn’t move, never deviating from his task of stinking up the place.
Franklin Thomas Weiner eyed a stool at the far end of the bar, on the curve, and sat down. “Call me Max,” he told the Chinese-American barkeep, who had casually watched him take his seat.
“What’s wrong with Antwar? I—”
“Nothing, the name served me well,” said Franklin/Antwar/Max. “How are ya, Sonny?”
“No worse than yesterday. The usual, Max?”
Max thought about it for a split-second. “Nah, gimme a gin and tonic with lemon.”
Sonny shook his head and smiled. “Okay, the usual.”
“In a tall glass.”
“Of course, Max…” Sonny mixed the gin and tonic like he was sewing a button on in two strokes. He walked over with the drink and flipped a cocktail napkin on the bar.
Max nodded in the old man’s direction. “What’s Chiggers so pissed at?”
Sonny brushed it off. “His miserable life?” Max didn’t think it was funny, but laughed anyway. “It has something to do with my father.”
“Sammy? Oh…” The two men had been screaming at each other since before Max had ever entered the bar as a young teenager, some thirty-four spring trainings ago.
Sonny leaned in closer. “Sammy told me to raise beer prices, but not for Chiggers, see? When I told him, he went nuts! I don’t get it and I don’t wanna get it. They’re both out of their heads.”
Max understood that there was no understanding either Sammy or Chiggers, and what kept them looking out for each other. Whatever it was, it had lasted near a lifetime.
“Tell me, Sonny, when was the last time I was in here?”
“That would be Sunday. You know how I know that?”
“Because baseball starts today?”
“No, because it’s Monday. It does?”
“Sho-nuff, massa,” said Max, feigning slave-speak. Max was white bread. So what, color? He always thought. Like I could give a crap. At this point in his life Max had determined that any person could be an asshole. “Find the remote and gimme it, willya?”
Sonny looked at Max suspiciously. “No audio games, okay?” Max liked to mute the sound during random bits of dialogue, making the speech stutter.
“I promise,” he lied, sincerely.
“Fuck you, Phil!” Chiggers yelled from his corner. “I ain’t scared a you, you fat fuck.”
Now that, Max thought, was funny—though he cringed and only glanced at the fat fuck with the cigar, who didn’t move or say anything, but sat there looking like Buddha after having swallowed a medicine ball. Phil was a retired cop who never retired his firearm.
Sonny went to get the remote. “You got it, Boss-man.”
Max knew Phil well, as a teenager—he was their version of Popeye Doyle. Phil had further fucked up an already botched robbery attempt of Max’s by showing up at the wrong time, which was every time he showed his mug, and the young Frank Weiner had a high-speed getaway ride over city potholes in the trunk of a Chevelle for his failed efforts. He was fairly certain Phil didn’t recognize him, since he was in the trunk. If Phil remembered chasing him out of a church fountain some thirty-five years prior he didn’t let on.
Must be the statue of limitations ran out.
Max picked up on Sonny’s subtle attempt to divert the escalating tension between Phil and Chiggers and changed the subject. “So, Sonny, how is yer old man?”
Sonny shook his head as he returned with the remote. “That’s one cantankerous old fart. I don’t trust him, he’s always up to some crap.”
Max let it go at that. “Yeah,” he said, resigned to knowing Sammy was apt to be into anything, legal or not. “Best not to ask.”
Max fished for the station and found it. Pre-game chatter spouted from pro-ball pundits faster than he could count the clichés.
The Mets hitting has got to continue to be hot…
Well fans, it’s high time we kick off the two-thousand-four season, with Beer High Life, the cheapest beer we can charge the most for. We’ll be right back!
Max promptly muted the sound. “So, what’d I miss since yesterday?”
Hello again everyone, I’m Buff McGargle along with my partner, Skip Malou, and welcome to Opening Day at my favorite french restaurant, Shea Stadium.
Ha-ha, Buff, and right you are, though let’s hope the Mets aren’t as stale as that old joke. Trachsel will take the mound and….
Max felt the heavy front door open when a cold draft shot up his back. A crack of daylight sheared the curve of the bar into something more blunt while a woman’s legs ticked down the steps. She turned the corner and stopped, adjusting to the low light.
Raingirl didn’t enter a place like any normal, full-fledged woman; she emerged like the sun through thunderheads, pulling an aura through the door that trumped all others. Shrugging off her thick sweater, she draped it over an empty chair and unleashed the full throttle of her long, dark curls—threaded with highlights of red, chestnut and silver that shined like a newly minted dime. Together with her golden smile, Raingirl was priceless.
She saw Max at the bar and made a fashion statement with her hips on the walkway coming his direction—swishing a long, flowing scarf behind her neck like the Noxema girl stepping up to the pole. “Hey Sonny-boy… I’ll have the usual, please.” Sonny jumped on her tall White Russian.
She took the barstool next to Max. “Yo, Rambo…”
Always pleased to have Raingirl in his midst, Max smiled. “Yo Raingirl. What’s happenin’?”
Raingirl regarded the teevee, “Oh gawd, is it that time already?”
This guy has a rubber arm; he can toss day after day after day after day after day after—
Skip it, Skip.
Thanks, Buff. A-n-n-n-d… here comes the pitch!
Max chuckled, rather liking the way Raingirl squirmed on her stool about baseball. Having a teevee in what was supposed to be a quiet neighborhood bar was villainous enough, in Raingirl’s opinion, but baseball was about as interesting as a snooze alarm.
Strike one! Painting the inside corner with a nifty slider that had a lot of movement on it—
A pitcher’s pitch, Skip.
“Like death and taxes, my dear.” Max liked baseball, but had lost all respect for the pro game—the Show. He would watch the seasons dwindle by until such time that Major League Baseball tried to make him pay to watch on cable, then he would quit. It was no longer about the game, it was about the lifestyle of the prematurely rich and manically steroidal. “Women’s softball is much better,” he said.
This elicited a deep sigh from Raingirl, and an acquiescing to the demands of her drink the moment Sonny delivered it. She swished it around, took a sip, and deftly changed the subject.
…from the stretch, here comes the delivery…
“Did I tell you I saw Doctor Take-a-shit?”
Max was genuinely surprised. “Take a shit” was Doc’s way of offering you a chair, which ended up sticking as a moniker. It was a name Max hadn’t heard in some time. The last time he saw Doc ‘Take-a-shit’ Greenblatt, he was writing a prescription for Seconals. Ten bucks later, Max was out the door and headed to the drug store. “No shit? They let him out?”
…it’s a pie…
“I guess so! Did he just say ‘it’s a pie?’”
“He said the pitch was ‘up high,’ ball one.”
“Oh, I thought he said… never mind.”
“Did you think he threw a pie at the batter?”
Raingirl liked that idea and laughed, to Max’s delight. “It would make the game more exciting,” she said.
“It would make the game a food fight,” Max told her. The pitcher waved off the next sign.
“Ha-ha! Anyway, yeah, I saw old Doc Take-a-shit in the Chock Full O’Nuts. He looked old and feeble.” Raingirl shivered, took another sip, and glanced at herself in the mirrored shelves behind the bar. “Have you seen Cheech Marin lately? Ugh…”
“Yeah. I’m sure the Doc’s ‘rehabilitated’ now.” Max’s sarcasm showed like a slip.
Another fastball on the inside corner, strike two!
The pitcher walked the mound, taking his sweet time. He spit in his glove and rubbed it around, then picked up the rosin bag and tossed it back down. With his cap low, he leaned over the rubber, adjusted his cup, spit again, which left a little dribble on his jersey, and stared a bullseye into the catcher’s mitt—ready for the next pie-sign.
In a moment of calmness, Raingirl harmonically resonated with the weather and declared, “It’s gonna rain soon.” She was always right. Each new storm was Christmas for Raingirl. Her brainwaves went coherent when it rained. It was a gestation period in ‘the ethereal wash of negative ions,’ she liked to claim. The storms were times of pause and reflect for her; a wet window into the safety of her own embryo.
Max saw the three-fingered sign and wondered if the breaking ball was coming next. “Good,” he said. Against the left-handed batter, a good curveball would come at his head and fall in for strike three. Sweet.
“I love the rain,” Raingirl said.
Here comes the wind-up… and the delivery…
Max called it, “It’s the curve… Stri-i-i-i-ke three.”
And it falls in for strike three!
Max pumped his fist. “Strike three, looking! Sit down. Grab some pine, meat. Ha!” Raingirl shook her head with pity.
A wicked bender with an impressive drop! All the batter can do is hope it doesn’t hit him…
Sonny watched the replay. “Nice curve,” he said.
Max looked at the curves of Raingirl’s profile. “I’ll say….” They smiled at each other. “A bonafide heartbreaker.”