Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I am neither athletic nor particularly lucky

I found this picture of a young me, seven or eight. I am dressed in a baseball uniform. They took this picture and a solo one which I cannot find, but which features just me and my bat, as if they were planning to release a series of baseball cards featuring 2nd graders from Mattoon, IL. In both pictures I look as excited and happy as you might expect if I were perched atop an elephant with my pockets full of gold, or if I had just returned from an exciting sojourn to Narnia.

In fact I had never before even tried to hit a baseball. In the picture I cannot find I am holding a bat, ready to swing. But I am gripping the bat weirdly, not like someone who knows what they’re doing at all. And then there’s the big loopy grin on my face.

It’s feasible that I am excited by the prospect of trying something new, and I am dazzled by all the possibilities for me in this new realm. But I was always a frail and bookish kid, and I think it’s at least as likely that what has me excited is the hat I am wearing. I probably chose this team due to the hats they offered and ther color: purple, my favorite as a child. Given its size, I can only assume I was looking forward to growing into it. The name of our team was Thompson Auto, presumably after a sponsor, although we never met a representative from their company, and I never even knew whether they sold or just repaired automobiles. Mattoon was too big to know all of the companies in town, I guess.

I may as well be dressed as a pirate or a vampire. The pictures were taken before even the first practice, so our uniforms would be spotless. It would soon be revealed that I was afraid of the ball. Well, not the ball as an object by itself, but of the possibility that I might be struck by it, and that that might hurt. The coach, in what seems now as a potentially wise move, put me at shortstop for the first few practices, where I would be forced to confront the ball most often. Had he left me there, I might be a baseball player to this day. But I take a while to gather my steam sometimes, and he impatiently stuck me first in the outfield, and then nowhere at all. The boy with no father, a working mother, and no ability or interest in the game wasn’t likely to raise a ruckus if he wasn’t played in every game. And I can’t recall being terribly dismayed that I wasn’t playing more.

I think I spent a fair amount of our games trying to see how much Big League Chew I could fit into my mouth. And making wise-ass comments while reading a book on the bench. My friend Darryl was on our team and had likely goaded me into joining with him, but he was athletic and we didn’t hang out much at practice.

I don’t think I ever played so much as an inning once we started playing other teams. I have no idea whether we won or lost any of our games, but it seems likely we didn’t win much.

I remember we took some pizza, chips and sodas to the footbridge by my house after one of the games. During the time we lived in that house, I had many adventures that revolved around the footbridge, a simple wooden structure that crossed over the railroad tracks. The gully leading to the tracks was a great place to find garter snakes to play with in the days before my brother and I decided to test whether cats always land on their feet and turned a fluffy white housecat named Snowball into a feral creature who would attack humans (and presumably anything else) on sight. To my knowledge it never returned home, though home was just a few houses away from the top of the gully. And yes, for the record, I still feel terrible about that poor cat.

Years later, in 1999, I took a trip with my friend Ian to Mattoon. We were trying to rekindle our creativity with a songwriting weekend. I asked the hotel maid for directions to Shelby St., and inquired about the footbridge.

“You don’t want to be going there,” she drawled, eyes wide. “They shut that bridge down after T-Ray killed Johnny. Tried to throw him off. They was drunk. He wouldn’t go, was hanging on to the side, so T-Ray cut off his fingers.” These was a long pause in which I stared at her before she added, “Then he went over.”

I tried to find it anyway, but was stopped cold by my attempt to visit my old house. I found the place easily enough. It looked different, smaller of course, but I recognized it all the same.

There was a man sitting in a metal lawn chair on the front porch. He became visibly agitated as I approached. He fidgeted and then shouted something I couldn’t make out through the open screen door. A woman appeared immediately.

“Hi,” I began, smiling. “I don’t want to bug you, but I used to live here, and I…”

“Nope.” She cut me off without returning my smile. “You got the wrong house.”

“No, I’m sure. I lived here about 15 years ago, and…”

“You got the wrong house,” the guy said it this time. His hand, I suddenly noticed, was shaking with either drink or perhaps Parkinson’s. From his complexion and demeanor I was guessing drink. The shaking hand was starting to reach for the handle of what I thought might be a shotgun but I didn’t have a good enough angle to see it clearly. “Best leave.”

I took his advice, retreating at first without even turning around. My mouth hung open. I guess I had thought that revisiting somewhere from my childhood would spark something. Like my childhood itself would be nestled somewhere in the town and neighborhood I had lived, and I could grab a little chunk and renew some of the innocence and endless possibility of being eight years old. Instead I ended up being threatened by what I can only hope were the meanest people in town. With the possible exception of T-Ray, of course.

Walking back to the car, I saw Ian leaning against the hood, grinning at me all twinkly-eyed at whatever slice of childhood I had just brushed against while I was apparently out of his earshot. I bugged my eyes at him and said “Get in the car” through clenched teeth. He didn’t hear me, and just kept beaming at me. Ian is by no means a stupid man, but his ability to read body language was clearly off that day.

“Get in the fucking car,” I hissed at him when I got close enough that I knew he could hear. He looked startled and maybe a little hurt, but complied.

Other than that, we had a lovely time in Mattoon. Never went back, though. Not out of fear of the ball, metaphorically speaking, but due to the realization that my childhood isn’t there anymore. Or anywhere, geographically at least.

And of a fear, both legitimate and wise, of drunks with shotguns.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't pass on commenting to this post.

Beautiful stuff. Amazing really.

David

the moon topples said...

Well, David, it looks as though I owe you an apology: I know how much you truly enjoy passing on commenting to my blog.

I can almost picture you: loading the page once a week or so at work, uneaten frozen noodles beside you...reading a post of mine...reaching the end...seeing the little comment link...moving your mouse over it before finally saying "Pass!" out loud to yourself. Then you throw away the noodles and complain about how you can never eat lunch. Am I close?

Thanks for the nice comment, though. Sadly everything on here is true.

Anonymous said...

Our little string of emails this afternoon was quite humorous. Too bad I didn't make those comment here in the comments area. Let's see, something about you rolling around on the floor and me really, really liking Kennan. Or something like that.

My lunch was good, even though I did not finish it. Damn work.

Have a good weekend Maht.

David

the moon topples said...

No problem, David. Here's the conversation:

Maht,

That is perfect. Seriously. You had it perfect. I did have Simply Asia (which was simply divine, by the way) and I did eat it (well, most of it anyway), but all the rest of the stuff is right on. I have trouble commenting.

And you know, I wasn’t really mad about you not saying “hi” when you were here. I was sorry to have missed you but didn’t feel snubbed at all. Sorry to disappoint you.

Your posts are always very funny and insightful and a wonderful read. Honest.

When the hell is London?

David


David,

That would be the type of thing you might consider posting to my blog. Because if you did post all that I could ruthlessly point out in public that London is a place, not a time. So the answer to "When is London" is a bit tricky.

And I was more disappointed when I thought you actually were thinking I had blown you off. 'Cause that's not how I roll...

maht


maht,

I know you are a pretty loyal guy, you wouldn’t blow someone off without a good reason.

And you know, there is a good and funny comeback to “that's not how I roll...” but I am empty here. It is getting late here, almost London time. Must be bedtime for Bonto. Can you give me a comeback to that so I can give it back to you?

Thanks.

David


David,

You could say "You don't roll at all: you muffin." And then I guess you'd laugh and laugh at how clever you are, you pompous jackass.

Alternate insults could have something to do with: dough, balance, weight or Kennan. There's always a possible joke about Kennan.

Best I've got. Very tired here, too. Peace out, dog.

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