Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Forty-one

Posted by ilbebe on January 14, 2009

I’ve talked about my on-again/off-again relationship with the sport of baseball already, but special consideration is due to the three times I went to Arizona with my father to watch Spring Training games. The first time we went was when I was eleven, and the San Diego Padres still help camp in Yuma, Arizona. We flew into San Diego and rented a car to drive I-8 across the desert to Yuma, stopping along the way to visit a small park populated by numerous intriguing rock outcroppings that I found only modestly amusing until I was told years later that it was a place that my mother and father had spent a transcendent few hours shortly after meeting.

Yuma was hotter than I had any idea any place could be in the beginning of March, and I clearly remember going for breakfast in the motel restaurant the first morning; the heat that the legion of rotary ceiling fans were powerless against, the predominantly white-haired crowd, the lukewarm pancakes that still seemed too hot to consider eating. On either the first or second day, the drive train in our rented Ford Tempo completely disengaged from the transmission, leading to an alternately tense and mind-numbingly boring few hours in a parking lot while we waited for a new car to be brought out. I remember doing my algebra homework laying on my bed at the motel and skimming over how to divide fractions, a deficiency in my arithmetic education that would remain uncorrected for years. We went to the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park, and I was unimpressed by both how escapable the crumbling structures seemed and the inches-deep Colorado River that flowed past the decaying not-even-hulks of a supposedly worth-remembering past.

But the games, the games made it the best trip in the world. In spring training, the established players start the game but only play a few innings to allow management the opportunity to try out the new guys. Thus, the results of any individual game and indeed even any given player’s statistics over the whole spring season must be taken with a grain of salt, but to an eleven year-old madly in love with baseball and on a special trip with his father, it meant more than wars. I would try to keep score longhand, on cheap sheets where the printed ink smeared at the slightest press of sweat from my small hands, in pencil, to allow for changes in the official scoring, but my efforts were confounded by the simple facts that the pre-printed scorecards didn’t allow for twenty-five players to cycle through a single nine innings.

Then there was the flavor of the crowd, a certain flavor that rarely interacts with pro sports for perhaps the simple fact that as of 1992, rare was the professional sporting contest that could be a)walked to, and b)admitted to for less than five bucks, with c)really cheap food and beer. We went to a couple of games while we were there, and one of them fell on my birthday. My Dad went up to the announcer’s booth before the game and asked him to wish me a happy birthday between innings, which he did. I felt like a prince, and in retrospect, perhaps even cooler was how mature I felt when my Dad scratched the surface of the scope of adult misbehavior when he explained how strongly he’d had to plead with the announcer for my recognition, based on pranks the announcer had been on the receiving end of in springs past.

OH MAN, and then there was the fucking greatest salesman on the face of the earth, a fat red-headed kid whose line was HOT DOGS, Get Your HOT DOGS, GONNA DIE ANYWAY So Might As Well Get Your HOT DOGS! People treated him like he was the mayor, and holy shit did that kid sell a LOT of HOT DOGS. (He was also there the second year we went back, and I might be making this up, but I remember him walking around barefoot. The third year the Padres moved their camp to Peoria, AZ, God knows what that kid’s doing now…)

I remember playing blackjack over the center console on the long straight drive back to San Diego, my Dad steering with his knees and the occasional hand to correct, and watching an old movie called Kill The Umpire at his old friend Bob’s house where we stayed a night before flying home. I remember waking up that night in Bob’s guest room and for the first time feeling the worry of not having any idea where you are. There was a large mirror directly opposite the head of the bed, and a fair amount of moonlight, and I sat straight up in bed looking at my own reflection and feeling absolutely disconnected from space and time. I remember quickly coming to, and falling back asleep recounting the grand and wholly unprecedented events of the preceding days…

There was a series of notable killings that occurred in Oakland in 2002 and 2003 that were attributed to a small gang that called themselves the Nut Cases. The killings were noteworthy primarily for the fact that they were committed upon victims who were complete strangers to the killers with no motive of robbery. Essentially, as testimony unfolded in court, it seemed to be the deeds of a group of angry young men who killing people just to cause mayhem, and, in my armchair psychologist’s opinion, draw attention to and respond to the brutal and seemingly meaningless lives they had led up until that point. The testimony of one of the killers, who was seventeen at the time he pulled the trigger, included the biographical information that he had always been mercilessly teased at school for not knowing who his father was.

I have felt and may some to degree always a certain amount of pain about certain things that have passed between my father and I, but I know his name and I know who he is. I know that he loves me, because he acts that way most of the time, and he’s told me so thousands of time. Most importantly, when I tell him that I love him, and I mean it, he tells me I Know, Son, I Know.

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