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A Baseball Where the Moon Once Was
Mama, here comes midnight with the dead moon in its jaws…
- The Magnolia Electric Co.
Charlie is 7, sitting on a bucket the wrong way. Instead of plopping his ass down on it like he ought to be doing, he straddles it like a Harley. Like that Urban Cowboy mechanical bull. The evening is spring to the bone: cool, warm, cloudy, with blasts of late sunlight coming down in Hollywood bolts.
Dark and shiny.
First game of the year.
First game in 2 years.
This team of Charlie’s is not his first. He is a veteran of the old wars. He has stood upon the fields at T-ball.
But listen, okay? Because an argument can be made- and made solid, I’d say- that the whole T-ball thing that came before this was all a set-up. I mean, T-ball, you figure out after a while, is a sideshow-shitshow, nothing more/ nothing less.
T-ball is drugs.
T-ball is crime.
T-ball is not baseball.
Oh hell no.
T-ball is pro wrestling and poetry slams and punk rock and 1970’s pizzeria toilet stall phone numbers whispering in your ear from across the hot marinara seas.
T-ball is One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest starring your kid and the kids from down the street. The Village Voice gives it ***** and calls it “an upended spiritual trash can that dumps your deepest most unconscious fears into the street and sets them ablaze to the sound of your toddler singing your name, over and over again, into an empty sauce pot.”
T-ball, it turns out, costs somewhere between 50 and 70 bucks but what you get in return is straight up treasure rain.
T-ball, an ancient Roman arena entered into by parents and their society to get a first quick look at the young Gladiators who will… ahem… be taking care of us down the line.
And it ain’t pretty.
Small humans eat their own boogers and laugh in the face of nature, of butterflies and passing birds. Hats are tossed ever-so-gaily up, up, up and into the wind. Bodies tip backwards off of benches for the hell of it. Boredom sets her ancient fangs, plaque-d with the skin of the dead and dying, straight into the thin necks of your veal calves out there on full display and the results are both fascinating and horrifying.
Children collapse spontaneously.
Grown men with beer bellies dance by a bucket of balls, their strange, powerful patience elevating them to the level of Gods to so many witnessing their unexpected forays into this cute darkness.
Tiny batters, veins slamming with Extra Strength PassionFruitCoconut Gatorade, hurl their swords at the white head of their mortal enemy… but rarely sever it clean.
Instead, we are treated to these sloppy executions performed in spontaneous fits and electrolyte spasms by those we once tried desperately to convince ourselves were the most innocent among us. Yet they are also those who we have secretly suspected, all along!, of being sinister, of being vile!!!, and of being wildly, wildly murderous beneath all that grass-stain grinning.
Aiming at the ball, it is most frequently the rubber tee they strike with everything they’ve got. The ball, the head on the standing guillotine… it could be a goddamn 18 inch neon orange beachball and half the time the kid will miss the damn thing.
But oh those moments when that subtlest of violences is about to be born.
We cheer them on, our mad heroes!
We cross our fingers/hold our breath!
We pause frozen, mouthfuls of gas station pretzels/coffee/Diet Pepsi/cellphone cameras ablaze as the world stops/ the third baseman lies down in the infield dust to make a dirt angel/ and along comes the swing: and with it, our entire genealogical history gets dumped down out of the sky onto this second-rate field thrust way out in the corner away from the big kid fields.
Great great grandfathers appear mist-like in the infield. Distant cousins dressed like Prairie Freaks, they stand creepy still right beside your blanket there. Long dead relatives who never met you or knew you: they show up for this. For this at bat, this swing, this culmination of galaxies and chance encounters and blood upon blood, oh ye tides of time!
“Hit that motherfucker, buddy!!!” although we don’t dare say it quite like that.
There is, we must admit, a lot at stake here.
“C’mon slugger!” we have hooted and hollered! We laugh to let everyone around us know that we aren’t taking this seriously at all. Look at me!, we seemed to beg them. See how relaxed and well-adjusted I am to this competitive sports thing???
But this at-bat, it matters; there’s a lot of our neighbors here, a lot of people passing big judgement in little ways; I’d like to tell you it isn’t happening that way, but c’mon.
And here it goes…
The rearing back of the weapon.
The false twitch!
Oh mercy! Our souls are yours!!
DRINK OUR BLOOD DRY OH POWERFUL MOMENT!!!!!
BOOM>>>>>THE BALL IS TRAVELING, TRAVELING, TRAVELING AND THE ARENA ERUPTS!!!!>>>>DEAR GOD WHAT LIGHT SHINES UPON US AT THIS HUMBLE HOUR!!!!>>>THE BALL/THE HUMAN HEAD, IT FLOATS FORWARD LIKE A HURRICANED DOVE>>>LIKE THE LAST SNOWFLAKE AT THE VERY EDGE OF THE WILDERNESS!!>>> FORWARD!!>>>ONWARD!!!!>>>OH GREAT PIONEER!!!>>>OH PRECIOUS DISCOVERER, HOW WE REJOICE AT THE SIGHT!!!!>>>WEAR YOUR SUNDAY SUITS WEAR YOUR FINEST DRESSES!!!>>>MAKE WAY FOR THE MESSAGE FROM ON HIGH, FOR THE WORD ALMIGHTY!!!!!>>>>TRAVELING!>>>>FLOATING>>>FORWARD>>>>RUN>>>RUN! RUN RUN RUNRUNRUNRUNFORTHELOVEOFGODCHILDRUN!!!!
The ball lands maybe nine inches in front of the fallen tee: not far from the batter’s box. The spirits of yesterday glance- all your ancestors- they Pffff at each other, smirk, vanish into thin air: as if to say: this is not the great one: we must continue to search for the family’s true heir: but it ain’t happening here today.
Or whatever. I forgot what I was even saying. You see what I’m talking about?!
T-Ball does that.
It smokes your mind like a rock of deep city crack and there is nothing you can do about it except love the madness.
You got to dance upon the bones of your cut-down sanity.
You got to watch everybody in the village running at each other and the ball just laying there like the moon in the dirt.
Today is different for Charlie. For me. For Arle who is walking up on us over by the Port-a-Potty. I’ve been trying hard to help my son out here in the pregame time, but I think I’m probably failing. They only got the team’s uniforms in today and so parents are being asked to help their players get out of whatever they’re wearing right now and into these new duds for the game that starts in a couple of minutes.
I want to shine at this and I am determined to. I want to help Charlie in his time of mild need here, be the guy/the dude/the Dad, but it’s not always that easy for me. I get tricked sometimes by my own imagination. I see myself doing it one way, being this one person, and then something shifts and the axis gets bumped and the mental landscape slides and all that.
I feel anxious because I want to create beauty so bad but I hardly ever do.
Do you have that?
Like, do you know a version of yourself like I do? I see true me: Jawa all hidin’ up in the rock cliffs of my soul. But as soon as I call out/ he’s gone. And sometimes my hopes get rattled and I miss a moment of opportunity to make beauty, to spot a beautiful moment hurdling down out of the sky… straight at me/straight at us… and to just stand there and let it happen like lightning.
But I often shift my stance, I guess. Move a little this way or maybe a little over there and the next thing you know I’m panic’d. Hot. Sad. Some god’s thumb pressing up against my femoral. Chattering nerve ends/ blackout raining. All my life mostly. It’s why I ended up in a band. Not because I loved playing the guitar. I don’t really like playing the guitar all that much. But it was a means to an end that finally… slog against slog… tide against tide… finally gave me the chance to breathe for a minute by commanding a room and to just stand there and watch.
Artificial as hell. But also moments of beauty galore.
Still, offstage most of the people I have ever loved or thought loved me, nearly all of them have thrown it back in my face.
“You need help,” they would say, then they’d stab me in the back with daggers carved out of their own pain. Still do. “Look at him,” they say. “He needs help! He stabbed himself!”
I pull Charlie close to me and I can smell his smell like a chemical candle.
Sweet potato fart ice cream summer morning pizza trampoline swamp ass.
“Fuck,” I say. “We are gonna be late.”
He senses my anxiety and I want him to run from it because I feel such shame in not pushing it back down. But at the same time/ I want him to take the measure of the man before him. Be that boy for me? Size me up whole instead of cutting me down with these legacy knives everyone else is holding?
I love you so fucking much, buddy. You have no idea.
We have managed to get the pants on, easy. We have got the belt, but it’s tougher because it’s a little big. But now his cleats need to get back on and the teams are out there on the field and I feel his breath on my neck as I try to wrestle their tightness up onto his foot but it won’t slip in/ won’t slide in/ and my heartbeats are running me ragged, man. Just ragged, I tell you.
Get some help! You need help!
I look at them quietly across the fences and fields of my national soul park and I know they see me and I know they don’t understand what they have done. I breathe deep. Deep drags of human existence, deep drags of spring country air. My arms around my youngest son and honey rivers flow ‘round my guts.
Be damned. You never know when it’s the last time, do you? Cars run lights.
These cleats are like impossible to get on!
I want this to be okay on the green grass by the blue port-a-john under the grey sky.
Me and Charlie talk our way through it though. He stands at my beckon and he ballet toes and slips down into a cleat and then the other one just as my wife walks up on us. She is here. My heart races for better reasons at the sight of her and Charlie smiles up at her and she smiles back and I feel like I have been tricked by a drug I never saw myself take but it’s over now and here we are.
In the game, Charlie does good. He hits the ball but grounds out both times. There are no ancestors watching as far as I can tell. But I am here. Dad. Imperfect as fuck. Watching him straddle a bucket and fling his hat around when he ought to be paying attention to the game. I don’t say anything though.
I mean, I got his tight-ass cleats on him in a semi-pinch and that shit felt like winning the lottery.
Because it is.
Me & Joe DiMaggio. Valley Forge, PA. 1983
Deep in the night, last night, I woke up on the raft.
At first I didn’t understand and it was random and baked to feel my body, facedown/ belly down, all splayed out and rippling with unmistakable sea beneath me.
I tried to put the pieces together but no dice. From asleep to awake, and in the middle of the night. On an obvious rubber raft. At sea nonetheless. I did my Brene Brown breathing thing. 5 seconds in. Hold for 4. 5 seconds out. Or is it 6 in? I don’t know. I don’t give a rat’s ass when I’m out on the ocean floating around at night.
The oxygen brings fresh perspective/it will not be denied/ and so it did for me right there and then. I watched my cell phone float by me, lit up, like I just got a text or an email, but I only smiled at it’s tiny glow. The breathing slays the toxic even though it’s Jedi shit, man. You have to try it across long floaty nights of eternal darkness before it really begins to show up, this better sense of yourself.
I did it again. Deep. In. Hold. Out.
On the blackout sea. The faint lapping of baby waves. Tap, tap, tap. Acknowledgement.
I did it in the face of my own fear.
Right while they were asleep out there in their toxic beds, dreaming their pointing at me dreams or maybe not dreaming at all. It barely matters now as I float along. The scars will roll off of me eventually like dirt in the rain. Even if it’s only in the final moments before I breath my last, I know I will rise. Oh look at me, how I will rise! And look at me! How I will stand alone in the eyes of the once young kids who knew me deep and pure and true… in the eyes of the one lone redhead who knew me deep and pure and true… how I will rise to greet them before I go.
I turned on my side then and then my back so I could watch the stars and see this here.
I saw this here. Night of Charlie’s first game. Night of the tight-ass cleats. Night of the imperfections. Night of the deep, deep breaths. Night of the tap, tap, tapping. Night of the score I never even knew.
Night of: who won?
Night of: who cares?
The stars reveal all.
The ballpark is packed and I come out of the dugout and there they are. In the stands, all of my loved ones, hollering my name, hooting my name and whistling through their fingers and they are so grand, ain’t they? Dressed to the 9’s like the old days. Dresses and suits for a ball game and my heart soars as I take my deep breaths and I secretly smile at them from my tucked down chin.
I tip my hat at them one time. Simply. Once. True.
Then I turn around with my bat the size of a black walnut tree and I approach the plate.
The crowd is Sunday afternoon.
Long tall risers of people and sound and deep green grass and sunshine and sky.
I smell Charlie’s skin on the breeze. Beautiful boy. Oh my son.
I point my bat at centerfield. At the fence. At beyond the fence.
I point my bat at the edge of forever and the crowd goes wild.
I am old and I hurt and I breath deeply but still I’m nervous and I’m scared as well.
I step up to the plate.
Up to the tee.
The ball is sitting there like it has always been.
A star on top a telephone pole.
I lower my pointing finger.
I tap the insides of my cleats. It hurts a little. Stings. I look down.
It’s Charlie’s old cleats on my feet, the tight ones from so long ago.
I remember. I never forgot.
I rear back.
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All Photographs by Serge Bielanko unless otherwise noted (or blatantly obvious).
Serge/DiMaggio Photo: Jack Coll.
Bottom Photo: Arle Bielanko.