Rounding Third and Headed for Hell

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I got my ball. After fifty years and dozens of visits to Major League stadiums, I finally got my genuine Major League game ball. As usual, there is a crazy story behind this event, which I’m sure you will agree that it will result in a deeper level of Hell for me someday. But first, for those of you who are not baseball fans, or had a deprived childhood, let me provide some background regarding the significance of this event.

For most normal red-blooded American kids, when first attending a Major League baseball game, you quickly realize that nothing on this earth could be more thrilling that getting a ball that was hit into the stands. Why do you suppose so many kids and even adults bring their gloves to the game? They constantly show the guy catching balls in the stands on TV broadcasts of games. I’ve watched thousands of games, each with dozens of foul balls and home runs, and in each case, someone ends up holding that white sphere of triumph over their head to show off to the world.

I’ve seen men catch balls while holding a baby. I’ve seen people catch them in their beer cup. Since the first guy usually misses the ball, I’ve seen people diving over and under seats to find the prize. Commentators frequently mock adults for diving over other patrons, elbowing someone out of the way, or even worse, snatching a ball from a kid’s hand. I’m not condoning this behavior, but I also don’t need judgement from a team employee or a former player who can go down to the clubhouse and pick up a ball at any time.

If you are familiar with the Steve Bartman play in the 2003 National League Championship Series game 6 that effectively cost the Cubs a chance at their first championship in over a century, you’d get all of this. A Cubs fan decided to go for a ball at a critical time in the game which prevented Moises Alou, a Cubs outfielder to catch it. This opened the floodgates to a Marlins rally that basically ended the Cubs season. Even though every single fan in the section was reaching for the ball, it was Steve Bartman who touched it. He is currently living a slightly more secluded life than Salman Rushdie.

Most baseball fans are like me in that they’ve never got a ball or even came particularly close. Still, I’ll bet any real baseball fan can tell you the closest they came to a ball. Mine was a night game at Yankee Stadium on May, 11th 1979. I know it was at the end of my junior year in college, but I have no recollection who I went to the game with. I do know that I was sitting in the left field bleachers, just a few rows behind outfielder, Lou Piniella. With two California Angels on base in the top of the fourth, Don Baylor lifted a high fly ball in my direction. As Piniella moved back to the wall, dozens of fans and I instinctively stood as one, waiting for the ball to arrive. It landed about four rows behind me. Pretty crazy, right?

I’m not the only one like this. A few years back, I was at a game in the new Marlins Park in Miami with my friend Tyrone. We had good seats in foul territory and spoke of the opportunity to get a ball. Tyrone is tall and could have the opportunity to reach over another fan. Obviously, there are no rules when everyone covets the same thing. Still, Tyrone deludes himself into thinking that he can follow a code. Even crazier is his belief that everyone else should follow the same code. He still insists that if he were in the Bartman seat, he’d have had the discipline to not reach for the ball. Yeah, right.

This came up when a ballhawk took up residence in the walkway in front of our seats. A ballhawk is someone who regularly gets balls using a combination of determination, tenacity, and asshole-like soulless behavior. Tyrone seems to think that one ball is enough. I pointed out that this was not true for any of the other things that we once coveted like cookies, money or sex. After the first time, we just wanted more and still do.

A couple of years later, Tyrone and I were at Fenway Park in Boston sitting in the right field bleachers. During batting practice, I walked up to the wall where pitchers were shagging fly balls. Some of the pitchers would occasionally toss a ball to a fan. This is another legitimate way to obtain a game ball. They were throwing the balls mostly to kids. Tyrone said this fit his code. Then, a kid, about six, handed a ball to his father. Dad asked, “How many is that?” The kid replied, “Four.” At this point, Tyrone figuratively swerved across five lanes of traffic. He wanted to go and beat up the father for not stopping his kid from being a hog. So much for the code.

On this occas20170621_195058ion, I was in Atlanta visiting my friend Carlos for a few days. Carlos’ wife Ines and their three kids were in Spain visiting relatives. He has season tickets to the Braves new stadium which is across the highway from his job and not far from his home in Marietta. We went to parts of five different games in five days, although a deluge at the beginning of the first one caused a long rain delay, and we left before the first pitch. He did take me on a nice tour of the stadium where I got a picture with a statue of Hank Aaron.20170624_181759

On Saturday, Carlos took me to the batting cages to hit several balls before lunch and then the 4:30 Braves game against the Milwaukee Brewers. I was wearing a bright yellow Brewers cap with the old-style logo. I did not wear this due to any allegiance to the Brewers, rather to be provocative to the local Braves fans. Carlos upgraded our seats to spectacular ones in the cutout in foul territory along the left field line. This would be a good place to get a ball. Alas, nothing was hit our way other than a double down the line that was still in play.

20170624_165016At the end of the game, the kids all left the area and a few adults stood to harass the half-dozen Brewer relief pitchers who were walking from the visitor bullpen to the dugout for a ball. A guy tossed one to someone in fair territory and I thought the balls were all gone. Still, I sheepishly lifted my cap to (falsely) show the Brewer pitchers that I was one of them. Meanwhile, Carlos was pointing to me when he shouted, “He’s an old man! Give him a ball!” He followed that with “My father is a cancer survivor!”

Yes, he went that low. You may know from my previous writing that I once went to a Jets game in a wheelchair to get in free. I’ve been trying to make up for that horrid act for the past 35 years. Now I’m back to the fast track to hell. The problem was that I still was hoping for a ball. One pitcher looked right at me, stopped for a moment, took a ball out of his glove, and tossed it across the fifty-or-so feet between us. It took a perfect arc, directly into my eager hands. I caught it like Willie Mays doing a basket catch…and I felt like an excited eight-year-old.

Carlos was laughing hysterically. I reminded him that he was going to Hell for this,20170625_133651 even though I felt it unlikely that any of the players actually heard him. He responded by telling me that he carefully calculated what he had said. He said that it was true that I was an old man, certainly when compared to his forty years. He also reminded me that his father had indeed beaten cancer. He felt that if any of the Brewers misconstrued that he was referring to two separate people, well, that was their problem. I reminded him that he would not be able to bring a lawyer when he meets St. Peter, and that the people in Heaven were particularly good at looking directly into one’s heart.

BarnesAs for the player who threw me the ball, his name is Jacob Barnes. I had not heard of this second-year reliever prior to this moment. I will follow his career from now on. He’s from St. Petersburg and went to Florida Gulf Coast University. He’s right-handed and currently leading the league in games pitched. I will be forever indebted to him and hope he has a nice career.

I suppose the best outcome is that I now have a great story. On the way out of the stadium, I was carrying the ball and a guy came up and asked if I got it at the game. I told him the unvarnished story, and he hung on every word. He offered no judgement other than laughter. When you think about it, is that really such a sin?

 

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Octavia’s Day

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Octavia walks down the stairs of her Hollywood Hills home followed by a fluffy Bichon Frise. She checks her hair in the mirror in the hallway before turning into the kitchen. She’s smartly dressed in a black pencil skirt, a white silk blouse and an animal print shawl.

“Good morning, Lupe,” she says to an Hispanic woman in an apron who stands in front of the sink and next to the open dishwasher.

“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” says the housekeeper, in a mild Spanish accent. “You look nice. No personal trainer today?”

“Unfortunately, he’s still coming. I moved him to this afternoon.”

“You should at least have some breakfast.”

“No time. I’m running out to see my agent and then to USC. I’m giving a talk at the film school. I also will probably stop at the Post Office.”

“I don’t suppose you’re taking El Diablo with you,” says Lupe while jerking her thumb toward the dog.

“No, and it’s Dorothea. The groomer should be here to pick her up at 10:30 so she’ll be out of your hair for a few hours.”

Octavia takes her keys and handbag off of a hook near the door and heads out. Lupe sticks her tongue out at the dog.

*****

Octavia gets into the elevator at the parking garage level at a downtown office building. She pushes the button for the sixteenth floor. Just before the door closes, a man in a suit runs up and sticks his hand in the door causing it to reopen. He gets in and pushes the button marked 12. Octavia can tell that the man is looking at her, something she has gotten used to.

“Would you mind terribly if I asked to get a picture of us together?” he asks. “It’s just that my daughter did a project on you for her third grade class and she’d be so thrilled.”

“Sure, of course,” says Octavia.

The man holds his phone selfie-style, moves in next to her and snaps the picture. “Thank you so much,” he says as the door opens on twelve. As he leaves the elevator, he adds, “She’ll be so inspired that I met you.”

On the way up to sixteen, Octavia wonders what kind of curriculum would have a third grader do a project on an actress.  She exits the elevator and walks into the office of Solomon Berger, her agent since arriving in Hollywood.

“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” says the receptionist. “My, you look wonderful. Mr. Burger is in his office. You’re usual?”

“Good morning and thank you for noticing, Allison. It almost makes the dieting and exercise worthwhile. Fortunately, I can still have a latte, if I use Splenda instead of sugar, but I’m fasting until my weigh-in this afternoon. Thanks for offering, Allison.”

Octavia heads into the office. Solomon Berger is standing at his desk and is holding his arms open. Grinning, he says, “There’s my superstar. Let’s have a hug!”

Octavia strolls past him and sits in one of the client chairs. She puts her bag on the other. “You know what you need to do in order to get a hug, Buster,” she says.

“Sweetheart, the Rosa Parks film is still just a rumor.”

“And Spielberg? I suppose his interest is just a rumor, too? I’m not losing all this weight for nothing.”

“Octavia, you gotta trust Solly. Who got you Millie in The Help, Fruitvale Station and Hidden Figures?”

“I know, I know, but you also got me Car Dogs, Herpes Boy and Bad Santa 2.”

“Look, sweetheart. I promise you that when Spielberg makes a decision, I’ll know it even before Kate Capshaw. I’ll even spread some bad rumors about Viola Davis. With the new figure, you’ll be a shoo-in. By the way, are you sure you’re eating enough?”

“Just never you mind and get me that part. I’ve got to get to my USC gig.”

She gives him a hug on the way out.

*****

Octavia looks at the printed instructions from her email. She’s been to USC several times, but this route is different. She assumes that this particular film class just happens to be in a different building. Maybe the crowd is big enough to require a large lecture hall. “Check that ego, sister,” she says to herself. It’s just as likely that they’re in a seminar room. She fails to notice that this particular building has “Department of Computer Science” in large letters screwed into the brick façade.

She finds the room and enters. It is indeed a large lecture hall filled to capacity and beyond with several students standing along the walls. Her entrance is met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Octavia is both surprised and humbled as she graciously smiles and curtsies.

A young woman steps to the podium and waits for the noise to die down. “It is with great pleasure that I introduce our special guest to the Department of Computer Science students as well as our fellow students from the College of Urban Studies.”

Octavia is surprised to hear that these are not film students.

“Please welcome, Dorothy Vaughan!”

Octavia shoots a look of panic toward her host, who is applauding as vehemently as the students in the crowd. The young woman appears to be crying. Octavia moves to the podium and has another full five minutes of applause to think about what to do next. She realizes that her planned presentation will simply not do. After the students return to a seated position, she begins to speak.

“It is a privilege to address you fine examples of our future. It is as much of a privilege as when I was asked to portray Ms. Vaughan in the film Hidden Figures.”

Again, the crown erupts into applause.

“You know, I was planning to do the Q & A last, but since there are so many of you, I think I’d like to take some questions from the audience.”

Several of the students eagerly begin waving their hands. Octavia picks out the nerdiest-looking female, figuring that she at least looks non-threatening.

“What was it like to work for NASA in the early years of space flight?” asks the young woman.

“Um, good question. While I was able to portray a person from that time, I’m sure that it was quite exciting. Unfortunately, as an actress, I typically have to depend on the writers for most of the emotional motivation.”

The crowd erupts again.

Octavia decides to try a different approach. She chooses a young African-American man wearing a beret and a dashiki. “How about you, sir?”

“As an icon of the struggle against white oppression, can you describe your rise out of Jim Crow Mississippi?”

“Let me get a couple of things straight, young man. I did play a maid in a movie called The Help that was set in Mississippi and I am from the South, but I actually went to Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. Also it was in the late 1980’s and then I received my degree from Auburn University.”

Again the crowd erupts.

Octavia is incredulous. She decides to give it one more try. This time she figures to go down the middle and picks an apparently mixed-race kid with thick glasses. “I have time for one more question. How about this young man on the aisle?”

The young man stands excitedly. “At NASA, you were a pioneer on the IBM 7090, which of course, operated using 50,000 transistors making it six times faster than its predecessor, the 709. With regard to the use of Assembly languages—“

“You all are going to have to excuse me. I just received an urgent message from Dr. Von Braun and Reverend King to save the world,” says Octavia. She turns, picks up her bag and heads out the way she came with the audience applauding the entire time.

*****

Octavia enters the Post Office on Wilcox. The line is short, but not enough to prevent a few furtive glances and whispers. Soon, a short-haired, middle-aged woman  calls out “Next,” and Octavia moves to the counter.

“How may I help you?” asks the woman.

Octavia makes a quick look at the worker’s nametag, something she learned to do after an awkward incident the first time she was recognized in a restaurant.  “Good morning, Angela. I’d like a book of stamps.”

Angela smiles at the personal gesture and adds, “Would you like to see any of our new commemoratives?” Just as suddenly, Angela’s face goes blank as she steps back and points to a sign above promoting the newest stamps.

Octavia casually looks at the sign depicting a new set of Black Heritage Commemorative Stamps. After a beat, her mouth drops open. “What the Hell…?”

All of the stamps represent a black person from the past, but all of the pictures are of Octavia in some sort of costume.

“Angela, is this some sort of Candid Camera type of joke? The six cents is a nice touch. Wait a minute…nobody even knew when I was coming here.”

“I-I never met anybody that was on a stamp before,” says Angela.

“I assume that’s because I think you’ve got to be dead ten tears to get on a stamp. That Harriet Tubman stamp, I played her on Drunk History, for God’s sake!”

“Maybe you look like the real Harriet Tubman,” says Angela.

By now, a crowd has gathered and several people are taking pictures. Octavia is becoming increasingly agitated.

“And I suppose I’m also a dead ringer for Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Vaughan? Who made these stamps? I need to see a supervisor…actually I’d like to see the Postmaster General. And look at these other two…Slave woman? What the hell is that? That picture comes from Snowpiercer. It was a damned Sci-fi movie. What does this last one say? Shit Pie Maid? The character’s name was Minny! I’ll bet they got Aibileen right on Viola Davis’ fucking stamp!”

Suddenly, the room starts spinning and goes dark as Octavia hits the floor.

*****

Octavia wakens to see a man with a headset standing over her.  There is another young man kneeling next to her holding a cup. She hears a man’s voice say, “Come on, step back and give her some air.” An older man with a beard pushes through the crowd and kneels by Octavia’s side. He takes the water cup from the key grip and hands it to Octavia.

“Mr. Spielberg?” croaks out Octavia.

“Please, it’s Steven and please drink this. We can’t have our Rosa Parks falling out of her seat on the bus.”

“Rosa Parks? Where am I?”

“We’re on the set. It’s been a long and intense day of shooting. Can we get some of these lights turned off?”

“I-I must have gone too long without eating…Steven.”

Octavia takes a sip of water, and then shakes her head to regain her focus. The older man suddenly looks younger and no longer has a beard.

“Come on, people.” He says, brusquely. “We’ve got a schedule here and only another hour of daylight. If she can make it, get her back on her mark.”

“Steven?”

“Look, Octavia. I sure as hell ain’t Spielberg or I wouldn’t be directing this piece of crap. You’re on the set of Herpes Boy 2 and if you can’t make it, I’m sure we can always get Viola Davis.”

Flash Cards for Ex-Pats

I recently ran into a friend at a local coffee shop. He was leafing through a stack of index cards with short phrases written on them. When I asked what he was studying, he told me that he was trying to learn Spanish, and had created the cards with the hope of learning enough to allow him to survive in a Latin-American country.

It seems that he had recently spent three weeks in Guatemala to test the waters or living there.

“Why Guatemala?” I asked.

He said that he was so fed up with what was happening in this country that he felt it may be time to leave. I told him that any right-wing “America, love it or leave it” talk was really just that. These are the same ugly people who tell other Americans to “go back where they came from.”

He felt strongly enough to do a fair amount of research on the climate, both weather and political, as well as economics and relative friendliness of other countries. While I, myself am not ready to leave the U. S., his quest did give me an idea for a business venture.

With an ever-growing number of people leaving and/or getting run out of America, why not help the expatriates out a bit? I decided that there is a market for flash cards that would help Americans learn a new language in a way to help them assimilate more smoothly into their new land.

Below are some sample cards in a variety of the countries and languages to give you an idea about my new product.

CANADA

En ce qui me concerne, tout pays qui nous a donné William Shatner est d’accord avec moi.

As far as I’m concerned, any country that gave us William Shatner is okay by me.

Alors, où est-ce que je vais pour les soins médicaux gratuits?

So where do I go for the free medical care?

NEPAL

Tapā’īṁ yāka bhandā an’ya kunai pani māsu bōkna garchan?

Do you carry any meats other than yak?

TAIWAN

Wo yi zhi cheng ren ni de zhu quan

I have always recognized your sovereignty

MONTENEGRO

Žao mi je što je moj vođa gurnuo vašeg premijera

I’m sorry that my leader shoved your Prime Minister

NETHERLANDS

Wacht. De drugs zijn niet vrij? Jij noemt dit gesocialiseerde medicijn?

Wait. The drugs aren’t free? You call this socialized medicine?

ISRAEL

האם מישהו כבר יכול לסרב את מיזוג האוויר כבר?

Could someone maybe turn down the air conditioning already?

NORTH KOREA

Deol michin jidojaleul gajneun geos-i johda.

It’s nice to have a less crazy leader

yeogie gaega eobs-seubnikka? waenyahamyeon naneun gaeege aju alleleugigaiss-eo.

There’s no dog in this is there? Because I’m highly allergic to dog.

ITALY

Non guardarmi. Sostegno l’immigrazione e sono contro il muro, proprio come il tuo ragazzo, il papa

Don’t look at me. I support immigration and am against the wall, just like your boy, the Pope

Nessun oliveto? Non mi aspettavo.

No Olive Garden? I didn’t expect that.

RUSSIAN

Мне совершенно нечего сказать.

I have absolutely nothing to say.

INDIA

to kaheen koee haimbargar nahin?

So no hamburgers anywhere?

tumhen pata hai ki aapako apanee nadee mein bahut saare dookee milee hai.

You know you got a lot of dookie in your river.

JAPAN

Anata no shushō no sei wa Abedesu ka? Watashitachi ni wa sore o nanoru shachō ga itakaradesu.

So your Prime Minister’s last name is Abe? Because we had a president who had that as a first name.

Gojira ga arawareta toki ni keihō nado ga demasu ka?

Do we get an alarm or something when Godzilla shows up?

GREECE

Αστεία ιστορία. Πριν από πέντε χρόνια γελούσα σε σας.

Funny story. Five years ago I was laughing at you people.

SAUDI ARABIA

‘ana ln ‘akadhib. ‘innah harr kama aljahim huna. alhararat aljaffat mukharaty.

I’m not going to lie. It is hot as hell out here. Dry heat my ass.

GERMANY

Ich würde mich freuen, die Hand deines Kanzlers zu schütteln.

I would be happy to shake the hand of your Chancellor.

MEXICO

Tren de las dos maneras móviles ahora, perra

Train’s moving both ways now, bitch.

CHINA

Suǒyǐ zài zhèlǐ, tāmen zhǐshì jiàozuò cāntīng, ér bùshì zhōngguó cānguǎn?

So here, they’re just called restaurants, not Chinese restaurants?

Wǒ méiyǒu tóupiào gěi húndàn

I didn’t vote for the asshole.

FRANCE

Je ne peux que parler pour moi et j’adore Paris.

I can only speak for myself and I love Paris.

AUSTRALIA

Crikey! I don’t think your military is scared, mate.

I don’t think that your military is scared.

HAITI

Seryezman, li vrèman vinn sa ki move.

Seriously, it’s really gotten that bad.

This will help you to decide whether you want to get in on the ground floor of this rapidly growing market. I’ll provided my Kickstarter information at a later date.

 

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