Friday, June 29, 2007

Baseball, Cigars, And Grace

[Note: This was written last night. Thankfully, internet access was restored this afternoon.]

It’s been a hard week for me. A very hard week.

On Monday, I had trouble sleeping. There I was at 4:30 in the morning, plagued by awful dark despair. Bleak and hopeless. It all started when I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed. Maybe it was just the bad lighting in the bathroom, but looking in the mirror it seemed that one of my front teeth was stained with brown.

And me without a dental plan. Or a job. Or a significant relationship. Or a date on Saturday night. Or a future.

I once read that dreaming about losing teeth is dreaming about death. Not just death, but the disappation and loss you suffer leading up to death. And for the next few hours, lying in bed, walking through the still, dark house, sitting out on the porch while dawn broke, that was certainly where my thoughts turned.

Usually when this happens—it’s a rare thing with me, but it does come upon me every once in a while—I manage to find some way to talk myself in off the proverbial ledge. Well I didn’t that night. I finally got to sleep, thinking morbid, self-pitying thoughts about whether it would be more fitting to sit in my jeep closed up in the garage with the engine running, listening to one last playlist on my iPod, or to just hang myself from one of the hooks in the high ceilings of the garage. (Just me being dramatic, I swear! Don’t get all nervous. Like you haven’t been there ever.)

And to be sure, part of this internal monolog centered on hatred of my father. The reason that I’m here, stuck in the Howling Wilderness.

And why am I here? How did I get here?


I’ve known the answer to that question for a while now.

I want my father to love me. And I was so sure that such a profound gesture, giving up my adult life in New York City to move back here and take care of him would win his love.

Well that didn’t happen.

He’s a selfish man. Every train of thought he has starts out with “What about me?” And those thoughts about offing myself out in the garage were all about my rage: “See what you did, Dad? Who’s going to make you dinner and launder your shitty underwear now?”

As I said, the feeling didn’t go away. I just finally drifted off to sleep, at about 8 a.m.
The next day, up at the crack of noon (I hate sleeping late), those phantoms from the night before were much paler, but they hadn’t vanished altogether. This whole week I’ve just felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under me. I was just going through the motions. At Starbucks yesterday, enjoying a cigar and the wonderful hazy-hot-humid afternoon, I tried to read but couldn’t keep my mind on the book, fascinating though it is.

No job. No man. No life.

Tonight at the gym, my workout was a huge effort. After just about every set, I’d ask myself, “What’s the point of this exactly?”

Usually, I’m not working out so late. But there was a thunderstorm brewing, and when I was heading out, my father begged/forbade me to go: “What if the lights go out while you’re not here.”

Power failures are my father’s great obsessive fear.

The obvious answer to that question is, “The same thing that would happen if I was here. You light candles and wait for the power to come back on.”

Whaddya want from me? Climb a ladder and see if everything looks “okay” with the transformer on the utility pole out front?

So I made an early dinner, waited until after Action News decided that the threat was passed, and then went to the gym.

Among the late gym goers is a guy named Ken. Ken looks so good naked. He’s also a homo. Or at least, semi-homo. We’ve talked some, and still nod hello to each other, but our brief conversations made clear to both of us that preferring hims to hers is all we have in common.

But tonight, uncharacteristically, Ken asked me, “How’s softball going?”

My reply was immediate: “Softball is going great! My team leads the division and we’re on a twelve game winning streak.”

And after that, when I managed to squeeze out a set of dumbbell shoulder presses, when the question rose in my mind, “What was the point of this exactly?”, I had an answer: Softball!

Softball is the thing that I still have going for me.

And is it perhaps a coincidence that this Existential Crisis hit me just when I haven’t played for ten whole days and I won’t play again until July 14th? That’s a long time to go without softball.

Truly, softball has sustained me this year, when so many of my other pillars (SM, romance, leather) have failed.

I’ve still got softball.

After my workout, I stopped at Starbucks, then headed home. The night air was cool and fresh from the shower. I gave Faithful Companion a walk, then sat down at the trusty old laptop to check email.

Outside I heard a crack, almost like a rifle shot, or a bullwhip. Then a creaking sound. An error message appeared on the screen: your internet connection has been lost.

“Hey! What happened?” my father called out from the former spare bedroom where he now spends his days and nights smoking cigars and watching television.

Before I even grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate, I knew immediately what happened.

I noticed a few weeks ago that over the wires coming in from the street that bring us our cable television and my internet connection, there were a couple of very large dead limbs of a very big tree. Both of the limbs extended out almost parallel to the ground, right over the juice from our friends at Comcast. I called an arborist to come out and take care of it, since they were both way too high up for me to tackle. The arborist has made a habit of making appointments to come and do the work and then not showing up.

In the front yard is a huge limb—that’ll make great firewood this winter—lying on top of a tangle of cables.

I came back in and gave a report to my father, who was distraught. For him, it’s all about watching television.

Ask the Baron.

Back in May, he came up to have dinner on the night of my father’s birthday. I roasted a chicken, and it was one of my best. (Which is saying a lot. My roast chicken is great.) When dinner was ready, my father came out to the table and after some preliminaries (opening the card, looking at the plate I had prepared for him and asking, “what is this?”), he wanted to turn on the television because that goddamn game show with Howie Mandel and the briefcases was on.

And yes, I’ll admit it gladdened my cold, black heart hugely a little that my father was to be deprived of whatever the hell he was watching. Which in this instance was a Phillies game.

I called Comcast, and they said they’d send out a technician tomorrow afternoon.

“What the hell am I supposed to do until then?” my father demanded to know.

“Read a book,” I said

Not the answer he was hoping for, so he trudged back to the spare bedroom.

Well, I thought, I could read a book. Or watch a movie. I have a nice but small selection of DVDs.


“Dad,” I called back, “Want to watch a movie?”

He came back out to the livingroom, and I explained to him that wonderful modern innovation that is a DVD player.

“What movies do you have?” he asked.

I had already decided what we were going to watch.

A few years ago, I bought my father the deluxe box set of Ken Burns’ documentary, Baseball. I had also bought the collection for myself. My dad got VCR tapes, possibly the last Christmas that video cassettes were sold by Barnes & Noble, and I got DVDs.

Per usual, my father had opened up my gift, asked “What the hell is this?”, listened with half an ear while I explained, set it aside, and promptly forgotten about it.

He settled himself in his chair in the living room and I selected the DVD covering baseball in the 1940s, which was a banner decade for my father. I hit play and we started to take it in.

In one of the introductory segments, a man my father’s age describes how when he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, feeling forlorn and homesick, he was listening to a baseball game on the radio. A sergeant came in and joined him, and the sergeant lit up a cigar. When the guy got a whiff of the cigar smoke, he said, “And then and there, I was transported to the Polo Grounds (home of the New York Giants).”

That got my father’s attention.

“Uh… Do me a favor,” he said, “Run back and get me a cigar.”

Now, that’s actually a pretty big deal.

My stepmother hated my father’s cigar smoking. That’s why he’s consigned to the spare bedroom. I can still hear her, calling from the living room, “Howard! Shut the door! I can smell the stink from your goddamn cigar!”

Clearly, by smoking a cigar in the living room, my father knew he was risking having her ghost rise from the grave and come and carry him off to eternal torment.

“And get one for yourself,” he called to me. (At least he wouldn’t be dragged down to Hell alone.)

When I heard this, something long dormant inside me awakened.

I brought my dad his cigar, and ran out to my car to get one of mine from the portable humidor in my shoulder bag. My father, you see, doesn’t smoke maduros, and I only smoke maduros.

We lit our cigars, and sat watching Ken Burns’ documentary. Joe DiMaggio gets a hit and gets on base in an astonishing 56 straight games. Ted Williams hits .406 for the season.

Before I made that fateful decision in 2003 that brought me back here, when I was just contemplating the possibility, this was the image that arose in my mind: me and my dad, smoking cigars, and watching Ken Burns’ documentary about baseball together.

Way back when I was in college, home one summer, PBS showed a documentary of Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell. My dad and I watched it together. The whole thing. Side by side, in the same chairs we sat in tonight.

My dad and I were very much father and son, sitting there, listening to Joseph Campbell. We didn’t look at each other. Because we each knew the other one was moved to tears, now and then giving out a sob stifling sigh. If you’ve ever sat next to me and watched a movie, any movie, you know exactly what I mean. Not, of course, because I’m/we’re sad, just because what I’m/we’re watching is deeply effecting, and there’s that emotional reaction thing that we Kramer men don’t handle so well.

And cigars.

Back when we were dating, Special Guy described to me how he and his dad would sit out in their backyard in Queens smoking cigars and drinking wine together. I was struck at the time by how foreign that was given my own relationship with my father. But why should that be so? I smoke cigars, my father smokes cigars. Just, not in the same room together.

So that’s how my father and I spent this cable- and internet-free evening. Sitting watching Ken Burns’ Baseball and smoking cigars.

Not saying much to each other.

“I bet when Ted Williams didn’t get a hit he breathed a sigh of relief. Can you imagine that pressure?”

“Good old Brooklyn. I lived three blocks from where Ebbet’s Field stood. It’s apartment houses now.”

Or just, “Wow.”

“Hey! There’s Connie Mack.”

“I thought it was so great how this year, on April 15th, a lot of players all wore Number 42 to commemorate the anniversary of Jackie Robinson taking the field the first time. What a great man he was.”

I will remember this night until the day I die.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is fate not interesting at times?
What a wonderful memory for you to have happen between you and your father. Despite the normal clashing, this is one of those rare finer moments of time to cherish.