Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Streak - 17

Exiting the players' exit used to be a happy rite. A brief, barricaded parade between cheering throngs; an opportunity to grandly sign an autograph or two before vanishing into the anonymity of a tinted-window Town Car. Yet since about week three of the streak it had become a daunting gauntlet of drunk, enraged fans; of tortured souls seeking some catharsis in the heaping of rage upon tormentors. Evan paused briefly inside the door. A grave, young cop named Maurice held a crackling walkie-talkie in his left hand and the exit bar in his right.

"Sir?"

"Just a second Maurice. OK."

Maurice pushed the bar down and opened the door while leaning back a little, a posture that was meant to signal deference but that seemed to say: I ain't goin' out there. Immediately, Evan was bathing in a raucous clamor. The car beckoned from across the abyss, Jimmy the driver holding the back door open with a black-gloved hand. Some words could be discerned among the boos:

"Fuck you!"

"Fuck you, Evan!"

"Asshole!"

"Fucking loser!"

"Loser!"

"Fucking asshole!"

"Fuck you, Evan!"

"Fuck you!"

Evan put on an expression of stoic acceptance and placed one foot before the other. There was an art to times like these. You couldn't appear to be a dick about it. That would make it worse. You had to look a little like a kid who knows the medicine is coming. That meant looking down, but not too far. Acknowledging the crowd with a fleeting sweep of mildly contrite eye contact. Clenching your jaw and pursing your lips a bit to indicate modest and mute resolve. Don't overdo it. And most of all, keep walking.

"Thanks Jimmy."

"You're welcome, sir," said Jimmy. That was what he always said. Evan was grateful for Jimmy's almost comical disregard for the din of profane hectoring that hounded him into the car. There were certain things you could count on.

Jimmy closed the door and Evan stretched out in the pine-fresh cool of the backseat for a blissful moment. Then his pants vibrated. He knew exactly who it was.

"Denise?"

"Hi Evan. Sorry you lost."

"Right, right, right. Thanks."

"Did you hear about the crash?"

"I saw the smoke and then I saw it on TV. What are they saying about it?"

"Uh, it was a plane, there's no survivors. They have ruled out terrorism. Or maybe they have not ruled out terrorism. I forget. The rescue operation's underway."

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why? Why what?"

"Why is a rescue operation underway?"

"This is what they fucking do when there's a crash, Evan. Christ."

"But you said there's no survivors."

"I don't know. Maybe they have to rescue the streets and buildings and shit. Christ, Evan, what do I know? Why do you have to be an asshole about everything?"

"Sorry, never mind. Is Ryan there?"

"Of course he's here. He's been waiting to talk to you. He's a little upset today."

After every day game Evan spoke to his seven-year-old son.

"Daddy?"

"Hi Ryan, how's it goin'?"

"Good."

"Are you crying?"

"No," Ryan sobbed. The word "crying" seemed to intensify the flow of tears.

"Aw, Ryan. Why are you crying?"

"Because you lost and you hit into a triple play!" Ryan said chokingly, betraying a trace of reproach.

"I know, I know. I know. Hey, it's tough. Sometimes bad things happen. The next day you have to try even harder, right?"

"But you haven't won a game in forever!" Ryan wailed.

"I know, Ryan. The game is tough, you know?" Evan felt himself grow irritated. Reasoning with a seven-year-old about something unreasonable in the first place was a double pain in the ass.

"But Daddy! When are you gonna win? When are you gonna win, Daddy?"

Evan sighed and tried to keep his temper. "Ryan, Daddy's trying real, real hard. I promise we'll win again but sometimes you have to be patient. OK?"

Silence.

"Ryan, speak up."

Silence.

"Ryan, Daddy loves..."

"It's me," said Denise, brusquely.

"Alright. I hope he's OK."

"It'd help if you didn't lose a thousand games in a row."

"Jesus, I have to fucking hear it from you?"

Denise sighed. "Never mind. It's just tough on this side of the world, you know what I mean?"

"Did you get the check?"

"Yup, got the check. Thanks. When are you gonna pick up Ryan next?"

"We have a West Coast road trip. Then it's the All-Star Game. After that."

"OK. Try not to get syphilis."

"Very funny. Bye."

Evan hung up as the car crossed the Madison Avenue Bridge. He looked out the windshield and wondered what the future was.


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