Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Streak - 71

Back in his room, Evan drifted off to sleep again and fell into a dream.

They were playing at Yankee Stadium, about to take the field at the start of the game. Evan could not find his glove. He tried one on but it was too small. He scrambled around the dugout now as his teammates jogged onto the grass for the "Star-Spangled Banner." He began to panic. There was a pile of gloves on the bench but as he rummaged through them he found that they were not really gloves. Many were merely heavy scraps of cowhide with no discernible opening nor fingers. Still, Evan hoped to find something suitable among them. As he dug deeper their form deteriorated further. The last few appeared to be wet rags. I have to find some kind of glove, he thought to himself. He rued having previously discarded a perfectly good, albeit small one. It did not occur to him that he might now be able to retrieve it. In the peculiar logic of dreams this was not a possibility, and he knew it without thinking. The longer he waited, the worse his options seemed to get. The anthem drew to an end and he saw his mates taking their positions. He absolutely had to get out there. Suddenly Jim Bosworth stood beside him. "Take that one!" he yelled. Bosworth was pointing at a newspaper hat, resting where the pile of scraps and rags had been. Evan gamely put the hat on his hand. "Not on your fucking hand, you moron!" the manager shouted. "On your fucking head!" Bosworth punctuated Evan's humiliation by smacking him behind the ear. Evan ran out to third base in his paper hat, desperately hoping that Bosworth wouldn't notice his naked hand. Maybe he wouldn't get any balls his way, he thought. "Where's your glove?" Kyle asked. "Right here!" Evan replied, holding up his hand. For some reason he now was sure he wore a glove. Except it wasn't a glove. It was a gun. The first batter hit the first pitch sharply towards Evan. It hopped once, twice. Evan aimed at it carefully, holding the gun in both hands. He squeezed the trigger but the mechanism was spongy and reluctant. He squeezed harder. Harder. No shot. Somehow, the ball had come to a rest at his feet. He reached down to pick it up. It was exceedingly slippery. Every time he thought he had a firm grasp, it slipped out. A phone rang nearby. The opposing team's third base coach handed the receiver to Evan. "It's for you," he said. Evan looked up and found that the coach was Babe Ruth. Fleetingly, he wondered why Ruth worked for the other team. "I can't talk now. I'm busy," Evan said. "It's important," said Babe. "Can't you see I'm busy?" Evan insisted, growing angry, and he awoke to the dreary truth of his surroundings: a hotel room, curtains drawn, the phone on the nightstand ringing.

Evan picked it up. It was Joe.

"Evan, we're ready for you to rendez-vous with the subject."

"Thelxie?"

"Correct. You are to phone her and have her meet you at the earliest."

"Then what do I do?"

"Glean. Names, numbers. Strategies if possible. We need to know who she works for and why."

"I'm supposed to ask her that?"

"No. Let her do the talking. You'll be wired. Matt and I will be sitting nearby. Earpieces in our ears."

"Sure. OK."

Joe gave Evan Thelxie's phone number and some guidelines as to when and where.

"Tomorrow's not going to work, Joe. I'm a starter in the All-Star Game."

"Oh, by the way. You're not."

"I'm not?"

"We've extended your incapacity due to undisclosed personal reasons. We can move mountains, Evan. Mountains have been moved."

"At what point do the reasons have to be disclosed?"

"Depends. The more serious we paint the situation, the deeper it gets, probably never."

"Really?"

"The more strenuously we refuse to disclose, the more the refusal to disclose supplants, in the public imagination, the ostensible personal reasons in the first place. I wrote a thesis about this at Syracuse."

"Wow."

"We gotcher back, Evan. I'll reach out to you again soon."

Evan hung up and immediately dialed Thelxie's number. He made a date with her for later that night in the hotel bar. She seemed happy to hear from him.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Streak - 70

Evan, Kyle and Sug were the only Yankees voted to the Midsummer Classic in this disgraceful year. Kyle, who'd only been named as a reserve anyway, feigned injury as planned. While the papers howled outrage and derision he spirited away to Las Vegas and checked into the high roller's suite at the Hard Rock. Sug and Ev flew into St. Louis on Monday morning in commercial first class, trying to stay under the radar in hats and shades. The Yanks would not play again till Thursday. At least they wouldn't lose until then either.

Maybe it was the unpoliced exposure to the masses. Maybe it was the full psychic weight of all the losses, seizing upon his brain as the distraction of another game to play, another chance at redemption, fell briefly out of reach. Whatever it was, Evan felt exceedingly uneasy. Again he'd been reluctant to cross the threshold of the cabin. He hit up Sug for some Xanax, ordered a gin and tonic, and fell into deep, dark unconsciousness for the duration of the flight.

After they checked into the Four Seasons in St. Lou Evan ordered a gargantuan room service breakfast and slept another couple hours. He was due at the stadium that afternoon for Workout Day, the Home Run Derby, God knows what other fucking bullshit. He woke up and flipped through the channels for awhile. Finally he sat up, sighed, put on his socks and shoes.

As he stood waiting for the elevator, practically all conscious thought seeped out of his mind. A common occurrence these days. However, he found he was still able to dully observe himself in this state, and not without a trace of worry. Strange. Nothing. No thought. Nothing.

Bing! The doors opened and there stood Joe Maines and Matt Gillis. They were immaculate, practically shiny. They stepped out, hands up chest-high as if to contain an angry drunk.

"Evan! Where you headed?" asked Joe.

"Down... stairs?"

"Don't go down there," said Matt.

"Why not?"

"There's a security concern," answered Joe.

"We have reason to believe that the attractive young person of interest with whom you previously interfaced is in the vicinity," added Matt.

"Thelxiepeia Anathematis," Joe declared.

"Jesus, Thelxie?"

Joe and Matt nodded.

"We're going to facilitate your egress when the time comes," said Joe. "And your eventual reentry."

"Your coming and your going."

"It's for your sake, Evan. If there's anything you need that room service won't deliver, call us." Joe handed Evan a card with the Yankees logo and Special Player Relations written below his name.

"Anything at all," Matt said.

"But I have to go to fucking Workout Day."

"Fuck no you don't," Joe stated. "We got you a pass. What did we say, Matt?"

"We said undisclosed personal reasons."

"That's right. We got you a pass on account of undisclosed personal reasons. Nice and vague."

"But the ring of truth," added Matt.

"OK," Evan said, perplexed. "How do you know Thelxie's here, anyway?"

"Oh," Joe replied. "She left you a note."

"At the front desk."

"Do you have the note?"

"The note is currently in our possession, Evan," Joe stated. Then he turned to Matt. "Do you have it or do I have it?"

Matt patted the breasts of his navy blazer.

"You have it."

Joe nodded. The two men turned to Evan and smiled blandly.

"Can I see it?"

Matt turned to his colleague. "Can he see it, Joe?"

Joe frowned in contemplation. Finally he said, "I don't see any reason why not."

Joe reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and handed Evan a folded-up sheet of memo paper. Evan opened it to find a paragraph of lavender text, penned in girlish, backwards-leaning cursive. He read aloud:

Dear Evan,

I'm sorry about the other day. I know you're under a lot of stress. I guess I got upset because it's not every day you have a famous Yankee on your couch.

I'd really like to see you again. I'll make it up to you. And there's a few things I know that I think you should know. You might be in danger, first of all. I know that sounds weird. But it's true. I'll have to explain it to you in person. Trust me, you won't regret it. There's lots of things I know. You'll be glad I told you. Call me.

The message was signed "Thelxie" above her phone number and below a flurry of X's and O's.

Evan looked up at the two men. "So?"

"We've had the note analyzed," said Joe. "By the Office of Technical Services at the CIA–"

"Not the OTS," said Matt. "The TSD. The Technical Services Department."

"It's the same thing, Matt."

Matt shook his head and looked to the floor.

"What did they find out?" asked Evan.

"By their assessment, this note was written by a woman."

A brief silence followed.

"Anything else?"

"Additionally, there is some question as to the credibility of the message itself."

"Ah."

"Yup!"

"So I, uh... I guess I shouldn't see her?"

"Under no circumstances whatsoever."

Matt's eyes widened suddenly. He cupped his hand over his mouth and whispered into his boss's ear. Joe listened attentively, nodding from time to time. Eons seemed to pass. Finally the conference ended as the two men mumbled their assent.

"Evan, would you like to be of service to your country?" Joe asked.

"I... I... sure."

"Well the time may soon come when you are called upon. But for now–"

"Called upon how?"

"We may revisit our injunction against your congress with Ms. Anathematis."

"You want me to see her?"

"We'll be in touch with further instructions, Evan." Joe plucked the note from Evan's fingers, folded it back up and put it back in his jacket. "In the meantime, try to enjoy some television."

Joe and Matt shook Evan's hand and turned around to await the elevator.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Streak - 69

Without Kyle in the two-hole, Bosworth put in a topsy-turvy lineup. What the hell, he seemed to be saying. Except he wasn't saying anything. He did not deliver his customary pregame address, neither pep talk nor rant. He sat quietly in the dugout, not even breathing a word to his right-hand man O'Rourke. When it came time to go to the bullpen he let pitching coach Romeo Silva approach him and ask what he wanted to do. When Romeo named the correct pitcher he gave a curt nod and let the coach get on the phone. No one had heard him utter a word since the last of his garish profanities that morning in the clubhouse. The 13-2 assbeating that his team eventually endured that hot afternoon in Oakland didn't elicit from him so much as a groan. By the time everyone boarded the plane back home there were whispers that something had broken inside his mind.

Evan had worries of his own. As he walked with the others toward the security gate at the airport he found two young arms thrust his way, one clutching a pen and one a ball for him to sign. Evan obliged without thinking. He pulled the cap off the Sharpie and applied the nib to the smooth, white cowhide. And then he froze. He did not know what to write. He glanced briefly into the eyes of the towheaded boy, who reflected the startled fear on Evan's face. Evan looked back down at the ball, now marked by a single black dot where the pen had rested. He knew he had to do something. He knew there was a thing called a signature, and his duty at this very moment was to write his upon this curved surface. But he couldn't.

"Do you want to know my name?" the boy asked helpfully.

Desperately, Evan scribbled a tight patch of lines and loops on the ball. Something that he thought might pass for a signature. God knows if it looked like his. It was incomprehensible – but lots of signatures are, right? His brow sweating, he handed the ball and pen back to the puzzled kid.

On the plane, he tried to put it out of his mind. Stress, depression. Some momentary freakout. Chances were everything'd be OK. He took a sip of ginger ale.

"You think I still have to play the All-Star Game?" Kyle asked, staring out the window.

"On account of being suspended?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah. It's not a Yankee game."

Kyle looked at Evan. "I'm thinking of whadaya call it. Malapropriating."

"Malingering?"

"Yeah, yeah. Malingering. I feel a twitch in the ol' neck coming on."

"I thought you were all about visualizing the future now."

Kyle chuckled darkly. "Right now this motherfucker sees blackjack in his future."

"Vegas?"

Kyle nodded.

"I wish I could join you, bro," Evan said.

"You can."

"How's it gonna look if we both do it?"

Kyle rolled his eyes and turned to look back out the window.

"I guess I do owe you a dollar," Evan said, taking his wallet out of his pocket. He slapped the bill on Kyle's tray table. "Win a hand for me."
As I walked along 14th Street the other day there was a man lying down in a doorway, legs sticking out. He was quietly, slowly convulsing. Back arching, hips thrusting upward. Two men were standing by. Vaguely official-looking men. Doormen, maybe, or security guards. There was no urgency in their movements or demeanors. They seemed to be waiting for something – for an ambulance to come, perhaps. Or cops. They stood guard over the prone body, occasionally glancing at it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Streak - 68

The old man burst out of his office in the visitors' clubhouse and cut right to the center of the floor.

"Boyce! Where the fuck is Boyce?!" he yelled.

Kyle sat on a bench in his socks and underwear. He tentatively raised his hand.

"Stand up, you son of a bitch!"

Kyle did as he was told.

"Your ass is suspended!"

Kyle did a double take, mouthing "Wha?"

"You fucking heard me. Five games."

"Why?!"

"Conduct unbecoming."

"Conduct unbecoming?!"

"Conduct un-fucking-becoming!" Bosworth wiped the spit off his chin onto the shoulder of his uniform.

"Unbecoming what?" protested Kyle.

"You fucked our goddamned shrink!"

Kyle sat back down and shook his head.

"Stand the fuck up!"

Kyle stood again, grudgingly, staring at a spot on the floor.

"Look me in the eye!"

He straightened up and lifted his head. Everybody watching.

"You ain't supposeta fuck her, you're supposeta win a game!"

Kyle closed his eyes and nodded. Taking his medicine now.

"Win. A. Game. For Christ's Jesus sake!"

Kyle shifted his stance as his skipper glared.

"You can't see past your cock to victory? What good are ya? Huh?"

Kyle mouthed "I'm sorry."

"Ya damned right you're sorry!"

The old man leaned away now, apparently satisfied. He scanned the gallery to make sure all were duly impressed.

Cesar raised his hand. Bosworth nodded at him. The catcher cleared his throat.

"Um, now that Kyle done fucked her, do we still have to see the shrink?"

Carlos Nunez, sitting beside him, tried to suppress a burst of laughter. Cesar turned to him imploringly.

"Nah, c'mon man, I was just..."

When they looked up again their manager was gone. Like that, gone. And almost as soon as they noticed, a torrent of profanity erupted from the office accompanied by the booms, bangs and crashes of anything that wasn't nailed down being hurled upon the walls and floor.

Motherfucker!... Goddammit!... Fucking cocksuckers!... Goddamn motherfucking... son of a bitch idiots!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Streak - 67

A maid was in the elevator when Evan got in. Absently, he followed her out. It was not the ground floor. Afraid to seem the fool, he strode purposefully the opposite way, to his right. Just a man getting off the elevator. Going where he's going.

He turned the corner to find a long corridor lined with conference rooms, ballrooms, meeting facilities of various configurations. He was fascinated by these desolate, cloistered spaces, haunted by the petty desires of conventioneers, the long-abandoned strategies of work teams, the delusions of get-rich-quick suckers. They were testaments to emptiness: empty chairs, empty tables, empty credenzas, empty vases. Stark, blank whiteboards. If you listened very closely you could hear a hum.

Evan froze. That half-open door on the right, at the end of the hall. Somehow he knew there were people in there. Couldn't see them. Couldn't hear them. But he knew. He sensed the unmistakable vibration of human presence. His heartbeat quickened. He tiptoed up and had a look.

It was them. It was the group. Tetsu, Kyle, Esteban, Sugar, Marlon, Chris. And their guru – what was his name? They sat cross-legged in a circle, eyes closed, heads bowed; a posture evincing gravity and purpose. And solidarity.

"Aum shanti, shanti, shanti, aum..." they chanted in a droning monotone.

Evan glanced at Kyle's solemn face. There seemed to lurk a stranger behind it now. Or was that who he really was?

He walked away in a daze. He got in the elevator. This time he pushed the letter L for lobby.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Streak - 66

At last Evan snapped upright. It was time to act. To go somewhere. Do something. Anything to vanquish this torpor. He walked into the bathroom, splashed water on his face and looked up at his wide-eyed, wet reflection. He slapped himself twice, hard.

"C'mon Evan," he urged. "C'mon."

 Now, he thought. From now on. Starting now. Ready? Now. Everything's gonna change.

He strode quickly around the room, gathering up his things: wallet, phone, shades. Key. He'd take a nice long walk. That'd be good. Up and down those hilly streets in Bullitt. Steve McQueen. That's right, Steve McQueen. Everything was gonna be all right now. He opened the door.

Matt Gillis was standing there. Feet spread slightly. Hands clasped over his groin. Navy jacket as usual. Khaki pants.

"Joe?!" Evan exclaimed.

"Matt."

"Matt?!"

"Matt. Gillis. Joe's the other guy. Maines. Joe Maines. How are you this evening, Evan?"

Matt had a walkie-talkie on his hip. Every few seconds it emitted a staticky burst of incomprehensible speech.

"I... I'm... I'm fine."

"Were you just now about to exit your room?"

"I... I... uh... I guess."

"Wonderful, wonderful. May I recommend the Remède Spa? It's an exquisite sanctuary for hotel guests seeking to escape reality in the utmost comfort."

"I d–"

"Pamper yourself with a hot stone treatment or a micro-exfoliating pedicure. Male facial?"

"What?!"

"Male facial, Evan. Customized to address the specific skincare needs of men."

"Oh."

"Enjoy a glass of chilled champagne, a selection of artisanal cheeses, or some handmade truffles while you wait."

Matt's walkie-talkie went off again.

"Don't you need to get that?" asked Evan.

Matt rolled his eyes. "Blah blah blah. Chatter chatter chatter. Where was I?"

"Truffles."

"Hungry? ame restaurant combines fresh, local ingredients with a touch of Japanese know-how to create a casual yet elegant New American dining experience."

"I was just going to–"

"Exit the premises? Under no circumstances whatsoever."

Ksssssshhhhhh went the walkie-talkie.

"Still?"

"The heat is on, Evan. It's on the street."

"Terrorists?"

"We get the updated reports. Believe me, if you knew what we knew."

Evan sighed in exasperation. "I'm gonna go down to the bar."

"Don't hesitate to avail yourself of the twenty-four hour room service. Also the butler service. Laundry, pressing, wake up calls. Packing. Unpacking. Allow me."

"Allow you what?"

"No, no, Allow me. It's the motto of the St. Regis butler service."

Evan, defeated, stared dully at his overseer. The scrupulous guard of his gilded cage.

"We can also call you a hooker," Matt added brightly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Streak - 65

Evan called Kyle's room, no answer. Same with his cell. He called Brendan next.

"Whatcha doin'? Get a drink?"

"I'm beat, man. I'm gonna stay in."

"Awright."

He lay flat on his back for a few minutes and wondered what to do. He contemplated doing absolutely nothing. He imagined what it'd be like if he lay there, just like that, and never moved. Didn't answer the phone. Didn't answer the door.

The first call would come in at about 10:15 when he didn't show up for the bus. Then the ringing would quickly become more frequent. As it grew clear that something was amiss, his teammates would be grilled as to his whereabouts the previous night. His demeanor. An assistant coach would soon be dispatched to bang on the door, accompanied by a few players. The rapping would be punctuated by urgent, muffled shouts: Yo! Evan! Open up! Eventually the hotel manager would provide a key and a small mob would burst into his room to discover him lying placidly, fully clothed, eyes wide open.

What's wrong? What are you doing? they'd ask. Nothing. Nothing's wrong. They'd stand in puzzled silence. You're late. Gotta get over to the stadium, Ev. He'd just look up at them, stonefaced. More perplexed waiting. Come on, one-seven. Get up! What the hell's wrong with you? He'd shake his head. They'd ask him stuff; he'd say No. Nothing. I don't know. As his teammates cajoled and negotiated, the coach would stand aside and place a call to Bosworth:

"He won't get up."

"No... Yeah... Won't get up, I said. That's right."

"He doesn't really look hung over. I don't –"

"I know. I dunno. I dunno. He's not sayin' much."

"OK, I'll ask him–"

"I'm not gonna ask him that."

"OK."

The coach would then place his phone against his chest, temporarily quieting the staticky torrent of profane vitriol blaring from its speaker, and turn toward the bed.

"Evan, Skip would like to know why you aren't prepared to play baseball today."

Evan would blink and shrug. Not say a word. The coach would sigh and warily place the phone back to his ear.

"He's not sayin' nothin'."

"OK. Yup."

He'd snap the phone back shut and brusquely usher everyone out of the room. Maybe without even a glance at Evan, a dead man now. They'd all file noisily down the hall. Maybe a teammate would pause before closing the door behind him; maybe Sug or Kyle or Brendan. Look at him one last time. Think about one more thing to say. But not say it. It's always easier not to say it.

Evan forced himself out of his reverie, disgusted by his narcissism and self-pity. He looked at the clock. It was 7:47.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Streak - 64

Again Evan performed well on Saturday afternoon; again his efforts proved futile. Starter Tetsu Fukuda, an offseason pickup from the Hanshin Tigers, got clobbered early. He and his interpreter, Kazuo, stood before a small throng of reporters as the others shuffled grimly about the clubhouse. After each question they would converse at length in Japanese, whereupon Kazuo would smile and respond tersely, sometimes monosyllabically: Yes. Good. I don't know. Maybe. Ask the manager.

Evan and Esteban sat watching in their skivvies.

"You ever hang out with Tetsu?" asked Evan.

Esteban's eyes widened. "We libbed together in Spring training."

"No kidding."

Esteban shook his head and chuckled.

"What's so funny?"

"He got a lot of pornography, my frien'."

"No shit?"

"A lot!" Esteban spread his arms as wide as they would go.

"I'll be goddamned," said Evan, peering at the pitcher with renewed interest. He turned again to his neighbor. "What type of porn?"

"Ropes. Cuero. Leather. And what you call?" Esteban made two fists and mimed them shackled.

"Handcuffs?"

"."

"He in the group too."

"The group? What group?"

"Kyle no tell you about the group?"

"The fuck are you talking about?"

"We get together tonight. We gonna meditate."

"You mean with that fucking spiritual guidance counselor?"

Esteban nodded.

"Who's going?"

Esteban enumerated on his fingers. "Me, Kyle, Tetsu. Chrees. Sugar–"

"Sug?!"

"Sí, Sug. Y Marlon."

"Where?"

"Een the hotel. You should come too, Eb–"

Evan put his hand up. "Don't even try, amigo."

Esteban rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Eet's your funeral, Eban."

Evan sat for a moment wondering what was becoming of the world. His world. Then he stood up and stepped into his pants.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Streak - 63

Evan's newfound facility was not limited to defense. He went two-for-four at the plate, with a double and two RBI. In fact the Yankees nearly won that game. They were up in the fifth, 3-2. Things began to unravel when Marlon Hines entered in the sixth. Overworked and despondent, he served up wishful, tentative fastballs that hung like ripe fruit on the vine. With the Yanks down by five in the eighth, rookie Pedro Trujillo came in to mop up. Final score: A's 8, Yankees 4.

After they got back across the Bay to the St. Regis, Evan, Kyle, Sug and Brendan gathered in the lobby bar.

"Japanese," declared Sug.

"Japanese what?" said Kyle.

"S'all Japanese up in here," Sug explained, indicating the hushed and elegant surroundings with a sweep of his hand.

"It ain't Japanese," Brendan asserted, taking a sip of his martini. "It's Scandinavian."

"How can you tell?" asked Kyle.

"The particular grain of the wood. The darkness. The fact that shit's on fire."

A band of blue flame ran along the center of the partition between the lounge and the lobby.

Sug made a face. "Fuck that, it's Japanese."

"I'm inclined to agree with Sug," said Evan.

"How many bars like this have you been to?" Brendan asked reproachfully. "Five hundred thousand? Seven hundred thousand? You should know Scandinavian from Japanese."

"Where the fuck is Scandinavia anyway?" inquired Kyle.

"Nordic," said Brendan. "It's Nordic."

"Nordic motherfucker. Suck my dick, more like it," taunted Sug.

They sipped in silence for awhile.

"Thirty," Kyle said.

"Thirty in a row, boys," added Brendan. "We made it, hurray!" he mock-cheered, raising his glass in a ludicrous toast. The other fellas eyed him mirthlessly.

"Aight, I'll drink alone."

"By the way, do I owe you a drink?" Evan asked Kyle.

"Hmm?"

"Didja win your bet?"

"What?"

"Didja fuck her? You have until tomorrow, when we resume our winning ways."

"Oh, yeah. No," Kyle muttered distractedly.

"Did you even try?"

"Nah, nah, didn't go see her yet."

"Anyone talk to that other motherfucker?" asked Sug.

"Spirit in the sky motherfucker? No way," said Brendan.

Kyle shifted uneasily.

"You?" asked Evan.

"Yeah, yeah, I talked to him. Wasn't that bad."

Sug emitted a guffaw.

"Nah man, I'm serious. You should check it out."

"What you all talk about?"

"I don't know, man," Kyle said defensively. "Hard to explain."

"Come on!"

"Yeah come on, two-eight," urged Evan. "Spit it out."

Kyle squinted somberly at his friend.

"Oh my God. You fucked him. You said you were going to fuck her, you fucked him instead!"

Sug laughed and a burst of cucumber-infused vodka erupted from his mouth and dribbled down his chin. He wiped it with his cuff.

"Fuck off," Kyle said. "The guy has... a point."

"A point?" asked Evan.

"He says we can achieve what we want if we try. That's all."

"Who the fuck is he, Mother Goose?"

Kyle sighed. "Trust me, there's something to it. There's a program of –"

"Oh no."

"Of meditation," Kyle said, slapping the table. "Motherfuckers need to open your minds."

Everyone gazed at Kyle.

"And have you... embarked on this program?" Evan asked.

Kyle slurped his Makers and Coke.

"Oh no. Christ. Kyle."

"You guys wanna lose another thirty games, fine by me."

"Don't go wandering down this path."

"I believe in bettering myself. I believe in something."

"Are we gonna have to go looking for you?"

"We gonna read about you in the papers?" asked Sug.

"Drinkin' Kool-Aid?"

"Climbing on a spaceship," added Sug.

Kyle just shook his head and waited for the heat to stop.

"I'm hungry," said Brendan finally. "Let's fuckin' order something."


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Streak - 62

Fact is, Evan had checked out a bit during his session with Alexa. Trumped her psychobabble with a head game of his own. Not defiantly – the way some of the other players no doubt would – but just because he could. He did it. There. He plunged himself into a trance. Not the sort of relaxed attentiveness or serene alertness or whatever it was the shrink was espousing. Just... just... just... nothing.

It felt good to inhabit this state. It felt safe. There were no more facts and figures, no more stats, no more buses and planes. No more boos and jeers. No more ex-wife, no more son. No more friends or foes. No more people. No more streak.

If he stayed in long enough he reached a point where even the most mundane realities began to blur and slip away. He had to wrench himself back into the cold and unforgiving world just to remember his own name: Evan. Benjaminson. Evan Benjaminson.

On the field on Friday night against the A's, he discovered that his new ability had an unexpected side effect: he could play third base. He emptied his mind and stood there like a moron – that was his last coherent thought: I'm standing here like a moron. When the ball was struck his way he gave himself completely, unquestioningly, to some willful agent that seemed to reside outside of him and yet had authority over his body. It was as though his motions were determined not by him but by everything that wasn't him, as though the universe provided a corridor in space and time through which only he could move and he could only move.

Bang! Out. Bang! Bang! Double play. Evan was playing baseball at a deep, low level; just about the level of abstraction. The ball was a formality. The word baseball did not exist. He was nearing the mystical essence of the game: the shadow game, the shadow made plain, the shadow when you take the light away.

Evan clambered down the dugout steps and sat numbly on the bench.

"Lookin' good out there," said Pat O'Rourke, eyes uncharacteristically wide.

"What?" said Evan.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Streak - 61

"Be here now," the woman was saying. What was her name? She stared into Evan's eyes in a kindly manner. It would not do to have forgotten her name. And yet he had. All he could think about her was that his friend wanted to fuck her. What was his name? Kyle.

"Be here now," he repeated.

He was taking batting practice before the last game with the Twins. He gazed up at the quilted ceiling of the Metrodome and wondered if he'd remember that very moment all his life.

He was flat on his back, hung over. Naked. God knows what o'clock. Covered in sweat. Sheet and blanket tangled by his feet. Must've turned off the AC. On the nightstand there was a tumbler full of scotch, pale from the melted cubes. Beside it lay a crystal-cut bowl containing the soupy remains of a garish, all-American banana split. Nuts, cream, cherry, the works. He must have ordered this fucking thing and taken a bite or two before passing out. He took a big thirsty gulp of the watery whisky. Must have been some kinda night. Must have. Martha Stewart's lulling, teacherly voice mocked the sorry scene from the foot of his bed.

"Be here now," he thought.

He was on the phone with his son.

"You're not my dad."

"Ryan, Ryan. Buddy."

"You're not my dad!"

"Don't you say that to me."

"You're not!" Ryan shouted, breaking into tears.

"Ryan, listen to me. Don't you ever say that to me again."

Convulsed sobbing on the other end.

"Calm down, kiddo. When I get home we're going to –"

His son's cries intensified. "I don't wanna!"

Evan waited mutely, nearly overcome with frustration.

"I don't wanna see you!"

"OK Ryan. OK."

"I want my real daddy!"

"What?" Evan said sharply. Even in his anger this gave him a start.

"My real daddy!" the boy wailed.

"Who's your real daddy?" Evan inquired suspiciously.

"Evan Benjaminson!"

For this he had no reply.

He was boarding the charter with the guys. Going to Oakland now. Was that right? Oakland. What? A's. He settled into a seat and peered out at the other gated planes, NWA Delta United Southwest. They pushed off. The subtle breaking into motion. Almost imperceptible but for the shifting scenery. He took some odd, meager pleasure in scrutinizing the minutest elements of the taxiway. The little bright blue lights. Lit-up signs that said things like: NF 22B. CR 41T. It gave him comfort to know this all meant something and he could not possibly ever know what that was.

Be here now.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Sunset

It was hard to tell at first. Some thought they could. Others shook their heads. No one wanted to believe it.

It's happening right now. Look. Look!

No. No way.

Look again!

Really? That's impossible!

Cars stopped all along the streets. People emerged from restaurants, laundromats and drugstores to crowd the sidewalks and parking lots. Soon everyone was squinting at the sun. It could not be denied. The sky was growing darker.

Awed silence gave way to wails and exclamations.

No. No! No!

Where's it going?

It's getting smaller!

What are we gonna do?


Soon a great crimson band stretched over the horizon. Once-bright clouds hung before it in ashen patches.

"It's going to come back!" someone asserted. "It has to come back!"

"It's coming back!" someone else cried hopefully.

"It's coming back!" others repeated. "It's coming back!"

Yet it did not. In fact it was becoming difficult to see. Familiar objects – trees, trashcans, mailboxes, entire buildings – were drawn into the shadows. It seemed as though the world itself were receding with the sun.

People scrambled chaotically. A man got into his car and drove the wrong way with his door still open. Others smashed into parked cars, fire hydrants, the sides of houses. A cacophony of horns and shouts beat against the encroaching gloom.

Those who made it home huddled in terror with their families, on a couch or under covers. The most intrepid among them tiptoed to the window from time to time. What they saw out there confirmed their deepest dread. It was black as ink.

Many others were lost. They wandered the roads, the fields, the woods. If they chanced upon each other they started with fright; some ran away and some attacked, screaming and clawing madly. Some collapsed into each other's arms and fell to the ground, sobbing inconsolably.

Still others gathered around bonfires and threw in everything they could. They broke into spontaneous chants and dances, guzzled looted booze and fornicated violently, indiscriminately. What else are you supposed to do when you're forsaken by the sun?

When it seemed that hope was forever lost, that damnation was complete, a remarkable thing occurred. The faintest, palest glow emanated from a corner of the sky. The people were benumbed by fear, exhausted by their desperate exertions. Could they trust their senses? Slowly, warily, they arose from where they lay, stepped out of their homes, turned bleary eyes away from the smoldering embers of their fires.

They looked around them. Everything they'd once known emerged anew; raw, frail, wet with dew.

Was it the same world as before?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 16

Dinner was silent, though not solemn. Forks and plates clinked. We passed the blue-flowered Pyrex casseroles, butter, salt and dinner rolls with practiced efficiency and muttered courtesies. It was all about eating. Nobody cared about anything else.

When it was over sis and I dutifully cleared the table and scraped our scraps into the sink. I was old enough to switch on the garbage disposal and it still gave me a thrill. The momentary choke. Then the sucking pulverization of our refuse as it vanished into the unseen underworld, perhaps to feed some ever-hungry beast.

We scooped Sealtest Heavenly Hash ice cream into bowls and drizzled fanciful patterns of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup on top. Mom and Dad hovered patiently, waiting to mix another round of drinks.

As dusk gave way to night we went down to the rec room to settle into our habitual spots, our unspoken assignments from time immemorial: sis and me on the beanbag chair, Mom and Dad on the couch. Left-right, left-right. Dad turned on the TV. After a few commercials the title came up on the screen, in orange letters and quotation marks over an aerial shot of a five-lane asphalt highway cooking in the California sun:

"CHiPs"


Monday, March 01, 2010

The Streak - 60

Evan spent the better part of the game in a trance, doing his best to do what Pat said: to hear. He imagined sound waves passing into his ears, setting his membranes faintly aquiver and registering neutrally in the depths of his brain. Don't listen. Don't think. Hear. He went three-for-four in a losing campaign.

On the field it was a different story. First few plays went all right. Bat, ball, glove, hand. He was moving good, like a machine; in fact, he noticed himself moving the way he should be moving. And that's when he became terrified again.

In the sixth inning he fielded a ball with two outs, first and third. The play was to first. He had plenty of time. But he left the ball inside the glove. Didn't even reach in. Just left it there. As the runner scored he straightened up and trotted miserably across the infield in a bearing of acute disgrace. The ball sat hotly in his web, mocking him, shaming him. Delighted jeers erupted from the stands. Evan glanced at the dugout and saw Bosworth apoplectic.

Kyle came over. "The fuck is wrong with you?"

"I don't know," Evan replied grimly. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."

Kyle gave him a spooky look.

"We're playing some baseball out here, man."

"Got it. Got it, got it, got it, got it."

Kyle smacked his glove on Evan's ass and jogged away. Even from the back Evan could tell his friend was shaking his head.