Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Streak - 98

You wake up and it’s dark and your legs hurt and your back hurts. Now why is that? You’re in the back of a fucking car in the middle of the night. That’s right. And there’s this situation going on. What did they call it? A procedure? An operation.

The car’s not moving though. One of the guys is snoring in the passenger seat; the other guy is gone. Where fuck are we?

You feel an urge to get out. Door’s locked. Other door’s locked. But you can work the controls on the driver’s side armrest, you’re pretty sure. You lean between the seats and reach for them, careful not to touch whatshisname, Joe, Matt, whoever, and press buttons until you hear that happy little sound: chup! The latch releasing. Door’s open now. You get out. The night air is hot and dry.

Inside the building there’s a diner and a store, each lit mercilessly with high, fluorescent lights under which a few patrons and workers struggle to survive. You wander into the diner, avoiding eye contact, trying not to be seen. Are you hungry? Maybe you’re hungry. There’s a pile of onions browning on the griddle and shouldn’t there be a smell associated? You watch the cook turning them and you can hear them sizzle. You can hear the tapping of the spatula. You’d think there was a smell of onions, a delicious smell. You try to remember what the smell should be. A little bit sweet? Smoky, prickly? Sullen? Bent? A little desperate? What are the words you’re supposed to use to describe a smell, even? You don’t know anymore. Is that why nothing’s coming up your nose? You know if you could smell right now you’d remember something—smell and memory go together, they say—like Mom in the kitchen cooking liver and onions, which you hated; she knew you hated it and it seemed like she cooked it just to spite you. Is it possible your mother, who loved you the best—she always did say so, and the others didn’t let you forget it—hated you all along? Is that what love was? Hate? Now you get that thing they talk about, a chill. A chill down your spine. That part of your physiology seems to work just fine.

Why can’t the memory be nice? Onions. Onions and peppers on a sausage, from a cart outside Fenway with Dad before he got sick, in what could it have been, nineteen-ninety-something. That’s right, you were born and raised a Red Sox fan and you came up a Red Sock, dream come true, and one thing led to another and here you are a Yankee. Your team is your blood and the guys are your brothers, that’s the law, no question, no matter where you come from. But they sure did give you shit when you first appeared in Boston in your navy trim. They yelled faggot the whole time you first walked to the circle. Faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot. Other things, too. I swear to God I’m gonna kick your ass, you faggot, Benjaminson. And this one: Benjamin Arnold! But mostly, they called you this: faggot.

There’s a mysterious authority fans have when they boo and jeer. Even when they’re drunk and stupid. Especially when they’re drunk and stupid. What is it, exactly? Somehow, they yell the vilest insults with absolute, emphatic certainty. The cruder it is, the more ridiculous even—somehow, the more true it seems. These are people, some of them—well, maybe they never have a moment of uncontested authority in their entire, shitty little lives. Their mothers and fathers and teachers and wives and bosses have been breaking their balls for thirty or forty goddamned years. Stand up, sit down, shut up. I said shut up! Eat, sleep, get up, get dressed, go to work, behave yourself, be on time, go the fuck back home. Tonight you get to fuck me. Tomorrow night you don’t. And now look at you. Look at them look at you. All preening and pretty in your uniform. A fictional being, popping off the pages of the most glorious story in America. You live inside a book; you write a chapter with your bat. They can’t even write the story of their lives. They can only howl in the margins of yours.

Is it that they know you don’t live like them, that you don’t eat shit like they do? It can’t be that simple. Can it? Some of these people are movers and shakers, alpha personalities, success stories. They may be plumbers or account executives or train conductors but they’re not losers. Not all of them, at least. In fact, what does it say about you that you so readily gravitated to that characterization? You’ve got another chill now. Don’t you?

Yet there they are in the trash-strewn stands and there you are on the immaculate grass. There’s no special rhyme or reason to it, really, but you’re on the other side of some divide and the only privilege they have compared to you, the only authority they have over you, is to scream at you what a faggot you are, spittle erupting out their mouths and down their chins. You gotta hand it to them on some level. They’re right. You may be the writer but they’re the reader.

And they’re right about you. The straight faggot. That’s what you were. That’s what you are. What is it about that word?

Whereas there’s dignity in being a homosexual—in asserting who you are, casting off shame, deflecting sticks and stones, and names; knowing what you want and how to get it—there’s no end to the dishonor in your heterosexual faggotry. You never stood up and made decisions. You never thought about what you cared about. You barely worked—not hard enough, not as hard as you could. It all came so easy for you; seeing the ball, hitting the ball, seeing the ball, hitting the ball. Getting laid. Hitting the ball. Did you study the game? This beautiful, mysterious game? Did you examine your weaknesses? Did you strive at all times to improve? Did you reach deep down inside? Did you prostrate yourself before God, or some god, or something, in complete humility, offering yourself in every way so as to better serve Him, or Her, or It; or to become a more perfect being; or to know something, even the slightest fucking thing, the light, the something, whatever the fuck? No. You trained lazily, reluctantly, and you took the fucking andro, the ‘roids, the cortisone, the vikes, and you fucking jerked off into a puddle on the floor. You were born with a silver bat up your ass, you lucky cunt. Talented, muscular. Lightning reaction time. You should have respected your gift but you took it all for granted. You traded your glorious, athletic self to Satan for coke and blowjobs, in increments too small to notice at first but look at you now. You’re not a ballplayer. You’re not a husband to your wife. Not a father to your son. Faggot. Straight faggot.

Can you hate yourself so much you disappear? Maybe you could slip back across that divide, become a short-order cook at a truckstop diner in the Nevada desert, never talk about baseball again, or at least not for a good long time, until inevitably someone comes looking for you, someone from the papers, like they used to say; someone who persists despite your resolute denials, and then he breaks you, catches you in a weak moment, says something about your son, probably, and finally he writes an article about you, and then a book, which becomes a movie, a great one, leaving people weeping in their seats. Is that what you want? It is what you want, isn’t it? Even in your deepest fantasy of worthlessness you wind up king of the hill.

You touch your nose. It’s still rubbery and sore. From what? You took a good beating, remember? From who? From your double. From Evan Benjaminson, ha. From who? From you. Isn’t that right? You get a cold, dark feeling, a feeling you’ve had before but never this strong. The relentless truth finally catching up to you. That was you. That—he—you—who roughed you up in St. Louis. That was for a reason. He can be you now. You can be someone else. Better yet—you can be no one. A short-order cook. A stock boy at the truckstop store. A spectator. That seems to be the only way out. A perfect way out, really. So elegant. Except for one thing: your double’s about to die.

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