Sunday, February 23, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Fourteen: Hired

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 David crosses the street at the Texaco station. The station is a notable site. On July 4, 2000, a local kid, Chris Kinison, spent his holiday waving a Confederate flag and threatening minorities. One of his targets was Minh Hong, a Vietnamese kid from Seattle who was so terrified by Kinison’s taunts and throat-slashing gestures that he stole two paring knives from the Texaco convenience store. When Kinison attacked Minh’s twin brother, Minh jumped in to defend him and ended up stabbing Kinison to death. Minh was tried for manslaughter, but freed when a hung jury voted 11-1 for acquittal.
Ocean Shores is 90 percent white, but racism isn’t generally an issue. The bigger danger is boredom. Kinison’s friends claimed that the flag and the racial taunts were just a ruse for picking fights, and David wouldn’t be surprised if that were at least partly true. Still, his Darwinian side finds a morbid satisfaction in the result. It’s a nice switch from the usual scenario, in which perfectly good people are wiped from the earth while the assholes, like cockroaches, live on. The loss of Randy will stick in his craw for the rest of his life.
This is not a good frame of mind, he thinks, but he supposes he might be forgiven for feeling surly. Every recently graduated teen in Washington came to the store today, and each one brought friends and family. Being a history teacher, his mind strayed often to Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull and his high school graduates were pissed off by the long wait. And, of course, determined to take their sweet time once they reached the counter. A couple of them maintained cell-phone conversations all the way through the transaction. Too many screaming children, too many shouting parents, and no time to bus tables, which piled higher and higher with sticky refuse.
At closing time, he fell prey to a joke he used to tell at parties: “I’m self-employed, but my boss is a bastard.” With a dozen people still on line at eight o’clock, he kept serving – because he also kept the books, and he knew they needed every cent. Which is why he’s walking home at eleven, past the long, dark stretches of the golf course. Feeling bitter, feeling trapped.
When he gets home, he hears the chimey, harpy soundtrack for World of Warcraft and finds Derek at the keyboard, doing battle with a beastly red-haired mountain man. He pauses the action to spoon something from a bowl.
“Oh God. Is that ice cream?”
Derek laughs and swallows. “Sorry, Dad. Long day?”
“The longest. Thanks to you and your… literary genius.”
“Really? The poem? Is that why Mom’s been home all day?”
“Well, yes.”
Derek shifts quickly to defense. “But you always said, you know, the First Amendment…”
“Yes, free speech. But speech has repercussions. Didn’t you think calling your mother a whale might hurt her feelings?”
“It’s an Orca, Dad.”
“Don’t get technical on me. Dammit!” The day is grating on him, bringing him to a boil. He waves a hand, as if he’s requesting a do-over. “Yes, I know about the Orca. The dazzling black-and-white Orca. I cared enough to get an interpretation from Ab… from Ms. Sparling. But right now I’m running the damn shop by myself and your mother is depressed and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about it so thank you very much for ‘keepin’ it real.’”
Derek jumps from his chair, knocking it over. He’s trying to be demonstrative but he’s not very good at it, wagging his hand like he’s dribbling a red-hot basketball.
“You think it’s easy being this smart? I can see all this stuff about to hit this family. I see Mom ballooning up, I see this… gap between you. And… And I’ve got all these friends with divorced parents, and every single one of them is totally fucked up. I don’t want to be like that, I’m weird enough already.”
Crying male teenagers are a puzzle. Let them cry? Hug them like they’re six? David tries something new. He straightens up the chair, asks Derek to sit down and kneels next to him.
“Listen. Son. The poem is brilliant. I’m shocked that some kid with my DNA can write something like that. It’s also dead-on, and I feel like a complete chickenshit for not telling your mother that she’s got a problem. If anything, for the sake of her health. But you have this habit of being right all the time, and as you have probably figured out, people find that to be irritating. Pick your spots, be gentle with us. You are surrounded by a world of fuckups.”
Derek produces a chuckle – a good sign. David continues.
“The other thing is, I think you underestimate how much I love your mother, and how much she loves me. That thing about ‘Til death do us part’? It might sound outlandish, but I actually meant that. And I’m not going to let a little blubber get in the way.”
“A lot of blubber.”
“Yes. Your mother’s an Orca. And what else do they call Orcas?”
“Killer whales.”
“Yes. Sharp teeth. An appetite for seals and second-born children.”
Derek laughs; the tears have dried up. “Is there… Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Sure. Drop in tomorrow about five. Bus a few tables. Watch the register, so I can take a pee break.”
“What you really need is a professional.”
The voice is baritone. The speaker is a big-nosed blond kid who appears to have shaved and put on some clean clothes.
David smiles. “You are so hired.”

Photo by MJV

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