Thursday, March 13, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Thirty-One: Her Uncle's Niece

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Number Four: Arc du Triomphe
A scale model in concrete, including some remarkable reproductions of the major friezes. Six feet high, placed on concrete pads that leave a center gap two feet across. It appears that the player needs to split this gap to get to the green, or be rebuffed when the ball strikes the edge of one of the pads.

Geographically speaking, Westport is the upward thumb that almost meets the downward thumb of Ocean Shores. (Local lore claims that this explains the greater optimism of Westporters.)  In the summer, they could take a three-mile thumb-to-thumb ferry. Tonight they have to follow a 40-mile loop around Grays Harbor. But the drive is worth it, because it allows them to behave like a couple in public without having to worry about students or parents. In an odd way, thinks David, it would be easier if Elena and her chubby chaser showed up, since all four of them had sufficient motive to pretend the others weren’t there.
The object is Touchdown Tommy’s, a beachside sports bar with a yard sale’s worth of memorabilia. They sit next to a wall covered in photos of referees. The weird thing is, there’s a dozen photos and it’s all the same guy.
“So why are we here, exactly?”
Abbey’s flipping through the songbook like a kid in a candy store.
“I go a long way for a KJ.”
“Karaoke jock. Erica’s known all over the state. Had a Top Forty hit back in the sixties.”
“Yeah. She was one of the first chick drummers like, ever. Played with a group called the Mojo Men. They used to open for The Who and the Beach Boys.”
“Wow. So isn’t this kind of a comedown?”
“I think she honestly doesn’t care. Just likes being around music.”
“Cool. Next question: who’s the ref?”
“That’s the owner, Touchdown Tommy. Worked in the NFL.”
“Man! I’m surrounded by celebrities.”
A short Italian woman comes out in a black jacket with silver fringe and sings “Key Largo,” wandering to several spots in the room and then returning to the soundboard to make adjustments. Even though she’s more intent on sound-checking than singing, her voice is big and rich.
“She’s a pro all right. Must be nice having a KJ who can actually sing.”
“Amen, bruddah.”
A few singers later, Abbey gets up to do “Fever.” Since that night at McKenzie’s when she brought him to hear Billy, her singing has improved. He welcomes her back to the table with a steamy kiss.
“Well!” she says. “What was that for?”
“Your singing. What happened?”
“What do you mean?”
Uh-oh. The retroactive insult.
“Well, I mean, you weren’t a bad singer before, but you weren’t exactly headed for American Idol. Now…
“I’m headed for American Idol?”
“Don’t even make me tell you you’re too old.”
“Okay. So what’s your best guess? As to why I would get better. All of a sudden. Mr. Detective.”
“Lessons from Uncle Billy.”
“Bingo. You wouldn’t believe how much of it is just breathing right. It really affects the tone. ‘Course, I had the benefit of listening to my teacher sing every Friday night. I guess it all began to sink in.”
She scoots closer, takes his hand and holds it in her lap. He assumes it’s just one of her standard surges of affection, but then he looks at her and finds an expression of the most heart-rending sadness, as if invisible weights have been attached to her features.
“I’m sorry,” says David.
A portly, gray-haired man gets up to sing “Nights in White Satin” in a voice that’s almost operatic.
“My parents thought Billy was gay. Conservative Midwestern stick-up-the-butts. A constant fear of The Other. A snappy dresser who sings sensitive showtunes must, by natural law, also enjoy sucking penises. Billy was my personal liferaft. Whenever we had a family get-together I would take him aside and confess my latest anarchist thought: perhaps religion was just manipulative bullshit; perhaps pot wasn’t half so bad as alcohol; perhaps patriotism was just another way to make rich people richer. He didn’t even say all that much in return, he just listened. He treated me as an independent entity and not a programmable device. Are you beginning to understand why I live so far away from my family?”
David chuckles and kisses her hand.
“I’ll bet they were thrilled about the poetry.”
“When I do send them poems, I make sure they rhyme.”
Abbey digs back into the book and walks the song slip to Erica, who chats with her over the podium. Likely telling her about the new guy. Likely leaving out the bit about the wife. She returns and takes a sip of wine.
“So, Indiana Jones. Any news on the golf course?”
“Yes! Two days ago, zee Arc du Triomphe.”
“Fantastique. No Eiffel?”
“Maybe later. I, meanwhile, surfed my way into the archives of the Baltimore Sun and found one Maggie Blaine, who died in 1959, about a year before her husband did the Kerouac thing. Then I got real lucky and found an obit for Howard Blaine, 1968, founder of Blaine Concrete, father of Thomas Blaine of Boston and Rebecca Blaine Wivenspot of Virginia Beach. Thomas is a lawyer, so I found his office number and will be giving him a call tomorrow.”
“You are awesome!”
“Thanks, shweetheart.”
“You’re no Bogart, but you’re awesome.”
“A half hour later, Abbey gets up to sing “What’ll I Do?,” which David considers one of the saddest songs ever written. Those long, bendable notes carry a palpable sense of longing, and David is surprised when she gets through it without crying. At the end, she ignores the applause and walks quietly to the table, where she slides next to David and ducks her head into his chest. He wraps an arm around her and kisses the top of her strawberry hair.
“Wow. Honey, you are your uncle’s niece.”
She answers in a bare whisper. “Thanks.”

Photo by MJV

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