Saturday, March 15, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Thirty-Three: Beach Treasures

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Number Six: Empire State Building
A gradual ramp leads to the base of this eight-foot model, where three V-shaped ridges guide the ball into subway-style tunnels. These lead to three exits on the far side, but not in the fashion one might expect. The center tunnel leads to the right-hand exit, the left tunnel to the center exit, and the right tunnel to the left exit. It’s hard to say which exit brings the best results.

Beach Treasures carries the usual tripe associated with shoregoers: kites, windsocks, spangly trinkets emblazoned with Ocean Shores or Washington. But they also have an espresso machine and a large back room, as if they’re expecting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to break out. Today’s agenda includes the Falter men, called together by Pablo. David dashes over after his final class; he finds Derek flipping through images on his camera screen.
“Derek, meboy! How are ye, lad?”
David sits down and sets his latte on the table.
“Hey, love that end zone shot from the Elma game. It was almost like you were right under the play.”
Derek smiles, which is a hobby he should partake of more often. The kid is beautiful.
“How do you think I got this scratch on my forehead?”
“Geez, kid. It’s called a zoom lens. Use it.”
Derek laughs, but it’s brief and preoccupied.
“Okay. So what’s the problem?”
“Ah. It’s stupid.”
“Most problems are. That’s why they’re problems.”
Derek hands him the camera. The screen offers a cheerleader, a mop of dark brown hair, curls like rigatoni pasta. Big brown eyes, a smile that could melt butter, and a proud and generous rack (not that a teacher would notice such things).
“Jenny Felicetti? Not a bad problem to have.”
“Yeah. Well. It’s complicated. Y’see, being a full-gonzo nerd brings a certain security. You don’t really have to worry about girls. The photo thing has kicked me up a notch, and suddenly I have… opportunities.”
“Like Jenny Felicetti.”
“I know that cheerleaders are photo-whores, so if she flirts with me during the game, it’s not me, it’s the camera. But last week she came up to me afterward and started asking all these questions. Like, do I mess around with the plane-of-focus, or do I have to stick to max clarity because they’re action shots. Do I use the rapid-fire shutter release. And she likes my framing, and wonders if what we call ‘the eye’ is something you’re born with, or something you might be able to cultivate. You see my problem?”
“Absolutely not.”
“Not only is Jenny Felicetti a babe-and-three-quarters, she’s got a brain!”
“I could’ve told you that.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing here. What do I do?”
David’s laughing inside, but Derek’s torment seems genuine, so he gives the issue some consideration.
“You’re a smart kid, Derek. You’re used to understanding things. Forget about that; we’re talking about women. But you might stand a chance if you learn to read signals. First signal: no intelligent cheerleader is going to go to the trouble of interviewing you about the art of photography unless she has some sort of interest in you. Second item: forget about the society thing, because Jenny is a closet nerd. She’s so obsessed with history that she went to Chehalis for a Civil War reenactment.”
“Her being smart is very good for you. You need a girl who has the capacity to appreciate you. Next thing: do not go out of your way to impress her. You already have. If you find yourself rambling on about yourself, for God’s sake shut up and ask her a question. Listen to her, make lots of eye contact, and look for signals. If she touches her hair, smiles a lot, looks directly at you – if she touches your arm while she’s talking, oh! That’s a biggie. But don’t do anything impetuous. Be cool, be nice, and then come back and give me a full report.”
Derek takes back the camera and gives the screen a last look before turning it off.
“Geez. They could offer a college degree in this stuff.”
Oh yeah.”
“So where’s Mom lately?”
Derek’s brain is the greatest threat to the Falter Unspoken Infidelity Agreement. David goes for a pre-emptive strike.
“I won’t B.S. you, Derek. Your mom and I have been drifting a little. I think the way you guys have become such adults lately has thrown us off. Hell, I’m working for your brother.”
This gets a chuckle, but the dodge doesn’t take.
“So what’s this thing with Abbey?”
“Abbey and I are great friends. It’s helped me a lot, kept me in touch with the female perspective.”
“Well, okay.”
He’s not really buying it. Well, tough shit. Someday he’ll learn the truth: even the most promising marriages don’t last. It’s a miracle they’ve come as far as they have.
Pablo careens into the room, lugging a black sports bag.
“Hey! My board of trustees. Have I got a treat for you.”
He reaches in and pulls out a length of galvanized pipe, two feet long, with screw-on caps at either end.
“At the bottom of the Empire State, I found a chain, sticking out of the ground. Gave it a yank, and up came this. Help me out, Dad.”
He pulls out a pair of pipe wrenches and hands one to David. David holds on to the pipe as Pablo wraps his around the cap. After much grunting, the threads loosen up and the cap comes free. Pablo hands it to his dad.
“Mr. Historian.”
David reaches in and extracts a plastic tube. Inside, he finds a thick roll of papers. He flattens them to the table and grins.
“The Taj Mahal.”
He hands it to Pablo.
“Hell yes! Green layouts, tee placements – everything.”
David sets aside the stack of individual hole designs and goes for the big sheet at the bottom: a detailed layout of the entire course. Paper-clipped at the bottom right corner is a sheet of Blaine Concrete letterhead with a handwritten note. In the spirit of the moment, David reads it aloud.
“The odd thing is, once I finished the monuments, I realized I had done everything I wanted to do. My silly dream is accomplished, and it’s not the objects themselves that I wanted but the doing, the creating. I don’t want to build a miniature golf course, I certainly don’t want to run one – I want to go home. To whomever purchases this property and uncovers these relics – congratulations, it’s all yours. If you decide to finish the work, and let people come and play the course, I’d be much obliged. All due respects – Howard Blaine.”

“Awesome!” says Pablo. “Hey Dad – check out Devil’s Tower.”
“I sort of expected that. Man! I better give Thomas Blaine a call.”

Photo by MJV

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