Sunday, March 23, 2014

Billy Saddle, the Baseball Novel, Chapter Forty: Signals

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Number Thirteen: Willie Mays
Willie is making that catch over his shoulder, the ’54 Series, the long fly off the bat of Vic Wertz. The detail is captivating: the cap about to fly from his head, the leather knots on his glove, the upward lift of his eyes, searching for the ball. The green is a subtle left-to-right slope leading to a square indentation, two feet across. The ball funnels into a hole, then drops onto an adjacent green with the same outlines as the Polo Grounds. Naturally, the hole is in deep center field.

Derek stands behind the end zone at Evergreen State College in Olympia. The weather is being very charitable, cold but dry. Hoquiam High is in the state semis, and Jenny, even though she hates Hoquiam with the fury of a cheerleader, has come along.
Two nights before, Derek was giving Jenny a neckrub, and complaining that the seams of her sweater were getting in the way. So she took it off, and Derek found himself with a mirror view of the first female breasts he had ever seen. Having nothing but perfect Internet breasts to compare them to, he decided nonetheless that they were pretty top-notch. He recalled what his dad said about signals. This one seemed pretty clear, but it came with a surprise. He realized he didn’t have to respond to a signal just because it was sent. He kept his hands on her collarbone, and kissed the back of her neck to make sure she knew he appreciated the show.
The Lakewood running back tries to crash through the line, but Hoquiam gangs up to drive him back. Derek sees the crimson jerseys mass together like a many-limbed beast and hits the shutter. Bingo. Jenny was right; he’s a natural.
The Lakewood coach calls time out. Derek swings his lens to Jenny’s seat in the Hoquiam section. He kids her about her camera-radar, standard equipment for cheerleaders, but it’s true. She sends him the brilliant smile, the one that does all these crazy things to his spinal cord. Her eyes glimmer in the stadium lights and he hits the shutter. Bingo.
Is this the substance that adults call “love”? Is this what Dad felt for Mom, what he feels now for Abbey? Should he feel guilty that he likes Abbey, despite the fact that she’s Mom’s rival?
For the Mind of Derek, this is standard operations, and another reason to be grateful for the camera. It stops his thoughts, the way softball does it for Pablo, the way jazz does it for his dad. Lakewood lines up for a field goal. Derek pulls back on the zoom, widens the shot to get all the elements: the muddle of players, the ball lifting into the lights, the goalpost, the referee in the bottom right-hand corner. Arms up, shutter. It’s good.

Sasha has dark eyes, a solid Mediterranean nose, one of those short urban haircuts, a thick bank of black all on one side. One of the few assets of old age is the knowledge that there is no chance. One is free to enjoy being around a beautiful woman without worrying about one’s wife. He also likes the fact that she’s tall; he has spent most of his life having to choose between slouching or talking down to someone. Sasha brings him to the side of Groucho’s neck and traces her fingers along a subtle seam.
“There was a funny little craze in the fifties. Given the new personal kingdoms of suburbia, people wanted real-looking statuary in their yards. Lacking the funds of the Medicis, they settled for concrete replicas. A couple of companies back east – notably Ikon Casting in Dover – came out with molds that enabled contractors to, for instance, plant a huge Groucho-head in the Dickersons’ courtyard.”
Sasha nudges her artsy-slim spectacles.
“The thing is, not all of those concrete guys did a very good job. These are gorgeous.”
“That’s my dad.”
“When Abbey sent me the photos, I had my suspicions. The giveaway is the iconic nature of the images. Especially the Willie Mays and the Edgar Allan Poe.”
“What about Marilyn?”
There’s your surprise. I did a search of Monroe images and I couldn’t find any that matched yours. Also, it’s been what you might call ‘worked.’ Sculpted, scraped, amended. It’s clearly an amateur creation, but it’s a damn good one.”
Thomas smiles.

Billy borrows Abbey’s truck and heads for Olympia. He feels as though his private life is drawing to an end, and so he enjoys the long, lonely drive over the damp green mountains. He remembers the downtown as a home for funky shops, and he’s right. He enters a little place called Hannegger’s and zeros in on a scarlet fedora with a black satin band. When he tries it on, it settles into place like it’s just found a home.
He supposes people might take the red fetish as a rebuttal to the Memphis Blues, but actually it went back further. As a redhead, you either had to find clothes that completely contrasted or completely matched. That’s him – Billy Redman.
He asks the cashier to slip it into a bag and heads for the next-door bookstore. On the racks he finds Kobe Bryant, wearing a determined expression. Among the handful of lines next to Kobe’s shoulder is this one: The Resurrection of Billy Saddle.
And so it begins, he thinks. Page 22 offers a distraught Blues fan being comforted by a red-haired version of Fidel Castro. Billy peers across the street and spots a barber shop.

David is driving home from school when he sees a woman walking the opposite direction. The rain is full force, drops the size of a baby’s thumb. He considers making a U-turn and going after her, but she’s well-bundled, with a slow but purposeful stride. Besides, these days, anything his wife does is a complete mystery.

Photo by MJV

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