The Uh-Oh Switch
The next two days are an empty space in which Zelda’s thoughts are allowed to fester and grow horns. Edward is absent. Jackson and Zarita are probably off fucking. The Giants are in Lancaster playing the Jethawks. It could be that Gigantina has given her final performance. Zelda realizes that she’s being a morose bitch, but history is on her side. When the two Z’s are out in public, humans of the male persuasion flock to Zarita’s leggy figure and exotic eyes. Zelda turns into wallpaper.
It’s a cute guy – a little adolescent-looking, but at this point she’s looking for a liferope. He’s got unsettling green eyes and a smattering of freckles that give him a countrified air.
“Oh, yeah. You might not recognize me. I’m out of uniform.”
“Are you a cop?”
Freckleface snickers. “I’m a pitcher. The last time we talked, you were bleeding from your nostrils.”
“Ferdy. Ferdy Nash.” He shakes her hand over the counter. “And your name is Gigantina?”
Now it’s her turn to snicker. “No. Zelda.”
“I love your work, Zelda.”
“Wait a minute. Why aren’t you in Lancaster?”
“Bone chips in my elbow. I’m having surgery. How cool is that?”
“Hellz yeah! All the big pitchers get surgery. Besides, it’s pretty basic. I’ll be back in four weeks. Although it does hurt like a moth… like a son-of-a-gun.”
Zelda likes the fact that he amended his swear word. “So what would you like, Ferdy?”
“I’d like a Cuppa DiMaggio, and I’d also like to take you to dinner.”
Zelda feels the heat rising into her face. Zarita walks through the door, wearing a bad-puppy expression.
“Hi, Z. Jackson said you might talk to me. I am so sorry.”
Zelda feels herself turning into wallpaper.
“Um, I have a customer,” she says. “Can you wait outside? I’ll be right out.” She angles her head toward the courtyard, hoping it might convey her secret message.
“Oh, come on,” says Zarita. She turns to Ferdy. “Hi, I’m Zarita. I’m here to apologize to my closest friend because I’ve been a total jackass. Hey! You’re Ferdy. Man, you’ve got one hell of a slider. Makes those hitters look like idiots. How come you’re not in… Hey!”
Zelda has circled the counter and is now pushing Zarita out the door. She speaks in a forced whisper.
“Are you fucking clueless? He’s asking me out! Do you have to steal every guy in the universe? Jesus!”
Zarita’s shocked expression melts into tears.
“No!” says Zelda. “None of that shit. Just leave me alone.”
“But I just wanted to…”
Zarita lets out a whimper and walks away. Zelda takes a breath, straightens her apron and returns to the coffeehouse, where Ferdy is wearing a look of great amusement.
“A taskmaster! I think I like that.”
Zelda has a few seconds, as she’s circling the counter, to consider her next move. She concludes that her only way out is honesty.
“You ever have a friend who just… gets in your way?”
“Oh, I get you. A blocker. Yeah. My catcher, Marty. I’m chatting up some chick in Stockton, and he comes up and wants to talk about pitchouts. Clue. Less.”
Zelda smiles and leans forward. “So, you’d like a Cuppa DiMaggio, and…”
Ferdy takes a moment to pick up his cue. “Ah! Yes. You, me, dinner. Tonight. Sorry to be so short-notice, but I’m going under the knife tomorrow and… mmph!”
Zelda covers his mouth. “Yes.”
She removes her hand and Ferdy laughs. “Fantastic. You know a good place? I’m not up on the local scene.”
“I’ll think of something. Meet me here at seven?”
“Good. Have a seat. I’ll get you that DiMaggio.”
“So at this point I’ve got him completely set up. He’s leaning out over the plate, looking for the slider, and I wing a cutter over the inside corner. And the thing is, he smiles. I got mad respect for a guy who can get beat like that and just laugh at it.”
Ferdy leans back in his wicker chair and sips at a strawberry margarita. Zelda takes a bite from her chile relleno and scans the dark interior of El Burro. They’ve placed little faux balconies up high to give it the air of a Mexican village. It’s always been one of her favorite places. Sadly, her date is boring the shit out of her. Taken individually, his stories are fairly interesting, but they never, never stop. The man remembers every awesome pitch he ever threw, which leaves little room in his brain for anything else – including, apparently, any curiosity about his date.
Zelda has always imagined a tiny switch in the brain – she calls it the Uh-Oh Switch – that alerts the owner to the fact that he is rambling on about mundane shit, and that his listener’s eyes are glazing over.
“Then there was the worst-case scenario. Playoffs, last year. Bases loaded, no outs, we’re up by one. Boski gives me the sign that he’s putting me in. Thanks a lot, right? Two pitches. Two. The first a comebacker, home-to-first double play. The second was a weak pop-up to third. Fucking bee-yoo-tiful.”
He cups his chin and relishes the memory. Zelda jumps in.
“Hey Ferdy, you want to get a drink?”
He raises his glass. “Got one.”
“I mean, you know, in a bar.”
“Sure! Let’s scoot.”
Jackson’s at his favorite table with his new girlfriend, and already he’s questioning the wisdom of having a girlfriend, period. Zarita has been bent out of shape all day, and it’s bumming him out. But then she looks at him with those dark eyes, and he understands. He’s whipped. He’s a prisoner.
“I just don’t know why she had to be so rude about it! I wanted to apologize. I wanted to make good. And she sends me away like a naughty girl!”
She pouts those lips at him and he is further enslaved. But he’s got to do something. This thing with Zelda is going to ruin them before they even get started.
“Zarita? Think about this. When you and Zelda are out in public, who do the men hit on?”
She twitches her lips. “Me. God, it’s so annoying. They’re so obnoxious.”
“That’s not how Zelda sees it. Zelda thinks, How am I going to get any attention standing next to this goddess?”
Zarita smiles. “Nice try. But that is so not true. Zelda loves me.”
“That’s why she doesn’t tell you. But it’s true. Zelda has a blue-collar kind of hotness. But you, my dear, when you enter a room all the guys stop breathing.”
She smiles so sweetly that he’s about to leave his body. So he keeps talking.
“She held this in until the attention given to Zarita the Beautiful finally got too much. When she found you making out with a guy she used to have a crush on, she blew.”
Zarita looks down at the table. “Oh.”
“And tell me. This afternoon, when you went to apologize, what was Zelda doing?”
“I don’t know, talking to some guy. Oh! Ferdy. One of our pitchers. She said he was going to ask her out, but you know how she is. She overinterprets and gets her hopes up, and then…”
“Oh my god,” says Jackson. “You women are fucking horrible. The truth is, she had a chance with this guy – and even if she didn’t have a chance, it was your duty to back the hell off and let her operate.”
Zarita wags her finger. “That’s that thing you guys do. That code.”
“That’s the thing we do best.” He looks toward the door. “Well what the hell…”
Zarita follows his glance. “Zelda! I’ll go talk to her right… Hey!”
Jackson grabs her by the belt and pulls her back. “You will do no such thing. Watch.”
Ferdy enters, shows his ID to the bouncer and follows Zelda to the bar.
“He’s adorable!” says Jackson.
“Okay, okay,” says Zarita. “I get it.”
“But I hope I get to see her soon. I miss her.”
“Have faith,” Jackson whispers. “Let her operate. You’ll get your chance.”
Three beers later, things are not improving. Ferdy is sinking into a morose ball of wussiness.
“What if they go in there and it’s worse than they thought? You don’t know how it is, Zelda, the constant pressure. One bad injury and you’re toast! And I don’t know anything else. What would I do if I didn’t play baseball?”
He wipes a hand over his face, then winces and grabs his elbow.
“I’ll be right back,” she says, and heads for the restroom. She’s washing her hands when Zarita walks in.
“Hi,” she says. “How’s it going?”
Zelda stares at her, then crumbles into laughter. “Fucking horrible. Oh my god, first he tells me about every great pitch he ever threw in his life, and now he’s about to start crying over his elbow surgery. Is this how a guy goes about impressing a chick?”
Zarita smiles. “Guys are fucking narcissists.” She cultivates a crafty look. “Want to get rid of him?”
“You got it.” She punches a text into her phone. “What we need… is a superhero.”
“Exactamundo.” The phone buzzes back. She smiles. “Okay. Let’s wait a few more seconds… and then…” She peeks outside. “Okay. We’re good.” She takes Zelda’s hand and leads her into the courtyard.
Jackson heads to the bar, pretends to read the list of ales, then leans into the gap next to his target.
“Hey! Ferdy, right?”
“I’m Jackson. You might know me better as Gigante.”
“Yeah!” says Ferdy. “Weirdest thing. I just had dinner with your dance partner.”
“Hey, sorry to hear about your elbow. They’re really gonna miss you in the pen.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah. Come on, you’re the sharpest lefty we’ve got.”
The two Z’s head off across the parking lot, giggling at their escapade.
“You think he’ll even notice?” asks Zelda.
“Not with Jackson shoveling BS at him. That boy can talk baseball for days.”
At the mention of Jackson the two fall silent, their heels clip-clopping the asphalt.
“You’ve got a good guy there,” says Zelda.
“Yes. And he set me straight on a few things. Like being a better wingman. Wing-woman?”
“Come on, you did an excellent job just now, as far as getting rid of guys. Maybe later you can work on gettin’ me one.”
“Oh, Z,” says Zelda. “I’m an idiot. You can’t help it if you’re so fucking gorgeous.”
Zarita smiles. “Thank you. I think. I’ll try harder not to be a vaj-blocker.”
Zelda stops. “I’m sorry. What?”
“I just made it up.”
“I may steal that sometime. I… You and Jackson, I got a good feeling about that.”
“It’s just that it was, you know, kind of a shock. A blow to the ego.”
Zarita looks at her. “I was so worried about hurting you.”
“It’s okay. Friends?”
Zelda puts her hands on her hips. “So is this where we do the cliché movie thing and…”
Zarita attacks her with a hug. “Yes!”
Zelda laughs. “Well okay then.”
An hour later, Zelda knows that she is nowhere near sleeping. She’s on her balcony, smoking a joint, when she spies the ribbon of asphalt below, and the seldom-used mountain bike locked to the railing.
The trail at night is a little spooky, and a little beautiful. Zelda cruises downhill under the San Tomas Expressway and hears the burble of pigeons. Passing the percolation ponds, she sees the hunched silhouettes of cormorants on the power lines. She circles Vasona Reservoir, which looks like a Parisian park in the moonlight, and crosses the main drag of downtown Los Gatos, empty but for one staggering barfly.
The tricky part is crossing the creek, but she solves this by sinking the bike wheels into the water and using it for support as she targets the stepping stones. She calls Edward’s name as she approaches so as not to cause an alarm. She drops the bike to the ground; Edward pokes his head from the tent.
She kneels next to the opening.
“Hi. Can I…?”
She doesn’t finish. Edward opens the flap and she crawls inside.
Photo by MJV