by Miriam Seidel
The sun drops just below the top row of bleachers. Sitting halfway
up on the first-base side, Bruce tips his cap back, relieved to be
finally out of the blazing light. A rogue ray shoots out from under
the highest bench, and he squeezes his eyes shut against it. Soon,
though, the slow fall of night will start, and the huge array of lights
will come on, cool and white against the sky.
He opens his eyes carefully to the
wide blue, already a shade past its afternoon brightness, and it reminds
him of his dream last night. When he was a kid, dreams like that,
where he would fly over houses, trees, cars, were almost a regular
thing. Now they come rarely. This one left him lying in his bed, looking
up at the ceiling lit with an eggshell morning light, his chest vibrating
with the certainty that this would be a special day.
But where the hell is Jack? He looks
down again, scanning the knot of people behind the backstop. Bruce
waited for him at the ticket window for almost 45 minutes to begin
with, and the game was well into the third inning by the time they
got to their seats. They exchanged pleasantries, and Bruce felt things
were going well. Jack caught a hot dog, a good catch in his thick
fingers, from the old guy with crooked teeth who Bruce remembers being
here since he came to games with his dad and his brother Howard. After
Jack scarfed down the hot dog, which he wouldn't let Bruce pay for,
Bruce left him to get them some beers. But when he climbed back up
to their seats, Jack was gone. It's okay, Bruce tells himself. The
guy likes to wander around. He'll come back, there'll be plenty of
time for business.
Now it's the bottom of the fifth. The
new guy is up, Manuel somebody, his squat, solid body hunched over
the plate, the top of the bat running a nervous circle high over his
head. Bruce tries to imagine how it must feel, being brought here
from some tiny island with two palm trees - that's how he pictures
it, anyway, a little cartoon desert island - not knowing anybody
but the cigar-sucking scout who talked your mother into this; getting
your big double-A break in midseason because some old ballplayer on
the wrong side of thirty-eight tore a ligament diving for the ball.
Manuel swats at the first pitch, grounds out. No patience.
A big laugh catches his ear over the
crowd noise. There's Jack - behind the opposing dugout, hand
on some guy's shoulder. He's saying something to a man Bruce recognizes
as the new owner of Slavitt Honda. The Duke of Shmooze, Jack should
be called, not the Duke of Dinettes. He moves his bulk through the
cluster of people with an aristocratic ease. Seeing him down there,
Bruce feels sharply alone, exposed to the gaze of those around him:
the dad, kid and his kid's friend sitting directly behind him, and
to his left, past the empty seat with the full cup of beer carefully
set on it, the older lady in home-team hat and windbreaker, her dinner
spread out beside her in several tupperware containers. He stretches
backward and crosses one leg, taking an elaborately relaxed pose;
scrunches his hot dog tissue into a tiny ball; takes a long sip on
his beer, surveying the field. One guy on base now, Charlie Malone
at bat. It's not that he greatly loves baseball. His own memories
of playing outfield are not something to dwell on: his attention always
wandered, drawn back too late by the crack of the bat, his eyes struggling
to find the ball curving through the glaring sky. Not like his little
brother Howard, base-stealing, play-making Howard. Standing endlessly
in the expanse of the outfield - a field like that was part
of his dream last night, he remembers. Greener than real life, none
of the gray veil of summer dirt that clung to the grass of the Little
League afternoons. In the dream he runs across the grass, spreads
his arms out, arches his back and takes off, up into the air. Yes!
He really can fly after all! In every dream like this, he has to go
through this reassurance, as though it's something he forgot in between.
A wetness on his thigh jolts him. The
kid behind him must have knocked over Jack's beer! Bruce springs up.
The two kids are rocking and giggling over something, totally unconscious
of where their feet are going.
"Hey! That's my beer! That's my
friend's beer I mean, I was saving it for him!" he sputters,
feeling like he's back in the high school lunchroom.
"Easy, buddy, I'll get you another
one," says the dad, smiling crookedly, but making no move except
to casually elbow his son. "Tell the man you're sorry," he says. The kid mumbles something into his shirt. Bruce picks up
the cup, now sticky with foam. The idea here was to bring Jack to
a sporting event, he thinks, swiping fiercely at the pooling beer
with his hot dog tissue and some leftover napkins. A good place to
do business, a place to close a deal. It's something you do, he repeats
to himself, rearranging himself in his seat. Certainly his boss, Victor,
takes his accounting clients out to games. And it had come to Bruce
that this was the way to succeed with his plan. To bring his vision
to reality: a life-size, or ideally slightly larger-than-life statue,
to be placed on the main square, in the likeness of this city's most
important native son (in Bruce's humble opinion), Raymond Philip Bannigan,
RayBan to his many fans, lead singer of Banned Fur Life. A People
Sexiest Man Alive runner-up for two years running, '87 and '88, he
thinks. For whose first band, Screaming Angels, Bruce himself briefly
did semi-roadie duty in his senior year of high school, helping to
set up their sound equipment on weekends at several area taverns.
Those were good nights. Standing among the amps and cables, watching
the dancers out on the floor in the smoky haze, he could feel like
he was part of the band. He'd actually exchanged a few words with
His own personal connection, however,
should not obscure the objective value of RayBan's achievements. A
statue of Ray would be a focal point, something for kids to get excited
about. Maybe a spot for outdoor concerts, a way to galvanize good
feeling for this town, which has had its share of tough times recently.
It's a big idea, he knows. When it first came to him he was overwhelmed,
almost sick - like falling in love, swept along by the feeling
that everything else in his life made more sense now. His girlfriend
Sandy didn't share his enthusiasm. Now he wishes he hadn't told her.
Her ambitions for him center more around passing his CPA test, putting
himself in a better position to advance in Victor's office, maybe
even go out on his own.
Bruce got more careful after that.
Before he mentioned it to his boss, he did some research, called a
bronze-casting place, put together some numbers. Victor leaned back
in his chair and looked at him quizzically, but didn't laugh. If you're
serious about this, Victor said, you should get in touch with Jack
Jarman. As owner of Jarman Furniture on Market Street, right across
from the square, and chairman of the town Planning Board, he was the
man to help make it happen. Jack had been instrumental in bringing
the big CVS store to the long-closed Alhambra Theater; he might see
this as another good boost for the downtown area. Victor even offered
to put in a word to Jack himself. The thing was to start a committee,
invite Jack to be on it.
Remembering this fills him with a glow
of anticipation, and Bruce allows himself a mind's-eye view of the
finished statue. The ceremonial veil falls away, revealing the bronze
form. A small group stands at the base: the BanMan himself, in his
trademark blue fur jacket and shades, the rest of the band to his
side; the mayor, Jack, Bruce of course, and Sandy. Sandy looking at
him with a small smile, her eyes dark with new depths of admiration
- mouthing to him over the applause, Now I understand. Gone
is the thin-lipped, appraising face that often meets him lately, the
look that makes him painfully aware of his own, too-large features,
the fishy eyes that have always failed to transmit to others his real
self. Some, like his brother Howard, let's say, might be satisfied
with the standard dream: good job, four-bedroom house, the wife and
the two cute kids. Sandy will finally understand that he, Bruce, is
different. She's heard him often enough singing the words from one
of RayBan's songs, Baby give me one more kiss, It's ti-I-ime to follow
A wave of crowd noise blows through
him. Malone is sliding home - safe! Bruce stands along with
everyone beside, behind and in front of him, and yells along with
them, "Whoo!," boogieing a bit to the rhythm of the clapping
fans. This is one part of going to the game that he truly enjoys.
This, and singing the National Anthem, something he would never admit
to anyone, not even Sandy - both moments when hundreds, sometimes
thousands of people open their mouths at the same time. He sits back
down, pleasantly buzzed from the cheering. Looking around him, he
likes every single person he sees - the old lady, the row of
teenagers in front of him, hats on backwards, even the obnoxious dad
and the noisy kids still whooping behind him. Yeah, bliss. Settling
in the plastic seat, he lets his dream from last night come back to
him in its fullness. The feeling as he rises over the meadow, legs
dangling loose behind, then pressing his arms down - as always
in these dreams, the air having a certain thickness and resistance,
like foam rubber or a trampoline - and pushing further and higher.
A kind of joy close to tears overtakes him. There's the breathtaking
sensation of rising, as he goes higher, high enough to make human
things look small down there; then even higher. His heart-thumping
ascent not strictly vertical, like an elevator, but tracing a steep
parabola. As he reaches the top of the curve he slows, then hovers,
finding himself in a different place - he hasn't remembered
this part before. It's not a place exactly, more like pure sky that
has shaped itself somehow into an ovoid blue that has its own weight
and thereness. He hangs, cradled in the stillness like a hummingbird,
not wanting to move. Then he does begin to fall sharply back, pulled
down like a kite toward the ground. Who could wake up from a dream
like that, and not feel that this was the day for the right thing,
the important thing, to happen?
"Hey." Jack's big hand claps
him on the shoulder. "Nice play, hah?" Bruce straightens
himself up. He squints quickly at the scoreboard - no change
since the big RBI, the team's still down, 2-1. The other team taking
the field now.
"Great," Bruce says. "Ah,
sorry about the beer - you want another one?"
"Nah, had one already." Bruce
shifts his weight as Jack settles himself back into the seat beside
him. The sky has turned that darker, more pensive blue of just after
sundown, as if pulling back into itself. A single, small cloud floats
between the two banks of electric lights, its underside furred and
pink. This is it, this is the moment.
"So, Jack," he says, hearing
his own voice full with phlegm and some idea of sociability, "About
that proposal I gave you - "
"Hm?" Jack says vaguely,
his eyes flitting over the field, the stands.
"I wrote you a letter. About this
project I'm trying, this idea for a statue - " all the
words Bruce has marshaled have flown off, startled away with the last
shreds of the expansiveness left over from his cheering jag. "I
thought before the next planning meeting, you'd like to maybe talk..."
"A letter, huh?" Jack repeats.
Bruce feels the man's large body beside him, exuding a massive calm
along with its essence of heat and sweat. Bruce is not thin, he could
easily lose twenty pounds, as Sandy has been telling him. But next
to this imposing fleshiness he feels small.
"Remind me," Jack says.
"It would be a tribute, you know,
to one of our greatest citizens, Ray Bannigan. Okay, he graduated
from a different high school, but his family's from here. It would
show the young people of this town that we care - "
"Ray Bannigan?" Jack echoes.
"Right, RayBan he's called. You
know, Banned Fur Life, their second CD went gold - a bronze
statue is what I'm thinking, I know bronze is expensive, but I did
work up some numbers..." He's jumping around, he has to get it
all out now. He reaches in the pocket of his chinos for the folded-up
paper with the numbers laid out.
"That rock musician, the one that
went to Central?" Jack asks, still looking down at the game.
The pitcher stands motionless, hands to his chest, then delivers the
ball, but it's high.
"More country metal, really,"
Bruce replies. "I've written to Ray, I mean to his manager, well,
they forwarded the letter to him. He didn't absolutely commit to it,
but he said to let them know how things are developing. So I thought
"You want to put a statue of a
rock musician in the park."
"Yes. Well, Ray Bannigan specifically."
"This is not going to happen."
"This - " What? It's
like he missed part of the conversation, like when a CD jumps forward
over a bump in the road.
"No rocker is getting a statue
in my park, not while I'm on the Planning Board. You've got to be
"But I wrote to you, the whole
proposal, I brought it into your office - "
"Ginger reads everything. I'll
have to talk to her."
"But, Ray Bannigan! He's the biggest,
people say he changed the direction of country metal - " He stops, hearing his voice high and thin.
"Look." Jack folds his arms,
and looks up, higher than the single cloud that has now flattened
to a cigar shape, gray with purple underneath. "No rocker, no
greasy-haired, pill-popping, teenage-girl-fucking rocker asshole,
is ever getting put up in my park. To be frank, I'm not partial to
them." He sits back, turns his eyes back to the game.
Bruce tries to make his mouth move,
but his cheeks feel numb. The falling night, the field, the strengthening
lights, have reached that delicate, alchemical moment when dusk gives
way, and night-game reality emerges: the diamond pops out, flat and
garish like a video-game representation of itself, and the players
in their suddenly-bright white uniforms stand out against the green
like cutouts, thin and light as paper. Their arrangement and movements
are a mystery now to Bruce, less important than this compelling, apparent
lack of substance, which reflects perfectly the reedy lightness of
his own body. Finally, words come to him.
"If it went somewhere else maybe,
not in the park - "
"Two words, Bruce. Bad influence.
This is going nowhere in the city limits. Understand?" He glances
toward Bruce. "Maybe if it was a baseball player," Jack
goes on. "Charlie Malone, say. He's been playing here for years."
"But that's totally different,"
Bruce says. "He's not even from here - " A cell phone
rings, and Jack pulls it from a pants pocket, holding his other hand
up, palm out, like the Pope giving a blessing. It's one of those tiny
new models, looks like a matchbook cradled in his palm.
"Yeah," he says into the
phone, then, "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Gimme a half hour." As he
pockets it he adds to Bruce, "I may have to leave before the
ninth, something came up." Bruce nods, or he's pretty sure he
did, but his jaw is set so tight it might not have been visible. While
he waits for his words to settle into a coherent pattern, the rangy
hitter at the plate lets off a loose, upward-angling swing. This time
Bruce sees the ball from the start of its ascent, lifting high now,
far beyond the lights, approaching its invisible apex in the dark
"Garbage," Jack says. "That's
the inning." But Bruce's breath catches sharp in his throat at
the beauty of it. The rise, the stillness, the waiting below. As the
ball finally descends, white and solid again, into the glove of the
waiting shortstop, Bruce feels the top of his head pulling upward.
Sitting there, he sees himself opening his arms out wide, arching
his back to catch the welcoming, unseen air current. Swooping out
over the stands, pushing his paper-light body higher with his arms,
till he hovers far above the small players trotting toward the dugout.
He stares wonderingly at the white lights, now directly in front of
him. The sound of the crowd, puffing up around him, feels as solid
as the air.