No Hope, No Baseball

I asked the guy sitting behind us where his buddies were. The three of them have been sitting behind us at baseball games for the past four years. For awhile the middle guy, Harry (the only one of them whose name I know) was absent because he got cancer in his shoulder and missed the entire season. His other two buddies would give us reports on Harry’s chemotherapy, how he was feeling, the prognosis. We had all these conversations, talking backwards, you know, asking questions over our shoulders and waiting for the answers, not ever really taking our eyes off the game.

We missed Harry even though we didn’t really know him except as the guy in the middle who sat behind us with his two buddies. He was always the nicest one, his friends a bit snarky, cynical maybe but all three diehard baseball fans. They knew all the players and what they had for breakfast. My husband’s like that so he enjoyed having the three guys sitting behind us, his refuge from my baseball commentary focusing mostly on which players needed haircuts and how irritating other players’ walk-up rituals were.

Now it was Harry sitting by himself. “So where’re your pals?” I asked. He explained that one guy (the one on his left who wasn’t there) bailed out at the last minute and the other (the one on his right who wasn’t there), well, his wife was dying.

Because my hearing is painfully bad, especially in major league baseball stadiums, I looked at him and asked him to repeat. “HIS WIFE IS DYING,” he said again, enunciating so that I caught what he said. And then he explained how she had breast cancer and it had spread to her brain. He didn’t say she was really ill or that she was in the hospital. He said she was dying and that was why his buddy couldn’t come to the game.

There was no where to go with that news. Because she wasn’t sick, she wasn’t getting chemotherapy. She was dying. Done. Besides I didn’t even know her because she never came to games. Only her husband did. So to whom would I say I am sorry? And then, what do you say, that you hope it’s not true that she’s dying? It was, of course, so true, the news delivered so matter of factly that it had to have been true for a while. Maybe it was true the last time I saw the guy on the right just a few weeks ago but no one said anything so no cheerful tidings of recovery were offered. He was the same as always. Sitting there, muttering about the pitching, making the occasional wisecrack and drinking a bottle of water. And all the while this was going on.

It makes a person stop and think. About dumb stuff. About baseball and scoreless inning after scoreless inning for the home team and run after run for the visitors. About men left on base and crummy fielding, players who don’t play anywhere near as good as they look. About how it could just as easily be me or my husband whose absence might be explained that way. That from one day to the next, our attendance is probably some kind of gift and I ought to appreciate it more and stop complaining about being the fan of a losing team.

At least we are here. In our seats.

________________________

Re-published on the eve of what would have been Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers. There is no opening day tomorrow but there will be at some point. We’re patient. We’ll wait.

Afraid to Touch the Mail and Other Horrors

If you’ve lived any kind of normal life in the past month, you are waiting for the axe to fall. Who amongst all the people you talked to, walked by, touched on purpose or by accident, bumped in the elevator, blessed when they sneezed, shook hands with, hugged hello or goodbye or both, slipped the virus to you, snuck it in your pocket like a tiny present to unwrap later?

I don’t know if someone left a tiny present in my pocket, I just know that I’m not sick yet. When I wake up in the morning, I lay there for a minute and then I say, I’m not sick yet. And then I eat breakfast and I go outside and I work around the house, and I write, and maybe learn something, and then I go outside again, and, at 5:14, I watch the man on the next block walk past with his black dog. He has been walking by at 5:14 for years. Apparently, he isn’t sick yet either. I am always glad to see him because after he walks by, it is cocktail hour. That was fun before, but now it is important. Structure to our day, you know.

The mail carrier wears a mask and gloves. She doesn’t wave back, just studies the envelopes in her hands, like they’re the charts of today’s patients. She drops our chart in our old black mailbox and later my husband goes outside to retrieve it. He holds the mail in his hand covered by the end of his sweatshirt and tosses it on the dining room table. And I think right away, I am afraid to touch the mail. But I do anyway. I sort it into short stacks, notice that he’s gotten his absentee ballot but I haven’t, and then I open an envelope with a check for my menstrual supplies work.

Then I wash my hands, hard. And I start in with the second-guessing. I shouldn’t have touched the mail. I should have wiped the mail down with disinfectant. Then I ask my husband if he touched the mail, hoping to find some solidarity with him, but he says no, he picked it up with his sweatshirt sleeve covering his hand, and it is then I realize that I could get sick from touching the mail. That I could die from touching his absentee ballot, not even my own. Lord.

But then, as if by magic, a cowboy in my head lassos my dread, leaps off his horse, and ties up three of its legs so that it’s incapacitated. The cowboy then looks up at me in the stands and tips his hat. He is wearing a red checked shirt and blue jeans with chaps, boots with spurs he never uses, and a blue bandana tucked in his back pocket. He wipes his forehead with the bandana because, you know, it took some effort to get that dread under control.

I smile at the cowboy, thank him with my eyes, and whisper the words, “I’m not sick yet.”

Tomorrow, I will handle the mail with gloves.

Peeling

Our stockbroker sends us emails about the COVID-19. He tells us how to “mitigate emotional decision-making by viewing the crisis in phases.”

But, despite watching our investments curl up like so many dried fall leaves, the president tells us, “This is not a financial crisis.” It’s just a thing, he says, a passing thing. No worries.

So I contemplate now the two things every older person dreads: being sick and being penniless. I feel I am losing my verve, my “vigor and spirit or enthusiasm” and that the time of my pretending that age doesn’t matter is now over. It matters.

I find this paralyzing and depressing.

Yesterday I tried to remember the words to Patsy Cline’s song, Side by Side:

Oh! We ain’t got a barrel of money
Maybe we’re ragged and funny
But we’ll travel along
Singing a song
Side by side

I don’t know what’s comin’ tomorrow
Maybe it’s trouble and sorrow
But we’ll travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side

It’s so sweet, isn’t it? All that tying up our belongings in a checkered kerchief and skipping down the road holding hands? What really happens in dire times is that people end up squabbling over the last banana, never mind 36 years of marriage.

Yes, of course, we would split it. It’s just hyperbole. Jesus.

A Reflection on Elizabeth Warren’s Exit

A big part of me thinks that women mourning Elizabeth Warren’s exit from the presidential race are a bunch of chumps.

Why? Because they fell for it.

She’s so smart.

She’s so well-prepared.

She has as plan for everything.

It’s what we’ve always wanted to believe. If we get more degrees, volunteer for more committees, take on extra projects, work nights and weekends, wake up at 4 and go to bed at midnight, we’ll get ahead. We’ll get respect.

The myth of the meritocracy or perhaps I should say, the trap of the meritocracy has been the opiate of the people, well, half the people. If I get this next degree, if I finish this training program, if I serve on this board, then I’ll get a shot. And so Elizabeth Warren did all that. She put all the time in, prepared herself up to her ears. No one was as ready as she was to be president.

But I knew she wouldn’t win. Why?

She believed too hard in having earned it, in having put the work in to be prepared. And she tricked herself into thinking that was going to be a winning thing.

But to win, you have to be more than professionally prepared. You have to be ruthless. You have to be conniving. You have to spend years building one on one relationships with powerful people. You have to invest your time in the ultimate smarminess that is American politics. And what’s more, you have to enjoy doing those things.

You also have to have a shiv in your shoe.

Elizabeth Warren was too pure to have a shiv in her shoe, or to know what a shiv is, literally or otherwise. She wanted just to win the debate and get what she deserved. But it doesn’t work that way, in politics or real life. Preparation, extra work, and all that is just the meritocracy myth played out – while we’re all getting ourselves ready, having our plans and whatnot, the guys with the shivs are cutting up the pie.

Oh, yes, there will be the soft-hearted feminists that tell me that we need to change the paradigm. I’ve heard that, let’s see, for forty years? The political paradigm isn’t going to change – politics is a Darwinian universe where the earnest and over-prepared are eaten like taco chips in a slow restaurant. They serve a function but they aren’t the main course. It’s awful but it’s true.

Still, I was sad to see Elizabeth Warren quit. She was genuine and unpretentious. And joyful in her campaigning. Her love for people seemed boundless and unrehearsed. She would have been a great president, I believe, but she couldn’t get to the White House unarmed. She needed that shiv in her shoe.

Next time.

Fat Dogs

Fat dogs in their precious coats waddle through the gate, treading the ice like swimmers in the pool’s deep end

In the clearing, an overcoated man with a fat dog sits on a bench, his hand resting on his cane

His fat dog runs with snow on his nose, his coat askew, his dog grin dripping on the frozen ground

_____________________

Written in response to Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga’s 2/20/20 prompt: two word title, three sections of 20 words each