Still in the Game
By ice rivers
I'd miss Mr. Baseball more if I didn't dream about him so often.
I dreamt about him again last night. He was laughing and healthy. I remember telling him in the dream "Hey Dude, I thought you were dead. To which he responded "Do I look dead to you.
In my dream/s he looks as far from dead as imaginable. He's radiant with vibrant light. He even looks like he dropped twenty pounds. We're laughing like we always were. Laughing and talking wonderful trash. I
I call him Mr. Baseball because he won a bet with me and the stakes were whoever won the bet had to be called Mr. Baseball by the loser for the rest of their lives.
I didn't mind calling Mr Baseball Mr. Baseball because it ended another argument we had going. His first name was Gerry amd my first name is Jerry. We both claimed that one of us was an imposter with the wrong letter starting his name. I'm Jeremiah, he's Gerard.
Mr. Baseball taught Spanish. One day I walked past his classroom and we exchanged winks. He held up five fingers which I knew meant that he had five weeks left until retirement.
He was a world traveler and had big plans.
His wife Rosie had her retirement dinner that very night.
Rosie and Baseball attended Rosie's dinner and midway through, according to Rosie, Baseball turned to her and said "I feel like I've just had a shot of novacain."
With that, he collapsed on the floor.
They rushed him to the hospital. He had suffered a massive stroke. The doctor's said he wasn't going go regain consciousness. Rosie was faced with the decision....should they keep him on life support or let him go.
Rosie chose support.
Mr. Baseball was still in the game, at bat but it was the bottom of the ninth with 2 0uts, two strikes on the batter and the home team down by 10.
Much earlier in Mr. Baseball's game but only a couple of years in the past. We were walking in the hallway together when the secretary from the main office breezed by us. As she passed Joanne observed "you two guys are the slowest walkers I've ever seen."
Then in a flash she was down the hall at full giddyap with what she called her purposeful stride.
I've always been a slow walker unless I was late for a class or headed for the men's room. In retrospect, I'm not sure if Mr. Baseball was a naturally slow walker. The extra weight that he had gained over the years had resulted in a bad back and bad knees. Both the back and the knees would become factors as the innings of our lives passed at differing velocity.
Of course we were talking baseball. The prospects of the Chicago Cubs was the subject when Baseball, as he liked to do, swerved into another ursine subject from a Christmas party past.
"Remember that fiberoptic bear", Mr Baseball asked.
I did and he knew damned well that I did.
That's why he asked the question in the first place. To piss me off.
As I was remembering, Joanne still in giddyap passed us going in the other direction.
"Whatever you two guys are talking about it must be interesting" Jo observed.
"It sure is" said Mr. Baseball.
Mr. Baseball and I had been talking about a Christmas Party and the jist of a Christmas Past.
I hadn't attended a Christmas Party for 30 years. At the last one I attended everybody got smashed which presented a vibrational, intuitional overload resulting in way too much information and a couple decade long grudges
I was working in the building where Mr. Baseball was teaching Spanish.
A few weeks earlier, my wife Lynn and I had gone to the movies with Mr. Baseball and his wife Rosie. We had dinner at Bugaboo Creek after the movie and somehow the conversation turned to an oncoming Christmas party. Although I was now retired, I had been filling in for a woman who was on maternity leave. I wasn't crazy about the assigment. I had been a twelfth grade teacher and all of a sudden I was teaching ninth grade.
God bless anybody who teaches ninth grade.
I had started my career there. It was kinda cool that I was finishing it in the same building, the same room in fact that I had begun thirty five years prior. I liked the people, teachers and staff, who worked in the building. They treated me with respect and kindness. They liked to say that I was their idol because I was retired.
When I shared my hang up about Christmas parties, Rosie ,Lynn and Baseball gave me a colective 'get over it" response. To my surprise, Lynn seemed interested in attending the party. She told Mr. Baseball to pick up two tickets for us and we'd pay him at the party.
Since I hadn't been to a faculty party in decades, I wondered how the attendees passed the time before and after the buffet. Baseball told me that a "white elephant" activity was on the agenda. I didn't know what a white elephant activity entailed so I asked Baseball to sum it up for me.
"You bring in some piece of junk you've got hanging around the house that you don't want, you don't know what to do with and yet you don't want to throw out. You wrap the junk up as nice as you can or in your case have Lynn wrap the junk up. You give your precision wrapped junk to somebody else. They give the piece of junk that they don't want to you and everybody's happy, sort of"
The whole exercise sounded like a microcosm of most of the relationships that I'd observed in my lifetime and thus possessed a certain minimal degree of valididty along with existential possibility....
A week later, on a snowy December night, Lynn and I arrived at the scene of the party. I had forgotten about the "white elephant". I asked Lynn if she remembered and of course she had it "covered".
We entered a little early so we had our choice of seats. We saved two places for Rosie and Mr. Baseball. As it turned out Chris, the principal and his wife along with the vice principal Ken and his wife chose to sit with us.
Once the crowd had gathered, Chris went around with a manilla envelope which contained a bunch of numbers. I found out that I had to draw a number from the envelope. The number that I drew would have something to do with the order in which I would select from the well wrapped white elephants on the "elephant" table.
Mr. Baseball picked first and pulled out the number 4 which he immediately described as "Lou Gehrig" the famous first baseman of the Yankees....the Iron Horse....the luckiest man....wore number 4. Lou Gehrig was Mr. Baseball's father's favorite player. Lou had died with the disease that now carries his name.
I picked next and pulled out the number 32.
I shrugged as once again, I was at the bottom of the barrel.I glanced at Mr. Baseball and tried to make the best out of yet another calamitous draw.
I expected to see a big shit eating grin; instead I saw a shadow of worry cross Mr. Baseball's face. The cause of the umbrage was not yet discernible to me.
A few minutes later I understood why the moonshadow had danced across the face of Mr. Baseball.
Sadie, the school psychiatrist, explained the rules of the White Elephant game.
"Each person draws a number. The person who draws number 1 goes first, picks any gift/elephant....opens it and sits down. Number 2 person has a choice, he/she can pick a gift from the unopened/mystery elepant prize table OR if he/she likes the gift that number 1 opened, he/she can ignore the mystery pile and STEAL what number 1 had just pulled from the pile which would send Number 1 back to the pile to pull another prize and on and on until all the elepants are gone and everybody has what they have. The higher the number you drew, the more elephants you have to choose from. Stealing is encouraged but no elephant can be stolen more than three times and no elephant can be stolen back to back"
I had the highest number which meant I would have the choice of any elephant that hadn't been stolen three times OR the last wrapped prize in the pile.
The person who drew Number 1, a math teacher named Betsy, stepped up to the table and picked out a nicely wrapped medium sized prize. She opened the prize package and inside was a little teapot, short but not particularly stout. Person 2 stepped forward, inspected the teapot, shook his head and opened a package that contained three frosted martini glasses. Person 3 a business teacher unwrapped an elephant that contained a dozen castte tapes from the 70s/80's.
The next person to choose was Mr. Baseball. Baseball slauntered up to the prize table.
In case you haven't heard the word 'slaunter,' it's an uncomplimentary verb that Lynn used to describe the slow walk employed both by me and by Mr. Baseball. Slaunter means a slow, sloppy saunter.
When Mr. Baseball got to the table, he turned his head to look over his left shoulder then turned it to look over his right shoulder then shook his head and shrugged. His body language indicating that he didn' t want anything chosen so far so WTF, he might as well choose from the pile where he picked the very package that Lynn had wrapped and which contained an empty wooden box containing A to Z dividers in which coupons could be kept and organized.
Lynn was delighted, Mr. Baseball not so much. His thrall diminished even further when he returned to our table and I loud whispered in a volume meant to be overheard to Lynn "we've been trying to get rid of that thing for years".
Once again it dawned on me that we had a decent deal. I didn't know if Lynn understood our good fortune so I mansplained to her that we had the last number and that meant we could steal ANYTHING that had been chosen. To illustrate my superfluous explanation, I asked her if she wanted the martini glasses. She said that "we had more martini glasses than we needed alrerady".
Next, a very pregnant woman picked a huge package from the table which was obviously a stuffed animal of some sort. The package turned out to be a gigantic teddy bear which Laura said would be perfect for her baby to play with in a couple of years and for the rest of her life. Everybody, almost everybody ,oohed and aahed at the appropriate cuteness of the story. Lauara was the first person to be pleased with her selection.
Almost everybody was shocked when two picks later, Rose a recent grandmother said "I'll take Teddy, thank you. Rose went over to Laura and took the teddy bear that Laura's child would seemingly never cuddle.
Laura, clearly disappointed, picked again. This time the elephant turned out to be a series of interlocking picture frames for three by five photographs which Ivan a photography teacher commented, "Oh that is so stolen." and took the frames from Laura who immediately took the teddy back from Rose.
The game was heating up.
Lynn nodded, willing now to steal.
And Mr. Baseball still had our junk.
Two picks later, Ava stole the teddy bear from Laura.
According to the rules, Ava owned the bear.
Next came a random stampede of elephants including but not limited to an attache case, a toaster, a fiber optic bear, a plastic chess set, a glass sculpture, a glow in the dark snowman, box of golf tees, a wallet, a pair of gloves and another ten items whose non-descript existence escapes my recall.
As the game went on, a patterns seemed to emerge, Laura kept opening the best packages and those packages would be stolen from her. This happened at least three times. The later it grew, the more enthusiastically folks waved their newly acquired pieces of junk hoping that whoever's number was up would steal the junk from them and give them another shot at the elephant.
Remember, the junk that each of them was trying to get rid of was the very junk that somebody else had already successfully gotten rid of by getting rid of it to the very people who were trying to get rid of it again in the hopes of getting yet another piece of junk that they would be less willing to get rid of..
"This box contains all twenty six letters of the alphabet. Great for coupon clippers and debt collectors."
"Everybody loves to play chess. Chess sharpens the mind. Here's a beautiful little chess set."
"Don't you dare come over here and take my fiber optic bear."
"This whatever it is would make a great whatchamacallit."
When only a few items remained on the table, we had to get serious about our decision making. Like most husbands, my happiest moments come when I'm able to put a smile on the face of my wife. Like most husbands, I always want to know what it is that my wife wants Like most husbands I ask her what she wants too much which irritates her because at a certain point I'm supposed to know what she wants without asking her and if I ask her what she wants at the point when I'm supposed to KNOW what she wants without asking well, she "doesn't want anything, thank you" and that's not good.
I was approaching that sensitive point when Lynn astonished me by looking directly into my eyes with an expression that was very close to "kiss me" and saying with purrfect clarity. " I love that fiber optic bear. Get it for me."
All of a sudden I was elevated to the next level...Knight errant...man on a mission.
I had an opportunity to earn a smile.
I was in perfect position.
The fiber optic bear had drawn zero attention through the entire game and this was the end of the game. Brad the librarian had drawn the bear early and throughout the game he had used reverse psycholgy "Don't you take my fiber optic bear. I love this bear. etc" all of which proved ineffective as he was still stuck with an unwanted bear which would be in Brad's garbage can within 24 hours.
When my turn came, the bear was right there.
I went to the table. I listened to the various offers.
"I know this is gonna break your heart, Brad, but give me that bear."
Brad didn't even fake heartbreak, when he handed me the bear.
I took my trophy back to the Lynn. She looked at the bear with tenderness and then turned her loving eyes for towards me. She gave me a sweet kiss on the lips as almost everybody ooohed and aaahed.
Momentarily I was young and brave.
In the meantime, Brad had decided to keep the game going by stealing once again from Laura.
I wasn't paying much attention. I was focused on my refountained youth and courage. The reverie was rudely interrupted when Laura, the oft-wronged Laura, burst into my space.
"I'll take the bear,Jer."
"Don't take the bear, Laura," I pleaded as my courage began to dissolve.
"Hey, you're retired and you make more money than anybody here so say goodbye to the bear, Jer"
Laura and the bear trundled back to the other side of the room.
It was my turn to choose again. If I took the last elephant, the game would be over. On the way to the table, I forgave Laura. She had a bambino on the way plus she had been stolen from at least four times and was still being tortured by Ava and the teddy bear,
Mr. Baseball was still saddled with my piece of junk.
I decided to keep the game going, maybe I'd get another shot at the bear.
Once again I heard the cacophony of pleas.
One plea stood out.
"Jerry, take this whatever it is and assign your students to write a composition to figure out what the hell it is."
I stole the whatever it is/was from a weird guy named Chuck, a science teacher welll known for incomplete passes at female colleagues.
The stolen object was a glass "sculpture" about a foot long and ten inches high. The "sculpture" looked vaguely like some sort of drug delivery system or a synthesis of Sideshow Bob and a snake crawling out of a saxophone resting on lava. Trying to be good natured and retain composure. I said that I would indeed use this as a composition subject. I brought the questionable "sculpture" back to my seat where Lynn looked too flabbergasted to speak.
Chuck followed me over to my table and stole from Mr. Baseball my cardboard classification system.
I heard Chris, the principal mutter under his breath...."what's Chuck gonna do with THAT? Keep record of his strike outs?"
Mr. Baseball jumped to his feet and slauntered
over to Laura.
"I'll take the fiber optic bear."
Baseball came back to our table, and set the fiber optic bear next to Beatrice within her reach but far beyond her grasp.
Laura took the attache case from Ken.
Ken ended the game by choosing the last elephant which turned out to be a candy jar full of Hershey kisses.
For a moment, I thought that Baseball had redeemed the bear in order to gift it to Lynn.
"Hey Baseball, I'll give you this beautiful glass sculpture for the bear."
"Baseball turned to me with shit eating grin and said: "why should I take that ugly thing back, I've been trying to get rid of that piece of shit for the last five years."
The party was over.
A few minutes later Lynn and I were silently driving home in frigid, black ice weather that could be described as an Arctic assault appropriate only for polar bears.