Sunday, November 19, 2006

chapter four and nothing more

Ok, I think the writing is starting to get somewhere. See end for links to previous parts of the story.

The rustling of the fading green leaves whispered the coming of autumn. Usually autumn was a case for depression, the death of summer and baseball, but this year, the Reds were in first place, four games up on the hated Cardinals. The annual August collapse did not do the normal damage of ending a promising season, and the team seemed to be playing like it wanted to win the division, unlike past years when it appeared that October vacation plans had already been arranged. Cincinnati fans were hungry for a winner – they had smelled it the previous year and had come to expect a winning team with the signing of A.J. Sullivan.

Casey had difficulty focusing at work on account of the winning and the excitement. He spent half days surfing baseball related websites, especially blogs like Church of Baseball. He wasn’t aware that Peter had the capability to monitor websites until he showed up to Casey’s office with a demonic smirk on his face, a look that was downright Rovian, as if he were forever trying to avenge his high school nerdiness.

“You are so out of here.”

“What? What are you talking about, Peter?”

“Your internet use. You’ve been spending half your day on the internet looking at your lameass baseball crap.”

“First of all, Peter, baseball is something dorks like you could never understand. Secondly, it’s none of your business what websites I look at. Why must we always remind you that you are not our boss?”

“Unproductiveness is always my concern. It hurts this company, so it hurts me. You are good as gone.”

“This company doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. Why the hell do you claim to be so loyal?” He momentarily scowled before that smirk returned to his face, and he left without further words.

“God I hate this job,” Casey said to no one. He called the IT guy to his office.

“What’s up?”

“Why does Peter have access to our internet usage?”

“Mr. Gross wanted to give him something to do. It’s right up his ratlike alley.”

“He’s going to tell on me for reading baseball sites too much.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks. Really, I don’t know how much longer I can stand this place.”

“Me neither.”

Later in the day, Casey asked Nathan if he wanted to go to the game.

“Really? You’ve avoided me for the last couple of months. I guess being friends with A.J. Sullivan makes you too good for me.”

“That’s not true, Nathan. Come one, let’s go to the game.”

Nathan conceded so quickly that Casey knew he was desperate for companionship. It was true, too, that his friendship with A.J. and Sidney had made him forget about Nathan, whom he was now seeing as a dull accountant for the first time. It made Casey feel ashamed, and he vowed to spend more time with Nathan, especially since it looked like playoffs were in order. Besides, Casey felt creeped out by Sidney – he saw his ugly eye on the “feelings.” There was no way he was going to get involved with a bookie, no matter how much he despised Peter and his job.

Casey’s bedroom could belong to a boy, perhaps the only boy left in him. A green comforter covered his bed, green like an emerald, like a diamond. Several pillows sat on the bed, including a large Reds pillow and a smaller one contained in a case from his childhood – many of the logos had been changed, and four teams had not even existed when it was made. A framed poster of Victory Field hung above his bed, leftover from the days when the Indianapolis Indians were the Reds AAA affiliate. A Reds fleece blanket covered the cedar chest at the end of his bed, and a Reds light switch cover adorned his wall. There were rows of baseballs that he had collected from various parks across the country hanging on a special rack, a dozen New Era caps on a shelf, and a collection of baseball books in a bookcase across the room. He even had a baseball wall calendar and a Reds mousepad. There was also the framed poster of Barry Larkin his father had given to him as he was dying of prostate cancer, a disease that had progressed beyond recovery because he was too busy working to go to regular doctor exams.

There was something surreal about his memories of his father, like those had been the only truly happy times in his life. Was he that pathetic? The anxiety, the misanthropy, the occasional nightmare – they all ruled his life these days, a realm of bitterness he graciously succumbed to, as if he had been destined for misery.

Once upon a peace, he had lived in this state, Ohio, a land of suffocating summers, dull and mean winters, muddy and magnificent springs, and football and campfire autumns. It was innocence, wasn’t it? The joy of such simple things like snowmen and marshmallows and even bowling – had he really lived such an ignorant and simple and wonderful life? Was it better to be ignorant and content than to be acutely aware of your surroundings?

Thoughts of the playoffs saved him from his miserable memories, saved his sanity, saved what little faith he had left in life or God or whatever. Baseball, its colors screaming from the field, blistering heat, perfect days, a symphony of sounds, like nothing else in life, wood on leather, roaring crowds, that angelic sound of the baseball organ…even a blind man could appreciate the beauty of baseball, though he’d be missing out on the perfect imperfect symmetry, the verdancy, the art produced by a groundskeeper. No, to truly appreciate the game, one had to engage the five or six senses, wrap the soul around it, breathe every breath with the full capacity of the lungs.

Casey had asked Nathan to go shopping with him since his laptop had died and he knew Nathan was into computers – it was a pragmatic way to appease Nathan and show he wasn’t a bad guy, not the kind who would abandon his friends to go a little Hollywood, at least, Cincinnati’s version of it. Nathan knew of an independent computer store where you could purchase a computer without the junk they put on to try to make you buy crap you don’t want or need and really won’t use. Casey’s last laptop was a junkyard of useless software – there were free trials of media players, financial programs, encyclopedias, CD burning programs, internet services, video games, and some programs whose purpose was somewhat vague.

Nathan picked him up in his 1992 Honda Civic. The thing looked like it had survived a nuclear war or Soviet Eastern Europe, but Nathan gushed about its reliability, durability, and blah, blah, blah. The reason they had not hung out aside from happy hour and the ballpark was the fact that they had nothing in common. Explanations about terms and acronyms abounded, numbers with no meaning to Casey were spoken, and the world of baseball and A.J. Sullivan and Anne dissolved into an alternate universe – the one of dork. The only thing missing was talk about Dungeons and Dragons, Jedis, or Renfairs. There was guilt, however, guilt over thoughts of the excitement about hanging out with A.J. and the imagined gangster world of Sidney and the existentialism of Adam Dunn rather than an engagement in conversation with his accountant colleague. Nathan was one of those maddening drivers who think they are being cautious when they are actually a hazard – driving too slow, taking forever to change lanes, spending twenty seconds sitting at green lights to make sure no cars are running the red ones…it took them forty-five minutes to drive what should have taken a half hour to their destination. It was worth it, though – Nathan took care of the details of the purchase of the machine, even getting a discount from the salesman. It was like watching a good negotiator haggle with a car salesman.

Casey was so happy with the purchase that he offered to buy an early dinner for Nathan, though it was on the condition that they went to Oxford to eat at Mac and Joe’s. It was Saturday in a college town, his alma mater, bricks and maples and ignorant kids running on pizza, beer, and genuine idealism. Casey hoped that if Heaven were not a cornfield in Iowa, then it was his senior year of college forever. It was the right mix of innocence and knowledge, and there had been no war, only learning, Mac and Joes, and Anne.

The romanticism of the place was lost on Nathan, and even Casey wondered a bit why he had relished the bar, savored its darkness, its utter lack of aesthetics, its sweet, sickening sent of beer and grease and binge drinking vomit. He had known the floors were sticky, remembered the sound of his shoes lifting off it in hazes of drunkenness, but it had not bothered him back then. Likewise, pouring pitchers of Guinness ruined the flavor of Guinness, but he, Anne, and his college buddies had drunk pitcher after pitcher of the black stuff. He realized upon entering as a much older, battered soul that if the place had not been located in a college town, it would have been full of fat men with butt cracks hanging over barstools talking about some disgusting corporal ailment or repeating some piece of AM talk radio political propaganda like they had actually had some thought about what they were spewing. Nathan ate his burger with a scowl on his face but said nothing about his discomfort. At least the burgers were excellent. There are burgers and there are great burgers, but you have to be a complete moron to produce a bad burger.

“So, what’s A.J. like?”

“Just a normal guy, really. Nothing remarkable about him. When we hang out, he’s just a regular guy.”

“So what do you talk about? Anything other than baseball?”

“Honestly, we rarely talk about baseball. We just have normal conversations.”

“About what?”

“About normal things.” Casey realized A.J. must not have many conversations with anyone, so he elaborated. “Women, being Irish, politics, the weather…”

“What are his politics?”

“Are you a reporter or something?” Casey snapped, tired of this line of questioning.

“Huh? What’s your problem? I was just asking a question.”

“Sorry, being around him is kind of stressful, with people constantly coming up and acting like losers around him. I didn’t realize hanging out with a ballplayer could be so exacting.” Casey though for a minute, then added with reluctance, “Do you want to meet him? There’s a party tonight – he’ll be there, and maybe Adam and Brandon and a couple of others.”

“Would I!?!” Oh my god, that would be awesome!” Casey regretted it as soon as the words had been spoken, but he could not take it back, for guilt reigned over every action he made over the course of the day and in all of his interactions with Nathan.

“Now, please, don’t ask for autographs, and don’t act like a child seeing Santa Claus,” Casey ordered as they were going to the party.

“Come on, don’t treat me like I’m some jerk.”

Casey knocked on the door with some hesitation. A man he did not recognize opened it, stared at Nathan as if he should not be there, and finally let them in.

“Oh my god, it’s A.J. Sullivan,” Nathan said a little too loudly, enough to turn several frowning faces towards him. Casey turned red and angry.

“Shh! I told you not to act like that!”
Nathan’s excitement was the only thing that prevented him from returning the anger.

“Sorry,” he said defeated, as if defeat were a routine part of his life.

Everything Nathan said was embarrassing that night, especially when A.J. came over to find out who he was. He said a few words to Nathan, then pulled Casey aside.

“What’s the deal with that jackass you brought?”


“Nate or whatever his name is.”

“Oh, he’s a big Reds fan, and he got me a great deal on a laptop today, so I figured I owed him.” More guilt filled him, molten guilt, bursting from a mountain top, his conscience, spewing ash and lava and destroying his sense of human decency and the friendship he had had with Nathan, red hot flowing through his speech, his actions, his attempts to engage Nathan in conversations, to include him in his interaction with the ballplayers who were becoming his new friends, his “cool” friends.

“Don’t bring him again,” A.J. replied with scorn.

Welcome to the world of the elites, Casey thought, ashamed that he had to be ashamed of Nathan. The room was full of thousand dollar suits and dresses, beautiful people with nothing important to talk about who thought they deserved to be the topic of conversation, that people like Nathan should bow down to them, be silent, worship them from behind curtains and closed doors. What if Casey told A.J. he had been in the Army – the perceived stomping ground of the lower classes that were stomped on by the A.J. Sullivans of the world? Would he be invited back if it were known that he came from nothing, that he was not one of them, silver spoons as toys, allowed the luxury of time and resources to perfect their god-given talents? A.J. had not worked a day in his life – he played baseball year round, went to expensive camps, traveled the country to have the best coaches and competition. Casey’s father worked long hours just to put food on the table and pay down the substantial debt he had accumulated in a past life, before the demands of a family had put shackles on his freedom and his wallet. There was nothing extra for Casey, no music camps that he had longed for, no private lessons, no shiny new instruments which could have perfected his own talents and propensity for music. He carried that resentment with him, partially blaming his father for the desperation that made him enlist and condemned him to witness the brutality and inhumanity of war.

Nathan stood across the room, too in awe or too used to it to notice his own discomfort, his place as a social misfit, or Casey’s embarrassment. He stood there in his discounted suit, shabby but probably his best, a grin on his face and baseball numbers dripping from his mouth like drool into whatever ears were within striking distance. Some of the players, including Adam, listened politely as they inched away. Others simply turned away and began talking to someone else while Nathan was in mid-sentence.

Sometime during the night, Nathan got the sense that Casey was not having a good time and tried to persuade him to leave. It was after midnight when Nathan decided he was too tired to stay, and he walked out the door just as Sidney walked in with a gorgeous woman who immediately began to check Casey out. Introductions were made, Sophia was her name, and Casey’s miserable night was transformed into one worthy of experiencing. She had a way of standing like she was floating on the sexuality she emitted, legs running up to the stars, the wine glass in her hand held like the holy grail, like it could shatter if anyone but her touched it. The two of them grew closer as the night progressed, surrounded by people but alone in the room, shallow breathing, pulse quickening, until the tension became so great that he asked her to go home with him. As they were leaving, he turned to find A.J. to say goodnight, and there she was – Anne – shining eyes staring at him, sending Casey’s heart to his stomach. Then, with the intention of setting off a green inferno in the room, he put his arm around Sophia and turned from his ex without saying a word, heading out the door with a smirk on his face. It was not a smirk for Anne, however. He had merely succeeding in deluding his own heart for the night.

chapter 1 part 1
chapter 1 part 2
chapter 2 part 1
chapter 2 part 2
chapter 3

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