Thursday, November 30, 2006

I did it with four hours to spare

For anyone who's never written a word of fiction, and perhaps this extends to non-fiction as well (although most non-fiction today has more fiction in it than truth), you may not get how difficult it is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It's mentally exhausting, it really is. But, I finished today, and yes, writing that much in that little of time comes at the great expense of quality, but hey, I got the story down, and I'm almost done with it. Now, that does not mean I'm done with the whole book. No, that means I'm just getting started. Now comes the good part, the part where you fill up holes, get to delete all of the crap (and there's a lot of it!), develop characters, polish the language...

And now, in the words of the great JTM, here's more, more, more.

Chapter 6, part 3

Being at the ballpark was great, but there is no place like home, when fans clad in the same colors as you cheer for your team instead of against it. The electricity in an opposing team’s ballpark is different – it is more like static, clinging to Casey with a crackling sound, an annoyance, really. A’s runs were like getting shocked, like rubbing feet against the carpet in the dead of winter, when the necessity of artificial heat sucks the moisture and the life out of the air.

A.J. had a horrible game, going 0-4 with two strikeouts and committing two errors. It was Griffey who saved the day, aged Griffey who played like The Kid who had been lost to his own mortality for so long. He seemed to inspire the younger players, those who were rookies or had only been in The Show for a couple of years, players who had grown up idolizing the legend and now had more than their dreams come true. They all played with a level of intensity Casey had not noticed during the season.

Sometime in the sixth inning, Sidney received a phone call from A.J.’s agent asking them to come to a small gathering at the hotel after the game. The invitation overwhelmed Marin, whose reaction was a little more than bizarre, like A.J. had murdered her parents or something.

“What’s wrong?” Casey asked.

“You didn’t tell me you knew A.J.”

“So. Is that a problem?”


“Why? Do you know him?”

“Well, I’ve never met him personally, but my ex, Michael, is one of his best friends.”

Casey dropped three dollars worth of beer, sending it splattering to the ground and dripping down the concrete under the seat in front of him, soaking whatever possessions the person sitting there had stuffed under the seat, the very thing that pissed Casey off at a ballgame.

“What?” she asked, confused and more than a little frightened about what he would say next.

“This world is too fucking small.”

She waited for him to say more, but he was silent. He looked at the field, but it was not baseball he was seeing.

“Casey, what do you mean?” She admitted to herself that she was a bit frightened by this unexpected anger. Was it anger? Sidney watched with interest. Even bimbo was paying as much attention as her tiny brain could muster.

“You know how both of us had relationships with cheaters?”


“Well, it appears that the cheating is connected more than we could have imagined. See, Anne cheated on me with A.J.’s friend Michael.”

“Are you sure it’s the same guy?”

“Unless A.J. has more than one close friend named Michael, more than one guy who spends an inordinate amount of time with A.J. Sullivan.” Casey turned to Sidney, but he and the bimbo had left their seats. He suspected Sidney knew something else about the situation and had escaped before questions were asked.

“Can we not talk about this now. I really don’t want to think about it,” Marin said.

“But you’ll go to the party, won’t you?”

“Sure, why not?”

What a strange coincidence, Casey thought, what a horrible coincidence. And to think its epicenter is in Cincinnati, Ohio, one of the smallest big cities in the United States of America. And then, more sinister thoughts crept into his head. Why had A.J. Sullivan, who could have signed with the Yankees for much more money, signed with the small market Reds? Was there something in the city that drew him to it? And why had Sidney run away?

He returned to his seat a couple of innings later but avoided eye contact with Casey and Marin. The Reds sent Oakland fans home, disappointed and facing elimination. Don’t worry, Casey muttered under his breath. You’ll take the next two games and then we’ll see what happens.

The party was at a hotel in San Francisco, not the team’s hotel, but a swanky hotel on Nob Hill. The quartet were some of the first guests to arrive, as the ballplayers were at their hotel. They probably should stay there, Casey thought. Oh well, no matter. Or are they going to lose because they are coming to this party? Real athletes would get a good night’s sleep and gear up for the game. I suppose untouchables like A.J. Sullivan don’t need their beauty rest. Although he did play like crap today…

There was quite a spread on the table, smoked salmon, caviar, filet mignon, staples of the well-to-do pantry. Casey scooped up some caviar and shoved it into his mouth. I could get used to this, he thought.

Marin touched none of it, even after Casey brought a plate to her. She sat on a plush leather couch trembling and staring at the ground, and Casey recognized vulnerability in her. Something inside him stirred, something warm and inviting, but he did not have his lens to see inside himself. He sat down next to her with something resembling compassion, putting his arm around her as if to protect her form whatever it was that she was afraid of. She grabbed his hand in a moment of intimacy neither of them had been prepared to share, but the moment was broken with the entrance of the Cincinnati superstar, A.J. Sullivan.

“Good evening, everyone. Is that victory I smell?”

Was that an entourage following him?

“And who is this smoking hot woman next to you, Casey?”

“This is Marin. Marin, meet A.J.”

“I hope the pleasure is not solely mine,” he replied. “Marin – that is an interesting name. I do believe I’ve heard that name before. But where?”

Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the only other Marin I know.”

“Ah, yes, the name fits you well, for Marin as a beautiful place.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but a light bulb popped up over his head. He frowned, raised his finger to speak again, and changed his mind. With something on his mind, he walked away without further words.

“Oh my god, did you see his face? He knows who I am!” she whispered to Casey, who had come to the same conclusion. Marin seemed to think this fact was more important than Casey did, and the tension showed up in her shoulders. He stood up and began to rub her shoulders from behind the couch, and A.J. returned. He leaned over to Casey.

“You do realize…”
“Just found out tonight.”

“So you didn’t know? You sure you aren’t just trying to get back at Michael?”

“No. Look, can we not talk about this?”

“Whatever, man. Be careful, though. You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

The tension traveled up Casey’s arms from Marin to his own shoulders. What was that supposed to mean? The whole situation was turning out to be too much drama. At that moment, Anne popped into his mind. Things were much simpler then, but now they both had fallen into the same traumatic circle. He changed the subject.

“What happened today, man? 0-4, 2 errors? Too much partying?” He gave him a playful jab.

“No man, but the other guys gotta do some of the work, you know.” His ego wiped a grin onto his face, and a fleeting “what an ass” passed trough Casey’s mind. Had he been this pompous all season?

“So, two double plays tomorrow, think the other guys will pick you up?”

“Two DPs? Ouch. Have some faith, man. We’re going to end this thing tomorrow.”

“You want to bet on that?”

“Yeah, how much?”

“Five hundred.”

“Ok, five hundred. You have yourself a deal.”

“And another five hundred says you ground into two double plays.”

“You do realize I do that less than any player in the Majors.”

“Yeah, but you’ll do it twice tomorrow.”

“My friend, you have yourself another deal.”

“I want it in cash.”

His egotistical smirk was classic – Casey kicked himself for stopping by the hotel to drop off his camera before going to the game. A.J. walked away, and Marin pulled angrily on Casey’s arm.

“You told me you weren’t into that!”

“Into what?”


“Number 1, I never said that. And Number 2, relax, it’s just a friendly wager.”

“That’s a lot of money to lose.”

“I’m not going to lose, and he can afford it. He makes fifteen million dollars a year, you know.”

“You’re not going to lose? Show me your crystal ball that gives you all of the answers!”

He moved around the couch, sat down next to her, and tenderly took her hands into his.

“Relax, Marin. I don’t know what happened to you in the past, but remember, I’m not Michael.”

She said no more, but Casey saw something like fear in her eyes in that dimly lit room. Light comes in various degrees of wholeness, each degree having a distinct meaning. Sunlight is, of course, the only pure light, the giver of life, painting the world with multifarious hues of reflection and refraction, illuminating Truth and Beauty that grace the soul of the Earth. It is no wonder that most sin occurs at night, when the sun is lighting some other part of the globe.

In the sanctuary of a private home, one can control the amount and quality of light that colors a room. Track lightening, overhead lighting, wall fixtures, table lamps, desk lamps, standing lamps, 75 watts, 60 watts, 40 watts, candles, night lights, day lights. When a person leaves his home, relinquishing control over his life to the outside world, he is subjected to all kinds of artificial light, none worse than the fluorescent light that plagues his eyes during the day, office light, harsh, attacking the pupils, a weapon also used in the torturous practice of sleep deprivation. The light of the corporate world.

How did humanity function without artificial light, a reality the modern world simply cannot understand? How is it that there are still parts of the world who live without it? Think about the places you visit in a day, places outside of the office. The drycleaners. The grocery. A clothing store or shoe store or bath store. A mall, a shopping center. A big box store. The library, post office, bank. A café, restaurant, bar. A bar, a haven for sinners. Dark, murky, sinister light slinks its way through a bar, distorting features, hiding colors, allowing shadows to take their place on the stage.

The lighting in the hotel room mimicked bar lighting. The darkness crawled out of the characters in the room, some force that seemed to suck the good from the air. Each moment, each glass raised, swallow, chew, each word that fell from the mouths of the guests was pernicious, perverse, capable of choking a soul to its death. For a brief moment, Casey felt like he was looking at the party through his lens, a myopic view of an underworld that was becoming a part of his own new life. He saw Sidney, the bookie, driven by a desire to earn easy money and circumvent laws and decency to fatten his bank account. He saw A.J. surrounded by woman as if they were toys, A.J. the ballplayer who earned millions of dollars by playing a game for a living. He saw a large man eating in a corner, fat with gluttony and greed, sucking down delicacies with stubby, grimy fingers and unaware that the world did not revolve around him. The room was full of his type, and Casey saw it all, came to understand Marin’s fear of Michael’s world, but the vision passed in an instant and then it was gone, reshaped into a simple party in a hotel room in San Francisco. He found himself convince Marin to have a good time. After some wine, she did, either letting go of whatever it was she was afraid of or succumbing to the darkness again, but that night’s darkness would be washed away in the morning like sand and rocks and dirt on the coast of the Pacific.

Casey and Marin had no plans for their last day in the city by the bay, so they woke up late and went to brunch. For the first time since they had met, they found conversation difficult and awkward. They had shared the same personal disaster, the most trying times in their lives, but instead of uniting them, each became a symbol of the pain from their pasts.

They decided to explore parts of San Francisco reserved for residents, places and streets and small parks not normally plagued by tourists. A walk down residential streets broke down the barrier between them as tourists and people who extolled their lives in San Francisco. They turned down a side street, an alley really, passing some of the houses, beautiful Victorian structures that breathed life into the city’s character. Marin took particular interest in the prismatic flower gardens that contorted themselves into the tiniest gaps in the concrete front yards. They moved forward with no destination, few words, and happened upon a small bookstore in a location that was not the most ripe for a thriving business, giving the place an air of mystery that made it worthy of exploration.

The musty smell of knowledge escaped the store as Casey opened the door and stepped inside, like he had just rubbed a magic lantern and freed a wish-granting jin. Thousands of wishes lined the shelves, and where there were no shelves, they were stacked in crooked columns to the ceiling. The air smelled old like wisdom and nostalgia and was mixed with library silence until a short cough reminded them that life existed outside of what was in those books.

“Hello?” the coughing voice called out from somewhere in the store.

“Hi,” they both replied in unison.

The voice yielded to years of experience of knowing that if customers were looking for something specific, they would ask, otherwise they were just looking. Casey and Marin roamed the store like they were visiting a church and the books were sacred objects. Casey found the fiction section and scoured the titles for something he could read now that he had the time to do so. He could not remember the last time he had read a book that was not baseball related and looked forward to catching up on years of missed stories, both classic and new. He picked up a few basics to start with: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Hamlet, and Catcher in the Rye. He also picked up a copy of Shoeless Joe, the novel on which his favorite movie was based.

The man behind the counter had come to resemble the books in the store, lines on his face like pages, worn, a musky smell about him, the look of ancient wisdom in his eyes. He looked happy, at least content, like he had accomplished what he had wanted in his lifetime.

“This is a great store you have here, although I must admit, we would have never found this place if we hadn’t been wandering aimlessly about the city,” Casey told him.

“And it is exactly the wandering types that I want in my store,” he said with a smile. “Knowledge should be revered, kept in a special place. I try to make my store a special place, not some 50,000 square foot box where mass-produced words on a page exist for profit, not knowledge,” he snapped, though his disgust was not directed towards Casey or Marin. The man’s caustic tongue did not fit his aged sage’s profile, but was more the behavior of a spoiled senior baby boomer who had grown accustomed to getting everything he wanted. “I’m sorry,” he continued. “It’s just that people used to come here despite my location, as I specialized in rare books. I never needed marketing. These days, no one respects an old book anymore. They buy paperbacks, abuse them, use them as coasters or doorstops or to balance tables. The number of true collectors is dwindling. People would rather have shiny new copies with horrible pictures on the covers rather than a first edition leather bound treasure. It just makes my day to see two young people come into my store and treat my books how books ought to be treated, as venerated objects of knowledge.” He picked up the stack we had set on the counter and looked at the titles. “You know,” he began with a reflective frown, “there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction, especially in this day and age of venomous political garbage topping the best seller lists, like that one vile woman, the one who looks like a man, what’s her name? My memory’s not so good these days.”

“Ann Coulter?”

“Yeah, that’s her. Such hatred for her fellow man. In my day, people treated each other with respect, even if they had opposing viewpoints. Now, people just say whatever they want to each other, and it doesn’t even have to be true or based on reality.” He paused again to remember something, but he could not pull it to his conscious mind, so he simply sighed and looked at the books again. “Ahh, good old Holden, poor kid. You know, I met Jerome once. He was Jerome back then, before he became initials and disappeared from civilization because it was so uncivil. Anyway, Jerome told me to call him by his first name after I had called him Mr. Salinger when I first met him, but he said “Jerome.” A lot of people called him Jerry when they were referring to him but I don’t know if they ever did it to his face. Well, I was in New York City at the time, not really doing anything there except pretending to be a writer. I wasn’t very good at it but I thought I could be at the time, so I moved to the city and got a job at a magazine that published some of Salinger’s short stories. I got my hands on an invitation to a party with some real writers and he was there. This was before he became a soldier, when he was still young and still whole. In his mind, I mean. I stared at him half the night too nervous to speak to him. You gotta understand, he had this presence that just dominated a room. Both men and women were drawn to him, not in a sexual way, although there was that, too. But he was really the life of the party, any party he went to. Well, I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself after a few glasses of wine, and I told him I wanted to be a writer. And you know what he said? He laughed and said ‘You can’t want to be a writer. You either are a writer or you aren’t. So are you a writer or aren’t you?’ I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just stood there until he frowned at me. Then he changed the subject and started to talk about the war, something I had been following a great deal, so we had a lot to talk about, almost a half hour conversation. I noticed people were staring at me like they were angry I was spending so much time talking to him, so I said I had to go and the next day I decided I wasn’t a writer. Soon after that I left New York. Salinger got drafted in ’42 and he was never the same after that, although he wrote his best stuff post war.”

Regret passed through the eyes of a once happy man, or was that envy over Salinger’s talent? We all have dreams, Casey thought,. Only some people get to fulfill them, though. It just does not seem fair. Casey wanted to hear more but it appeared that the man was done talking for the day, fatigued by it, not used to visitors – strangers wandering in from the street. They thanked the old man and returned to the sunlight and fresh air outside the store.

“I’m glad we found that place,” Marin said as they walked away. “The whole experience was interesting. Something different, something real.”

Casey was silent, however, thinking about a story of Salinger’s he had read in college about a soldier who returns from a war and ends up killing himself, something about a bananafish. How had it gone, exactly?

“Are you ok, Casey? You look pale.”

“I’m fine. It’s nothing. I was just thinking of Salinger, that’s all.”

“One of lit’s greatest mysteries, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” he said, though he did not agree. Salinger’s retreat from society was no mystery to him. No, he understood completely.

Early afternoon had come in like a tide, so they stopped to grab a bite to eat and some drinks before heading out to Game 5.

“You relate to him, don’t you?” Marin asked between bites of fish.



“I don’t know enough about him, but his war experiences, yeah, I can relate. I, too, have retreated from society a bit. Or had until I met A.J. Sullivan and the Reds started winning.”

She looked at him and nodded, as if her thoughts were causing her head to vibrate.

“So baseball really means that much to you,” she said, not as a question but as a conclusion.

“Yeah, it does. The ballpark is my place of refuge, the game a three hour escape from reality and the problems that plague the world.”

She nodded again, processing a new understanding of him though her mind, pushing out judgment and her previous conception of him as just another man after her body. This man was real, he was in touch with his soul. He had seen horrible things, treacherous things, that had defined humanity for him, had ripped his being to shreds, and she saw him struggling to put the pieces together again. She no longer cared how he made his money, because she understood that he was searching for answers, that he needed time, and that he was not like Michael, that he would not stomp on anyone to get what he wanted, for he had seen stomping, sometimes literally, and she knew he could never turn into a monster like Michael.

At least, that is what she convinced herself.

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