Friday, December 01, 2006

Chapter 7

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Five hours of breathing someone else’s breath – the stale, recycled air struggling to circulate 30,000 feet into the air, or however high planes fly – was enough to feel suffocated, especially among so many strangers. Casey buried himself in the phony world of Holden Caulfield, in Pencey Prep and the Lavender Room and the Radio City ice rink and all. It had been in high school that he last read the book, or maybe he had picked it up sometime during college, but he remembered every word, every action quite vividly, because he had related to it. He still related to it in a way, all the phoniness and heartache and misanthropy. Although, Casey figured, Holden was not really misanthropic – he wanted to save the world from itself, catch people before they ran off the cliff. Casey was not Holden as he thought in his younger years. No, Casey had given up on humanity. Now he sat on the edge of that cliff with a six pack of beer watching the people run off the edge. At least he had enough humanity left in him to not feel pleasure in seeing them fall off. It still hurt.

Towards the end of the book, when Holden visits his sister Phoebe in his parents’ house, Casey found a piece of paper pressed between the pages. The paper looked old – it had yellowed significantly and looked as if it had been handled quite frequently. He pulled it out, carefully unfolding it and respecting its fragility. It was a letter crafted in shaky handwriting and dated November 11, 1951. It had a few black marks over some of the writing, and Casey knew right away what this was: a war letter.

Dear Clara,

As I promised, I’m writing to you as soon as I’ve arrived safely to Korea. It was no luxury ride, I tell you. A lot of the men got sick from all the turbulence. We was tossed around like popcorn on a couple of times. One guy, Jefferson, cracked his wrist when he fell. I was thinking of you all the way, kept the harness on like you told me to, so I was all right. I miss you already. I’m stationed at [blacked out] about [blacked out] from the frontline. It’s really muddy all over, been raining a lot, I guess. I think God’s crying cause we’re apart, but I promise you, my dear Clara, that we’ll be together as soon as this is over. Doesn’t it seem like there’s always a war? I though after Europe we’d never have another one, but those darn Reds want to take over the world. We’ll get em, hon, then we can be together forever, even if they won’t let us get married. But I gotta good feeling that things is gonna change when the wars all stop. Keep praying, dear Clara. God will make it all right.

Love always,

SGT. Lincoln T. Robinson

United States Army

25th Infantry Division

“Wow,” Casey said aloud.

“What’s that?” Marin asked, putting down a book she had purchased from the old man’s store.

“It’s a letter from a soldier to his lover during the Korean War. Here, read it.” She took the letter from him, handling it delicately, like glass. Casey watched her facial expressions as she read through the note, and he recognized empathy in her eyes.

“How sweet,” she said when she finished. “I wonder who wouldn’t let them marry.”

“Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it?” Casey paused to think; he was always thinking more than what was required, thinking about the lives of those who fight and their loved ones who are affected. From what little information there was in the letter, he gathered that Sergeant Lincoln T. Robinson had fought in the second world war as well.

“You know what else is interesting?” Marin asked.


“Look at the date on the letter.”

“November 11, 1951. Veteran’s Day for a guy who fought in two wars.”

“Not only that, but the year 1951, the same year Catcher in the Rye was first published. Your book is a first edition.”

“A first edition? The guy must have made a mistake. I’ll call him when we get home and tell him. It had to be a mistake, right?”

Marin looked at him and thought, this is a good man. She wondered if she were not falling for him. Most people would exploit the mistake, sell the book for its proper value.

“I’m going to google Sergeant Robinson. I wonder if there are any records of him.”

“Why?” she asked, though she was curious herself. It was a wartime love story, a real story, not a Hollywood concoction, not something phony, but something authentic, no embellishment, no exaggeration, no insertion of comic relief.

“Nothing to do during the days, and anyway, I’ve developed a certain fascination about people, despite my disdain for them.”

“Disdain? Why?” Had she not noticed a fundamental flaw in him?

“I’m afraid I’m not a very outgoing person, Marin, on account of all I’ve seen. But buying that camera was good. I’m finding a renewed interest in people.” He saw her eyebrows turn down like he had said something cruel or confusing.

“You seem to be a complicated guy,” she responded without elaboration. And then it hit him, her interest in him, was it interest? Was this the beginning of a relationship? He did not want a relationship, did he? She was a body, a rebound, perhaps. Friendship was grand, just sex was grand, but a relationship was definitely out of the question. Had it been a mistake to invite her on this trip? As they sailed miles above the ground, he understood that what she wanted, expected, or presumed was quite far from what he wanted, for he wanted only one person: Anne. What was wrong with him? He liked Marin, found her interesting, mysterious, incredibly attractive, someone he could date for awhile. But her connection to Anne through Michael ruined it all, and Anne would always be lingering in the shadows of any interaction he had with Marin. His escape would be his travel to the homeland of his ancestors, an escape from both of them, from Sidney and A.J. and Cincinnati. He would take a break from his life for a few months, a break that would last as long as the off season.

“Marin, I’ve decided to leave the country for the winter.”

“Oh, she said, unable to hide her disappointment, which would probably manifest itself into despair once he was out of sight. “Where are you going?”


Ireland? Everything there is supposed to be really green.”

Not diamond green, thought Casey. Green enough, though, not like gray winter. Good Guinness, good nightlife, not like banal Cincinnati, where downtown dies before sunset. The Emerald Isle, they call it. One of the wealthier countries in the European Union these days. They certainly did something right, those Irish. From rotten potatoes to the technology capital of Europe in only a century, a tiny drop in the ocean of time. Emerald green. Escape green.



“Why not?”

“But you have no job.”

“Exactly. That’s why I’m going. I have the time to go.”

“Have you ever been out of the country?” she asked, immediately wanting to slap herself for such a stupid question. “I mean…”

“You mean aside from Iraq. No, I haven’t, except for a lunchtime excursion into Windsor, Canada when I was younger. My parents took me to McDonalds.”

“Yum,” she said sarcastically. “I’ve been to Italy.”

“Really? How was that?”

“Heaven. I mean, if there is a Heaven, I hope it’s Italy.”

“Mine’s a cornfield in Iowa.”


“Have you ever seen Field of Dreams?”

“Oh, yeah. Great movie.”

“That’s my idea of heaven.”

“I suppose for someone who loves baseball so much, there could be no better paradise.”

“None at all.”

Yes, he most certainly was a complicated man, she thought again. He doesn’t want me, I can tell. Sucks. I really like him. But he has issues he has to deal with, I understand that. Oh well. He’s going away, so this will all be over soon anyway. He reminds me of Michael sometimes, the good side, the one that wasn’t trapped in a world of dubious activity. God, how I miss him sometimes. Funny, I should try to pin some blame on Casey for his girlfriend’s transgressions, but I don’t blame him a bit. Her, though, I better never meet her. Not only did she take Michael, but she’s taken Casey before I even had him.

He returned to Holden’s world for the rest of the trip, though his mind sometimes wandered to thoughts of Anne, Marin, and of course, Reds baseball. When the captain announced the descent into CVG, and yes, Cincinnati Very Good is the dumbest airport name in the world, he felt relief. He hated flying, was terrified of it, could not get on an airplane without having visited an airport bar for a couple of hours beforehand. He did not like placing his fate in someone else’s hands, did not like the fact that said fate was also shared with so many strangers, most of whom he had no tolerance for, especially those who had children they did not control, or who disregarded the comfort of those around them in anyway, and so many of them did. There were those who played music with headphones so loudly that they might as well have played it without the headphones, those who felt that paying for one seat did not mean they were limited to the space of one seat, and those who felt screaming was the appropriate decibel level for conversation in such a forced and fake intimate setting, an intimacy that existed only because of the shared fates of all of the passengers. The stale air, the tiny bathrooms that were merely the beginning of the process of freezing human waste and dropping it to the Earth below, the thin blankets and cramped space, the horrid meals, the unfriendly flight attendants, and the feeling that you were merely an instrument for profit in the corporate inferno all made flying one of the least pleasant tasks one had to face in the modern world. The moment the captain announced the descent brought a flood of relief, meaning passengers only had to suffer through another half hour, the length of a simple sitcom, before the plane would land and the job of flying was complete. Casey recalled a conversation on his flight to Basic Training all of those years ago with a businessman sitting next to him. They talked during the length of the trip – the man helped him to forget his fear of flying until the captain announced the descent. Casey told the man the decent was his favorite part of flying. The man’s eyes exploded with amazement, and he said with all seriousness, “Are you crazy? Landing is the most dangerous part of flying!” The man said nothing to Casey after that. Very bizarre. And it took nothing away from the relief Casey felt during descents. Besides, how could anyone say that taking off was not more dangerous than landing? Casey shuddered at the thought and began to talk about nothing to Marin just to get his mind off the danger of landing.

CVG, Cincinnati Very Good, grew closer to the plane, and then they were one. It would not be long before they could breathe their own air again instead of passing around germs to each other. All of the strange feelings and the lack of focus on baseball had disappeared as soon as they touched down. The World Series was returning to Cincinnati, and nothing else mattered. Except a few things.

The Apocalypse could have been scheduled for the next week, but Casey did not care. Even with an impending loss in Game 6, the world could not be any more perfect than it already was – at least the narrow, warped version of it in which he hid himself. Problem was, he could not tell who would win Game 7, and as soon as Casey turned the key in the lock to his apartment, Sidney called. He sounded rather angry.

“I think you are withholding information from me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Game 7.”

“Oh.” He paused for a second. “Listen, I just got in, can I call you right back.”

“Five minutes.” Sidney hung up the phone before Casey could respond. Casey called back five minutes later.

“So I started to get the feeling on the plane. The Reds are going to take the series. They’re going to be World Series champs!” Lying felt dangerous, even frightening, but mobster movies weren’t real, right? What could happen if he were wrong?

“Do you have a score?”

“Sorry, Sidney, I don’t. But bet a lot on the Reds. It’ll make up for not knowing the score.” He was leaving the country anyway, right? They wouldn’t travel half a world a way to punish him for being wrong, would they?

“Ok. I trust you. You’ve made me a lot of money this season.”

When the phone went dead, Casey wondered why Sidney had waited until they had landed to ask him, why he had called instead of asking face to face. He was rather grateful for it, however, because he knew his eyes would give the lie away.

Game 6 was full of the energy and excitement of Games 1 and 2, more because the Reds only had to win one game to take the title and disappoint large market corporatists everywhere. There was something nagging at Casey, though. He had never been to a World Series game before these, and now he had been to six in a row, soon to be seven, and the excitement felt different, not as strong, and he wondered if the magic had lost its luster, or perhaps his own magic had ruined it. What is the fun in rooting for something if you know the outcome? His saving grace was not knowing how Game 7 would end. He still had hope, he still looked forward to it. But the stress caused by Sidney’s insistence on having an outcome cut into the excitement.

Game 6 was a mess, and pitcher Milton threw like it was a Little League game. The whole show was embarrassing, nothing like a World Series game should be. Casey drank that night, drank the loss, drank his stress. He realized his drunkenness, realized his inability to focus early in the game but continued to buy beer. The alcohol running through his veins and through his sight was not running through his sense of reason, he told himself. The beer guy seemed to think otherwise as he avoided Casey’s section. The night’s activities blurred together – reds and oranges were the same, oranges and yellows, yellows and greens…The colors swirled together at Game 6. The senses blended together. Sidney disappeared halfway through the game and did not return to his seat, leaving Casey to stumble home alone. Alone. Loneliness is brutal.

He woke up the next day feeling like he had been shot or stabbed or pummeled with hot lava rocks. Popping some head meds, he picked up his phone to catch the time. Two in the afternoon. And still he wanted to sleep, but he forced himself to stay up. He sat down to look up the bookshop’s phone number on his computer but could not find it anywhere. He merely chalked it up to his physical state and vowed to look again later. He googled Sergeant Robinson and found a few entries, but his pounding head gave him no way to focus, so he set that, too, aside. He sucked down some Gatorade, usually pretty good relief from hangovers, and tried to eat something, but there was not much in his fridge, and the leftover Chinese just made him sicker. A fever was trying to grip his body, his face hot and pale, and his hands were trembling. I have to stop doing this to myself, he lectured. Come on, it’s Game 7, the Reds could win the World Series tonight! Where is the excitement? What was happening to him?

Game 7 was a sacred event, and even the apathetic masses throughout the country would tune in to watch the Griffey types send impossible feats into the seats. As game time grew nearer, Casey’s body began to forgive him for the previous night’s transgressions, and he was pumped for the game as he was walking to the stadium. Casey thought he felt the win, but something obscured the sense of victory. The meaning of Game 7, of World Series victory, and even baseball in general had begun to change, to slip into ambiguity. Why now, during the most important game of his adult life, the game that could bring glory back to the sleepy town on the Ohio River? Perhaps the tension between him and Sidney was heavier than what joy he should have been feeling, suffocating it. As he settled into the usual box, he hoped that excitement would replace the anxiety he felt, and though such excitement did return to him once the first pitch had been thrown, the anxiety never completely melted from his enthusiasm. Sidney’s impatient questions did not help either – they were akin to the incessant child’s travel question “Are we there yet?” though spoken not with innocence but malice.

Game 1 starter Aaron Harang, Cincinnati’s ace and baseball’s most underrated pitcher, took the mound for Game 7 with the fire of determination burning in his eyes and reflected in every motion, every pitch. Oakland’s starter matched that intensity pitch for pitch well into the game, which had all the makings of a classic. The enthusiasm of the crowd never waned, but as the scoreless innings piled up, Casey grew nervous. How would Sidney react to a loss? The seventh inning turned into the eighth turned into the ninth and still no runner had crossed home plate - no runner had made it past second base. Game 7 was going into extra innings. When Harang took the mound in the top of the tenth, the crowd unleashed such verve that one could have mistaken Harang for a man who had just saved the world from some hideous evil. He shut down his enemy on six pitches, his last six pitches, as he was due up first in the bottom of the inning. His pinch hitter struck out on four pitches, the A’s pitcher ignited by the fervor of the moment. Statheads everywhere were busy trying to find out the last time two starters pitched into the tenth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. Probably not since the prevalence and protocol of relief pitching came into play.

Ryan Freel came up for the biggest at bat of his career. One could see his enthusiasm in the vigor of his motions, digging in, moving the bat around, getting set for the pitch. Ball one. More movement, more anticipation, and the pitch. Ball two. With each release of the ball, the crowd collectively held its breath, releasing it only as the pitches settled into the catcher’s glove with a favorable outcome. The catcher fired the ball back to the pitcher and the process entered another round of its cycle. As the pitcher released his third pitch, Freel squared to bunt, laying down a perfect one along the third baseline. The third baseman charged the ball as if he was trying to prevent a bomb from going off, scooped, and threw to first.

The umpire called him out. Replays showed the umpire was wrong. You’d have to expect the umpire feared for his life at that moment, for the negative energy, the booing, and the insults hurled at his ears were louder than a jet engine and far more menacing.

Adam Dunn found his way to the plate through the booing, ready to take his turn at bat in an environment charged with negative ions. He took the first two pitches for strikes before watching ball one barely miss the corner of the plate. And then the ball was gone, launched out of the stadium, inciting a mob of red around the plate, a walk off home run. In Game 7 of the World Series. Reds win.

No one had any plans to leave the stadium anytime soon after, you don’t do that after a World Series Championship. You linger. You watch the golden trophy presented to the team. You watch the celebration with fervor. You hug strangers next to you. You watch the players return to the field with their special World Series caps and shirts. You watch the other team sit in the dugout dejected. You watch the MVP trophy presented to a player, in this case, Aaron Harang, 3-0 with 28 strikeouts. You watch your superstar shortstop pout because he did not win the MVP award. And if you’re Casey O’Hagan, you make a year’s salary in one swing of the bat.

There was not a sober soul in Cincinnati that night, not a wink of sleep before four hours of the new day had passed, the first day Casey’s beloved Reds were called World Series champs, the first day of the off season, the furthest point from baseball season you could get. Casey picked up his phone as the sky glowed with the warning that the sun was on its way to a new day. He dialed Anne.

“Did I wake you?” he asked when he heard a groggy voice on the other side.

“Casey, it’s five thirty in the morning, even big Reds fans are sleeping, or at least passed out. Except you, apparently. Why are you still up?” He said something she did not understand. “Are you drunk?”

“Are you sober?” he responded.

“Not exactly. I’m a bit buzzed. That was a great ballgame, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, sure was. Probably would be considered a classic if the Yankees had played it instead.”

“Listen, I’m too tired to talk to you now. I’ll call you tomorrow. Or I guess later today.”

“Yeah, uh, ok. I miss you,” he said, regretting it as soon as he realized he said it.

“Good night, Casey.”


The sun had already begun its slow descent down the short October day when Casey woke up with a headache that nearly kept him in bed, but he was quick to remember championship, and the joy seemed to chase the pounding away. He slowly got ready for what was left of the day. He needed to pick up a copy of the Enquirer, and he was going down to the team store to buy one of everything that had World Series Champs on it. As he was leaving the apartment, he checked the time on his phone and noticed he had made a phone call to someone he did not remember. He knew, though, could guess who was on the receiving end of such a call, and with the press of a few buttons, his horror was confirmed. What had he said to her? He was too afraid to call and ask.

There were many red eyes and pale faces on the street struggling to make it through the day, only saved by the victory high they were feeling. The city felt strange, like a major event had taken place and used up the entire supply of the town’s energy. Casey made his purchases and returned to his apartment with an empty feeling, the feeling of loneliness, and he was happy when his phone rang in the evening.

“Hey, Casey, what’s up?” It was A.J.

“Hey, congratulations. That was some game yesterday.”

“Yeah, it’s a great feeling. Listen, some of us are getting together tonight to continue the celebration. Do you want to join us?”

“Sure, I have no plans for the evening.”

“Good. Oh, but I don’t know if you should bring Marin – Michael is going to be there.”

“Ok, I’ll just show up alone. Or I could give Sophia a call.”

“Bring who you wish. See you then.” A.J. seemed to be detached from the emotional world most of the time, but at least he was astute enough to warn Casey’s about Michael’s impending presence. He wondered if he should call Marin and tell her – he had not spoken with her since they had returned form Oakland and was not sure he should, given the bizarre collision of their past lives and the emotional baggage any relationship would carry with it. Nah, he’d call Sophia. There was no thinking involved in any interaction with her.

Casey did not realize how much seeing Michael would set him off, especially after a few drinks. They got into an argument about politics that had nothing to do with politics under the surface. He talked about hardworking middle class people as lazy and undeserving of any of the taxes people in his social class paid (though Casey was sure the man did not pay much in taxes, given what he did for a living), as if he were trying to wage class warfare right in the house of a wealthy baseball player. Somehow he knew Casey came from nothing, and Casey wondered if it were the way he carried himself or if Anne had discussed her ex at length. Only Casey’s disgust for violence kept his clenched fist at his side. He needed a break from all of this and decided to take the first flight to Dublin the next day. He did not view it as running away, but if someone had told him that was what he was doing, he would have agreed with him.

He changed his mind though, and waited to leave after the victory parade in Cincinnati. When the floats had finished their tour of the Cincy streets, he was off to explore a new world and escape his old one – that is, at least until pitchers and catchers reported to spring training when Ohio’s February freeze could make one forget that warmth was a mere few weeks away.

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