There’s an older man who works out at the gym and he looks to be at least thirty years older than I am. He hits the treadmill and while he isn’t exactly making the machine smoke he is putting a few miles on it and his body. He does some weights and I see him in there often.
There’s a television in the locker room and usually it’s on some sports channel or another and no one really pays that much attention to it. The older man is standing there, half dressed, and he’s watching a baseball game with more than a little interest. Because my locker is next to his I say hello and he says, “That’s Kenny’s first at bat for the college. Anne has never seen him on television before. I hope he gets a good at bat.”
But things go bad for Kenny. He watches two strikes go past him as if he’s paralyzed with the idea of being on a sports channel and Kenny looks very nervous. The pitcher wastes a pitch high and outside but Kenny doesn’t flinch.
“Good eye, Kenny!” the man exclaims. This may very well be Kenny’s high point in the game; he didn’t chase a bad pitch.
The next pitch is one the pitcher might have been proud of because it’s a pitch that started out up high and then sank down low, nasty and vicious, but Kenny flails it. The ball is laced into deep left field and there is no way on earth it’s going to get caught. Kenny is on his horse at contact and his first at bat is a stand up double.
“YEAH!” the man exclaims and his world is brightened.
“Go Kenny!” I’m right there with him.
The pitcher is rattled by easy prey slapping a great pitch into no man’s land. The next pitch slips in too far and the batter gets plunked on the back. The next batter smells blood. The man and I are intently watching now. Kenny is bouncing around on second base promising to steal third. The pitcher is in a serious jam. The pitcher throws hard and the ball gets away from the catcher, who corrals it and without a look flings it towards second like the ball is fired out of a cannon. But the runner on first has stayed put. Kenny stands on third without a throw. He looks deliriously happy.
One of the Angry White Men comes into the locker rom.
You know the type and if you’re one of them this is how the rest of the world sees you. He walks in and without looking to see if there is anyone else around put the television on Fox News. He turns the volume way up to really make the point that he is angry. You never see a woman, or someone darker than Sprite doing this sort of thing. Usually it’s someone who looks like they got fired a day before they retired from the mill. Kenny’s fan doesn’t say anything but he looks really disappointed.
“Hey!” I say loudly. “Two on and no one out! You’re killing us here! Put it back!”
To his credit he does but he scowls at us. Back to the game we’re lucky enough to watch the pitching coach finish a pep talk to his pitcher. I know what he said, “The man at the plate means nothing at all. Just don’t let him make things worse for you. Nibble the edges and make him swing at your pitch. If you walk him you bring the double play back into play. Just don’t give up the big inning.”
The pitcher is a man not on a mound but an island. The batter is a man who knows this entire game can be put away for good with a good at bat. “Patience, man, patience!” the older guy says out loud but he’s forgotten I’m here. Kenny is sixty feet away from scoring in his first game. The ball is lofted high, incredibly high, but catchable. Kenny tags and trots home easily. The older guy and I exchange high fives. I’ve got to go and there is going to be a pitching change anyway.
“That’s her granddaughter working the back door”, he told me, and I had no idea what he was talking about. “I didn’t see any action in the war in Korea at all. I worked unloading planes and stacking boxes in a warehouse. I was there for six months then the war ended and I stayed for another two years before getting shipped back. When I got back to Georgia she and I met and her parents hated me from day one. They were bound and determined to keep us apart and they did, but one night we both were at the same party and I kissed her. Everyone was going back inside and we were bringing up the rear and instead of going inside I turned around and it was like she was waiting for me.”
He paused as the new pitched struck out a batter and I realized that was the second one. I missed the first. He didn’t speak again and we watched as the next batter jumped on the first pitch and cleared the bases with a long single.
“ But that was back in a day when a girl’s parents had a lot of say as to who she’d marry so we slipped around a bit. She was a good girl and I respected that. Yet we really liked one another and we fell in love with the idea of forbidden love. Her folks went off for a weekend and she came over to my place, and I knew when she parked her car around back what she had on her mind. I let her go back and forth with the idea, deciding not to, deciding to, deciding not to and I didn’t know which way she was headed. That one was head strong and willful and she hated to be pushed or pulled and as long as her folks pulled her away from me it pushed her to me. If I tried pulling her to me it pushed her away, but this night she gave in to me, slowly, but surely, and finally she let me take her back into my bedroom. She talked a mean game about being careful but we were young, so terribly young. I was older than she was by eight years but it didn’t matter. Once we started we couldn’t stop. She broke up with me the next day and told me it was over. A dozen times she told me she couldn’t see me again but she kept coming back. Her folks found out and it was pure hell for both of us. They shipped her off to a college in Texas, where her aunt lived, and I went on to find somebody else too.” He stopped talking and just stared off into space.
“She died young, barely thirty-five, but not before she had a pair of daughters. The oldest looks the most like her and that’s her girl at the door there.” And this was a whisper.
He stopped and looked down, as if he were done, and I had no idea why he was telling me this at all. Did he tell this tale to other people as well? But he looked up again and continued.
“You see the way she stands when she’s talking, with her left hand lifted palm up? Her grandmother stood like that when she talked with that right hip pushed out a bit and so did her mother. She’s got her grandmother’s face, and it runs strong in that family, that high forehead, the nearly blonde hair, those gray eyes, and the way their hands look, long fingers that like rings that stay forever on them. Long legged women in that family, too, even those that are shorter than the rest still have those legs on them.” And finally he did stop and made a fuss about getting his stuff ready.
I stood there long enough to realize he wasn’t going to say anything else and I left. The girl at the computer at the back door had nearly blonde hair, a high forehead and I stopped to talk to her, waiting for her to talk with her hands.