Joe recognized only two seasons: baseball season and the rest of the year.In winter, he’d skim through football and basketball scores to the page of roster additions to the Double A farm team based in the neighboring town, looking forward to his job selling beer at the stadium.
“Shit,” Joe said when his ‘84 Ford wouldn’t start.This late-June Saturday was a big selling day for beer vendors; the local brewery and downtown bars sponsored Brew Game, offering lager at half-price.The souvenir sellers complained that fewer children showed up but Joe sold “a series worth of suds” in the one game, he’d bragged.After slamming his hands on the steering wheel, he got out and opened the hood.The wind lifted his hair, which was combed flat and stiff like a strip of plywood.He picked at the carburetor and when he turned the key, the weakened starter gave a grinding surge and the car reluctantly turned over.The ballgame began at one o’clock and he had to pick up his girl friend Lorraine, who also worked at the stadium, drive a half hour in pre-game traffic, park at the edge of the lot, load a tray of beer and a few sodas for the fathers ordering for himself and his child, and walk to his station at the third base section of the ballpark.
Joe pulled in front of the apartment house where Lorraine lived and pressed the horn several times.An elderly woman in a nearby apartment raised her window blinds and looked out; when his girl friend still didn’t come out, Joe got out of his car, the motor running, and rang her doorbell.“I’m ready,” she shouted through the intercom, her voice scrapping the rusted tubing that ran from her apartment wall to the round grill above the tin mailbox with her misspelled name written on white tape.Coming through the door, Lorraine was putting on her jacket over a blue Mets shirt with Strawberry in gray lettering across the back—a shirt she’d been given years before by the troubled New York Mets outfielder, Darryl Strawberry, when she’d visited Shea Stadium as the star pitcher of a national softball team. The porous canvas of her sneakers was imbedded with field dirt.Her eye make-up was clustered on the edge of her lashes and in an uneven line below her pupils, and her red lipstick blended with her unpainted, flushed cheeks.She wouldn’t look at Joe and hurried to put on her sunglasses.“Sorry;” she stretched the word by trilling the r’s.
Joe had met her last season when she’d parked her dented van next to his car and stepped out the back doors dressed in her mascot costume less the covering hood—a squinting, sunburned face on top of the round, exaggerated form of an animal.Seeing the surprised expression on his face, Lorraine laughed.“Can’t figure out why men don’t find me attractive.” A stadium security guard had described her as “once pretty”—an early beauty altered by furrows and lines cruelly carved in her face by harsh experience; to Joe on that day of their first meeting, she was very appealing, but even then he soon suspected something was amiss, like the near-duplicate photographs in a magazine with the challenge to find the variance—a missing detail, unobvious, requiring a long stare to identify.
On the ride she asked, “Did you hear about going down to field boxes?”
The trapped wind that came through the open windows pushed her words to the back and Joe could barely hear her: “Yea, the guy there is moving to Florida next month and I can get his territory—big tippers and regulars in those seats.”
“Next thing, you’ll go to the big league parks, and I’ll still be a fuckin’ minor league clown.”
Joe glared at her, reflecting his disdain for her using foul words.
By the time they’d arrived, the lot was nearly full, and they had to park in a distant corner and run to the side entrance of the stadium.
“If we’re late again, and on top of everything else, you’re going to get canned,” Joe said as they hurried.
“What does bi-polar mean?” he’d asked her when she first told him why she swallowed pills at the restaurant.
“It means I live between the North and South Pole,” she joked.
“I can look it up,” Joe responded to get more details.
“Think of the North Pole as a happy place and the South Pole as a depressing place and I’m traveling between them all the time—until I take my meds.It’s why I lost my curveball, Joey, and got booted from the softball team and why I like my job: I could be smiling or bawling under the costume head and no one knows which.This happened when I was sad.” She pointed to white-line scars on her wrists.
Joe had seen her mood changes before; it was the incident that nearly got her fired.One of the opponent players—the shortstop who’d been sent down from the majors to recover from an injury—had heard about the mascot who could throw underhand as hard as half the bullpen.As the stadium filled that day, the shortstop saw her on the sideline with her costume hanging over a folding chair.He called to her and she came toward him in unsteady steps.
“How about showing me what you got,” he said as he handed her a ball and jogged away to a spot near the third base seats.
Lorraine, standing between the pitcher’s mound and the shortstop, smiled sheepishly and twirled the ball in her hand with practiced ease.The first pitch she threw was an arching curveball that popped in the shortstop’s glove.Lorraine danced around the mound and looked out at the uncrowded stadium. She spun her throwing arm angrily in circles and released the fastball on an upward movement.The ball sailed above the outstretched glove and into the stands striking a boy in the fifth row.The game was delayed until the paramedics treated the bleeding child.
The ballpark filled early on fair weekends.A group of men assembled in the parking lot tossing a baseball; a van lettered First Baptist Church pulled in and a tall, skeletal man waved in circular motion as black men jumped out of the side doors; couples walked toward the stadium, the men ahead, whooping with excitement, while the women strolled behind, chatting.Raucous fans came dressed in outfits of the team’s emblem on sweatshirts and hats worn backwards, ascending the concrete walkways to the back loge, upper stands and outfield bleachers, drawn by the fervor of contest, their palpable exuberance combined with the cloud-free sky and deep green grass to illuminate the gray stadium.By the time Joe got to the field, the high school band had finished a flat rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and the teams had left the dugout edges to prepare for the game.The screen above the outfield flashed clips of ballplayers sliding, chasing fly balls, which was the signal for the game to begin, much like the dimming lights at a theater before the performance.The black-suited umpires came out first and walked toward the bases; a few unenthusiastic shouts came from the upper seats and were more a ritual than directed razzing.The home team ran out in zigzag motion like charging soldiers anticipating mortar fire.An eruption of cheers filled the open stadium and drifted to neighboring apartment buildings and one-level homes.The voices of the crowd, like a rehearsed choir, let out with an a capella note of a stretched out vowel: booooooo; as the first batter of the opposing team came out slowly from the dugout, the harmony of rants turned into the cacophony of cheers and hoots while the loudspeaker voice introduced the home team players on the field.The pitcher, who’d moved furtively to the mound and tossed fastballs to the back-up catcher before the rest of the team came out, shook his head at the deafening sound and slapped his glove—a signal of readiness.
When Joe put on the stained apron and reached for a tray, his boss, who’d seen Lorraine mouth, “love ya,” as she ran away, smirked.“She’s going to drag you down,” he said.” Joe carried the cups on a slotted, tin tray suspended from his neck, the swaying white foam contained by the transparent covers.After a season in which the small disc covers flew onto the field like errant Frisbees, the tops were removed before selling.Each vendor had a distinct call to identify the product: pretzels, hot dogs, ice cream, cold drinks.Joe shouted an iambic chant: “Co’ be¢a, drink da be¢a.” The call marked territory and drifting shouts that strayed into another beer seller’s section brought rebuke at closing.There were tricks Joe learned in his first year at the park: follow the pretzel or hot dog sellers, move quickly when the home team was scoring and the shouting fans were getting hoarse, pass the beer across others who might be tempted by the smell.He had the highest sales in the stadium last year and the other drinks vendors reluctantly called him by the honorific title—Beerman.
Lorraine went into the players’ locker room off the dugout; as the only woman, she used a body-length locker door as a shield while she changed, and walked past the urinals into a bathroom stall.Leaving the locker room, she stood near the outfield fence and saw a fly ball descend toward the waving glove of the right fielder.The shouts of the crowd at the final out of the inning was her cue; Lorraine came on to the field dressed as the team mascot—a rabbit.
Joe recognized the leer in the changing cheers and looked toward Lorraine.“Nice tail,” someone from the upper seats shouted.Lorraine turned and shook the wad of cotton she’d sown to the back of her outfit.A boy charged down the aisle of the field boxes and waved a carrot at Lorraine, who reached toward it, but the boy pulled it back and she put her hands on her hip in mock frustration.A burly man in a gray t-shirt stretched over his protruding stomach handed her a tall cup.She took it and downed the contents, spilling on her soiled costume.Her face was flushed and she waved her tail at the man and ran off the field.
Between the early innings, she gathered kids from the stands and led them to a slick strip of rubber with a torn base on the other edge where they could slide like the big leaguers.On the way off the field, Lorraine tripped over the third base bag, and the crowd laughed.While the game was played, Lorraine stood in a small square behind the outfield stands.Joe saw her bend over and get sick; ignoring a call for beer, he walked to the edge of the stadium just above her.
“Are you all right?” he asked.She looked up, confused by the voice coming from out of sight.
“Joe?” she asked.
“I’m right above you.”
“It’s the pills.I told you that before.The fuckin’ meds.” She looked up and smiled, squinting through reddened eyes.“Can you reach down to me?”
“Yes,” he answered, puzzled by the question.
“Give me a beer; I’m so thirsty.Pour it in a soda cup and fill it half way so no-one sees the foam.”
Joe reluctantly handed her a partially filled cup of beer and watched her down it without a breath.He suspected that she’d had others—helped herself to the filled cooler in the locker room after the team was on the field.When she looked back toward him, he could see the word another form on her lips but the sound was drowned out by the shout of the concession manager walking fast toward him.“Joe,” he said angrily, “this is not your section,” pointing toward the upper stands further back.
“I was just giving a soda to my girlfriend.”
The concession manager looked skeptically toward Lorraine.“You ain’t helping her.This is our best day of the year and you can’t waste no more time with her.”
Later in the game, Lorraine tossed rolled up t-shirts with the team logo at fans raising their arms to get her attention, like children signaling to be lifted from a high chair.Letting go late in the arc of her overhand motion, the first waded t-shirt fell in the first row of the stands, the upper level hissed, and when someone yelled, “You throw like a girl,” the taunts turned to a derisive laugh.
After a groundout in the next inning, the home team had runners on first and third; Lorraine came out to excite the fans into a supportive roar.Joe saw that the crowd was unmoved by her antics, and knew her fear of being ignored would bring her to panic.He looked down and she was waving in a purposeless, frantic motion to draw attention.The batter hit into a double play and a booming groan reverberated in the conic stadium.Lorraine walked off the field, her eyes blinking uncontrollably.
Joe kept his attention on the seats in his section, looking for waving hands or beckoning nods; periodically he turned toward the field to watch, knowing that if he blocked the view at an eventful moment, the seat holders would yell, “Move your ass” or throw crushed cups at him.Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the thin, raised arm of a pallid young man whose long, unwashed hair seemed attached to the edges of the baseball hat.When Joe asked to see his identification, he pulled out an expired driver’s license from his wallet: the worn picture was of a smiling, oval-faced young man in a sailor uniform.The Beerman handed him a cup.He remembered what Lorraine had once said to him: “Everybody deserves a beer; you never know what they’re trying to wash down.”
Before the sixth inning, Joe saw Lorraine come out again, she’d changed into a team uniform: the tight pants were stretched over her thighs and thick waist.She’d tried to push her straight hair underneath the cap but the hat was lifted slightly off her head as if covering a lump.When she appeared on the sidelines, the crowd applauded.Low scoring games, like this one, were unappreciated by the fans and they directed their straying attention toward any available distraction.Cheers broke out at a beach ball tossed from the high seats and slapped from section to section.Lorraine started her awkward routine—crouching in a batter’s stance, holding a Styrofoam bat, swaying her hips and waiting for an imaginary pitch.The fans directed their restlessness toward her; the bleacher crowd’s encouragement came in waves of unintelligible shouts.A man in the upper rows cupped his hands over his mouth to magnify his voice and yelled “Go, bitch.” The words caught like a spark in dry grass and the chorus of shouts reverberated: “Go, bitch; go bitch!” At baseball games, taunting, mocking calls were tolerated as overextension of fervor.The teams gathered on the steps of the dugout, most grinning at the unexpected display.Lorraine’s motions grew more exaggerated as the voices loudened.She swung her hips in wide circles and twirled until her back was to the seats closest to her.Across the field a deep, resounding voice called, “Over here;” like an echo, the solitary shout was repeated and others joined in.An umpire came charging out on the field, pointed his finger toward Lorraine and looked around for someone to intercede.Lorraine bent slightly forward and shook her buttocks; the cleavage between her soft breasts deepened.She was unaware of the team coming on to the field and continued her increasingly frenzied movements; she saw a camera aimed at her, and her image was on the wide screen on the scoreboard.Security guards leaped over the low fence and moved toward her.She didn’t notice the screen go black as she swung at an imaginary pitch.Instead, she saw a man with a gray circle of hair and sun-reddened face come out of the stands and run toward her.In a quick, off-balance motion, he grabbed her roughly, bent her backwards, and kissed her half-opened mouth, catching the edge of her lip and lower teeth.When he lifted her straight, he stood there smiling and bowed to the encouraging crowd just as a security guard grabbed his arms.Joe looked down at the field ignoring the tug on his shirt and the call for beer that came from the higher rows.The concession manager roaming the stadium glared at Joe from the next section and signaled to the nearest beer seller to attend to the impatient customers.
Lorraine turned toward the field and saw the pitcher staring at her.The infielders looked away as if embarrassed.She began to cry just as two security guards gripped her arms.One guard put his arm protectively around her and led her to the dugout.She kept her moist eyes staring down at the grass; just before the dugout steps a cheer broke out as if recognizing the valiant but losing effort of a starting pitcher.Changing slowly in the locker room, Lorraine walked out along the edge of the field to the outfield gate.Joe looked at her.There was no identity with the job, her face largely covered by the mascot head or the oversized cap; no one would notice if she was replaced.Someone else who’d failed at waitressing or assembling toys in the nearby factory would wear the same costume—worn, soiled, and bleached white at the crotch.For reasons he couldn’t fully understand, she loved the job; for brief moments, she drew attention from the game and the players of promise, whose lives had hope, she’d once explained.The ballpark was resonant with impermanence: fans shifted between season sports; players kept hometown addresses, planning a year or two before moving to Triple A or giving up; the park was reshaped from a diamond-centered stadium to a rectangular, football field for a semi-pro league; food and drink vendors left cheap rental flats in the early fall for Florida and work at raceways.But she would have been content to return each year, she told him, like a migrating bird, nesting in the same comfortable grounds, oblivious to change, finding joy in the infrequent, directed cheers.
Joe watched her being led out.He thought he saw her look at him, pleadingly but knowing that he could not comfort her.The concession manager was walking toward Joe with the slow, disappointed amble of a pitching coach to the mound after runs scored.In that moment, he thought of starting over a new ballpark, away from the hovering supervisor, away from his crazy girlfriend, away from slurred calls for beer.Just as Lorraine was at the gate, the ball flew from the pitcher’s hand—a wide curve; the surprised batter, expecting a fastball, swung early and the ball sailed high and foul.The fans in the rows behind Joe stood up and watch the arc of the ball until it began to descend toward their section.Some got out of their seats and into the aisles, running toward where the ball might land.Joe saw the gate close behind Lorraine, and lifted the tray of beer from the ground where he’d placed it for a sale.Ignoring the hand snaking toward his tray to steal a filled cup, Joe envisioned her sitting in the car, her face streaked from mascara mixing with tears.As Joe straightened, a burly man with a child’s mitt on his hand charged forward, looking up.Joe imagined Lorraine reaching into the glove compartment of the car and finding the sharp-edged screwdriver.Colliding with the Beerman, the bulky man screamed profanities as the ball fell a few feet in front of him.Joe pictured Lorraine pressing the edge of the screwdriver into the swollen veins above her clenched fists.Joe’s tray swung free at one shoulder, caught the man’s knee, and the cups of beer flew out like launched missiles.The blood from Lorraine’s limp arm stained the gray upholstery—he was visualizing.The beer struck the ground; the stream of golden beverage poured over the concrete steps, and blended with the tracked-in dirt and spilled soda to form a stream of brown, useless liquid.In Joe’s mind, small puddles of deep red were widening on the crusted mat of the Ford.The concession boss called out angrily to Joe; by then, the Beerman was on his way to the parking lot.