To a man who came of age in the 60s, paying $10 for a little airplane bottle was more than offensive, it was blasphemy against all that was good and rational…”
by mike sauve
At the last minute we invited my cousin Jamie along. His parents were even worse off than mine and you got the feeling the poor kid never got out of the house or did much of anything besides sit in front of a TV and fight with his dirty-faced siblings. But the real reason for inviting him was that my dad and I weren’t that comfortable alone together. I hadn’t seen him much since the divorce and this trip was our big reunion. He’d gotten some extra work and said it had always been his dream to take me to Wrigley Field. I’d been to Wrigley with some pals of mine the previous summer but decided it was best not to tell him this.
Everything we said Jamie soaked up like a sponge, even though we weren’t saying much of consequence. It was as though he wanted to shed his old life like a snakeskin and be reborn in our image. It was a fairly shoddy image: drinking beer in the truck and forcing conversation about the Cubs pitching. Still, this was probably a fair bit classier than the conversation in his own dilapidated household.
We arrived at the Best Western around 8pm. Jamie and I went down to the pool for a swim where he pestered me with questions regarding adult life. He seemed eager to make the transition.
“I drink coffee you know,” he told me.
“That’s great,” I said. “Don’t let it stunt your growth.”
“I drink beer too.”
“Oh, you’ll fit right in with us then,” I said sarcastically. But he beamed pure electric joy at me.
Back in the room my dad had already put back four tall cans. We’d only bought twelve so I had to race to get my share. Jamie asked if he could have one and I said no.
My dad said, “Oh, C’mon.”
“Give him one of yours,” I said, “By my count you have two left.”
That quickly halted the discussion of Jamie getting any.
After the beer was gone my dad cracked the mini-bar, a decision he’d surely regret given the prices of the little bottles in there. He must have had an idea how expensive they were, just not how expensive. To a man who came of age in the 60s, paying $10 for a little airplane bottle was more than offensive, it was blasphemy against all that was good and rational.
The next morning was hung-over and discombobulated as we made our way to the game. My dad wasn’t used to big city life and seemed to think you could just leave a half-hour early, pull up to the game like it was the local Lyons club, swing into a parking spot and have a grand old time.
First he stopped to buy smokes. Jamie ran into a neighbouring discount store. His mother had given him a pitiful $10 for the trip and he was looking at some goofy capes. An obviously unlicensed Spiderman costume, cut exactly like a dress, appealed to Jamie for some reason. To my dismay he wanted to put it on. But it looked so funny and big on him that I decided to put it on myself. The old woman who must have owned the place looked at me and said, “That looks like a Friar’s frock. You would make a good priest. You have a forgiving face.”
When we left the store Jamie showed me his bounty. He was proud to have stolen hot dogs, breakfast sausage and some long tubes of cheap pepperoni. He’d also stolen a small notebook and an ornate girls-pen.
Just as we were started making progress my dad wanted to make a second stop for beer. “No sense paying those mini-bar prices again tonight,” he said.
My sense of forgiveness was quickly disappearing. I wanted to say, “Yes, avoid the mini-bar, buy beers, but can’t this be done after a game that though not limited by time, is no doubt drawing ever nearer to its conclusion?”
I said none of this, just gritted my teeth. I wasn’t even dying to see the game. Today had been so built up by my dad that I was sure it could only disappoint. In my experience it was a bad idea to build things up so much. I didn’t want to turn on the radio for fear it would already be 8-0 in the 7th or something terrible.
We finally made it onto Lake Shore Drive and a big clock read 2:38 pm. A well-pitched game could have played itself out already. Jamie was now sipping at the last of his coffee, which he’d been sipping at for some time. He was scribbling in the notebook and I noticed tears in his eyes. All he’d written were a bunch of nonsense words.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him. I thought maybe he was sad that we’d missed most of the game.
“All these words. I never had someone to write them to before. But I can just write them if I want to. No one has to read them.”
“No, they sure don’t,” I said.
Through some grace the game was only halfway done. We sat in surprisingly good seats and enjoyed the remaining four innings. They were luxurious and slow, with lots of walks and long-counts. Jamie had never been to a major league game, and was amazed how hard they threw, even between innings. There’s something about a ball game, on the best of days, that is purifying for the soul, so long as you aren’t expecting too much of it.
It was far more rewarding than the drunken bellowing I was accustomed to from attending games with my peers. It might have been the most fun I ever had at a stadium, even if the Tribune the next day headlined it, “Dull, Dull, Dull….”
I successfully lobbied to stop for a bottle of hard stuff on the way back to the hotel. I woke up around 7am and saw my dad had a half-full beer propped against him, and cigarette ash surrounded him on the carpet. A terrible stink assaulted my nostrils from the tiny kitchenette. Jamie had fried the sausage, hot dogs and lo and behold, even the meat sticks in a frying pan, apparently for some time, because it was a foul pit of dark grease.
“Hey,” he said, happy to have started his new life, “I made breakfast. There wasn’t any butter so I fried it in whiskey instead. I saw that on a cooking show.”
“Yum,” I said. “That was a real stand-up thing to do, but I prefer a light breakfast. I think I’ll just get a box of cereal from downstairs. There’s a continental breakfast. You should come.”
“You don’t want none of this?” He gave his whiskey-fried pork products a forlorn look.
“No, it looks disgusting.”
He turned on me then. He let me in on the plans that he and my dad had for the day. He showed me a brochure he must have gotten from the lobby. It advertised a group obstacle course geared towards business-people interested in team-building. This didn’t strike me as a very well-considered idea. I imagined them teamed up as an unfortunate afterthought with an HR agent and an IT technician from Team Precision or something. Jamie must have pointed it out at the height of my dad’s drunkenness. I figured Jamie was in for a disappointment either way. Which was for the best; he needed some disillusionment; he’d be going home soon and his new life would expire before it could do much to begin.
“That looks cool,” I said. I went to the lobby and the air seemed much cleaner. I thought how much better other people’s lives were, and how much worse Jamie’s was bound to get. He wasn’t going to get many more breaks or smell many more hotel room lobbies. It was just going to be one big hot dog fry for him, and the stink of stale beer on Sunday mornings. But he’d have that one ballgame to always hunger after; that would keep him watching sad, slow 19-hitters for years to come.
I walked out of the lobby to the busy streets. I walked all day, and then I took the bus back home. I never saw my dad again after that.
Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, The Toronto International Film Festival Group, Exclaim Magazine and other publications. His online fiction has appeared everywhere from Feathertale, Frost Writing, and Rivets to university journals of moderate renown. Stories have also appeared in print in M-Brane, Black and White Journal, Palimpsest 2010, and elsewhere. More from Mike Sauve can be found in the Vault of Smoke.