The Knuckleballer

The Knuckleballer
It’s just baseball. Just quiet yourself, spit some snuff, and throw the damn ball…
Chicago, Illinois
A washed up semi-pro pitcher sees his life spinning out of control. His wife left him and his once vibrant dream of the big time is fading fast. Then a series of serendipitous twinkling stars fall upon his miserable life…

 

Jim Mongrel the manager of the Chicago Cubs looked dismally down his depleted pitcher’s roster. It was a wasteland of injuries, stupidity, and bad luck: Edie Cicotte, starting pitcher with a hot arm, had covered first base on a blooper and broke his ankle. Wilbur Cooper, ace reliever, caught a line drive to the head and sustained a contusion and a laceration to the left ear. Mel Harder, whose fastball scorched the ozone at 99 mph, tore an elbow ligament and needed UCL surgery.

Mongrel spit his Redman wad in the dirt and grimaced. “How the fuck am I supposed to lead this team to a pennant without any goddamn pitchers?” He paced up and down in front of the empty dugout alone. Wrigley Field was nearly deserted. Tonight’s loss to the Red Sox was hard to take. He had promised Jake Sterling, the esteemed owner and grizzled fanatic of the Cubs, a win. The nine to three dubbing was humiliating.

Mongrel knew he was in trouble. In his second year of a two year contract, he had to find a way to win—or else. He shuddered at the ‘or else’. He knew Sterling’s reputation with losing managers. But damn. Look at the pitching roster. Decimated.

One by one the massive stadium torches went black. Mongrel took a final glance at the scoreboard before it too melted into the Chicago evening breeze. Then, with a dark chuckle, Mongrel turned to leave muttering, “the only one wriggling here is me.”


Babe Adams, once ace knuckleballer for the Angels and now last stringer for the AA Tennessee Smokies, sat bleary-eyed and skunk happy on the infield of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Speedway sampling all 55 Tennessee-brewed beers. Sipping slowly from his 14th selection, a foamy Jackalope beer from Nashville, Babe sensed a Key West calmness settle in upon him.

It had been another phantom year on the mound: one win, eight losses, three disasters including the game with the Chattanooga Lookouts when he got beaned with a Schlitz can hurled from the second deck, and one majestic meltdown when he took over with a 10-0 lead in the bottom of the 8th at Birmingham and miraculously managed to lose 14-10. In all fairness, Babe had started drinking early in the shadows of the outfield dugout figuring he would never go in anyway. Shit. Plus he noticed while sitting in the dugout sipping that he had a slight nail tear on his index finger, the one that controlled the release of the knuckleball.

The speedway spun before him like a mystical playground. It was on his 18th beer, the dramatic Black Magic from the Ghost River Brewers that he remembered his wife briefly. Brenda Lee had finally left him somewhere on the road in Birmingham after the loss to the Barons. When he got back to the fleabag hotel room, she was gone. Nothing but a short note with a few tear drops on it.

“Can’t do it anymore, Babe. Gotta find a life. You know this dream died long ago. Love ya but…”

She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t have to. He didn’t hold it against it her. Babe swirled the Black Magic with his pitching finger and burped loudly. No, he didn’t blame her. Twenty-four years of broken dreams and a future as black as this brew left Brenda no air to breathe….

Teatime in Old Havana

Teatime Cover 3-Amazon

 

 

 

 

Temple Bar, Dublin

The Roadster

Temple Bar, Dublin
Temple Bar, Dublin

     After wandering the streets of Dublin till the wee hours, I stumbled into The Temple Bar and ordered a Guinness.  The place was nearly deserted but the old school wooden bar, double arches overhead and winding staircase to a mysterious upper level hooked me so I lingered.  The Guinness came foaming at the bit and I sipped letting the roasted barley calm my nerves and give me hope.  My fatigue gave me pause to ponder the meaning of my life and the dark stout revived the extinguishing lights of wanderlust dimming within.

It was in these exhausted moments of reflection that a strange character strode in from the dark street.  He wore a heavy Hemingway beard with a cap that had the word Roadster scrawled on the bill.  He took a seat at the bar a few chairs beside mine and ordered a drink.  As he waited, he turned to me.  He sensed my immigrant status and it piqued his interest.  “Where you from?” he asked.

“The States,” I said wondering where this admission might lead.

“Ah, the States,” he said as if he were reading his lines for the big screen.  Then he smiled and drank half the glass of beer without a pause.

“You a local?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.  Local through and through.”

“I like your hat,” I said wondering if there might be a hidden story lurking somewhere beneath the word Roadster.

He smiled at that question and pointed outside the window.  “The roadster is out yonder tethered to a hitching post.  Care to see it?”  He winked and wondered if I understood.

“Sure,” I said having no clue to the meaning of ‘out yonder tethered to the hitching post’.”

With that little encouragement this provocateur led me on a fascinating tour of his wild blue roadster parked down the street, a mean machine fit for any back street racing challenge.  And from that episode in this little bar came the story I wrote called The Roadster (in my book entitled: Teatime in Old Havana.)

(P.S.  Has anyone been to this pub or met an interesting character at a mysterious bar)?

The Ambulance Driver

Jugaads

I was eating some cashew nut macaroons at the Dhanalakshmi Bakkery in Tuticorin India recently.  The afternoon was hot as the passersby flittered here and there on a thousand unknown journeys in this Indian port city.  I gazed with a sense of wonderment from my bakery shop window seat at the complexities of life and the conundrums of daily existence.

I was lost in these musings and the crunchy sugary macaroon tip that hovers with sublime grace over the gooey cashew crumbs when I saw him go by.  He was singularly focused.  He wove through the street traffic like a magician appearing and disappearing behind this truck and then that cart of produce.

He pedaled his ambulance cart, a strange kind of tricycle with a caged space behind him for patients in desperate need of medical care.  They call these mechanical inventions jugaads in this part of the world.  They are real world improvisations, contraptions made of dreams and elbow grease and late night tinkering behind some corner store.

I paused in mid crunch, putting my macaroon down and simply staring.  The driver was intense.  He didn’t sit on the make shift seat; no, he pedaled upright with a sense of urgency as if the gods themselves had commissioned him to hasten to some wounded soul without delay.  He looked straight ahead seeing nothing but the imagined patient lying wounded or bleeding on some distant river bank or factory floor.

If I could have done so, I would have leaped from my seat at the bakery and rushed to follow him.  Where did he go?  What did he find?  I will never know.  But it was this frenetic scene outside the bakery where I sat nibbling a macaroon that I conceived the the story of the pearl diver out on a mission to save the world only to find himself the victim of love’s snares and foibles.

(P. S.:   Has anybody tried an authentic macaroon?  Tell me about it).

(Read the story in Teatime in Old Havana)