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Vol. 6, No. 2

How to Read a Man
by Valerie Sayers

I remembered just how well I could read certain men in October, during the pennant races. I was following both leagues, the Yankees and the Mets, crazy in love with every man on the two rosters. I had a big crush on Bobby Valentine and a bigger one on Joe Torre. My father would have been appalled at me, rooting for two teams, watching baseball like a girl. Well, I’d sort it out come Series time: then the Yankees would be the only guys for me. Meanwhile, I had affection to spare.
     I watched the first American League game on TV, a New York fan all alone in my rented house in Pinckney, South Carolina. I hadn’t watched this much baseball in years: my ex-lover Diego, unlike every other Latin man I knew, hated the game and I’d forgotten how good I was at predicting what a batter would do. I noticed it first with Bernie Williams. I loved Bernie best of all the Yankees, the way he pleated his long body down like a squeezebox at the plate and cast that impassive eye on the pitcher. I’d never for a minute believed he was so sure of himself. He was scared out there, which was why he was good. He was the kind of guy who went all the way, deep down into a slump or out into the stratosphere of home-run heroics, and I’d always known which way it was going with him. It wasn’t just his face and it wasn’t just his body: I put them together and I got myself a reading that was pretty accurate.
     Exactly how accurate I hadn’t realized till now. Diego was snuggling with his new honey somewhere in downtown Manhattan, so I didn’t have to worry about his drifting off on the couch, sighing obnoxiously as the hours passed. At the end of nine innings, the score was tied and I was batting 1,000: I’d called every one of Bernie’s at-bats. It wasn’t some intuitive thing, either. I watched him from the time he came into the on-deck circle, ran a Geiger counter up and down his body, registered everything from the way he breathed through his nose to the precise angle of his shoulders. Ballplayers all have their stares down, but eyelash flutter is pretty well out of their control. Eyelashes were a big factor with Bernie.
     I curled up on my rented couch, happy when the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Bernie looked centered: not driven or determined, just focused. He was sealed off from the game, on his own. His eyelashes were perfectly still. “Homer,” I said, and off the ball went, on a trajectory that maybe now was my trajectory, too.

~

For the second game I called in Norm Fein, total Yankee fan, to witness what I could do. I was sleeping with Norm, every once in a while. So far it wasn’t going very well. In August, when I got down to Pinckney and my new job at the university, there was a cocktail party in my honor and Norm Fein, who’d only been divorced a month, was my designated escort. I took one look at him—he was maybe forty, with straight graying blond hair down past his chin and a really creepy habit of throwing it back behind one ear, self-consciously—and I knew instantly that I couldn’t stand him, and that one way or another I’d end up in bed with him. The first thing he said was, “What I like best about your film is how you bypass the pornography of the real and go straight to something so distanced and formal that we totally get it, that you’re commenting on his integrity with the integrity of that unblinking camera.”
     Pornography of the real. He got it all out in one breath without even blushing. That was the sort of academic talk that drove me right up the bedroom wall, only then I climbed back down and found myself in bed with the guy. By then, though, he wasn’t so creepy. He liked baseball. He had a sense of humor. He didn’t do that hair-flinging thing so much once he got to know you.
     And right now, I had to admit, I needed Norm Fein in my living room watching the playoffs with me. “Look,” I said, “I’ll make the prediction, you write it down. Keep me honest. I know I can do Bernie, but tonight I want to go for Tino, too. And Paul O’Neill.”
     “What about Jeter?”
     I always knew whether Derek Jeter was going to hit the ball. He might as well be holding a placard announcing his intentions. “Sure. But I need more time to get some of them. Knoblauch, for instance.”
     Norm sat on the old-lady couch that came with the house, making a scorecard with a straightedge and a lineup from The New York Times. I grew up fifty miles down the road and I found the house completely familiar—froofy chintz chairs with doilies on the arms, a rubber plant in the corner—but Norm looked itchy every time he walked onto the front porch. He was generally itchy in South Carolina: he was half Italian, half Jewish, and more than once he’d pointed out that Southerners like their Italians in pizza and their Jews in dry goods. Film studies, he said, they could do without entirely. On the phone he was all over me—sometimes he called three times a day—but in person he held back. Just now he sat a million miles away, on the edge of the couch, twitching, ready to flee.
     Norm was itchy and I was lonely. I’d moved to New York when I was eighteen, a skinny girl in paint-splattered overalls fleeing a town full of beauty queens. Even then I had a serious love-hate relationship with the small-town South, so I must have been out of my middle-aged mind to come back this close to home, to take this gig all these years later no matter how much they were paying me. I was the distinguished visiting artist in the Theater and Film Department and I felt like a fraud. I’d only made three documentaries in my entire life, and the last one had accidentally, through no fault of my own, been paid a lot of attention at the Modern and then won Sundance. The high point of my artistic career. For years I’d thought of myself as a painter, and then I messed around some with video. Finally I managed to make a documentary about Diego, who would never forgive me for getting more out of the deal than he did. My career was back on track: I got a Guggenheim on my twenty-third try—I’m not kidding—and Diego consoled himself with an N.Y.U. student who was twenty years younger than his own daughter. I’m not kidding about that, either. After I kicked him out I landed this one-semester deal in Pinckney, where some investment banker had endowed an entire brand-new university that was hiring a sexy top-dollar faculty to match their postmod architecture. The younger painters with their Yale M.F.A.s went around talking about their agendas and the critical types wanted art to fit into their own narrow theories, like a coffin into its grave. You could avoid those people in New York, but here you couldn’t hide.
     At least Norm was a familiar guy. “Christ,” he said. “Gotta call my bookie before this baby starts.” He jumped up to call New York from the kitchen phone, and I trailed after to get us both a beer. One bottle would last him the whole game, which was another thing I admired about him. Diego used to put away a half-gallon not watching the game. I was with Diego for ten years, almost. He was a good guy, if baseball or women weren’t involved. We’d moved past the time when we could have had a child and I’d been thinking that probably we’d get old together. We already were getting kind of old. Diego was sixty when he took up with the girl.
     I was a month past fifty myself, but I still knew where to get a good haircut and I wasn’t ashamed of my body, though maybe a forty-year-old guy was as far as I’d push it. The body wasn’t good enough for Diego in the end. I was so unnerved by his betrayal that in one week I dyed my hair red and painted my toenails silver and got three more holes punched in my right ear. Thank God I remembered myself before I had my tongue pierced or a post drilled into my skull.
     “Two thousand Yanks,” I heard Norm say into the receiver.
     “Two thousand?”
     He hung up the phone. “Safer than I.B.M.”
     “I know they’ll win. It’s just a lot of money.”
     He picked up the phone again. “How much you in for?”
     I shook my head no. I was used to living on nothing in New York, next to nothing if I actually sold a piece. One of the reasons I’d taken this job was to start a retirement fund like the rest of the world. Hanging out with Norm was a big enough risk for me.
     We slurped our beer through the pregame and the first three innings. I predicted Williams, Jeter, O’Neill, and Martinez, so Norm could write it all down. I hadn’t missed one of them, but he wasn’t impressed.
     “Look, the odds are with you. Three times out of four they’re not going to hit the ball. And there’s a whole country full of fans thinking they can tell what a guy’s gonna do. Where’d you get the idea you were the one?”
     I shrugged. I hadn’t spent enough time with him to trust him with the story of my life. I grew up a Yankee fan in Due East, South Carolina, where Yankees of any stripe got run out of town. I was a shy little girl but I was sure about a couple of things. I knew I could draw what a person looked like, and I knew I was crazy for the Yankees no matter how that affected my already dubious social standing. I sat with my father and my brother to watch every game on network TV, and when my brother pretended he was Tony Kubek, dancing in pinstripes at shortstop, I didn’t know whether it was my brother or Kubek I loved more. I read the standings and the stats, did imitations of Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese calling the game. My dad drove us all the way from Due East to the Bronx, an eighteen-hour drive to watch three hours of baseball, and the usher found our seats the very instant Elston Howard, my favorite Yankee forever, hit a grand-slam home run. My father squeezed me so tight I couldn’t breathe. I clung to his seersucker suit in Yankee Stadium and had a vision of my poor mother, home in South Carolina, baking pecan pies for the Garden Club.
     Forty years later, I still hadn’t joined the Garden Club and I still adored the Yanks. I was on another streak when Tino Martinez came up in the bottom of the fourth. By then Norm was watching me watching the game and, nearsighted as I was, I was leaning into the TV to get my reading. The woman I rented from had a little black-and-white that Norm liked to lament, but it had just the right contrast for what I wanted to see.
     With Tino, I was beginning to think it was centered in the jaw. He looked cold at bat, but I’d seen him in interviews, a big softy with an easy grin. Right now his jaw floated, serene. “Extra base hit,” I said, “maybe a triple. Wait. Home run.”
     Norm shook his head at my cockiness and Tino listed, fouling one off. “He’s not hitting anything tonight. He’ll be your undoing.” Then we both watched Martinez whack the next high fastball into the upper deck.
     Norm whistled low. “Maisie, you know what we could do with this peculiar gift of yours?”
     “I have a suspicion you’re talking about betting.”
     “No bookie’s gonna touch it, but I could round up my boys. Twenty bucks a shot, can the man hit the ball. You could signal me somehow.”
     “Sorry, babe. I’m driving back on Sunday.”
     “New York for fall break? You got playoff tickets?”
     “No tickets. I just need civilization.”
     “You don’t want to drive all that way. You’ll come back exhausted. Stick around, I’ll treat you right.”
     “I thought you said everybody took off.”
     “They do.” He sounded miserable. “Unless they have child support to cough up. Then they stick around Pinckney for the duration.”
     I’d forgotten he had children: I’d never seen them, though they lived in town. Was he hinting for a ride to New York? He sat morose, his lower lip jutting.
     “All right,” he said, “if you’re not gonna be here at least tell me what you look for.”
     “I look for when they go Zen. When a guy goes deep into his own body.”
     “Holy shit, the distinguished visiting artist is talking about the zone.
     “Oh hush up. Listen, this throwing problem of Knoblauch’s, where you reckon that’s coming from?” Chuck Knoblauch’s arm had been spastic for weeks now and I almost couldn’t bear to see him on-screen. He looked utterly confused in the infield, as panicked as Diego looked around the time my film took off.
     “Knoblauch, Christ,” said Norm. “I’m sitting on a gold mine.”
     “You’re not sitting on anything, honey, but a rented couch.”
     In the bottom of the seventh, Knoblauch came to the plate with his face contorted: not a smirk, but close. He always grimaced through his at-bats, but this time he stretched his mouth out a hundred new ways and screwed his left eye tight into its socket. I could read him. I could see what the weeks of being off with his throwing arm had cost him, but I could see how fierce he was feeling, too. His features settled all at once, and so did his shoulders. “Extra base hit,” I said. It was almost anticlimactic when he got the double, and now I was the one who felt a shiver of panic. I could read a stranger on a television screen, but I hadn’t been able to read Diego, not after ten years of our failing side by side, ten years taking turns with adjunct teaching jobs and gallery rounds and all the humiliations of calling yourself an artist.
     I stretched my feet out till my silver toenails caught the light. Knoblauch stood naked in front of millions of people who knew the worst about him and still he found the swing. It was the big act that made me crazy for ballplayers. What was wrong with me, that I hadn’t been able to see that Diego was putting on a big act, too?
     “Think about the Series, would you?” Norm was practically begging, but he hadn’t moved any closer on the couch.
     “I’m a not-for-profit.”
     “You’re a goddess,” Norm Fein said, and made me grin, but I couldn’t meet his eye. There we sat, in the big old-fashioned living room of a white frame house in Pinckney, South Carolina, way too close to where my father taught me how to figure a batting average. A real Southern house, a small-town house, the traitor Yankees on the TV, a framed print of Fort Sumter over the mantel. I almost felt like I’d come home, but my father died years ago, my mother just before I kicked Diego out. There wasn’t any family here.
     Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Norm move to the farthest edge of the couch, his hair hanging down, his elbows on his jeans. We looked more like a couple of teenagers than we looked like professors. I had to stop being so hard-shelled. I had to crack a little, and not just for the guys on the screen. I probably should have asked Norm if he wanted to hitch a ride to New York.

~

I didn’t ask him. On Saturday night we watched the Mets, down in the National League three games to zero. By then I was falling hard for them, and I could read most of the hitters. The Mets had a lot of veterans in the line-up, old guys who weren’t going to roll over and play dead just because no team had ever come back to win after losing the first three. In my living room in Pinckney, batter after struggling batter morphed into Diego, staring down a muddy canvas, but somehow they stayed alive and won the game. Norm and I shrieked and toasted them and snuggled all night.
     But on Sunday morning, I left for New York alone, and I was glad for the solitude. I planned to do the trip in one long sprint, the way my dad drove us to Yankee Stadium, and to let the Mets game carry me up the coast. They needed to nail three more in a row. If they lost this one, it was all over.
     The game tied and stretched out to ten innings, company through North Carolina and Virginia. Eleven innings, twelve. I was alone and I was happy. On the Jersey Turnpike I began to think they might really win, and my old station wagon started slipping out of its lane. I was listening to the Mets but I was seeing Diego lying on my purple couch every time I watched a game, bored, mimicking the announcer.
     The ballgame was still stalled at 2–2. Every ground ball, every strikeout was an omen. The Mets could pull this off. They were holding steady. Thirteen innings, fourteen. They could hang on and I could hang on. In the top of the fifteenth, the Braves pulled ahead by one and I almost sideswiped a truck. It couldn’t end this way. They’d fought for fifteen innings. They couldn’t lose now.
     Only three outs left. The radio spat static. Shawon Dunston, one of the Mets I could read best, stepped into the batter’s box. I pictured him, tall, broad-shouldered, I’m an old man at this game and I don’t give a shit what you think I’m about to do. He dug in, worked the count to 3-2, and I saw two old men digging in, Diego the ghost-batter behind Dunston. If Shawon Dunston could make his move in the bottom of the fifteenth inning... Dunston hit his fifth foul ball. He’s been in there seven minutes now, the announcer said, and the static cleared. Eight minutes. That’s gotta be getting close to the record. Dunston fouled for the sixth time and I knew what I had to do: I coaxed him, the way I used to coax Diego through his depressions. “Stay with it, darlin’,” I heard myself say. “You got it. Just a little deeper.” I laughed out loud, alone in my big car, surrounded by big truckers, talking to a big ballplayer. Nine minutes in, Dunston hit the ball. I didn’t breathe till the radio screamed single. I didn’t need to see him on the screen: We walk by faith and not by sight.
     I knew Dunston would steal, knew when he did that the Mets had it in their pockets. I was blissed out, listening to the rest of the game, and by the time I closed in on the Holland Tunnel and tuned in to the Yankees’ third game, they’d widened their lead to 9–2. It was really beginning to look like a subway series now. I’d score a ticket for opening night—hey, I was a distinguished visiting professor, and for the first time in my life I could afford to look a scalper in the eye. The city would be on fire. I’d be back in Pinckney for the first day of classes after fall break. I’d get past this Diego thing.

~

It was close to midnight when I finally found a parking spot. Circling the block, I’d seen a light on in my loft. I had twelve hundred square feet right on Chambers, over a discount store, the third floor of a co-op I organized myself back in the days when nobody knew what a co-op was and nobody lived on Chambers Street.
     The light on up there either meant that Diego had been there or that Diego was there right now. Either way, I was royally pissed. Not even two wins on the New Jersey Turnpike would be enough to calm me down if I walked in on him. But he wouldn’t dare. Probably he just came by to get more of his stuff and left a lamp burning the way he left socks on the bathroom floor. I hoisted my suitcase out of the back of the car and wheeled it down the sidewalk, all the tension of fifteen innings, fifteen hours on the road, fifteen cups of coffee tight as a bungee cord in my shoulders and my neck. I made myself breathe to a count. I’d get upstairs, I’d call Norm Fein. He could take a joke in the middle of the night, when the Mets had kept it alive.
     On the second-floor landing I heard, dimly, a television. I’d taken my keys back, so if Diego was in my loft it meant he’d copied them before he handed them over.
     The television was playing when I opened the door. I sensed him over in the far corner, slumped down in my fattest, softest chair. I had to cross the entire space of the loft to look him in the eye. He’d come up with some charming excuse: he’d left his long filbert brush, he couldn’t go on without it.
     He sat in front of some postgame show, the tears rolling down his face. This was real familiar. Diego was depressed but he’d slit his wrists before he’d darken a shrink’s door. He had no use for Prozac, either. Wine was his medicine: just now an empty liter of Concha y Toro sat on the floor beside him. He hadn’t bothered with a glass. He was unshaven, and his hair looked like the Spanish moss I’d just left in South Carolina, curling at the back of his neck in damp gray tendrils.
     I walked at a deliberate pace, like a manager heading out to the mound. He wouldn’t look up. He was well practiced at the long holdout, but I’d just survived fifteen innings of baseball. I could wait. Finally he raised his hooded black eyes, mournful eyes, eyes I have to admit were better even than Bernie Williams’s eyes. The whites were tinged with brown, and he had the lashes of a six-year-old boy, though at the moment they were crusted with yellow crud.
     “What are you doing here,” I said in a monotone, and knew he’d already got me behind in the count. “What are you doing watching baseball.”
     “I call the university, they say you’re on fall break. I know you come here.” He spoke English with the softest slur, his grammar flawless except for his reliance on the present tense. He was a present-tense kind of guy. “I know you want to see the game.”
     “Did you copy my key?”
     He shook his head in sad denial. “Lily. She lets me in.”
     He was lying. Lily, my downstairs neighbor and oldest friend in New York, despised him. I scanned the room: big slick magazines, socks, wine bottles. He could have accomplished that much in a night or two: he was a slob but he was a clean slob, a compulsive duster and floor mopper. Every surface was shiny, though I’d been gone for two months.
     “Get out.” But he held me with the mournful eyes, stared me down. He was loose and relaxed in my comfy chair. His jaw floated.
     “Maisie, we have ten years.”
     “Out.”
     “I go a little crazy, I see that. To throw away what we have? The tango lessons?”
     “The tango lessons! You were carrying on like that for ten years.” Hard to believe I’d let him get away with it for as long as I had. Middle age had made me a lot more forgiving. He was one of those guys who slept around, he just did: not a lot, but every once in a while, just to remind himself he was alive, I guess. He was short and stubby, but he was charming, and he had those hooded eyes: women came on to him right in front of me. I had no patience for a cheating man when I was younger, but Diego was transparent and guilty and I was a sucker for him. I knew he’d been fooling around when he came home and stroked my feet, cooked cazuela, stretched my canvases. He’d never confessed, he wasn’t that kind of mean. We’d never had it out. This last time, though, was outrageous: he’d brought the woman, the girl, home. To my co-op.
     And he must have wanted me to walk in on them, too. He was livid about the Modern. The two of them, Diego and this child, on the plank floor I’d stripped and varnished myself, inch by inch. The girl was skinny and muscular, with cropped brown hair streaked blue, and when she jumped up, I got the willies. She looked like me thirty years ago, before Diego even knew me. She had full cheeks and a wide mouth drained of color. Her nipples were like putty, like mine. The only difference was that this girl looked completely sure of herself and I’d been a mess, around men anyway. I had Diego packing by sundown.
     And I hadn’t seen him since, except for all the trips he made to pick up his stuff. He dawdled with moving out forever. He gave me a phone number, probably the girl’s. I made myself throw it away. Now he had the nerve to do the sensitive crying thing? I pictured Scott Brosius, his father dying, steady at third base. Did the man ever once get weepy on camera? “Have some dignity, for God’s sake.”
     Diego hung his head and looked like he was ninety. He had holes in the back of his T-shirt. A sixty-year-old man, older than my own father lived to be, in a pocked shirt. “Maisie,” he said, “I have no dignity.”
     “Go home.”
     “I have no home but you.”
     I have no home but you. See what you can do with the present tense? I had to work to stoke my fury. “You were living here, weren’t you?”
     “Maisie.” By now he whimpered: that was the only word for it.
     I reached down for the empty wine bottle at my feet. “I don’t care if you have to sleep in the park. You’re out of here, buddy.”
     But he grabbed the bottle back and I realized it wasn’t empty. The last drink still sloshed in the bottom. If he got drunker he’d pass out and I’d have to deal with him in the morning. I might weaken and let him stay. I hung on to the bottle and he tugged, a drunk’s tug. Like two children, we fought for the bottle till it went flying from our hands and torpedoed into the TV. The screen and the bottle splintered together. The television died slowly, a beam of light disappearing into a black hole.
     “How’m I supposed to watch the pennant races?” I heard myself wail. “For God’s sake! We’re on the verge of a subway series. I need to be able to see those guys. I have to read them on the screen.”
     “Maisie, you make no sense. I think you exhaust yourself in Carolina. You say it yourself, you never can go home again. Why do you go down there?”
     “I go down there to see if I can pull my body and soul together, you cheating bastard. Get out!” I screamed like a banshee. “Out out out forever.” I heard Lily stir downstairs, heard her door slam and her soft neighbor feet come padding bare on the stairwell to rescue me. From the man I was supposed to be living with for the rest of my life.

~

The Yankees were one game away from the World Series, but now I couldn’t watch them, so I listened to them win the pennant on the radio, with Lily beside me. The two of us paced the space of my loft. Lily was a performance artist who didn’t own a television, even though she was the one who convinced me to pick up a video camera in the first place, to document one of her street shows. She didn’t like baseball either, but she was willing to endure it if I needed her.
     After the way I coaxed Dunston on the New Jersey Turnpike, I thought maybe I really could predict what my guys would do by faith alone, but this time I was no good. I called a strikeout for Derek Jeter and he hit a two-run homer. “I can do it when I see them,” I told Lily, but she wasn’t listening. She was busy touching Diego’s paintings on the walls, as if she’d be able to feel what was wrong with him that way.
     He’d left three canvases, which meant he’d still be coming back. I’d never be rid of him, and every time I saw him I’d want to forgive him, or at least let him stay. “Penis paintings.” Lily snorted. “The shining cock around which the universe revolves.” They were really vegetables on cruciforms, but Lily was right, what else could he mean by eggplants and summer squash? The colors were gorgeous, sublime: I’d always been jealous of his colors. The eggplant was an acid green on a lavender cross.
     And if Diego wanted to paint penis vegetables after all these years of painting women, why not? I’d watched him paint a female body for nine of the ten years we were together. He never had enough money for a model, but he didn’t need a model anymore. He painted a woman just at the edge of aging, her breasts heaving down, her skin slack at the neck. He was painting me, but he was painting himself, too, his own slow decay.
     He hadn’t left any of the women, and I missed them, all that color and motion. Across the top of every painting he put a banner in Spanglish: La zapata needs a new heel or The family está cansada. Dealers kept telling him his work was stuck somewhere, only they couldn’t figure out where. A he said, I stick in a good place. When he’d painted well, he turned on the stereo and gave me tango lessons. We were the same height, and his loose round belly punched up against mine. Let go, he used to whisper, float, and when I did let go I knew his every move before he made it. Perfect balance, what every artist goes for: form and content, body and soul, hip and heart.
     I knew his body like I knew my own. For ten years I’d watched him stand in front of a canvas for an hour, jiggling the wax in his ear before he got to work. And then one day, I felt my arm moving with his, the same crazy thrill I got with the tango lessons. I knew precisely what he was going to do next. His strokes were my strokes. I picked up the camcorder. When he finally stabbed at the canvas, I followed his hand with my lens as if we were attached. We were attached. Every one of those Spanglish lines broke my heart.
     Watching him on the Avid, I saw I had an interesting little formal piece that no one would give two shits about. I went back to work, set him up in the corner of the loft with one of his old friends, another Argentine guy who was going to slap paint on cloth till he died. They were both a little drunk, their accents thickening, and they did funny imitations of the dealers who’d stopped representing them. They did even funnier imitations of the clerks in an emergency room when they heard you didn’t have insurance.
     So I’d made another political piece, what I was getting known for, when what I’d started out with was sex. Once I wrote the grant proposal, once I spliced the two guys’ talk, once I’d transferred video to film, once I’d spent that money and put that distance between Diego and me I showed it to a few people who showed it to a few people and there it was in the “Art and Capital” show: Portrait of the Painter in a Frenzy. I pointed out how well Diego’s paintings would look surrounding a monitor, but painting was not, the curator told me, on the agenda.
     Diego thought I should refuse the show. Anyway you make us look like clowns in that movie. No, I said, No, let’s don’t give up now. They’ll see your work, they’ll find you. But they didn’t find him, not the galleries he wanted. He stopped painting his aging women and started painting vegetables, firm and fresh.
     “Really,” I said to Lily, when I caught her eye. “I can do it when I see their bodies. I can tell what they’re going to do.”
     “Oh yeah?” Lily’s performing name was Lily Pons, but her real name was Mary Ellen Dougherty. We met freshman year at Marymount Manhattan, both sent by our fathers to what they reckoned was the only safe school in New York City. We were the only two in the whole college who didn’t own a headband or a pleated skirt. We’d outlasted each other’s lovers, but Lily didn’t have a clue what baseball was for. She tried to be a good sport, but she distrusted men, just about all of them, and Diego especially.
     I, on the other hand, loved him still.

~

At least I still had a subway series to look forward to. By now the Yankees were the official American League champs and the Mets only had two more games to go. After the way they hung in for fifteen innings, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that they were going to the Series.
     The Mets were down in Atlanta by then, trying to finish things off, and my TV was still busted. I talked Lily into coming with me to a dive on Chambers where a television sat high in the corner. I called every Met at-bat, but Lily was hardly listening. At the end of three innings, she plunked a five-dollar bill on the bar and asked if I’d mind...
     I was alone with the three other customers, pale old men who looked like they lived in dark bars, and the bartender, who ran his fingers over his sparse black hair, Grecian formulaed and combed back like Joe Torre’s.
     Well, this was just great. When I ran away down South the university was shiny and new and unrecognizable and the loneliness was unbearable. When I came back to New York the bar was worn and old and familiar and the loneliness was unbearable. For years people had assumed that Lily and I were lovers, even when Diego was around. Nobody understood the impossibility: my dearest friend, and indifferent to baseball. At least Diego hated it.
     I ordered a Jameson up—my dad’s drink—and poured it down the hatch. I felt the wizened old man three stools away staring at me, and when I looked down from the game, another shot perched in front of me.
     “Compliments of Frankie,” the bartender mumbled. I raised my glass to the old man, his cap atop his head, and he sat up considerably higher. “Slainte,” I said.
     “Slainte.” He saluted me. “Mets.”
     “Mets.” The two shots on top of the beer toasted my cheeks and the tip of my nose. I wasn’t a drinker—I’d nursed too many guys through their own troubles with the stuff—but I saw the attraction tonight. We all watched the game in silence as the Mets struggled on, Atlanta leading by five. I was strangely unconcerned. After what Dunston had done in the bottom of the fifteenth, I knew they could turn it around.
     It was a relief to be in the company of men who never took their eyes from the screen. Finally, in the sixth, New York busted out with three runs and I bought a round for the house. We downed the shots in unison. Here was the closest I’d been to home in months, with strangers happy to watch the game. With four old men.
     The Braves scored two more in the bottom of the inning, but I still knew what the Mets could do with sheer force of will. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, they’d fight their way back. I went to phone Norm Fein from the telephone on the wall and felt the old men watching me with the eyes in the backs of their heads.
     I kept my own eyes on the TV, now playing ads, and thought I’d hear the same when Norm answered in South Carolina. But there was only chaos on his end of the wire: shrieks, giggles, little kids. A baby crying. A baby: that couldn’t be his. He’d divorced his wife this very year.
     “Sounds like you’ve got a crowd over. I won’t keep you.”
     “Nah, just my kids. Only sounds like the Russian army.”
     “Normie—” A woman leaned close to the receiver. I could hear her smooch right over the wire. Normie. Normie, and a baby.
     “Hang on, Maisie.” He muffled the receiver. Frankie motioned for me to come back and watch the game. The ads had disappeared and Matt Franco was in to pinch hit. This could be it. Franco took the plate like Genghis Khan.
     “Extra bases,” I said to the bar.
     “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Frankie said, “may this woman be right.” He waved me over to come sit again.
     “I’m back,” Norm said. “That was just my ex leaving.”
     Just leaving, my ass. And wet-kissing him on the way out the door. Three kids, a baby: I saw the story whole. Norm had freaked, the usual midlife get me out of here. A lifetime job in a small town and a baby, too. His wife had let him divorce her but still called him Normie, still managed to distract him when the phone rang. I was rooting for her—You go, don’t let him stick you all alone with that baby—but that made me the other woman on the end of the long-distance call.
     “Extra base hit for Franco,” I said, so at least Norm would remember what I could do.
     “Yeah.” I heard in his confusion that he hadn’t even been watching the game. Hard to know what was more unforgivable, walking out on his wife after Baby Number Three or not watching the game. The Mets were on the verge of a subway series, playing their hearts out.
     You’d think I could be sympathetic about the baby thing. I was the one who backed off when Diego, drunk, wept over the pleasures of parenthood. By then I was already past forty and my work habits were so strange: I painted by spotlights in the middle of the night, putzed around basement performing spaces. Would that be fair to some needy little baby? I had visions of myself crawling into P.T.A. meetings on arthritic legs. I told Diego I just couldn’t have a child at this stage of the game.
     “Gotta go,” I said.
     “Just do one more. I wanna tell the kids—”
     “No. No, I can’t.”
     I hung up the phone, and by the time I turned back to the screen Franco was crossing the plate. “Look what you missed,” Frankie said, aggrieved.
     Olerud was up. Oh, Olerud. I read somewhere that he rode the subway to the ballpark. The drink and the Mets had me soaked with love. Olerud looked like a college professor, like a brain surgeon, like the steady man my father’d been and had always had in mind for me. “Single,” I said.
     “Holy Mother of Christ,” Frankie said, when the ball lined over to right field. “How do you do that each and every time?”
     “Women,” the bartender said. “Scary.”
     Now Mike Piazza hobbled up to the plate, an old man with all his injuries. Across the drunken space from bar to TV, I saw that he was hurting but maybe enjoying the martyr’s role, too. I might have been watching Diego. I was watching Diego, and he was beckoning me to come tango with him. “Look at those arms,” I said, when Piazza settled his bat. “Home run.”
     “You wish,” Frankie said, but there it went, to right center, soaring.
     Frankie grabbed my wrist and squeezed hard. “That’s unbelievable.” The Mets had tied the game at seven-all in the seventh. Piazza trotted across home plate, the weary glorious old warrior. You could hear the bellows and the cheers from bars all across lower Manhattan. You could hear them in Brooklyn. The old men twisted on their stools like schoolboys, punched out at one another, high-fived the bartender, beamed on me as if I were the one who’d hit the ball.
     “Have you heard what she can do?” Frankie shouted. “We could make a fortune at this.” Another shot appeared in front of me. Past drunk already, I swallowed the whiskey down and knew I wasn’t just leaking love, going mushy over the wrong team, remembering the way my father and my brother watched the game. My eyes were on the screen but it was Diego I saw, his jowls sinking into his neck, his nose mapped with blood vessels, his arms flaccid, craving a baby. His fat eggplant, his bent summer squash. Now in his old age, when I thought I couldn’t do it, he had to have another child, had to reproduce, that strange old biological urge in the face of his drooping body. Tears rolled down my jaw, but nobody noticed. They were all weeping, the four men in the bar right along with me, when the Braves tied it back.

~

Outside the loft building, his shoulder pressed against the gates of the discount store, Diego stood smoking, one hand holding up his eggplant painting. He hadn’t even pulled it off the stretcher, which meant it was on its way to some other wall.
     Unless I was hallucinating. I’d never been drunk enough to have visions, but right now it was hard to put one foot in front of the other. The way he watched me from a distance, impassive, made him look like somebody else, not the Diego who wept and begged the other night.
     The sight of him sobered me up. I began to walk faster and then to skip a little. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to reach him. I’d punished him long enough and I’d punished myself, too. I’d be sad again, every once in a while, because he’d cheat again, but I wouldn’t be so sad as I’d been these last few months, hating him.
     “Diego,” I called, in case he couldn’t recognize me, but he only drew his cigarette up for another pull. He looked like somebody in one of Lily’s performance pieces. Was he trying to get me to really pity him? Well, I did pity him, but no more than I pitied myself. The Mets were weeping somewhere tonight and we might as well keep them company.
     “Diego.” I finally stopped, panting, in front of him. “The Mets lost.”
     “Good. You hate the Mets.”
     “I got to like them. It went eleven innings. Now there’s no subway series.”
     “Just another way for those asshole investment bankers to spend their dough.” He tossed his cigarette toward the gutter, but it landed a foot shy and smoldered.
     I fingered a staple along the stretcher’s edge and felt every thread of the canvas below. “Look,” I said. “Will you bring this back upstairs now? Could we talk about stuff?” The future rolled out, hard but workable. Maybe he’d want to come see South Carolina.
     But Diego said: “You make me look like a clown in that piece.” I tried to read his face but saw only how calm it was.
     “You never looked like a clown.”
     Diego stared up Chambers. I had no idea what expression that was in his face. Regret? Relief? Fury? He and his canvas were one body, waiting, leaning into something I couldn’t imagine. “This one doesn’t fit in the van before.”
     “What van?”
     As if I really were hallucinating, not just Diego but the whole night, a beat-up white van chugged toward us and double-parked in front of my door. The girl at the wheel averted her eyes. This time she didn’t look so much like me. Her left ear was laced with little safety pins, a dozen of them at least. She appeared to be about twelve. It was a wonder she could drive that truck around without getting pulled over for underage driving every fifteen feet.
     “See you sometime,” Diego said, and hoisted his painting. “Maybe at the MoMA, huh?” He didn’t say it unkindly. He looked back and winked. He was sober and he knew where he was spending the night.
     I turned my back to the van and fumbled with my keys. It would take me half an hour just to figure out which one went in the door. I didn’t want the girl to see me weeping. Diego wouldn’t mind, but the girl would hold that frame of me forever, would think she knew something about me just because of the way I stumbled and cried after the Mets lost the pennant.
     I sniffled over my shoulder. Diego had finished loading the painting. He stood behind the van, one hand on the closed doors, waiting for me to look. I looked. He was wearing his black Art & Anarchy T-shirt. He was full of beans and he wanted me to know it.
     I stuffed my keys in my pocket and extended my arm for a solo tango. That would be my goodbye to Diego: I would let him drive off remembering the dance lessons when I could predict his every move. Off I went, on my own, stretching across Chambers, dancing past the gated stores. Maybe I looked like a clown. For a minute I thought I might remember how to go deep into my own body, but I knew they were both watching me and really, it was only a big act. Sometimes you just have to go through the motions. I bent my knees like Bernie Williams. I settled my face like Chuck Knoblauch. I watched the van lurch past me. Z

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