Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In The Bleachers

The last time I was in Wrigley Field was twenty five years ago.  I went with my sisters and our husbands (or soon-to-be) for a game in the middle of the week.  Baking in the sun with all the other Bleacher Bums could be deceiving, for as warm and bright as those outfield seats were, a different seat in the upper decks could be thirty degrees colder with nary a ray of sun and lakefront breezes to chill you to the bone.  We rolled the dice at the box office that day and shined like the sun with everyone else who decided to play hooky from real life.

*****

Dad started taking us girls to Wrigley Field when I was about ten.  It was hard not to be a Cubs fan in our house, and even though we lived in the southern suburbs and were closer to Comiskey Park, Dad's devotion was to the north side and the Cubs.  Every summer he would take vacation time to work on the house but always kept one day reserved for Wrigley.  That one day usually centered around Ladies Day.  What that meant I can't remember but knowing Dad I'm sure it had something to do with a reduced admission price.

Back then you could bring a cooler into the park, and so Mom would tuck sandwiches, fruit, and candy into glittered Styrofoam where it would rest on the ground between her and Dad.  Believing a trip to Wrigley should always be an experience, we would leave the house by 9:00 a.m. for a 1:10 p.m. start time.  There was traffic and parking to consider, but mainly it was because Mom and Dad believed in making a day of it and thought we should be there when the players came out for batting practice.  They'd tell us girls to get down in front where we leaned over the third base side, waving programs for autographs that never came.  When the Cubs finished their practice and went into the clubhouse we'd return to our seats and have lunch.  One time Mom broke a tooth eating a Tootsie Roll and to this day she will bring it up as if it was yesterday.   "Remember that game against the Astros when I bit into that Tootsie Roll and half my tooth broke off?  That was an expensive game."

It was during those games that Dad showed me how to keep score, how to watch for signs.  "First base coach, third base coach, keep an eye on them, keep an eye on the infield players, kiddo. Big hitter, move your outfield back.  Man on first, watch for the bunt. The signs are always there." 

In 1969 the Cubs were oh so close to winning the National League but by mid-August the wheels started falling off.  We were there for one of those games when every blunder that could be made was done so in a spectacular fall from first.  The bullpen tried to save them from themselves but they were better than average pitchers not miracle workers.  Dad's job was running safety training programs for lineman at Commonwealth Edison and at the end of one of his training sessions the group gave him a coffee mug.  A Fire King beauty with the names of every relief pitcher from the bullpen that year.  He gave it to me.  "You keep it, Kath.  You're an even bigger fan than me these days."

I would return to Wrigley year after year.  Once I went with my brothers and their friends who insisted we leave in the 8th inning to beat the traffic, and even though the Cubs were trailing far behind I couldn't believe we were walking out before the game ended.  Dad would have never done that.  We turned the radio on and listened on the way home as the Cubs tied and eventually won the game.  I was so mad at those guys and when I told Dad what they did he said the two things you should never leave early are church and baseball games.

When Dad got sick and spent the summer at home the Cubs games kept him company.  Whoever was around would wander in and out of the bedroom, checking on him, checking the score.  Those were hard days, especially when September rolled around and the season for both Dad and the Cubs was coming to a close.  The background sound of the t.v. and the ball hitting the bat in the crisp, autumn air, though, sounded like home even as Dad was preparing to depart his.

******

The last time I was in Wrigley Field was twenty five years ago.  While my sisters and our husbands (or-soon-to-be) watched the game our Dad was at an appointment to find out if the tiny, black dot on his cheek was the return of melanoma that started behind his retina. Our optimism that afternoon waned like the sun - if it was bright and warming us we were positive it was no big deal.  If it went behind the clouds we darkened like the sky over us and were sure it was cancer.  By the time we got home what loomed over us had been confirmed and I have never gone back to the place that held some of the fondest memories of my life. 

There have been decades of wait-until-next-years for the Chicago Cubs but finally they have made it to the World Series.  The World Series, Dad!  And if he were here for this he would say what he always did on Ladies Day at Wrigley Field, his wife on his right, his girls on his left, a bag of peanuts passed between us, and a beer tucked next to his feet. 

Watch for the signs, kiddo.  The signs are always there.  


Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Kiss Is Just A Kiss

For the first few years I worked in Chicago I took the bus.  It picked me up at the end of the block and would make its way through the south suburbs where our family lived, picking up passengers along the way before eventually merging onto the expressway and then Michigan Avenue.  My friend got picked up before me and she would save me a seat next to her towards the back of the bus.  Three blocks past my stop was an older man who boarded the bus each morning - a man relatively unknown to me but friendly with both of my parents.  He would also sit near the back towards me and my friend and spent his bus ride reading the Chicago Tribune.

Riding the bus back and forth to Chicago was not the preferred method to get to work.  In perfect weather anything could make traffic back up, and if a little rain or a few flurries fell during rush hour it could easily double the length of the trip.  If there was an opportunity to get downtown fast a working guy/gal would always take advantage of the offer.

And that is how I found myself in the front seat of a gas guzzling Buick with the guy from the back of the bus who lived on Elm Street.  He had called my parents house and told my mom that he was driving to work later that week and would be happy to take me.  There was no question I would go to avoid another long bus ride and so at 6:45 a.m. he picked me up.  I can't remember what we talked about on the way down since he was my dad's age (late fifties) to my early twenties.  I don't, though, remember it being awkward or uncomfortable. 

We sailed through every usual bottleneck and in no time he was stopping in front of the Art Institute to let me out.  As I gathered my purse and my lunch he said, "Don't I even get a kiss for giving you a ride downtown?" And I thought, oh yeah, sure, geez where are my manners because I guess that's what you do when somebody does a favor for you.  Right?  You give a kiss to the guy who is as old as your father because he let you ride along to the same place he was going.  And so I leaned over to kiss him on the cheek (because that's what he meant, right?) and he maneuvered his head until his lips were on mine and he was putting his tongue in my mouth and in the front seat of that Buick I could not register what in the hell was happening to me. 

I pulled away from him and said "thank you" again because if I was anything it was polite when somebody did me a favor.  I got my things and got out and watched the car of a man who was friends with my parents pull away.  Under one of the lions that flanks the entrance to the Art Institute I stood on the sidewalk watching the "walk" sign change many times over before I remembered I had to cross the street to get to work.

My mom would ask that night how my ride was and I told her it was fine.  "He said he's going to start driving more and that you could go with him anytime," she would tell me and I never, not once, even considered it.  I would have inhaled toxic, choking bus fumes on a completely stopped Dan Ryan Expressway every day of the week rather than get in that Buick again.

A few years ago Mom called and told me she had gone to a wake for So-And So. "I don't know who that is," I said.  "Oh you know him, Kath.  That nice man from Elm Street that would drive you downtown sometimes."

Once, Mom.  He drove me once.

"He always asked about you when I would see him."

Everything from the moment the car stopped remains vivid in my memory but I never talked about it.  After hanging up the phone, though, the same question rolled over and over in my mind.

What kind of man makes a mother believe that her daughter is perfectly safe with him when she's anything but?

And over and over in my mind the same answer rolled back.  The kind that is better off dead.