Tall Timber Tales|
The View from Far Right Field
an excerpt from a novel-in-progress
by Peter Berkrot
July 13, 2006
The view from far right field had always been comforting to Jacob. Somehow the distance between where he vigilantly stood and home plate made it feel more like watching a movie than playing a sport. In fact, Jacob often did his best fantasizing during those long, un-momentous softball games at Woody Oaks Day Camp and Bungalow Colony. He liked to imagine, for instance that he was controlling the events that were taking place before his eyes, making Roy Rizzoti, the only boy with hair under his arms, throw a curve ball or make Stewie Levine swing and miss. Occasionally, and quite spontaneously, he would catch himself muttering “Foolish mortals!” or “You can run but you can’t hide.”
Once, to his own astonishment, he laughed out loud when his best friend Neil Gremlitz tripped over second base and smashed his nose against Danny Becker’s knee.
“Silly of me to put that there,” he whispered and vowed to send Neil back in time, and make it up to him.
When Jacob wasn’t controlling time and space and deciding the destiny of the silly humans, all of whom could break him like a twig, he was engulfed by the constant underlying terror that the ball might someday come his way, and he would be forced to throw like a girl.
That, Jacob knew, was his personal cross to bear. Stewie was fat but he could hit like Willie Mays. Daniel was bizarre and chubby but he seemed to know things that no one else knew. And during ring-a-leavio tournaments, he was the only one who no one could find. And although Philip Trottman had more red bumps on his face than any other boy in camp, he still got invited to the make-out parties.
Somehow, in this world of crew cuts and poison oak, throwing like a girl was the only crime for which there was no forgiveness. And try as he might to improve his skill, he had to admit at last that it was a genetic deficiency.
It was Barry who finally convinced him of this disturbing fact by pointing out that every other boy in the camp, country, and world threw like boys, looked at their nails like boys, and checked their sneakers for gum like boys.
“It’s evolution,” he sneered one day in front of everyone up at the casino. “Since caveman times, boys have thrown like boys and girls have thrown like girls. Scientists have been searching for the missing link for two zillion years and now they can stop looking. They found him in my bungalow sitting down to make a pee.”
Barry’s favorite pastime at Woody Oaks, other than playing practical jokes on his mother, was to find the opportunity to humiliate his brother in front of as many people as humanly possible.
Once during the Friday afternoon “Social” (the name for the camper’s weekly dance in the casino), Barry had convinced Jacob that Sarah Angelotti wanted to dance the slow dance with him, but was too shy to ask. Sarah was the prettiest girl in the camp because she was Italian, had dark eyes and hair, and a sexy accent that was more Bronx than Queens.
Jacob’s instincts had been sharp, at first. He knew that Sarah had never given him a second glance and would have been kissing Roy Rizzoti except for the fact that they were first cousins. But she had never actually laughed at him, or spit on him, or thrown anything at him, so he thought maybe, just maybe…
Summoning all of his courage, he walked the circumference of the dance floor so as not to interfere with the couples already immersed in the strains of “This Magic Moment” and interrupting Sarah’s conversation with several other girls, informed her that it was alright, he was shy too, but that he would be happy to dance with her.
Sarah had stood there staring at him, not so much in disdain, but in genuine confusion, as if he had just informed her that she was standing in a puddle of duck vomit. Then Bonnie and Beth, the Curcio twins began to shriek with laughter and Sarah joined in. In a moment, the entire girls group, called “The Happy Belles” were screaming with giggles, and the song ended and “Midnight Confessions” began.
Jacob, paralyzed from the waist down, was able to turn his head where he spied Barry standing with Jay Lytus and two of the other boys, also laughing.
So, in the safety and comfort of far right field, Jacob patiently waited for the game to end. He knew that his only real job was to keep the ball from rolling into the laundry room, away from the tumbleweeds of lint and puddles of Fab with Borax. It was a task he took very seriously. It was something he could do. If the ball hit the small hill that lay between him and the rest of the field — the “right field bump,” they called it — then, usually, it slowed right at Jacob’s feet.
“I got it!” Jacob always called, as if anyone else without a compass and a map might actually journey out to his position.
“Mine,” he would cry and leap in front of the grass-streaked softball nestled on the lawn. Of course, by this time, the batter had successfully swaggered into home plate. Nonetheless, Jacob would run as fast as his skinny legs would take him toward the action, creating a dramatic moment by screwing up his face, determined to look athletic. What he was really doing was putting as little distance between himself and the infield as possible. Then he would pretend to notice the run being scored, shake his head in sympathy with the rest of his teammates and casually toss the ball, side-arm to the short stop. By making sure that the run scored before he reached the infield, he was able to avoid throwing overhand.
But they all knew. And those who did not roll their eyes behind his back, rolled them directly into his face. Jacob either pretended not to see, or else laughed along with them, imagining that someone else was the momentary object of their scorn, perhaps the pitcher, maybe the batter or maybe just this once, just hopefully, they had all lost control of their eye muscles and were going blind.
Then he would jog back to his place in the sun, arms swinging at his side, knees raised with each leap, red socks brushing the taller blades. He did this like a girl too.
Article © 2006, Peter Berkrot
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