Today is the first day of National Novel Writers Month. The prompts I was given were: Watermelon throwing tree, birds throwing ice cream and a catapult or flame thrower. What do you do with prompts like that around Fenway Park and the Red Sox? Then I remembered a food fight in college when the Sox lost to the Yankees in the one-game playoff after the season ended in a tie.
I thought about how seriously we took that game and how it didn't really matter in the grand scheme of life. But what if something came out of that? Something that really did matter that made a difference in someone's life?
So I give you the first draft of "October 2, 1978." I'll go back and edit (and actually give Bubbles and Squeak real names along the way) when the month is over and I can read in leisure. Feel free to leave comments. Tomorrow I think I'll spend a day in the park. I'm not sure what year it will be or which prompt I'll use. But then, I didn't expect to write this story today either.
The four friends sat around the table, saying nothing, staring at the cafeteria food.
“Why did we bother with dinner?” sighed Pete as he pushed his plate towards the center of the table.
“Fourteen games,” Katie moaned. “Fourteen stinking games.”
Bubbles and Squeak didn’t say anything.
“Yaz…” sighed Bubbles. “He didn’t drive through his hips. A single would have tied it up but we wanted him to be a hero and he knew it. He tried to give us what we wanted and came up short.”
“There’s always next year,” sighed Katie. “I mean, it’s not like we’re ever gonna win the Series. At least not in my life time and probably not my future kids either.”
Through out the cafeteria there were similar conversations going on. The mood was dark. After the most promising season in almost a decade, the Red Sox had slipped from a 14 game lead over the Yankees at the All Star break to ending the season in a tie. The league determined a one-game playoff between the two rivals for the afternoon of October 2nd.
The day had been sunny and unseasonably warm. The game started promising with Yaz’s home run but began to implode in the 7th when the Yanks took a 4-2 lead. They added another run to their lead in the 8th, but the Sox looked like they might make it back when they came back to with in a run. Then, in the bottom of the 9th with two on and two out, Yaz popped out to end the game.
The majority of the kids on New Hampshire college Katie attended were Boston fans, but there was that group from New York and New Jersey that were too busy celebrating back in the dorms. For Katie and her friends, there was nothing to celebrate.
Then the hissing started low, but began to grow.
Looking up from the lumpy mashed potatoes, she saw Charlie and his Yankees cap. With him was William (not Bill) and Wallace (not Wally), high fiving and joking as they walked across the cafeteria to join the food line.
“Look at them,” Pete said, shaking his dark head. “They’re just rubbing it in now.”
Squeak, Katie’s roommate looked up at them. “Last week I told Charlie to suck eggs when he asked about this week’s mixer.”
“Charlie asked you out?” Katie sputtered.
“Yeah, with his styled hair and Brooks Brothers shirt.” She shook her head back and forth, “like I want that whole nose to the grindstone business thing. He’s all about cocktails on the terrace and the little wife and everything I’m just not.” She pushed the dish of canned fruit salad away with a sigh.
Without a word, Bubbles got up. His lanky 6’4” moving across the cafeteria to grab some bread from the salad bar. He scooped up two handfuls of the limp dinner rolls served with every hot meal and moved back to the table and sat, silently watching the slow moving dinner line, like a vulture waiting for it’s prey to be too weak to fight back.
Around him, others were doing the same. Some kids were grabbing the dishes of fruit salad, others were grabbing the melting ice cream, but one thing was clear… trouble was brewing.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for college,” Bubbles said suddenly.
“What?!” the friends replied.
“I may not have had a chance to play ball at an LSU or Georgia Tech, but I’m tried of my folks telling me baseball doesn’t pay the bills.”
Katie’s mouth hung open. “But what… what will you do?”
He shrugged. “Go to Florida, work out, try to see if I can’t try out for a team this spring perhaps.”
As he looked at his friends shocked faces, a toothy grin broke across his face. “How much you want to bet I peg Charlie from here with that piece of watermelon?” he said pointing at Squeak’s forgotten fruit salad.
“Bubbles,” Squeak squeaked.
“You’re on,” said Pete, “but you have to nail him through the stupid tree bush thing there.
“Deal. Not only that, I’ll get Wallace with what’s left of your ice cream.”
“From above?” asked Pete.
Looking around the table Squeak smiled broadened, “As if a bird dropped it on him, but I need to build… quick, give me your fork, spoon, knife and glass.”
Peter eagerly shoved those things across the table as they watched Charlie disappear behind the wall that separated the cafeteria from the serving area.
“You’ve got like, what a couple of minutes at most and you won’t be able to test it.”
“Won’t need to,” he laughed.
Kate sat in shock. “Your going to get in trouble for this,” she gasped as she watched Bubbles build a makeshift catapult out various items on the table before loading the ice cream on the launching platform. Like a car wreck on the highway, she couldn’t tear her eyes away.
“Here he comes,” said Pete as Wallace and Charlie began to emerge from behind the wall.
“Ready….” Bubbles started, “steady…. GO!” he brought his fist down the knife and the ice cream launched high fell on Wallace’s shoulder. Charlie’s laugh could be heard through the room. “Well Wallace, looks like a Boston bird found you,” he said with an affected accent and false laugh. Instead of portraying society, he sounded more like a pompous ass.
Bubbles then picked up the watermelon and threw it in a perfect arc through the ficus bush, hitting Charlie square in the NY on his cap, sending the cap sailing. The cafeteria laughed and an afternoon of anxiety and disappointment that had capped a season of frustration suddenly broke through the damn of emotional frustration in the room.
All of a sudden food began to fly from all directions as Bubbles tossed chunks of dinner rolls on tables with a nod towards the three New Yorkers looking like deer caught in the headlights. From the back of the room someone yelled, “Food fight!” just like John Belushi in the movie “Animal House.”
Katie couldn’t be sure, but she thought it might have been Brother John, the Franciscan monk who always had that mischievous glint in his eye. He’d be the type of guy to do that and get away with it. But sitting in the middle of the cafeteria probably wasn’t the best place to be and suddenly she wanted to be anywhere but where she was.
“I’m outta here,” she announced and got up to try and to make her way out of the chaos. Squeak was right on her heels. At the doorway, she turned around saw Bubbles sitting in the middle of it all smiling. He leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head and his long legs stretched out in front of him while food flew all around.
The entrance door had been closed, not allowing any more students in and she knew if they didn’t beat it out of there immediately, campus security not let them out. The idea of trying to explain this to her uptight Catholic mom back in Southie wasn’t something she wanted to do.
“What about Pete?” asked Squeak.
Katie had lost sight of him early as he maneuvered his way to get more ammo.
“Pray he doesn’t do anything stupid? We need to bolt and we need to bolt now,” as she yanked her roommate’s arm before they were trapped inside to face whatever justice the school felt necessary to mete out to prevent this from happening again.
They managed to get out the door before it was closed behind them from the inside. Bursting into the fresh night air they could hear the riot continuing on, now with the added voices of campus security trying to calm things down.
In that moment, the tears rolled down Katie’s face and she collapsed onto the manicured lawn outside the campus center. Squeak wrapped her arms around her friend as the wrenching sobs followed.
“It’s so stupid,” Katie choked out after a minute or so as she gulped for air. “It’s a stupid baseball team. Win or lose, I still have a physics exam on Thursday and a paper due next week and … “ the rest of her words were lost as the sobs began again. Squeak rocked her back and forth and clucked, “There there now,” and other meaningless phrases of comfort.
“Why do I care? Do I think Dewey is going to rescue me or Bill Lee will show up to talk nihilist philosophy? If passed any of those men on the street, they wouldn’t know me from Adam. This shouldn’t hurt dammit, but it does.”
She looked up to see Pete covered in food, his eyes concerned. He sat down next to the girls and wrapped his arms around the two of them. She quickly wiped her nose on the sleeve of her shirt while she snuffled back.
“Where’s Bubbles?” Squeak asked.
“Probably still sitting in the middle of it all with that grin, soaking it all in.”
They sat in silence for a bit watching as small groups were released from the cafeteria. They saw Charlie and his friends absolutely covered, head to toe, in institutional food trying to discreetly head back to their dorm.
“I wonder if he’ll try cleaning that stuff or just ask mummy to send him something new?”
Squeak punched Pete in the arm.
“Be nice. He’s a yutz, but be nice.”
Finally Bubbles emerged, still smiling.
“Well guys, apparently I’m pretty damn lucky because everyone said all they saw was me sitting in the middle of the room doing nothing.” He glanced at the group and it began to register with him that something was wrong. “Katie?”
“Why does it hurt so much?” she whispered. “I mean, it’s not like this is a new feeling. From when I feel in love with the team back before ‘67 through the 75 series to today. This is what this team does. So why does it hurt?”
He joined them on the grass.
“Katie, you have something too many people in this world don’t have: passion. You survived busing in Boston by going to Latin and earning a scholarship to go here instead of Zoo Mass. You’re trying to get the hell out of Southie and the mental walls of parochialism that infuse that world with it’s whipped dog attitude. You want to be a teacher so kids know there’s someone out there rooting for them. You my friend are the reason I stay in this backwater of a school… well you three are the reason I stay here. Like the Red Sox, you inspire the people who love you to be better. You give us hope and it hurts because today your hopes were dashed. Come February, you’ll be over this and on opening day we’ll cut class to sit in Fenway and cheer for our boys.”
“What about Florida?”
“For you Katie bug, I’ll hang in one more year until I graduate. Who knows? Maybe I can get a job working for the Sox, then you can go to any game for free.”
“What about me?” asked Pete.
“Get a job as a vendor dude… I’m taking Katie.”
“And I have a wet t-shirt … why?”
“Because you’ll be Pete’s date.”
They sat in their funny pile-circle staring up at the darkening sky. As the chill began to set in, Bubbles spoke up. “What do you say we go to the pub and I buy us all a round and we toast our friendship and our misguided love for the Red Sox?”
“Can I change my shirt first?” asked Squeak, “I’m sort of covered in snot.”
They all laughed.
Later that evening, Katie sat up in bed while the lights were out. She could hear Squeak’s gentle snores. The Sox had lost but as a result, she felt like she won something bigger. She inspired her friends and they understood her. Out of the depths of her despair, she found meaning.
Her team may have lost, but tonight, Katie realized she was the luckiest girl in the world and in 185 days, the ump would call “Play Ball,” for her hopes to begin again.