The problem with Airball was, well, he had all those kids and they were all so loud and so bothersome and so, so, so needy as they kept coming – one, two, whoa three, oh my God, four, you are kidding, five? – he found it harder and harder and finally too hard, way too hard. You couldn’t ever get done with it. They always wanted something. They always needed something. A cup of juice. A new diaper. Help with a puzzle. There was just no way to keep up. And they were always hanging onto to you and wanting a carry or a back ride. You couldn’t ever get done with it. There was really no good to be had in trying; he had long ago decided that he would do better to keep to the big thinking and let Saint Marcus deal with the children. She was really good it.
But ever so often Saint Marcus would tell him that he wasn’t “connecting” with his children and he would decide he ought to go connect. In that spirit, one Saturday he put aside the anagrams and word puzzles and scientific explorations he was working on, and took Skunky to see the Phillies at Citizen’s Park. Skunky was so excited that he couldn’t sit down the night before. He hopped around the dinner table like he had to take a pee.
Skunky did not know much about baseball but he was going to a game with his Dad – with his Dad!! – and he wanted to be ready. He had found a page with the baseball standings in the Philadelphia Inquirer and he tried valiantly to make sense of the statistics. But they were just numbers. He decided to ask Golden Boy to help.
Golden boy was in his room lifting. Golden Boy had his shirt off and he was red faced and sweating from the exertion of curls and presses.
Skunky handed him the paper, “can you ‘splain these numbers?”
Golden Boy puzzled over the statistics. Then he tapped his finger on the paper and pointed to the batting averages. “Yeah,” he said, “these numbers are called SBP. Each player has an SBP number and they keep track of them in the paper.”
“SBPs? What does it mean?”
“Seconds Before Puking. Its how many seconds each of these guys could sit in a room with you before they had go outside and puke.” Then Golden Boy snickered and threw the paper at Skunky.
In the morning, Skunky and Airball walked from the big house down the street. Airball was wearing a pair of beat up khaki pants that were two or three inches short of the top of his socks. It was as if Airball had had a growth spurt in his forties. Apparently visualizing the baseball game as something akin to college football games from the era of Scott Fitzgerald, he had worn a long blue sweater and, in his homage to the game, had a pair of binoculars so big that they looked like a jet pack. He topped off the ensemble with a worn out tweed sport coat. He looked hot, awkward and generally bewildered.
Walking to the train station, Skunky held Airball’s hand like it was a rope swing. Skunky was wearing a bright red Phillies hat on his big round head. He was very excited.. He twisted and he swung.
Skunky was a solid boy. At 5 years old he weighed 60 pounds and when he yanked Airball’s arm it was like pulling on the rope to a bell tower. When they got to the platform at the Saint Martin’s station, Airball walked over to the bulletin board to look at the schedule. He took off his glasses and leaned forward to see better. Airball was not paying attention and Skunky yanked his arm enthusiastically. Airball did a little hopping sideways dance that ended with him colliding with an honor box that held free copies of the newsweekly - Philadelphia Weekly.
Airball straightened up. But he stared intently at the honor box. It was bright yellow and it had a grimy window in the front through which you could see a dozen copies of PW. Airball took a quarter out of his pocket. He looked around for a slot to put the quarter in but he couldn’t figure where it was. He gently tried to pull open the door to the box. It opened readily. He reached in and took out a paper. He looked at the box again to find out where he put in his quarter. He turned to Skunky, “I can’t see where you pay. You have any idea? You can see better than me.”
Skunky gave a passing glance at the box. He had a leak in one nostril of his nose and an unattractive grayish glob of snot had formed there. “Dad,” he said, “just take it.”
Airball looked at him, “you think it’s supposed to be free?”
Skunky did not particularly care. “Just take it.”
“But how do they make any money? I mean if they give it away. Do they really give them away, do you suppose?”
Airball put his glasses on and now able to read could see perfectly clearly that the yellow box said so right on its side:
Philadelphia’s Favorite Newsweekly.
Take a FREE copy.
“How about that?” He looked at Skunky. “Its free. Definitely. Free. We could probably take two if we want. How about that? They are just giving them away.”
Something occurred to him. He took the free paper and he walked over to the green benches by the side of the train station’s waiting room. He sat down. He took a little notebook and a pen from inside his breast pocket. He started to write in the book.
Skunky couldn’t stay seated. He heard the sound of the train coming. He hopped up and down. He pulled Airball’s jacket sleeve. “The train. The train is coming.”
Airball brushed him off, “Not this second. I am writing. Hold still there fellah..”
“Dad!” he shouted. “Dad!!! The train. The train is coming!!”
The train squealed into the station. It was a silver commuter train of mid-50’s vintage. It looked like a diner on wheels. The doors opened. A woman with several packages climbed off one leg at a time. The people on the platform bunched around the door and waited for her to fully disembark.
But not Airball. He was writing in his book intently. Skunky was yanking him, trying to get him up off the green bench. Skunky grabbed the huge binoculars hanging from Airball’s neck and pulled on them like he was trying to pull a mule out of a bog. But Airball did not get up. He just wrote furiously in his little book.
Skunky was beside himself.
Skunky looked around the platform as if there might be something that would help him rouse Airball. He saw an old mop propped against the door to the waiting room. He ran over. He grabbed the handle and dragged the mop back to Airball. The last passengers were boarding the train. Skunky struggled to get leverage with the mop. It was very heavy. He could barely got it up in the air. To swing it he had to hold it out perpendicular to his body and then turn his body completely around like a top.
His swing was like something out of the movies. He started slowly but as his body turned he began to pick up momentum so that by the time of contact the mop was moving at light speed.
Skunky could not see what was happening because he turned his back on Airball to start the swing of the mop. Airball had gotten up. He was going to get on the train. In fact, he was putting the notebook back in his breast pocket when the mop hit him. It smacked him right on his left ear. The mop strands covered his face. Airball was knocked clean off the bench. His glasses went flying. The paper in his lap went flying, pages all over the platform. Airball, lost without his glasses, reached out franticly in every direction like he was trying to grab fireflies and as he whirled around the jet pack binoculars around his neck smashed into one of the poles supporting the roof. There was the unmistakable sound of glass breaking – as sudden as definitive as a dropped Thermos – and that took the wind out of Airball’s sails. He sat down hard right there on the platform holding his big binoculars in his hands like he was holding a baby with a fever.
And while he did, the train pulled out of the station.. Skunky stood there on the platform. All five years of him. Forlorn. Watching the train pull away. His father cradling the binoculars. No baseball game.
All in all, a typical Marcus outing.