Taking the World Serious

On the day hell froze over, I was hunched over a double scotch, musing to myself about the condition my condition was in. Summer was still hanging on, like a washed up fighter rallying in the championship rounds, and it had been all sunshine, balmy zephyrs outside during the day. So naturally, I’d sought out the dark, dank dungeon of Nick’s bar. The place was mostly empty. Everybody was out frolicking in the mid-60 degree weather. Fuck ‘em. Fine with me. Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament, know what I mean?

The ballgame was on TV. Last game of the Series. But I wasn’t paying much attention. For me it was just white noise. I don’t really follow baseball. Played some when I was a kid, wasn’t very good at it. Was going to play Little League ball one time, but that plan when south in a nasty way and I guess it soured me on the game. I don’t hate it. I just don’t give a fuck.

Nick DiMusio, known as Nick the Mouse, was tending bar. He’s quiet and quick, with clever eyes, like a he’s always on cat watch. He and Olie Pederson, a retired CTA bus driver, were having one of their usual political discussions, po-tay-toe/po-tah-toe, and I filtered it out. Olie was as archtypical of the strapping Scandinavian Viking as you could possible be and still be a paunchy, middle-aged, balding black guy

I had sipped about halfway through my second double, having tossed down the first one to cauterize my wound, when Shorty strutted in. He was a nimble, bandy-legged little Italian gnome, with sleepy eyes and thick brows arched in a permanent state of what-the-fuck-is-going-on. As if he’d just arrived from some other planet and couldn’t believe the stupid shit he saw here on earth, and it left him stunned speechless.

Respecting my privacy, and not want to appear overtly queer, he slid onto a stool a few places away from me.

“Usual?” said Nick.

“Why not?” said Shorty.

Nick set him up with a shot of bourbon, filled to the brim. Then he floated back over to continue his pointless debate with Olie.

Shorty dug out a smoke, stuck it in the corner of his mouth and started patting himself down. I had my Lucky’s and my lighter already on the bar, kept a butt burning to provide self-illumination. I tapped the Zippo lightly on the oak, tattooed with generations of stains and scars, and when Shorty looked over, I slid the lighter across the bar to him. He snatched it up smoothly as the legendary Arthur, the center Fiedler for the Boston Red Pops. He flipped it open, held his head sideways to keep the start-up smoke out of his eyes, a gesture so odd I wondered if he had learned it from one of the pigeons in the park. He returned my lighter the same way I’d sent it, adding a wink and a nod and a hearty Hi-yo, Silver. I gave him a nod of “you’re welcome,” and we were square.

He pointed at the TV and raised his brows even higher.

“Six to four, Cubs, bottom of the eighth,” I reported like I was informing the relief helmsman of the course heading.

Shorty nodded some more.

Just then Rajal Davis got a huge home run hit off Chapman, knocking the ball well over the left field wall, bringing Guyer home from second, to boot.

“Six-six,” noted Shorty. The way you’d point out to a guy that his fly was open.

“Shit’s about to get interesting,” I heard Olie say.

Nick made book on the side. I wondered what the line was on the game.

Going into the ninth, they all turned their attention to the game, and I pretended to follow suit. But I was thinking about something else. I had a thing to do. It was going to be ugly, and it was going to be painful. But not for me.

The Cubs pissed away a chance to score at the top of the ninth, Chapman returned to the mound, pitched his ass off, three up, three down. So the game would go into extra innings. It had clouded up a little, and a rogue cloudburst resulted in a rain delay before the tenth inning.

It was enough time for Nick and Olie to pick up their argument where they’d left off, and insult each other, with Nick calling Olie a bleeding-heart liberal, and Olie pronouncing Nick a fat-cat conservative. Or maybe it was the other way around. Sometimes you can’t tell the players apart without a program.

Shorty regarded them with an extra measure of disbelief, evident in his head shaking.

“You guys are fuckin’ nuts, you know that?” Shorty said.

“What do you mean?” said Nick.

“What do you mean, what do I mean? What did I say? I said you’re fuckin’ nuts. That’s what I said. That’s what I mean. Fuckin’ nuts.”

“What’re you talking about?” said Olie. “Why are we fuckin’ nuts?”

“Let me ask you something,” Shorty said after a sip of bourbon. “You ever know anybody who was one hundred percent right about everything all the time?”

“Yeah,” said Olie with a bitter snort. “My ex.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” said Shorty, wagging it away with his finger. “She only thought she was one hundred percent right about everything all the time. That’s why she’s your ex. ’Cause if she actually was one hundred percent right about everything all the time, you would take her tight little ass to Vegas, hit the blackjack table, and retire to the French Fucking Riviera on your winnings. Now, am I right or am I right?”

“Okay. I guess you’re right,” Olie conceded. “I don’t know about the Riviera part, though.”

“Close enough. Look,” Shorty went on, “you guys are baseball fans, right?” It was a rhetorical question. “Okay. Who’s the best hitter in the game?”

“Right now, or of all time?” asked Nick.

“All time. Any idea?”

Nick and Olie looked at each other like kids trying to telepathically cheat on a history test.

“Ted Williams?” Olie shrugged.

“Good guess.” Shorty turned his gaze to Nick. “What do you say?”

Nick toyed with a bar towel. “Lifetime or single season?”

“You pick.”

“I’ll go with Ted Williams.

“Holy fucking Christ,” said Shorty with a shocked hush in his voice. “You fucking guys actually agree on something?” His brows were getting a real workout. “Holy fuck. Alert the fuckin’ media.”

Shorty glanced over at me to see if I had an opinion, but I wasn’t getting involved.

“Well, my fine fucking feathered friends,” he said, “ it might interest you to know That Ted Williams’ lifetime average was .344. Ty Cobb’s lifetime average was .366. Highest lifetime average ever.”

“Ty Cobb?” said Olie.

“Ty fucking Cobb,” Shorty confirmed. “Now, Ted Williams best season was in 1941. He hit .406. But Rogers Hornsby hit .424 back in 1924, and nobody’s beat that yet. Had a .358 lifetime record.”

“Okay,” said Nick. “So what? What’s your point?”

“I’m getting there. Don’t fucking rush me. Who’s the highest paid player in the game today?

Olie and Nick looked to each other for the answer and came up with bupkiss.

“Jason Werth,” said Shorty. “He’s making 21 million fucking dollars a season. That’s 21 million. With a twenty and a one and a million. Know what his batting average is? .267 lifetime. Best season .300 in 2012.”

“Okay, okay, Mr. Baseball. I still don’t see what you’re getting at.”

“Batting .300; batting .424; batting .358. What does that actually mean? It’s a fraction, right? Out of so many times at bat, the guy gets so many hits. You divide one by the other, carry the one, pi times the radius squared, e pluribus unum, one if by land, two if by sea, and you get a percentage. We say .300 and that’s a pretty big number sounds good. But what it actually means is that the guy only gets a hit 30 per cent of the time. 1/3 of the time. When a guy steps up to the plate, his job is to hit the fucking ball, right? If he gets a hit, we could say he made the right decision, did the right thing. And it he doesn’t get a hit, we could say he made the wrong decision, did the wrong thing. That means the greatest hitter in the entire history of fucking baseball was only right 34 percent of the time, lifetime average, or 42 percent of the time, single season. They were right less than half the time. Not even 50/50. Fuck, if you always bet heads on a coin toss, you’ll be right 50 percent of the time. THIS guy Werth is only right 26 percent of the time and he’s pulling down 21 million bucks. For being WRONG about 75 percent of the time.”

Olie frowned and rubbed his bald spot. “Yeah, but –“

“Yeah, but?” said Shorty, cutting him off at the pasta. “But, but, but, but, but. What are ya, a fuckin’ golf cart? Yeah but nothing. Now, you guys are always going around and around and around about this issue and that issue. Abortion. Gun control. Taxes. Health care. The latest stupid fucking war. No matter what the issue is, you, sweet prince (he pointed at Nick) always take the so-called fucking liberal position. Always. 100 percent of the fucking time. And you, my brother duck, (he tapped Olie’s chest very lightly with a fingertip), you always take whatever the fuck the so-called fucking conservative position is. Always. 100 percent of the time. Now, we have established that NO ONE is right 100 percent of the time about anything— not even about something they are extremely good at, like hitting a fucking baseball. In fact, if you’re right not even half the time, you’re such a fucking genius you wind up in the Hall of Fame, and you get paid more money than you could ever spend unless you dedicated the rest of your life to buying completely silly shit.”

Shorty had them on the ropes now, and kept hammering them with combinations

“So pick an issue. Any issue. Look at it. Remember it. Put it back in the deck. And if you think it through, look at all the angles, look at all the evidence pro and con, wrestle through all that shit, it only stands to reason that sometimes, on some things you gotta wind up taking the so-called conservative position, and sometimes, on some things you gotta wind up taking the liberal position. Ya gotta. Because nobody is 100 percent right about everything all the time. Right? But you’re in your little liberal box, or your little conservative box. So you can’t actually be thinking about shit at all. If you always take the liberal position, or you always take the conservative position, simple logic forces me to conclude that one of two things must be true. Either you’re both full of shit, or you’re both completely fuckin’ nuts. Since you do seem wholly fucking sincere in your belief that either the liberals or the conservatives, respectively, are 100 percent right about everything all the time, ipso fatso, I’m compelled to conclude that you’re both fuckin’ nuts.”

Shorty then took a dainty sip of of his drink. I think he was luxuriating in the effect his ejaculation of oratory had had on certain mouths — rendered dumbly agape by the onslaught.

“Any fuckin’ questions?” he said.

In the bewildered silence that followed, Olie and Nick turned toward each other grudgingly, like bare-assed lovers trying to make amends and not knowing how to start.

“Holy shit,” said Olie.

“Yeah,” said Nick.

“So what you’re saying,” Olie said to Shorty, “is that we have to start thinking outside our fucking boxes.”

Shorty tossed down the remainder of his hooch, smacked a bill down on the bar and stood up to take his leave. He laid an affectionate hand on Olie’s shoulder, and reached out the other to squeeze Nick’s arm.

“Think outside your fuckin’ boxes? My friends, Romans, countrymen, I’d be happy if you just start thinking outside your fucking asses.”

And with that he was gone.

The tenth inning commenced and the Cubs won the World Series 8-7.

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