A couple of months ago I did an exercise based on character development. It was based on a comment from Kristen Wiig during a Marc Maron podcast. She talked about embodying a character by starting with their physique and any idiosyncrasies they might have. It was a great point and a great exercise.
I have been in a fallow spell recently. I am coming up on my one-year anniversary of writing each day, and have been getting in less time and distracting myself more even when I am at my desk. I have been a bit frustrated with the stories I have been producing lately. They seem flat, meandering. So a writing exercise seemed like a good idea.
I worked on this one over two days, perhaps putting in 75 minutes in total. The challenge–put four people, in different times, in the same place. I chose Fenway Park.
It was a first, one that he had picked and not her, but Jimmy—who set them up—said she loved the Red Sox. He had been to a game with a few people and she had been there, drinking beer and screaming her lungs out. Jimmy said the screaming was always a good sign. It meant she would be good in bed.
He bought the first round and they clicked their plastic cups together. “To baseball,” she offered, and he nodded. She had deep brown eyes and he just then noticed the deep purple streak in her brown hair. It was a good look.
Fenway seats were built for 1912 people, short and much thinner. He was 6’2 and 240 pounds. It was hard to make his leg not touch hers, but after the third beer she didn’t seem to mind and after the fifth beer she kissed him while the crowd sang, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” He smiled into her kiss.
Brian couldn’t help tabulate all the money. He was an account after all. $85 each for four tickets, $40 for parking, $64 for the hot dogs and cokes, $14 for the two ice creams for the girls. Four-hundred-fifty-eight fucking dollars and the girls hadn’t watched the game for a minute. Katrina kept asking him when they would leave and saying Mr. Whiskers was missing them. At some point, Big Papi hit a home run. Brian only noticed because it didn’t land that far from them and everyone went scrambling for the ball.
Back in the day, when he and Nancy were first married, they would come to a few games each year. He could get tickets for $18. He would watch every play, keep score, banter with other guys sitting nearby. Nancy was still in graduate school and some nights she would read for most of the game. He didn’t mind; he even liked it. He wanted to be absorbed in the rhythm of the game.
One game, back when Boggs was still playing, Brian had been charting the whole at bat. Boggs got to 3-2, and then started spraying foul balls. One, then three, then six. Brian had played through high school and he marveled at Boggs’ bat control. Brian couldn’t have done that even once—stare down a 93-mile-an-hour fastball, flick his bat, and send the ball slicing into the stands. Some people say they would give anything to hit a homer over the green monster; Brian would give anything to foul balls away at will like that.
On the twelfth pitch of the bat, Boggs slapped at a ball and it came screaming at Brian. He stood up at just the right time, dropped his scorebook, and snared the ball with both hands, just as he had been taught. It hit the pad of his left hand and Brian knew it would bruise, but he didn’t care. He stood for a moment. He knew he might end up on television. Jerry Remy, the color commentator, liked to highlight when a fan made a good catch. Sometimes they even replayed them. He could ask some friends later if they had seen him.
He sat down. Nancy smiled and kissed him, and the guys around him slapped his back, told him it was a great catch. He was glad it was a night game and there were no kids around. There would have been some peer pressure. “Give it to the kid!” “Don’t be an asshole!” But there were no kids, so he turned the ball over and over in his hand. He picked up his beer in his left hand, welcomed the cold against his stinging palm. It would be a good bruise.
There were worse ways to spend your retirement. Too many of his friends sold their houses, moved to Florida, and had been golfing ever since. They all told Jerry he would hate each winter more and more. One buddy, Tim, even sent him the real estate section from the Miami Herald. He had scrolled across the first page in red marker, “Come on down! The water’s fine!”
Jerry wrapped up his law practice one spring just in time to take a job at Fenway as an usher. He had always loved Fenway; why not go to every game for free? He knew it wouldn’t be like that—he would be busy helping and talking to fans. It took him a while to get used to being on his feet so much, but then he found the right shoes.
The drunks bothered him, though, especially the young ones. Big, burly guys would do beer run after beer run, bringing two at a time back to their seats and quaffing both in half an inning, returning for more. He watched a guy drink 14 beers one day, and he probably missed a couple when he went under the stands for a few minutes to help a big crowd collect a few straggling kids.
On a Friday night a young woman—a girl really—appeared next to him during the third inning. She reeked of booze and her hat was askew. At first Jerry couldn’t understand what she was saying but she kept repeating it. “My friends,” she pointed up to the stands where a few girls were waving. “My friends dared me to give you a blow job under the stands somewhere.” Jerry couldn’t help but look her over. She was blond, tall, and thick with pendulous breasts. He blushed, turned around, and walked away. He heard the cackles from the stands, “Ow! Shut down! Don’t let him say no, Hailey!”
Jerry walked to the end of the section, turned to the field, grabbed the banister, and held on.
She couldn’t tell if her father was enjoying the game. “You OK, Dad?”
He turned to her, smiled. “Never been better.” He picked up his coke. Sipped it. She watched his throat work at swallowing, saw him wince.
Who knew all the things that would come at him after his diagnosis and then the chemo? The hair loss of course, the vomiting. But then he started to bloat and his skin had bruised to the point that they had to transfuse him. He was dizzy for most of the day, exhausted. Of all the things, she wasn’t ready for his irritability, but he clamped down on that after a couple of weeks. He was too nice to let others around him suffer.
He had always loved baseball, though, always loved the Red Sox. One of her first memories was of sitting on his lap in these very seats. They had been in the family since before she was born, but he had been coming less since the divorce a few years ago, letting friends buy them and enjoy the view. This was the first game he had been to since he got sick.
“Watch the game, sweetie,” he was turned to her again, smiling that warm smile despite his sagging cheeks and the yellow in his eyes. “They’re a great team this year, they really are.” He swallowed. “Just think, most of them are as young as you, out there playing that game.”
He turned back to the field and she saw a tear well. He sipped his coke again and pulled the brim of his hat lower over his eyes, putting his face in shadow. It was a sunny day and he had always been careful that way.