Category Archives: Junesboy

Baseball on Gay Place

A memory of an older Lexington.

Great.

Now I’m gonna want a Dodger Dog all night.

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice…or perhaps a hundred times before how much I love baseball. I come by this infatuation honestly and early.

I grew up in North Lexington, on a street named Gay Place. Go ahead, snicker if you wish, but all it meant to us then was that it made it easy to fill out any forms requiring a home address. I didn’t need to write out street names like “Henry Clay Boulevard” and “Avenue of Champions” until much later in my intellectual development. To be perfectly accurate, the street was South Gay Place and yes, there was and still is a North Gay Place. Today I suppose we would call this configuration a cul-de-sac, but in the late 50’s/early 60’s the only French we knew was French’s Yellow Mustard (See? Completely obsessing on those Dodger Dogs).

On Gay Place, in the summer, we played baseball all the time, everywhere, and with all kinds of equipment.

We mowed the vacant field behind our street and played on the stubble. The field was severely canted on a hill. What did we care? Yes, the run uphill to first base was arduous and rarely successful, but if you made it, you could attain Olympic speed from first to third. Flat is seriously over-rated.

We played intense wiffle ball. We would locate the densest shrub in the neighborhood and put home plate in front of it. That eliminated the need for a catcher. I recall one memorable game when my participation was cut short after I reached into the catcher/bush to retrieve the ball and retrieved a wasp nest instead.

We played in driveways using a fishing cork for the ball and a broomstick for the bat. Our eyes were better then.

My favorite games were played in our backyard. The ground rules were remarkable and vital to know to determine a winning strategy.

  • A ball hit over the right field fence was a home run UNLESS;
    • It crossed over my dad’s vegetable garden. Then it was a foul ball. If it landed in the garden, it was an out – no, it was the ultimate out. We weren’t allowed to play anymore that day. OR…
    • …if the unsympathetic neighbors (probably hockey fans) who lived in the house over the right field fence were home. Then the ball hit over the right field fence was considered un-retrievable until they left home and the game was over or suspended until such time.
  • A ball hit over the left field fence was considered to be “in the outfield”. It could be caught on the fly for an out or fielded to hold the runner to a single or a double. UNLESS…
  • …it was a ball hit over the left field fence AND traveled beyond the tree in the middle of the neighbor’s back yard. That was considered to be a home run and would invariably initiate an argument over the distance measurement of such vitriol it would dwarf today’s chats between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
  • Games would continue until twilight, at which time we would switch to horseshoes, just to irritate ALL the neighbors.

No matter which incarnation of “baseball” we happened to be playing each day, the score for each game was meticulously kept and just as meticulously forgotten the next day. Players switched teams with complete fluidity. Feelings were hurt…and healed. People were offended…and survived. Heroes were made…and humbled. The sun set…and then rose again. We could spell “Gay Place”, but we couldn’t spell “Republican”, or “Democrat”. We had heard of the Reds and the Yankees, but we had never heard of conservatives or liberals. If, in the middle of the game, we felt the call of nature, we ran home or to a neighbor’s house or behind the catcher/bush and no one checked any birth certificates about it.

We had all the time in the world, but there was no time to waste on foolishness like that. We had a game to play.

Oh yeah, I love baseball. I earned the right to that love. Those wasps…!

Chapter Three; Cabana Daydreamin’

This is the third chapter because it is the third written. It may not actually end up being chapter three – does that make sense?

Whatever.

This is preceded by blog entries; “It Was a Close Day” and “Though the Booking Glass”. If you’re a chronological sort (guilty here), you might look at those.

 

Chapter Three; Cabana Daydreamin’

It looked like a dive.

It wanted to look like a dive.

But what kind of dive featured brunch? With Eggs Nova Scotia and Mimosa’s – good ones?

And there was the jukebox, the old soda shop kind at every table, with tabs on the bottom to flip that displayed the 45’s available for play – hit sides and flip sides.

And the mahogany walls…well…the heavily and redly varnished tongue-and-groove looked like mahogany…if you wanted it to and you squinted a bit. That pressed metal ceiling however, would’ve been expensive to fake.

Maybe it was a dive of sorts, but it was a dive with a lively clientele. On any given night, you might see a local oil-painting legend and his goat, a gentleman from a fine thoroughbred-breeding family in the garb of a drive-thru carhop (fully attired in roller-skates and angel wings), narcotics undercover agents that everyone knew and flirted with, lawyers, dentists, judges, teachers, preachers… and if someone played Artie Shaw’s version of “Begin the Beguine” on the jukebox, it would be a deadly race to see who among this population would be the first to leap (or crawl depending on the age of the contender or the number of drinks consumed) to the top of the bar to prove that America’s got talent years before television took over that function.

It was a real good time.

It was the Cabana Club.

At this moment though, it was a slow time at the Cabana, a sluggish couple of hours between lunch and the dinner/drinking crowd. There was one couple at a table trying to figure out what to say next to each other that would be effective but not too direct. There were a few barflies sagging over their second or third time-killers (depending on how much soul-cipherin’ was required this afternoon). Morey Duke was in the kitchen contemplating dessert while scribbling the evening’s menu specials. Paulie Gasper was holding court.

Paulie was the waiter/bartender/maître d/dishwasher/cook of the Cabana. Essentially, anything the owners (Joe and John) didn’t want to do that day became Paulie’s lookout.

But it was a slow time just now, so Paulie was perched on a bar stool overlooking the room and it seemed to be an excellent time to read the just-delivered afternoon paper……out loud.

Paulie was a local actor – probably the best Concord had to offer. Consistent acting work was scarce in town (paying or non-paying), while the need for an audience was in plentiful supply. Paulie surveyed his domain and determined that bedazzled and befuddled low-rent rendezvous wannabes and blurry midday philosophers would suffice as an audience. Joe and John had fled in the heat of the afternoon so there were no sober, adult voices to stop him.

“Ha!”

Paulie’s “Ha!” could cut through the thickest haze, be it composed of alcohol or hormones.

But just in case…

“Ha!” he re-barked.

“Check out this play review by our local Frank Rich.

‘Of the actors involved in Piecework Theatre’s latest effort; “Belfast or Bust”, the least said the better with the exception of a seductive performance by Stella Nolan. Ms. Nolan purrs her dialect with heat and commands the stage like a jungle princess after a warm rain.’

“What the Christ does that even mean? I wish he would just fuck her and get it over with!”

Paulie held for applause.

It came in the form of slightly belated, ragged laughter.

John Prine describes moments like this accurately; “Well, ya know, she still laughs with me, but she waits just a second too long.”

Paulie thought it might be best to refrain from holding out for an encore. Besides, just as he was delivering his punchline on the review, he’d felt something; a bend in the room, a quiver in the afternoon light, a sussuration on the jukebox (Percy Sledge offering some painful, keening psychoanalysis of “When a Man Loves a Woman”)…something…or nothing.

Morey popped up at the kitchen window. He fluttered his eyes and waved his finger in the air. Paulie went to him.

Morey stuttered; “Did you feel that? I think the boys are back in town!”

(Oh, yes-s-s-s. To be most likely continued.)

Chapter Two – Through the Booking Glass

This is Chapter Two – a continuation of an entry entitled; It Was a Close Day. You might want to scroll back and read it first. -RLL

Benjamin Andante wobbled a bit, stabilized himself, and visually assessed the shop; not an easy thing to do just now. The light was strange. Romantics would call it sepia-toned but they’d be selling it short. It was golden. Every spine of every book was a lighter or darker shade of gold. Every drifting mote of dust was golden and there was a blue million of those.

“S’pose that would technically be a gold million. Blue million…wonder where that comes from?” He made a note (for real, not mental) to look it up. He took the note, pulled a piece of Scotch tape, and stuck the note on the shelf nearest the book shelf marked “Economics”.

“Scotch tape”…why “Scotch”? Another note was duly made and attached to the shelf marked “Gaelic”.

He shuffled over to the front window. The outside heat radiated through the letters on the glass;

“pohS .T .I .A .B regooC & etnadnA”

And under that;

skoo-B

dn-A

gniugirtn-I

stibdi-T

He noticed the fluttering of paper across the street. The newspaper flickered in the hands of a more-than-amply-haired young man, on his butt, leaning back on the front of the chili parlor, gaping at the bookstore like he’d just seen…what?

…A light on the road to Damascus?

…A close encounter?

…His mama kissing Santa Claus?

“Well…” Ben thought; “Close, but no cigar.”

Then it hit’im;

“Uh-oh.”

From the back of the shop came a familiar, and always hideous “plonk”, followed by two more; “plonk, plonk”, and a growl; “This bastard’s gonna be a bitch to tune.”

“Sam, you just used ‘bastard’ and ‘bitch’ in the same sentence referring to the same object.”

“Well, I guess that’s just the kinda goddam’ poet I am.” Sam Cooger replied from the depths of the alcove marked “Counter-Culture Studies”. Four pristine copies of “Big Table” literary digest sacrificed their pristine-ness in a suicidal plunge to the floor in protest of the banjo assault.

The banjo chirped obliviously; “plonk-PLONK plonka plonk” in a key unknown to Schoenberg.

“Dammit!”

“Sam, we may have a problem. There’s a kid across the street. I think he may have seen us come home.”

“Do I need to kill the son of a bitch?”

“No…not yet……but he’s comin’ this way.”

 

(perhaps to be, yet again, continued)

It Was a Close Day

It was a close day.

Summer afternoons in Central Kentucky can be that way. They portend delicious summer nights, viscous and promising.

We call a day “close” because it wraps itself around you; a lover that wants more and then more. It closes in on every cranny of you, insisting on your total attention and concentration. It obliterates free will. It obliterates independent thought and movement. It ridicules quickness. It ferrets out any remnant of energy and smilingly, triumphantly commandeers it for its own. And you have no objection. The southern night will soon follow…promising, remember?

This was a close day indeed.

Heat, yes… Humidity, certainly… And an impending doom or salvation in the form of a draft lottery. The air was saturated. All kinds of dew points were high.

The sidewalk was certifiably warm on Cayton’s butt as he squatted under the awning of Streemer’s at the corner of Grove and Proclus. He was waiting for the evening newspaper to be dropped at the stand.

Streemer’s was renown in the county as serving the best chili in town. The Iconic Basketball Coach at the college had pronounced it as such and was believed to consume serious quantities of the stuff every other day. Fans without season tickets, wishing to catch a glimpse of the Iconic Basketball Coach, would patronize the restaurant and dutifully order the chili, or peer into the establishment through the street windows. But today wasn’t “chili” weather and it wasn’t basketball season. It was a slow day at Streemer’s. Cayton had the sidewalk and the newspaper stand to himself.

There were two businesses across Proclos Street, a florist and a shop that apparently sold pianos and cacti. It seemed to be a slow day for them too. 86 degrees, chili, flowers, pianos, and cacti…Cayton couldn’t imagine anyone’s shopping list requiring a visit to this shopping mecca. Strangely enough, his did.

He needed information; detailed information.

The results of college had been……mixed for Cayton. Classwork had been a disaster for two years, but theatre work had been challenging and exhilarating. He suspected the success in one area compromised the other – duh. He didn’t care. He loved the theatre. He loved rehearsing. He loved the emotional exploration. He loved the puzzle of script and character. He loved the audience. He loved to speak loudly. He loved to sing…yes, loudly. And, God help him, he loved to pretend to be someone else. Most people travel geographically to expand their experience – he traveled through characters and stories for same reason. For him, it was a fair trade and reasonable choice; skip Physics 101 – rehearse “Measure for Measure” instead. “Be absolute for death. Either death or life will thereby be the sweeter.” made more sense as a way to spend time than bending a stream of water with a comb.

There was a “rub” in the trade, however.

It wasn’t money. These were days when student debt was a non-factor. A semester’s in-state tuition was in the $120-150 range in the early 70’s. No, it wasn’t money.

It was freedom.

While theatre work made Cayton a bigger, happier, and more valuable person, it did not maintain his deferment from the draft. Because of his sterling academic record, his deferment was about to evaporate.

Not to worry. The draft lottery had been held earlier today. Each date of birth was drawn and given a random number; 1-365. Eligible men would be drafted in that order. Cayton had done the math (he was dedicated to an unusual path of study but he wasn’t stupid) and felt pretty good about his chances. 80-90 numbers is about what would be drafted. Higher numbers were assumed safe forever after that. He needed to know so he could get on with his next show.

The evening newspaper was the easiest and fastest way. Cayton didn’t have a TV and even if he did, the network news didn’t come on till six and they wouldn’t waste their precious half hour giving out all 365 results. Ditto for the AM radio news; five minutes at the top of every hour? How much detail could they provide?

Cayton was sweating. He was out of the direct sun and the odds were in his favor, but it was a close day and the moment was at hand. His head was swirling.

“I got this. It’s OK. I’m supposed to be off book for tonight’s rehearsal. Who the hell buys a cactus from a piano store? Look at the heat waves over the street. Act two tonight – don’t have much to learn. Look at the buildings shimmer. How am I gonna explain this? I won’t have to. The odds are in my favor. No sweat. So what if I’m drafted – I’ll go to Canada. It’s cooler there. I’m sweatin’. I got this.”

The newspaper’s panel truck pulled up. The driver climbed out and opened the back and hauled out a stack of papers. He carried it over to the stand and cut the strings that bound the stack. Cayton shuffled over. The driver looked at him; “You waitin’ for these? Here, it‘s on me.” Cayton took the paper back under the awning and unfolded his future. The story was on the bottom of the front page, but the details were on page three. He flipped the pages and checked the chart for his birthday.

His number was 12.

He sat hard on the cement. The day sat hard on him. The day was no longer close – it had arrived.

He squinted out from under the awning into the glare of summer and truth reflected off the three stores across the street.

Three?

The piano store, the book store, and the florist…

Book store?

(perhaps to be continued…)