Thursday, March 27, 2014

Frozen Music, the Choral Novel, Chapter Eleven: Impact



It was about a week after Halloween. Catch This was headed for its usual mediocre finish, winning about as many as we lost, and we figured if we won our last two games we would make the playoffs. This late in the year, our bodies were all pretty stiff and crotchety, but we figured a midweek rehearsal (as we liked to call them) might sharpen us up for Sunday’s game.

We scattered ourselves about William Frawley Memorial Field like stray dogs and, after cramming through a quick infield drill, marched our batters up to the plate for ten swings apiece. By the time we’d worked through four outfielders, the catcher and our first basewoman, the October sun was losing its patience with us.

Kenny, a strict singles hitter, was displaying some pretty good cuts, sending the gophers ducking for cover with up-the-middle grass burners and frozen ropes between short and third. At the end of each batter’s turn, he or she “runs one out” to instill a hypodermic of reality into the situation. Kenny’s philosophy is to “run one out” until you get out, which gives your defense a lot of chances to make some plays or, what’s more fun, look like complete idiots.

So Captain Joe Fatazzio dips the last pitch to Kenny, and he nails a drive to right. Toby, the sheep-like outfielder with the Howitzer arm, picks it up on a hop and blisters the ball to me at second, and we’ve got Kenny roped and branded. I’m holding the ball low, expecting a slide, but all I see are Kenny’s shoetops as he hops over my tag, hits the base and speeds on through.

I pivot quickly and shoot the ball to Joe at third, but Kenny’s not dead yet. He shakes back and forth like James Brown in sweats and plants his right leg to spin back toward second, only his knee decides to take a separate vacation. He falls to the grass with a thud and commences to writhe.

My own inclination – result of six months of Boy Scout training – is to fight off the dangers of shock by coming to Kenny’s side and asking questions: Where’s the pain, Kenny? You think we need an ambulance? Take it easy, you’re gonna be fine. Let’s get a jacket on him.

Everyone else’s inclination is to gather around their dear teammate, rolling around like a run-down squirrel, and spend the next fifteen minutes sharing their personal horror stories.

“Yeah, one time in fifth grade I fell off the roof and broke my leg in two places, and you could actually see part of the bone sticking through the skin. Geeawd, I get nauseous just thinking about it.”

“I had somethin’ like this last fall. Tackle football. Caught a ball up in the air and some guy lays me out – Whoom! – then lands on my knee on the way down. I was laid up for three months.”

“Hey, boy. I’ll bet it hurts real bad, huh, Kenny? Yo, someone get this man a brew!”

We got our answers that Sunday when Kenny showed up to our game in a full-length cast. Without our usual second baseman, Catch This had no chance for the playoffs; the Bruins took us out in five innings, beating us by the ten-run “stomp” rule.

Roxy walked back into work a half-hour after lunch, and it must have been a real zonker. She knows all the tricks – heavy on the makeup, pour down some mouthwash, grab the strong coffee – but you can always tell anyway. For one thing, she starts touching herself – adjusting the hem of her dress, putting a stray hair back into place, rubbing a finger under her lips. Another hint is her mood. She’s always much cheerier that when she’s sober (I mean, hell, at least Roxy’s a pleasant drunk).

“Oh, Michael.”

Speak of the corporate devil. She was at my cubicle, right behind me. I turned to see her leaning around the corner of my filing cabinet, playing peek-a-boo.

“Can you come over to my desk, Michael? I’ve got something to show you.”

Provocative. I followed her to her cubicle, a double-sized affair with a window view. She sat down, smoothing her skirt over her legs.

“Here, come look at this,” she said, beckoning me closer. “I’d like to take advantage of your clerical skills and have you type out this memo to the different dealerships. Use the memory typewriter in the workroom; you’ll only have to type it through once, then just change the address each time after that. Could you do that for me?”

“Sure. No problem.” I took the handwritten memo from her desk and turned to leave.

“Oh, and Michael…”

I looked back.

“Are you coming to the party on Friday? For Fred?”

“Um, uh, I wasn’t really sure,” I said.

“You really should come.” She threw me a pout. “You did such a wonderful job on the invitation. ‘Traded to Fresno for a crate of raisins.’ Ha! You are such a kick, you know that, Michael?”

“Well, yeah, I guess I am,” I said. “I’ll try to be there.”

“Oh, and, Michael, thanks for doing the typing. You’re a sweetheart.”

“Yeah, no problem.” Sheesh.

I took Roxy’s memo to the workroom and was halfway through the initial memory entry (which by the nature of the machine has to be performed perfectly), when in popped Naomi, wearing a surprisingly demure black pants-and-blouse affair.

“Hey, cube-mate, you’ve got a call on line seven.”

“Oh. Naomi. Okay, I’ll be right there. Tell ‘em two minutes.”

“Yes sir,” Naomi sniped.


I was one stinking line from the end when I spelled Sincerely “Sincarely.”

“Shit!” I shouted under my breath. I rapped the typewriter up the side of its little electronic head, ripped out the sheet and crumpled it into the wastebasket, then headed back to my desk.

“Michael Moss here. May I help you?”

“I just love it when you use that ultra-professional office voice.”

“Sasha! Hey, well don’t get used to it. Most of the time I just say, ‘Yeah, what the fuck you want?’”

“I’ll look forward to that. Meanwhile, I know you’re pressed for time this weekend with that concert thing, but I’ve got a play that needs reviewing and I’m all out of writers.”

“Sasha, I’m booked! I got a company party on Friday, a concert Saturday, and a dress rehearsal tomorrow. Do they have a Sunday matinee?”

“Let me look. Um, no, but… Oh! We got a preview showing tonight.”

“They don’t usually like letting me see previews.”

“These guys are desperate. They’d let you see the casting call.”

“Okay. Where at?”

“Duncead Productions, above the Varsity on Tenth Street. ‘A bold new production of Richard III.’”

When I got home, I found a nice little surprise in my mailbox. A shiny new absolutely virgin credit card, holographic eagle image, credit limit a whopping twenty-five hundred smackers. I headed to the Varsity – an old theater renovated by some Silicon Valley CEO – and headed upstairs to a very small and dark room. I was greeted by a man with a flashlight, his face hidden by a cloak. He showed me to my seat, near a stage covered with dark figures, rolling around like dying cockroaches. A man down the row whispered to someone, whereupon a misshapen figure at center stage shot a beam of light into his eyes.

“You! There! Shut up! SHUT… UP!”

Uh-oh. Confrontational theater. Only thirty years behind the curve. Oh well, maybe it’ll get better.

I was wrong, it didn’t get better. I had never seen Richard III before, and I guess I still haven’t. The actors were all dressed in black, head to toe, symbolic of great… blackness. The only light came from flashlights, carried by the actors and shone in each others’ faces in some strange Eveready dance while they recited lines in bad British television accents, heavy on the consonants, the rolled R’s, and K’s delivered with great quantities of spit. An excruciating hour and a half later, I realized the Royal Droolers’ Company was forgoing an intermission (smart of them not to let their audience out of the room). I stood up and marched quietly out.

I drove south to the Pruneyard Towers, an upscale shopping plaza nestled under the watchful eye of two ebony highrises, and took the elevator to the top of the big brother, to a restaurant called Benjamin’s. The waitress came over and sized me up.

“Are there more, or are you by yourself this evening?”

Ah, an imposing question.

“I’m by myself this evening. I’d like to start with a brandy, straight up. And may I see a bar menu?”

Seventeen stories aloft in the Silicon Valley sky, I could see the whole sordid lightscape, yellow dots branching out to the foothills in one enormous electrical spider web. The cars on the freeway below were brake-light corpuscles over three-lane arteries. People. So many people.

“Yes, I’ll have the beer-grilled oysters and a dinner salad with the raspberry vinaigrette. Can I see your wine list?”

My phone rang when I got home tonight. Whoever it was hung up.

Photo by MJV

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