I had to stay in the office late yesterday. But I kept track of the game through Facebook status updates and the box score, neither of which had very good news. It was kind of a bummer to read about the game when my day was going on for so long and also I was still carrying with me that thing that’s been happening to me lately.
Oddly, no one mentioned that you’d been relieved early, although now that I think of it, Ray posted what now strikes me as a sarcastic status update (in the way that a hardcore fan can gently heckle a favored player who is having a bad day). I’m sorry that your season is starting off crummily so far. And I’m sorry for taking what we in the office world call a “mental break,” in which I’d taken a breather from my workload, reached out to the box score posted on the computer monitor I’d been staring at since 7 in the morning, and felt like I could relate to you, as if your bad day and my own gloom were our connection. I bet fans do this all the time; I bet that, when someone famous and totally unrelated to their lives is in the same boat they are, fans feel a connection, no matter how fleeting or false, because it makes things better. With me, the difference is that I feel a little stupid and Catholic-Filipino-guilty for it, for still looking to you for all the gaps and incompletion in my life, even as I was just a over day away from turning 30 and should know better.
For some reason, one of my favorite baseball words is “pickle,” and it’s not even a “real” word in the sense that it’s not legitimately used in the big leagues. I don’t even know when I first learned that word. It was definitely in 2009, my first season as a baseball fan, and I may have learned it from Livvie. Otherwise, my memory of acquiring that word is as hazy as any religious creation story.
I thought about baseball pickles yesterday. The morning had started with a treat: one of the managers at work took me out for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It was nice getting to spend some time with this manager outside of the office, but the dilemma — which was entirely my own — came with actually ordering the coffee. What I ended up getting was a plain ol’ coffee, sized tall, black. No frills, and since this was Starbucks, it was the so-called “Pike’s Place Roast,” but still a plain cup of coffee. The dilemma? When a manager takes you out for coffee, should you order some fancy coffee drink like a grande caramel macchiatosomething, or should you order something more modest but not as modest as a plain old cup of coffee that you could have easily made in the office kitchen? Even though it clearly wasn’t a big deal to the manager, I found myself wondering if that person was thinking about me: “I took him out and that’s all he wanted?”
There’s another pickle that’s been on my mind for a lot longer. This one involves Mary, who is in touch — and even friends with — one of the very few people in my life whom I’ve never been able to forgive. I have a coworker who’s always saying to me that she could never believe I’m the kind of person who can have a falling out with anyone, let alone have a grudge, but this person that Mary has decided to stay in touch with did things to me that I feel do not deserve even the most basic charity. She really hurt me, Linc. And even though I tell myself that it’s all in the past, what hurts just as badly is that Mary, who is virtually my soul mate, played the “she didn’t do anything to me” card. Do you know what I’m saying, Linc? If someone had wronged Mary, even if that someone had not done anything wrong to me yet Mary still felt and believed that she, herself, had been terribly wronged, I could never bring myself to have any kind of connection with that someone. I know that I might miss out on knowing a great someone whom, outside of wronging Mary, might be kind and funny, gentle and smart, and warm and inspiring. But because of how my lifelong best friend feels, I could never do it. I could never overlook what was done to Mary. Yet that’s not how Mary sees things, and lifelong best friends accept everything about each other, and I accept that Mary is a totally separate individual who, just because she is my best friend, doesn’t mean that is obligated to do anything or be any way. I just wish…
None of this is related to what’s been going on lately. But going into my 30th birthday, I clearly have a lot on my mind and, yes, I do wish you were holding my hand, and I yours.
Did I ever tell you about this one game I went to last season and there was this family sitting in front of me and Ray, and he spied a series of file folders that the family was toting around in which they had apparently, meticulously, protected their gameday tickets? Each tab on each folder, all of which were of course orange, began with the family surname. The littlest girl in the family had been bouncing all along the row, cheering when it was time to cheer, laughing for no reason as children often do and then, one moment between innings, she reached for her folder:
When Ray and I saw this, we turned to each other mouths ajar with the oval smiles of the gently awestruck. We did not tap one of the adult family members on their shoulders to ask if their little girl really was fortunate enough to have the first and last names of two San Francisco Giants, and anyway, this would have been an act that was unnecessary when the woman who was the mother figure would sometimes gently scold, “Maddie, no!” Instead, we knew and we believed.
Well, it’s 9pm on a Monday. I lead the exciting life of every single 29 year-old man: I’m going to lie in bed reading a book until I fall asleep. I have finished The Art of Fielding, and thank goodness for the grace of age, or else I would have been bawling. Instead, I composed myself and leapt to another book. How’s this for my second Nook purchase? This time, it’s non-fiction, Confidence Men, and a world apart from The Art of Fielding, from baseball. But the writing is top-notch, the story compelling, and all of it feels bizarrely similar to The Art of Fielding. I try not to read book reviews too closely, because unlike with movie reviews, book passages are more strikingly spoilerish. The Washington Post didn’t like it, but the critic may have gone into it for motives that are different from mine. Facts as portrayed may indeed be lacking in crucial attribution, but what I’m very interested in is the dynamics between these people. Somehow, and I should be sorry to admit this, because I respect my president, and because I love my country and its society, warts and all, but I can very easily believe that people working together, even for a good cause — especially for a good cause — can just as easily be horrible toward one another.
At the end of my monthlong residency at the Vermont Studio Center back in 2009, the writer Bernadette Esposito and I shared a farewell embrace. Then she pulled away and, regarding me with a gravity in her eyes that I had never before seen during that entire stay, she advised me: “Don’t burn out too soon.”
I think about that from time to time. I’ve taken it personally, close to my heart, as I do with even the littlest things; and I’ve also considered it with a grain of salt, wondering if, after all, it was not a comment reserved exclusively for me but something that she said to everyone at the end of the residency. Have a nice summer, except that this was in the winter.
As I head off to work in the next few minutes, I am launching a stretch of days in which something is scheduled in my calendar for each day. Whether it is an event, a task, or time spent with other people, my calendar has exploded for the next two weeks. This is a blessing and a curse; a blessing because I get to be deeply involved in the world, and a curse for someone who is a natural loner. Every free moment I get to myself will be reserved exclusively, even aggressively, for myself. This may sometimes mean that, if I’m with other people, I may become sullen and deeply introspective. And in the rare hours when I have nothing officially scheduled, I may retreat to a corner or whatever empty space is handy, book in tow. (I always have a book with me. Whenever I go to The Ballpark, the ushers who check my bag consistently tease me about going in with a book. It has happened all the time, for every game, and I’ve been to lots. “No reading in the ballpark,” they joke to me, and the thing is, the joke never gets old. That is how much I love the ushers, The Ballpark, the game.)
I’m 29 years old, an age that has simultaneously left me feeling left behind, feeling accomplished, old, and young. In fact, there are times when I feel like I am too young to feel burned out. The cliche “old soul” has sometimes been applied to me, to which I counter, silently, that one is only as old as one feels. Whatever the case, Linc, I’m both excited and overwhelmed by the next two weeks. To balance this duality, I ground myself with happy memories — the World Series, for example. October has always been my favorite month, with its falling temperatures and autumnal shades, but the World Series made that time so much better. I also have music. Singing to one’s self, the ability to recall some prior ditty, is a quality and skill we all possess, but I cling to the notion that it is an exclusive trait that I inherited from Pop. My childhood was filled with renditions of Nat King Cole, Elvis, even The Carpenters, and the memory in my head is of Pop singing or humming while doing dishes. A good song will keep me grounded when I feel overwhelmed; so will imagining that I am again seven years old, wandering into the kitchen as Pop stands at the sink and then spots me, the song fading, and asks, “Did you eat already, anak?”
In these next two weeks, if I’m singing to myself, it ain’t because I’m breaking, though rarely have I ever felt whole, even when my calendar is full.