346.0: Looking for Gemini in all the wrong places.
Playing baseball well does not make you a better person any more than writing well does.
In the stars.
Or, 42 hours later
If you’re not the person whom I think you are, then that’s all right — because I don’t know you. I have certain notions about you and they are both good and bad, both spectacularly romantic and unrelentingly cynical. I may never really know. But I will always have Our Ballpark.
Section 330, under the flags. The section they call View Reserve. Nosebleeds. These aren’t always the seats where we’ve met. It’s been so long since I’ve taken refuge here that I can’t remember where, exactly, I used to sit with you. If you can believe it, I’m having trouble imagining this entire place. My life has come to that depressingly cynical point.
So let me refresh your memory. There is a place called Our Ballpark that resembles AT&T Park, home of your team, the San Francisco Giants. I refer to that, to AT&T Park, as The Ballpark. When I write about taking in a game there, I will write that I went to The Ballpark. Just like that. “I really enjoyed my visit to The Ballpark today.” “I got to The Ballpark early enough to watch batting practice.” As if it is the only ballpark in the world — because, for me, it is. You never forget your first.
Meanwhile, Our Ballpark exists entirely in my head. It is nearly an exact replica of everything you’d expect to find in The Ballpark, except that I re-imagine things to suit my mood. Most of the time, our meetings have taken place under the kind of starry, starry night that I have sometimes looked up to see when I linger long after the final inning of a night game, except that in Our Ballpark it is usually not as foggy. The weather is even better, too, because we can wear whatever we want, like shorts, even if there’s actually a little chill in the air. Our Ballpark is in my imagination and it can be anything I want. And then, of course, there’s you.
We have an imagined romance. For most of my adult life, I’ve been single. I’ve been on a couple of dates, but I’ve never been in a relationship — and I only gave it up when I was 29 — yes, Linc, I was 29. I didn’t wait because I was waiting for marriage. I’m moral, and sometimes I’m a prude, but not that much of a prude. I waited because… well, for a lot of reasons. Most of them meaningful only to me. Mainly, because I never got around to it. Or maybe because I really am that moral: because I wanted so badly for the moment to mean something more than just a rite of passage, more than just this thing that I had to do sooner than later.
So our romance is imagined mostly because of my status, my ongoing — and, at times, tiring — search for love, and our romance is imagined also because the chances of being in a romance with the real you are practically nonexistent. If baseball is the game that I watch to numb the turbulence of “real” life, then the imagined version of you who exists in Our Ballpark is my sounding board and projection, the recipient of the things that I cannot always say in real life. Even to my loved ones.
"Where are you?" you ask me.
Your name, the name of this imagined version of the real Tim Lincecum, is Linc. When we have these imagined conversations, I seldom address you as Linc. I only started doing that in letters, the never-to-be-sent epistles that gradually took the place of those imagined meetings. In the beginning, all you had was a handle, something that made it easy to distinguish you in narrative but was clinical and kind of cold. You were the Avatar.
"Where am I?" I reply.
My answer is an echo not because I am mocking you, and not necessarily because I don’t know the answer, but because there are many answers. I am lost, Linc. I am 31-years old and it is a brutal time in my life. I see my closest friends getting married and having children. I see them getting jobs they are happy to get, or becoming promoted in careers they have already had for years and years, while I am still trying, and struggling, to figure it all out. I’m no closer to owning a home — I live in a living room! I haven’t got it together.
"Don’t get philosophical on me," you remark.
For some reason, the version of you I have imagined can be kind of sarcastic, even testy sometimes.
"I just finished winning a game," you continue. "I can’t handle deep thoughts right now."
“You just finished winning a game? Way to show your team spirit.”
"You know that’s how he talks in private."
"No I don’t."
But then I look over towards you and admit softly: “But it’s an educated guess.”
We’re always sitting next to each other; for some reason, you’re always to the left of me. I’m not sure why. That’s just the way my imagination has always seen it. Your clothes are always different — but I’ve never imagined you naked. To my friends, I’ve made all kinds of lewd jokes about you — come on, man, you’re hot — but I dare not desecrate Our Ballpark the way I would not the real thing.
As I’ve only been looking in your general direction, I adjust myself so that I’m now getting a good look at you. Even sitting down, you’re still taller than me. You’re in one of those form-fitting V-neck tees, black, and jeans, a silvery blue. You’re wearing a gray beanie that ideally should have the orange ‘SF’ logo on the front, but this one does not.
You’re barefoot. Your feet are really quite pale.
"So where are you?" you ask. "In the real world. Right? Because you have to actually be somewhere Over There while you’re in here."
Oh, so now you get philosophical. I understand the question. No matter how vividly you and I are sitting in Our Ballpark, the reality is that I’m somewhere else, and I’m stuck there.
Here is my answer: that I’m in the Ortega branch of the San Francisco Public Library. It’s one of my favorite library branches. They renovated it not too long ago and it is rather spiffy. Even the collection mostly has newer books. The first reason that it is my favorite is because it is so close to where I live. I can walk here. When I request books and DVDs, I just have them delivered to this library branch and I can swing by any time. When I’m bored, sad, or otherwise in need of easy and conveniently-located escape, this is the place. The other reasons can all be categorized into the lump explanation of I’ve Always Loved Libraries And Now I’m So Lucky To Live In A Town Where the Public Library System Is Routinely and Cheerfully Supported Both Politically and Financially.
The Sunset district, as you might know, is one of the foggiest places in San Francisco. If you read that sentence really quickly, you may have accidentally read that as “one of the faggiest places in San Francisco.” That might be true, especially since I, yours truly, live here…
In all seriousness, that’s another thing about you that I don’t know about — I know that you are not gay, maybe not even bisexual, but what I really wish I knew about was how you feel about gay people. About things like gay marriage. Do you have any gay friends? The only good reason why it is so important for me to know such information about you is because I guess any fan of any public figure wants to know certain key things about that public figure. I happen to have an interest in knowing where you stand regarding gay people.
"What brings you back here?" you ask. You scratch your head, slipping a finger just beneath the fabric of the beanie.
"I wish I could go to a game. I wish I could go to The Ballpark. But I can’t. I don’t have the time."
"You overbooked yourself again, didn’t you?"
Just like the idealization that many a single gay man and straight woman has ever had about their perfect boyfriend, you always know what to say — miraculously, even if we haven’t seen each other in a long time.
"I didn’t overbook myself,” I correct you, and then add: “Not this time, anyway. I just happened to commit to some things that I am now realizing are getting in the way of going to a game.”
For example, the Orioles are in town for interleague play. I’d really like to see that, because I was raised in Maryland. (I don’t care as much for the Nationals as I do for the Orioles. The Nationals materialized into existence long after I already moved to San Francisco.)
I slump down in my chair — in the green seat here in Our Ballpark, as well as the wooden chair that I’m sitting on at the library. The labored sigh that I exhale is pregnant with explanations that I have no energy to articulate.
"If I could, I’d stay here forever," I say in the direction of a shooting star zipping past the Big Dipper.
"But if you did, you’d be catatonic. Or dead. Because this is your imagination and —"
The withering glare with which I turn to confront you sufficiently shuts you down.
"I’m sorry," I say with hasty regret, shaking my head. "I didn’t mean to look at you like you’re the scum of the earth."
"And I didn’t mean to counter your corniness with logic."
Rather than glaring at you again, I just look upward to the Andromeda Galaxy, which is spinning around in our atmosphere at a distance that could theoretically happen in the real world in… a couple billion years, when the galaxies collide and we’re all long gone.
"You know," I say after a long moment in which I am hoping that your sarcasm has been laid to rest, "you’d make a good boyfriend."
"Me? Or Tim Lincecum?"
I slip my hand into yours and you squeeze back with a reciprocity and warmth for which I am desperately impoverished.
"If I had to make an educated guess," I begin, "then both."
In social media.
Or, 29 hours later
Why am I following 142 blogs on Tumblr?! This is an overwhelming way to start the morning. Social media is very noisy.
I’m going to have to let go of some of these.
In a bag of cookies.
Or, 16 hours later
I am about half an hour away from midnight. In The Golden Girls, this might be considered the middle of the night. (Except for the time that they stayed up until sunrise so they could help Rose battle a drug problem, or the time Rose and Blanche were celebrating New Year’s Eve and Blanche was so horny that she nearly thought about kissing Rose when the ball dropped, or the time — wow, those oldsters stayed up even later than I do.)
They really liked eating cheesecake for a midnight snack. My idea of a midnight snack right now in this moment is a bag of peanut butter Oreos. I had… well, I’ve had too many to count, and of course one too many for a pro baseball player to eat, if I were a pro baseball player. (A guy who called into KNBR the other day said that the Giants should face facts and let go of Pablo/Panda, whose weight is just too much of an issue now despite how he has contributed in the past. What do you think?)
I am holding off on getting milk because my stomach has been acting really sensitive lately. By “lately,” however, I mean that it is a new reality. Welcome to my thirties: I can’t ride the bus anymore unless I’m sitting in a seat that’s facing the direction that the bus is going, because I will get nauseous, and I also now get nauseous if I dare to read in the backseat of a car. It was pretty bad during the Comic Con road trip. I tried to power my way through The Expats, which is a really fun book to read for the summer, but in addition to reading that really good book, the reason why I kept reading even though I felt myself getting sick was that I was in denial. As the nausea mounted, I kept telling myself that I could overcome it. But with every turn of the page, I kept getting more and more nauseous until finally we had to pull over. I didn’t toss my cookies — no pun intended — on the side of the road. But we did find a rest stop and I stayed in the bathroom, for a good while.
So, tonight no milk with my peanut butter Oreos, which, it pains me to admit, really require milk much more than regular Oreos, because the peanut butter makes it super rich. To quench my thirst, I’ve gotten myself a glass of water.
But it’s just not the same.
In a bookstore.
Or, 13 hours later
When I first realized that I wanted to get serious about baseball, I knew that there was a lot about it that I had to find out about, and I knew that there was other stuff besides stats and history that I had to explore. There was racism and there was what it means to be a man — side issues that have nothing to do with taking the mound or battering up, but are there anyway. For these, I turned to books. For anything that I really want to know more about, I’ve always turned to books.
It’s not just about the “nerdish” need for knowledge. I like having the words in my hands, especially when they are words that I can relate to. In 2009, the year that I contracted the incurable fever of baseball, I read Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, and I also read Manhood For Amateurs by Michael Chabon. I also read “Take Me Out,” a play by Richard Greenberg, and The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt, which occasionally attracts Hollywood interest but never gets the green light. Maybe after Bud Selig retires.
In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, one of the rumors going around about you was that you were wanting a change of scenery. The trade deadline came and went, and even though you stuck around that doesn’t mean that something couldn’t change in the off-season. This rumor of your restlessness amplified my nascent ambivalence about living here for thirteen years. I regret none of those years but to my alarm I have found my restlessness increasing in frequency. I have even gone so far as to reach out to friends in other cities. Mary, who has lived in New York all these years, is planning to move back to Maryland and maybe settle in Baltimore. Sometimes she says to me that she would like me to join her and sometimes I think about how I can see myself following the Orioles and the Ravens.
There’s a bookstore in the Mission district that could use some help, maybe even from you, if you’re so inclined. The bookstore is called Modern Times and they are having a town hall meeting, which I am attending. I’m headed there now. They have had these every month since spring but this is the first chance that I have to attend.
In fact, tonight I am double booked. To attend the town hall meeting, I have had to back out of meeting up with some church friends for this thing we do occasionally called Doubts and Stouts. What they do is they pick a bar, some place with beers that sound interesting, and then they banter about the biggest religious questions on their mind. It’s a new group and at their inaugural meeting last month, the question they discussed was: Why does God let bad things happen?
Modern Times can use all the help that it can get; of course, they are seeking funding, but they also welcome time. They’ve had to reduce their payroll but they’ve had no shortage of volunteers. I plan on throwing my hat in the ring — how about that? I never thought that I’d get to 31 and find myself leaving a paid bookstore job to go work at another bookstore for free.
Modern Times is located in the Mission district on 24th Street, which is the antithesis of Valencia Street. A few weeks ago, I was on MUNI and I saw someone with a tote that said “The Mission is the new Marina.” You used to live in the Marina, so probably you know what that means. For the most part, that statement has been — thankfully — confined mostly to Valencia Street. I don’t mind the ‘G’ word — gentrification — because I think that, for the most part, any excuse for economic revival is… well, ‘good’ might not be the word I would use. ‘Compromise’ might be better. Necessary compromises.
The compromise in this case is that Valencia Street gets the ‘G’-star makeover — see what I did there? — but certain corridors like 24th Street get to sustain the character that has always made up the Mission district. Modern Times is actually one of three independent bookstores on 24th Street, which is busy with a bunch of taquerias, clothing shops, a couple of higher-end restaurants, and Galeria de la Raza, which I think is as bright and shiny as MOMA and any museum on Dede Wilsey’s radar.
I shopped at Modern Times back when it was on Mission Street. Back then, City College and SFSU used to sell their course readers at Modern Times, and I had to go there to get some stuff for LGBT 150. I don’t know if Modern Times still has a relationship with City College, but I have heard that SFSU now has a new administration that discourages faculty from selling their required reading through local bookstores. What a motherfucking shame — yes, worth every cuss.
The space on Mission Street that Modern Times used to occupy is now, I’ve heard, rented out by a high-end eyeglass store that I may or may not have passed by. Maybe I’ve even walked inside; in fact, recently when I was hanging out with Spencer, I vaguely remember wandering into a new eyeglass store that seemed to have arisen from out of nowhere, and I may have been unaware that it was actually the old Modern Times space. I don’t know the owners of the eyeglass store nor should I blame the people who work there — we all need a job these days. But I still can’t help but feel a little resentful, kind of like how those cooking shows on ABC’s daytime lineup are never going to warm up to anyone.
Walking through 24th Street makes San Francisco feel brand new again. This is a part of town that I haven’t yet exhausted and that I could see myself becoming part of maybe for another thirteen years. A few days ago, for her birthday Spencer wanted to do something she always thought about but never got around to doing: an Alcatraz night tour, which is so popular that you have to make your reservations weeks, and sometimes months, in advance. I’ve gone to Alcatraz lots of time with Pop and Ma, and once we even did the night tour, which they liked a lot because even though they’d gone before, going at night felt like new. As I rode on the ferry with Spencer, Ray, Clara, and the rest of the crew, I stood at the deck and clutched the railing, which I held tightly because I was so afraid that my awe would spirit me away with the wind and fog. Taking in the panoramic expanse of the cityspace, Linc, I couldn’t help but believe that I live in the best city in the whole world; at the same time, I had also lived there long enough to know the costs — monetary and emotional — of making a life within those buildings and streets that one can only ever get a passing, sweeping glance of at such a distance. But at that moment, I didn’t care about the sacrifices all that much. The distance between the city and where I was on that boat was just the perspective I needed. Whatever sacrifices I’ve felt that I had to make were suddenly, unflinchingly worth it as I stood on that boat with my friends. I, too, was part of all that beauty.
In a bar.
Or, 11 hours later
The date in my calendar was wrong.
Swiping my finger over the screen of my phone in a panic, I cross-reference the calendar entry with the e-mail chain where some old coworkers and I had agreed to meet for drinks, and I’m staring now at the proof that I’m wrong. Few things such as my calendar wield such influence over my life. The other things are my persistently hungry checking account. And, perhaps, God.
Do you remember Donna? Earlier over the summer she suddenly reached out to me and wanted to catch up. She left the firm where I used to work, before the bookstore. I am not sure if her plan to gather some of the old staff at the firm for drinks was to celebrate her new job or to just catch up and reminisce about old times. Maybe both.
I’ve been away from the corporate world long enough that any ambition I might have had to get back into it has gone from a flame to a spark. The fire that I now yearn to spread across the world is more along the lines of doing what do-gooders do. I don’t regret going to business school. I’m still as excited about it as I ever was. But as my first semester winds down, I feel like I’m getting closer to a picture of the person I want to be at the end of my program. I’ve thought about a lot of things, Linc. I’ve done a lot of big dreaming. Maybe I’ll become a public school teacher. Maybe I’ll go into seminary school. Wow, seminary school? I never saw that coming. Well, I never saw 31 coming, either.
Because it’s been a while since I left that job, I’d also lost contact with most folks from there. I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t looking forward to seeing them all that much. All things considered, if it weren’t for a meeting that I’m going to, I’d rather be at the ballgame. The reason why I don’t want to see them has nothing to do with drama, or grudges, or anything like that. The reason, as always, is me.
Take Donna, for example. If I hadn’t gotten the date wrong, we’d all be sitting here at this busy bar toasting her new job. We’d be toasting someone getting married, or someone having a baby (a someone who is hopefully toasting only with a glass of pop). And what of me? Going back to school is certainly a wonderful thing but when I say it out loud, it only ever seems to be a big deal to myself. It doesn’t have the glamour of getting married or having some new job, some new grown-up job with a grown-up salary and grown-up benefits. I was resistant toward catching up with perfectly wonderful former colleagues all because I felt shitty about myself. But hey, I got the date wrong, so my little slip-up saved me from all that corny self-pity anyway, right…?
This place is called the Thirsty Bear. I picked it! Yes, I picked it because no one else could figure out where we should meet! Reactions such as “too far” and “it’s all right” kept coming up. Finally, I sent out an e-mail admitting that I had never been to the Thirsty Bear, but had always wanted to try it for the name. It was the suggestion that took.
So here I am, at a get-together which I helped orchestrate, and it’s the wrong night. We might reschedule but, as I’m not the only one who lives and breathes by a calendar, that might not be for a while.
I’m sitting alone. Next to me, some guys with salt-and-pepper hair have a MacBook Air propped up on the bar and I catch the MLB.tv logo flash after the screen cut away from a ballgame. I’d kill to be those guys when I grow up: comfortably middle class, maybe even upper middle class. Having a beer and watching a ballgame wherever I want.
I’ve ordered something called the Panda Bear. I totally and admittedly got it only because of the name and the accompanying menu description that promised “hints of vanilla and cocoa nibs.”
It is very amazing.
On a train.
Or, 10 hours later
If I authored a recipe book about concocting the perfect man, then an ingredient that I would spend a whole chapter, maybe a couple, writing about would be Gemini. You probably already suspected long ago that the names of my friends in these epistles aren’t their actual names. You may have even figured out that they are composites rather than specific portrayals. Instead of constantly referring to this awesome woman as my Gemini friend, it seems fitting to simply name her. So, Linc, meet Gemini.
My friendship with Gemini is something that I never expected to find at this stage in my life, when friendships are already set, marriages are taking shape, and families are being formed. I’ve written before about Gemini, a bright personality I befriended at church two years ago but didn’t start getting to know until the end of last year — wow, I can’t believe I’ve been with the same church for two years. It’s a strange community, but I mean “strange” in all of the best ways possible.
I will have to tell you more about them some other time. Right now, I’m fretting over this thing I’m going to: I’m meeting up with some old coworkers from when I used to work in marketing and, quite frankly, I don’t know what I have to say to them. I really did like them enough to hang out with them back when we were working together. But now all of this time has passed since I moved on and… what am I supposed to say to them? Oh hey, I’m a single loser with no romantic prospects, let alone a ring on my finger. I’ve got a job that I’m really unhappy with and I’m being paid the wage of a high school student working a summer job. I, myself, sometimes feel like a perpetual teenager. On the outside, I conduct myself in the functional manner befitting a 31-year old. Yet inside, I am moping and angsty with all the conceit of a hooded sophomore.
"Hey — how are you doing?" says the text message from Gemini.
Fleetingly, I wonder if she’s texting me out of pity, or because she really did find herself wondering about me after I’d spent so much time fretting to her about meeting up with them. I practically chewed her ear off about it the way I chew off the ears of Spencer, Clara, Ray, and the rest of the crew about stuff.
"Still on my way," I type to her. "I’m really dreading this."
The train is crowded. I have a seat but the crowd is pressing against me in such a way that I have to scrunch up even in my own seat. There is a wall next to me on which I rest my own head. Suddenly I’m sleepy. I motion my eyes to doze off when my phone buzzes.
"You’ll be fine," Gemini says. "And if it doesn’t go well, just start talking about General Hospital or something.”
Coming from her, this advice is so warming that I start to consider the course of our friendship thus far. She gets my weird jokes. She brings me back to earth when I tell her about all of my crazy ambitions and big dreams. She likes to hike and she believes in the public school system. She is a good friend, and nearly everything I want in a husband.
From the ground up.
Down the street from the Mission Hiring Hall on 7th Street is the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center. I’ve come in here because while walking back from a recruiting event, I happen to catch a window display of Section 8 housing. These properties sound good and very different from the stereotype of “project” housing that is so prevalent. Sometimes I think about Section 8 housing and what kind of resources I would need to pool together, likely with Pop and Ma’s help, to score my own one-bedroom.
The mimeographed sheet in the window is already peeling from sun damage but the date listed on it is today’s date. I’m not sure if that’s meant to be when the property listings expire or some other date, but beneath it is a handwritten note that instructs you to come inside and inquire, so I do. I pull open the heavily barred doors. I am greeted by a man who speaks excellent English but whom I can immediately sense is Filipino from his demeanor that is so similar to many of my own uncles. I inquire.
He tells me to sit down at a table while he goes into a back office to look for some paper work. As I walk over to an available seat, the two old Filipino women perched leisurely at the table look up at me with expectant smiles.
"Do you live in San Francisco?" one asks me.
I can’t help but stare at her flowery scarf, which is a shade of turquoise so bright that it competes with the sunlight streaming in through the metal bars of the front entrance. (7th Street is in what might be considered a rough neighborhood.)
When I answer in the affirmative, I elaborate about how I’ve been living here for thirteen years but have lived in the Sunset district for a little over a year.
"Wow, that’s out there," the old lady in turquoise says knowingly. "And were you born here in the States?"
"No, ma’am. But we moved here when I was about three or four, I think."
"Ah. I can tell."
The man who greeted me seems to be taking his time. I don’t expect our conversation to go anywhere, anyway, not today. There’s probably a lot more to Section 8 housing than I have begun to guess. I’m really here because I’m big dreaming. I’d love to own a house, Linc. Someday…
I was at the Mission Hiring Hall because I heard that some fancy hotel was looking to hire a bunch of new administrative staff, and they were having a hiring event over there. I don’t relish working corporate anymore but I figure that being in an office again and making an office wage would be a great way to support myself while I’m in business school.
The thing is, an office life was the least of what I was thinking about when I was over at the Mission Hiring Hall. They had a bunch of us sit in a classroom while we waited for the company reps to set up their presentation (which was your standard marketing video, by the way, full of glowing adjectives and footage of impossibly satisfied employees). While they set up, I noticed that the far end of the classroom was comprised of shelves lined with helmets. A banner hung near the ceiling touting a longstanding hiring partnership between Webcor, a big contractor, and the city itself. The helmets were all marked with the names of their owners.
Something about those disembodied hats got me thinking about a bunch of things, like Pop and how he ended up working for the Postal Service his whole life after he got out of the Navy; like construction workers and cops and people who do the nitty-gritty that makes all the beauty; like labor and unions, like politics and how dumb they can be, but useful sometimes. Like how I would like to help, somehow. How I would like to contribute.
The man still hasn’t emerged from the office. The old ladies have drifted into their own discussion, and I’m so enchanted by them and what they are discussing that I don’t mind that I have been forgotten.
"The Giants are playing today," the other one said to the turquoise lady.
"Oh, I know it. They say the season’s over."
"That’s what they say. But who cares?"
My phone buzzes. The OKCupid application is telling me that I have new matches. Suddenly I’m reminded of a silly thing I did a few days ago. Don’t judge me, Linc, but I filtered my search settings to return results who are Gemini. I even found a guy with your middle name! It sounded too good to be true: a guy with your sign and your name. His profile sounded really nice and so I wrote him a really nice message. He never answered.
"So guess what," I had said in my text to Gemini after I’d set the new filter.
(I am not dramatizing Gemini’s text messages. She really does text using proper capitalization and punctuation.)
"I set a new filter on OKcupid. I’m looking for Geminis now. I hear they’re nice people."
;-) Gemini texted back.