Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Searching For Alcohol in the Garbage

Dad worked at Karastan in NYC selling rugs to the northeast. He and 3 other salesmen had season tickets to the Mets, which they would give away to clients. He knew I loved the Mets, so he’d holdback a couple a tickets each year and he and I would go to the game.

The tickets were on the 3rd base side. A metal banister surrounded the 8 seats, giving off a false sense of space. A small plague dangled from the aisle bannister that said Karastan.

While Bud Harrelson and Felix Milan turned double plays, my dad would overhear inane ballpark baseball chatter and would feel the need to chime in, either adding to the conversation (“Did you know that Ed Kranepool’s family invented chlorine?”) or making corrections (“Actually, Kranepool’s slugging percentage in the month of July was 986%). If the intended target didn’t respond or ignored him, he would say it again…louder.

6 years later I’m at the Oakland Coliseum watching an A’s game with my friends Billy, Bob and Dave. Before the game, we stopped at Terry’s liquor store to get beer. Even though we were only 15, a friend of ours worked there and would take beer out with garbage. We’d retrieve it from behind the store, separating the coffee grounds, cigarette butts and other grossness from the alcohol. It was worth it.

Billy was a lot like my dad. At the game, he’d talk to strangers about baseball, acknowledge a good player insult by a fan with a thumbs up and would stand and argue every hit, pitch and error. It was exhausting seeing a game with him.

We arrived early, a little buzzed from the beer. Our plan was to sit in the bleachers for an inning or so and then move to better seats. This was always are plan. At the time, there were 2 gates on either side of the bleachers, blocking the riff-raff from the people who paid for the good seats. Large guards were posted at both gates. To gain access, the youngest and smallest amongst us would tell the guard that there was a banner or souvenir he wanted that wasn’t in the bleacher concessions. This usually worked, due to our age, but on this day the guard was having none of our bullshit.

Since we were early, we found front row seat in the general admission bleachers. From the get go, Billy was on the opposing team, the California Angels, telling them they sucked. In-between innings, while the Angels’ center fielder and right fielder tossed the ball, Billy yelled, ”Go home, Anderson, you suck.” A pretty tame insult for Billy. 2 sections over, a man in his early 20s yelled, “Hey!! Hey you,” trying to get Billy’s attention, “It’s not Anderson, It’s Harlow.” He was laughing. Billy was called out for casting insults at the wrong player.

Billy didn’t like this. He stared at him long and hard, letting him know his displeasure.

For the rest of the game, Billy was surly. His chitchat quieted to intermittent claps; great plays were met with blank stares. Billy’s sole focus was looking at the guy that called him out. We knew how this would end.

During the 7th inning stretch, Billy abruptly got up and walked in the direction of the guy. We knew where he was headed. There were only 100 or so people in the stands, so his path was quick. We pretended not to notice, but all of us were intrigued, if not scared. We were younger and the guy and his friends were way older.

It started with a push and then a punch. They grabbed each other and rolled on the concrete, wrestling in-between the bleachers. Before we rushed over, we grabbed our coats and whatever we came with, knowing this was the end of the game for us. By the time we got there, security was escorting Billy up the stairs. In a single line, we followed behind Billy and the guard to the exit. We knew the drill, as we rarely made it past the 7th inning, thanks to Billy.

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