Orient Point, Long Island.

The guests are arriving, across the lawn. It is Friday afternoon. The men are coming in on the late train in the parlor car, and others have come on the ferryboat steaming in on the blue sea at dusk with gay lights.

My old flame, Hobby Fox, is sitting on a deck chair in the night alone. He is the nephew of Constant Fox, the heartthrob. Possibly Hobby is too gruff and crusty to be an exact heartthrob. But he is one anyway. “His eyes are so blue it just makes you want to go jump in the river,” as Margaret commented.

Usually he sits obliviously on the porch reading the stock pages or the sports pages, listening to the low, masculine drone of the baseball games on the radio and smoking a cigar, with his slightly burnt out air. He has a certain burnt out air. Distracted by his memories, perhaps.

Friday evenings after work, the young men go to the baseball games in their suits and ties and sunglasses, having plain American fun. It touches my heart, because they don’t have plain American fun where I come from, it is too exotic and remote for that, it is the dark side. They don’t have baseball in New Orleans. It’s not normal enough to have baseball.

In New York I learned quite a bit about baseball, as to many a Northerner it is his great love. But what interested me about it was not perhaps the same thing that interested them. I like how all the ball players have marital problems and personality problems and need sports psychiatrists, and especially in baseball, where you don’t have to be that athletic, or it’s not as strenuous in a way, the players are all dissipated wrecks with drug problems, chain smoking. That would maybe work in New Or leans. Baseball would maybe work in New Orleans because all the players are dissipated wrecks with troubled relationships with their fathers. But they are tough guys. Except for when they retire, then they cry. The whole thing is an emotional roller coaster, at least for me, trying to keep up with their problems. That’s what I like about it.

I saw a baseball player hold a press conference to announce his retirement. Big, burly guy with a mustache. Six feet tall, extremely manly, big rough tough guy. “I had a dream,” he said. “Ten years ago I was a kid with two bad knees who wanted to be a baseball player.” He stopped and looked down at his speech. He bit his upper lip. Time passed. He was silent. Finally you realized that he was stopping because he was trying to compose him self. Still he remained silent. You got the picture, he was struggling. But then finally he said, “And I’m just glad that dream came true”—sobbing, screaming, crying, literally falling completely to pieces. Then he just walked away from the whole podium and cried. See what I mean?

I like how they have so many emotions even though they are crusty sports figures. Actually I know one ex-baseball player who is a crusty figure without having so many emotions—Hobby Fox. At Carolina, Chapel Hill, he was drafted by the Major Leagues and spent a season with the Atlanta Braves. He was a pitcher. Then he decided to go to law school. It seems he had a motley career.

Currently world editor of the New York Examiner, he was an athlete, a man’s man, an old pro, who had been around the block a million times at age thirty-six. Among the young couples he is an outsider, but then so am I. The young couples ceaselessly pursue their innocent amusements—boating, dinner parties, bridge, etc. Their innocence bemuses me. I have more in common with the misanthrope.

He wears sweatpants emblazoned with the legend “Duck Hunting Club of New Orleans,” an old fashioned sleeveless ribbed undershirt, and tennis shoes. He has a sort of crusty gruff demeanor, which for some reason has inspired the children to idolize him. Although he is a misanthrope he often finds himself with the responsibility of the children, who follow him around, and with whom he is quite gruff, but tender, if the truth be told.

It is his peculiar blend of tenderness and disinterest, I think, that has inspired their confidence.

Hobby always has the radio tuned in to the baseball games in a low masculine drone, redolent of Yankeefied spring and summer afternoons. Mr. Underwood too has a love of baseball and also keeps the games on in the office at night if he works late. Due to these influences I find that I myself am developing a growing obsession with baseball and the need to chronicle the progress of the New York team that I follow. Hobby taught me a lot about it. He doesn’t follow his old team in Atlanta. He follows the New York team while here. His father loved the St. Louis Cardinals, because in his day they were the team of the South. They were an all black team, all extremely cultivated, and they had the most beloved manager in baseball. The manager of the New York team is completely listless. The personality of the New York team mystifies me. They have a certain elegance, I think, because they are so stoic. If they get a home run or something good they try not to smile or act excited. If someone gets a home run, he comes out of the dugout and gives a curtain call, tipping his hat to the crowd, seeming rather quaint or courtly—and they only do this in New York, I’m told—but maintaining a gruff though courtly exterior. Equally, if they lose or get slaughtered they betray no emotion other than seeming mildly dejected. It results in a certain elegance because the other teams are more volatile and make obnoxious displays at every sign of advancement.

Also the New York team is riddled with problems. If you like problems, you’ve come to the right place, with the New York team. Each player has a dazzling array of problems: drug problems, drug rehabilitation, alcohol detox, injuries, marital problems, personality problems, nervous breakdowns and psychological problems, also confidence problems.

Yet at the same time as they are afflicted with a ceaseless array of problems, it is the National Pastime, plain American fun, heartwarming, wholesome, one thing that draws everyone together, the very young and the very old, and has an innocence, a certain basic innocence, good for the children, a chance to go forth with the heroes, a good thing for the boys.

The other thing I like about the New York team is that they are underdogs. I love that. I would never root for the favorite. I like how they are always struggling, getting slaughtered twice in one night in doubleheaders, being exhausted by rain delays or playing extra innings until two in the morning, losing. Adversity becomes them, as adversity can be becoming if its object has character. There is a poignance to their struggle. Plus, then if they suddenly win, it is all the more affecting. The New York team always loses and is stoic, elegant, dejected. But to the stars through adversity.

Then if they suddenly win I am suffused with a sense of well being, and if they lose I feel doleful and listless. I have a constant need to listen to every single game and keep up with everyone’s problems. But my love for base ball is inexplicable—never before did I take the slightest interest in sports. Never was there one subject so boring to me as sports.

Now I even listen to the sports talk shows in the middle of the afternoon on the radio hosted by falling New York lunatics who remind me of Mr. Underwood, who sound off in deep Bronx and Queens accents about what burns them up. “I’ve had it,” they passionately avow, referring to sports figures who irritate them or contracts negotiated that are too expensive. Often they slip into dreamy recollections of ball players from the thirties on the Yankees or Brooklyn Dodgers, distracted by their memories, exhibiting a marked preference for the older teams of the American League, and if someone calls them up to ask a question about upstarts in the National League they say, “I’ve had it.” Sometimes they go berserk on the show and start insulting the callers and have complete breakdowns ending up screaming out to the caller, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” and then disconnect the phone line in a fury. “You’re a schmuck. You’re crazy. You’re giving me a nervous breakdown. Shut up!” Once I heard a nut call up who was equally as much of a lunatic as the announcer. The nut launched into a ram bling unconnected story about a glamor girl who kissed him at a baseball game. Then he started swearing. “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain,” said the announcer solemnly to the nut. “That is where I draw the line.” It’s a funny place to suddenly draw the line, considering that he spends the rest of the time raving like some kind of insane maniac. Then the nut started sounding off about what burned him up in sports and the announcer lost his cool again and started screaming. “You need a brain transplant. You’re driving me crazy. Shut up!” And these nuts go at it forty eight hours a day. They spend forty-eight hours a day analyzing these subjects on the radio. Sports, baseball, contracts, they analyze it for forty-eight hours a day. I turn on the radio at two in the morning and there they are, talking in strange voices like they’re mentally unbalanced, analyzing everything. “New York did not play Philadelphia tonight,” the announcer will be saying in a ghostly strangled voice, “Tidewater played Philadelphia tonight, A minor league team played Philadelphia tonight. Schmucks!” he screams, in his New York parlance. This analysis had to do with one night when a lot of people on the New York team were injured and had to be replaced by rookies from the farm team. I know about these things now. Suddenly I’m a sports fanatic, listening to sports talk shows twenty-four hours a day.

“Cincinnati is not going to make it. Cincinnati is through. Finished. It’s over for Cincinnati!” Screaming. Long silences. Tortured strangled voices. Here they were referring to the pennant race and who would be in the World Series.

In New York they had a romance with failure—uncharacteristic of the North. It began in the old days, at the Polo Grounds, with a series of eccentrics as managers and a ball club that could never win.

Everyone was in tortures over it. That’s what kills me about baseball, how everyone is in tortures over it as if it were the most serious thing that could ever be. Like the nuts who call up the sports channel on the radio all day to analyze everything. In the articles in the Tribune the commissioner of baseball would always have all these tortured quotes about integrity and self delusions in long tortured ponderings, when it’s only about base ball. I mean, you’d think they were talking about World War Two. Like the most grave subject. The baseball commissioner agonizing over principles, integrity, abstractions as if he were Aristotle, not the baseball commissioner.

What I prefer is the team that had the romance with failure. They used to be arrogant and cocky and make obnoxious displays at every sign of advancement, just like everyone else, and everyone hated them for it, because they were so arrogant and cocky. Then the manager told them not to gloat or make such displays, so now they all act like laconic Southern gentlemen. I personally like them better that way. But of course it’s not a New York type of attitude, and the New Yorkers hate them that way.

Mr. Underwood had a box at the baseball games with other big cheeses: the Governor, millionaire racetrack owners, retired bandleaders, etc. Actually the retired bandleader in his entourage was a poignant figure, some how out of place, being Southern. He could care less about baseball. He was used to seedy dives on Bourbon Street. Baseball just wasn’t his thing. It was written on his face, in his countenance, on everything about him. Being from Bourbon street, I can certainly understand why the Southern bandleader did not feel an affinity for baseball, as I never did before either until I realized how it has its dark side, or generally from spending five years in New York, but certainly on Bourbon Street the idea of baseball is but a remote image of a boy in the 1920s with a baseball cap in the sweet afternoon sun or sterling Northern twilight in some halcyon idea of America from which New Orleans is indescribably remote. But Mr. Under wood loved it all—retired sports figures, troubled prize fighters, washedup Southern bandleaders—in his box of big cheeses at the game.

Hobby had a more ambivalent attitude, having played in the Major Leagues himself, and there were times when I got the feeling that he had left his heart there. Being thirty-five and out of practice I doubt he could go back. Though I hear of players who are forty-two and forty-three, such as relief pitchers. I guess he did not play long enough or make enough of an impression to come back to a career in baseball as a coach or manager. He listened to the games but did not often speak of his past in baseball. Also he had been a newspaperman now for too many years to think of much else. But once I saw in his room in Orient the Louisville Slugger that he used in Atlanta; it was inscribed with the team and had his name burned onto it. He kept it with him, then. Some reminder of an innocence, which baseball surely represents, though it certainly has its dark side, so it seems to me at least. Every time I ask him about one of the players, he launches into a long story about how the fellow was a drug addict, or on trial, or just got out of alcohol detox or jail. I had no idea that baseball had such a dark side, or was so riddled with problems, but of course, that’s what I like about it.

He was telling me about a pitcher who thought it was his day off and took LSD. He happened to hear on the radio that his team was playing that night in Chicago— which he had forgotten. So he hopped on a plane to Chicago tripping on LSD and pitched a no hitter.

Later he was on trial and told the judge that when you’re on LSD in a ball game, it makes the ball look like a grapefruit when it’s coming at you, so it’s easier to hit.

Also Hobby told me that on his team in Atlanta it was one of the first years that they had a sports psychiatrist for the ball club. He went crazy at the end of the season.

The TV announcers discuss these problems during their ceaseless banter at the game even though they are so all American it seems they wouldn’t want to admit them, and were all players themselves before they became announcers. The other night New York was playing Philadelphia and the announcers were discussing the pitcher for Philadelphia before the game. One of the announcers is a kindly old man who seems at times virtually senile and can’t seem to keep track of what is going on. You’d think that maybe baseball in his day had less problems to it, at least in terms of psychiatry. But they were talking about the pitcher and he said, “Frank is back on the mound right now but it seems last year he had some psychological problems,” looking out at ten trillion viewers on TV. Then he chuckled fondly, after saying the words psychological problems, shaking his head in bemusement, but at the same time with concern, and then got a sort of rueful, whimsical smile, looking at the other announcer to elaborate.

“I was talking to him and he explained, ’I was giving myself a nervous breakdown.’ Ha ha. He went to Harvard but he just got out of alcohol detox. He’s a great pitcher. Bob. The only question is, can he keep out of the hooch.”

Keep out of the hooch—I’m not sure whether that means stay out of the loony bin or stay off the sauce.

Harvard, alcohol detox, baseball and psychological problems—you have to admit that’s a pretty weird mixup.

There was a rain delay, and they called in a sort of sports weatherman. He was a cornball. The announcers are always sentimental and enthusiastic.

“What about the weather, Jim? Do you think well play?”

“I know we will. Bob. In about forty-five minutes, you’ll see this storm clear up and they will start the ball game.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“This is my life, Bob. Fm obsessed with the weather. I love it. It’s my life.”

Then the announcers chuckle and shake their heads fondly in bemusement.

On certain Fridays since this April, Hobby had been taking me to the baseball games—whenever he could get away from the office.

Friday night we went to a doubleheader. The stadium announcer keeps droning on throughout the game on a loudspeaker in a cheerful voice, “Alcoholic beverages . . . Anti social behavior . . . People drinking . . . Taking drugs ... ” Admonishing potential abusers of these vices. There are a lot of Police. Sometimes horrifying brawls break out in the stands. “Here comes trouble,” said a fan when a weirdo with a menacing expression came up to take his seat and the weirdo heard him and got mad. “Shut up! Who are you calling trouble, schmuck, shut up! Shut up!” As everyone knows, the attitude of the New York fans is “What have you done for me lately?” Meaning if the team is losing the fans are filled with loathing and disgust—this is why they call the radio talk shows at two in the morning to ceaselessly analyze all the problems and complain about how disgusted they are and go berserk, etc. The New York stadium is like a latent catastrophe waiting to happen. But it never really does, in baseball. An innocence is inexorably attached to the game no matter how many people go crazy or how many drug problems or etc. arise.

Hobby and I had left the office late, to go out that night to the ball park, which had been named, oddly enough, for a pitcher from Louisiana, Sportsman’s Paradise. It was a glamorous night in New York. The temperature was ninety degrees. I take a perverse satisfaction in the heat because the Northerners can’t stand it, they’re not used to it, whereas the Southerners are. Also it was humid and the sky was a thick cobalt blue as night fell.

We left the office at 7 PM, in the midst of the usual gigantic summer traffic jam to Long Island. With everyone leaving all at once for the same place. Long Island, at exactly the same time. It does seem kind of ridiculous. That route out of New York, it’s a dying looking sort of place, but it’s gutty, as they say in baseball. And that’s why I find it glamorous, because it is gutty. The ball park is the most glamorous place in New York to me, because it is the most gutty. When I was young the East Coast was beauteous and promising; now it is gutty. There’s one benefit of growing older, for I like it better gutty.

We were listening to the radio announcers call the game on the way out, as we were late due to the traffic. The radio droned on, describing as usual a demoralizing loss, but a certain rugged masculinity emanated from the sporting world, as the game droned on.

While passing that gutty landscape to Queens, Hobby was telling me about his father, one’s parents’ love. Though in his parents’ case it was something less than love, which made him misanthropic, I think. Then we came into the ball park in a hot summer twilight. The stadium was a swirling vortex of chaos, as usual. It remained hot throughout the night.

It had been a fair day at the office for Hobby. The President of Burma quit, causing some flurries in the international section.

“Now it will be a swirling madhouse of unled people,” I said. “Do you think you’ll have to go there?” I asked him.

“No. But I am going to call Dolores.” Dolores was his new secretary.

“How do you like Dolores?”

“She’s a swirling vortex of human secretarial potential,” he said, to kid me.

He was having some problems with his secretary. It was a measure of his character. He always answered his own phone, for instance, which I find that no one in a reasonably high position in New York would generally ever do. And he was a true big cheese. The reason why he always answered his own phone was because his secretary, formerly a woman of a certain age named Mary Louise, was such an antiquated person, that as she perambulated slowly from office to lunch to the fulfillment of her personal errands, her official duties often fell behind . . . and Hobby was too courtly to ask for a different secretary. Finally Mary Louise retired. Then came Dolores.

I felt that Hobby seemed to seclude himself. “You go to work, you go to Long Island, but you seclude yourself,” I said to him.

“I go to work, often I have to work in Orient too. This doesn’t leave much time for square dancing,” he said. “But I am not totally secluded. I know you, don’t I?” He looked at me sideways, askance, with those dazzling blue eyes.

It was a hot July night, and we lost very badly twice, a doubleheader. But there is something dashing and brave about the huge cavernous stadium with its excessive quality, I mean its excess, too many people, claustrophobic, a swirling madhouse of chaos. The stadium is a vortex of true and complete chaos. I mean it’s not exactly bucolic, being as it is in New York City, though outside of Manhattan, in Queens, it is unpretentious, gutty. Of course I like it that way. Stan’s Sports World and Stan’s Sports Bar populated the area. Pulsating with madness. What I like best is when the young men come straight from work, in their suits and ties and sunglasses, emanating a certain gentility or plain American history. They come in pairs or threes. Brave of them to withstand the heat and the chaos, for the sake of their innocent sport, and dashing of them in their cavernous, unlovely stadium, in the bad conditions, losing. The gallantry of their broken dreams and shining hopes in each situation, such as the doubleheader Friday night.

One thing about baseball that used to hurt my feelings, though of course my understanding is limited, was when they made trades. They kept making huge dramatic trades at deadlines in the middle of the night. They traded the handsomest player. They traded the one who had been there the longest. They made so many trades of sentimental favorites that the only possible consolation I could find for them was that the game itself is the only constant.

I found it to be poignant. But then again,I find a lot of things to be poignant.

So, on certain Fridays since this April, Hobby started taking me to the baseball games. Our entire relationship revolves around baseball. As he is an athlete and exjock, and now I am a sports fan even though I used to hate sports, like many a woman, I don’t doubt. But now it’s like I’m glued to the radio—“Don’t bother me, the football game is on.” Football. Not only baseball but every other sport in existence. Though of course baseball is the most elegant, has the most grace, is the most quaint.

The baseball game last night was truly a metaphor for the human condition. They had two rain delays, one half an hour and one, shortly thereafter, an hour. It was raining lightly even when they played. It was a night game and unseasonably cold. In short, the conditions for the fans were terrible or could not have been worse, and yet a lot of people stayed in the stadium until two in the morning. It was like a small dinner party, as the announcer said. It was the die hards. They were like feisty old timers who just wouldn’t quit. They were a metaphor for the human condition. They were in it for the long haul, not only in perseverance, but enjoying it. You have to love the attempt, even if the attempt is a failure. Anyway they were sitting there with umbrellas in the stands at two in the morning like maniacs.

I tried to talk to Hobby about our feelings, and he was receptive, but the only problem is my talk was excessively lame. Feelings, I murmured, I have feelings too, I’m a human being—I mean, jeez, for pity’s sake, what am I talking about?

“What do you think is going to happen?” I said finally.

“I think you’re going to drive me crazy,” he said, and looked at me sideways, askance, with those dazzling blue eyes.

So we’re just two jocks sitting in the stands at two in the morning watching a baseball game. Plus in New York, up North, how strange.

Why is it that I cannot reconcile myself with the past.

It reminds me of Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich eyeballing each other world wearily in Morocco. Why is it I am pursued by my memories, with my heart broken by them.

As often in baseball, there were some late heroics. Someone saved the day at the last minute, “eking out a last minute victory,” as the announcer says. How can they always eke out these last minute victories? Maybe it could be the same for us. Maybe it is not too late for us.

Some people think baseball is slow. But not only do I disagree with that, I like it when they have rain delays, extra innings and any other thing that can stretch it out even more, to be as long and slow as possible.

My whole life revolves around sports now. As time wore on Hobby also introduced me to the basketball season as exemplified by Madison Square Garden, which is like a smoldering Babylonian prison. I mean you’d think it would be plain American fun. But Madison Square Garden is more squalid than the baseball stadium. Taking the subway, you go through Pennsylvania Station where many lunatics convene. Each person is alone and yet each person is engaged in a loud conversation with himself, making an insane cacophony that reverberates throughout the place. One thing about New York: in the subway or on any street corner, any man feels free to just start spouting his philosophy. A woman spoke in tongues on the 34th Street platform; nearby was a Jamaican evangelist. Everything is shrouded in smoldering iniquity and teeming squalor. New York, the Grunewald, the sporting news.

But it is actually plain American fun. Because I have found that when you are in a theater watching a movie, say, I find that you still think about your worries, while watching the movie. You can’t get away from your worries, even while watching a movie. If you are depressed you will be even more sad in the theater. Whereas if you are watching a baseball game, or listening to the sporting news on the radio in the ceaseless low masculine drone, or at a basketball game in Madison Square Garden, it is truly relaxing to the mind, and for that time you forget your worries. You’re all in it together—lunatics, screaming sports fans chewing cigars, scuzzy men in checkered jackets with hacking coughs—you are all in it together, in something innocent.