(This is the continuation of the serial novel Nine Innings in Baltimore. Read the previous chapter here.)
“In the small glass of water that is Crabtown, everyone has peed in the pool …”
By the time third-baseman Tim Hulett singled to open the bottom of the second, Basilio had sweated his way from Macon Street to Miss Bonnie’s saloon at the corner of Fleet and Port streets just below Patterson Park.
The game time temperature at Memorial Stadium was 91 degrees and it was still 91 degrees across the city when he walked into the cool, dark tavern and ordered a beer. In the alley next to the orange brick bar, a handful of rag-a-muffins were playing Wiffle ball. A girl no more than three watched the game from the curb with a Mister Softee ice cream melting down the front of her white undershirt.
“FUCK YOU GEORGIE! TIE GOES TO THE RUNNER”
Nine year olds. They turned to the girl with the ice-cream, her spot on the curb in front of the disputed call:
“HE WAS OUT, RIGHT AMBER? RIGHT?”
Amber, engaged in a losing battle between her ice-cream and the heat, shrugged.
“FUCK YOU GEORGIE!”
The ballgame was never on at Bonnie’s. Always the jukebox and Elvis movies on a VCR with the sound turned off.
“Goddamn,” said an old man in the corner, slapping the small table so hard that his beer spilled.
A recent retiree from the city’s public works department, the guy had a white plastic bug in his ear, its yellowed wire snaking down from the side of his head into a black transistor radio. The radio lay flat on the table and smelled of all the beer he’d spilled on it, all the late-summer heartaches relayed from ballparks across the country to the canals of his hairy left ear.
The only other people in the bar were Basilio and Bonnie, who turned to look.
“Double-play,” the man explained.
Basilio looked down at the bar, his ass was dragging.
“Know what today is?” said Bonnie, trying to cheer him up.
“It’s the 25th anniversary of the day the Beatles met Elvis.”
“Huh,” said Basilio.
The anniversary of the day the Fab Four met the King was also the anniversary of the one and only time he’d made love to Nieves, a long two years ago now, her whereabouts – at least to him – unknown.
“Wow,” he said.
“Why so down, kid?”
“I’m miserable, Miss Bon,” he said, draining his beer and pushing it forward for another, ashamed to ask this woman both old enough and beloved enough to be his grandmother if she knew where he could get some pot.
Miss Bonnie poured a fresh eight ounces of Old German beer and passed the glass back to him.
“Christ,” she said. “You got the world by the tail.”
Steve Finely hit an infield grounder off of Yankee starter Andy Hawkins, real name Melton – Melton Andrew Hawkins, who’d recently suffered the ignominy of pitching a no-hitter at Comiskey and losing -for the third out.
“Don’t know why,” said Basilio. “Everything’s gray.”
“I know why,” said Bonnie.
Now she had his attention. He pushed his glass for another, she pushed it back empty and told him something she’d never told anyone in 40 years of tending bar, told him because she’d never loved anyone – not her kids or any of her five husbands – as much as this mixed-up artist who in a dozen years had never left her bar without half-a-load on.
“Okay,” he said. “Why?”
“You’re an alcoholic.”
to be continued…
Rafael Alvarez has lived in Baltimore his entire life except for a brief and cautionary exile in Hollywood. A former City Desk rewrite man for the Baltimore Sun, Alvarez has published books of fiction, memoir and very provincial history. Best known works include “The Fountain of Highlandtown” and the on-going “Orlo & Leini” stories, each detailing life in Crabtown, USA. Alvarez also worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun prior to starting a career in television. He has worked as a writer and story editor on the Home Box Office drama series The Wire and a writer and producer on the crime dramas Life and The Black Donnellys. He has written several books including a guide to The Wire, a non-fiction guide to the archdiocese in Baltimore, a short-fiction anthology and two collections of his journalism. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.