Do Not Go Gentle
The moderator calls Town Meeting to order, rapping a polished wooden gavel on the podium onstage at the Senior Center. My pen and reporter's notebook are ready. I've already made the necessary marginalia in the booklet of warrant articles and the Finance Committee's report. I bought a bottle of Poland Spring from a Boy Scout, and I'm ready in my designated non-representative seat. The Town Manager gets up behind another podium, this one at floor level and positioned in front of a projection screen for the overhead machine. He clears his throat into the microphone as the chatter in the cavernous all-purpose room mellows to a dull roar.
"I'm going to be presenting several reports tonight, to start off," he says. "The annual report, the budget, and a special report on our joint maintenance program.
"But first, the most important report: It's the bottom of the sixth inning, and the Red Sox are down, 4-2."
And then, without missing a beat, he begins speaking about appropriations to the stabilization fund.
When I left the apartment, it was still 2-1, Boston. As I got in the car and turned on the radio, Joe Castiglione was hollering about a bases-clearing double for Derek Jeter. I knew it, I thought. I knew it.
I shut the radio off then. Somehow, having predicted that Pedro wouldn't get out of the inning unscathed didn't help much.
I don't care, I tried. I don't care.
But I was obviously delusional if I thought I could escape the Red Sox, even at a Town Meeting where hundreds of thousands of dollars are changing hands and new bylaws are being examined.
Town Meeting is the oldest form of democratic government, and in this provincial town at the northern corner of Massachusetts, it's been going on for among the longest periods in the country. You can't help but feel the ghosts of men in tri-corn hats as townspeople raise their hands to vote in, or vote down, each new measure. The news coming in about the Sox, though, somehow feels just as vital, and its delivery via announcement (after one of the selectmen hands the Town Manager a slip of paper at the podium) adds to the anachronistic mood; he might as well be saying "The British are coming."
"It's the bottom of the eighth," he breaks off almost an hour later, as sewer easements are on the docket. "David Ortiz just hit a home run. 4-3, Boston."
Cheers, before the meeting settles quickly back down to business. A man has settled in to one of the other seats at the table where I'm sitting. "Could your heart really take another Game 7, though?" he asks.
"Better than going out like punks," I said. "At least we would've put up a fight."
"Good point," he says.
More discussion. More rapping of the gavel. More votes. Then the selectman, grinning, "excuse-me"s himself down the line of dignitaries at the long head table, and hands the Town Manager another note.
"I have great news," the Town Manager beams. "Still the bottom of the eighth, Boston 4, New York 4."
Another cheer. Another return to zoning bylaws.
"I'm gonna go sit in the car for a while," the man at my table says.
About twenty minutes later, he's back, shaking his head. "Did they lose?" I demand, a knot suddenly forming in my larynx.
"Nah, they just couldn't push a run across."
"I'm not sure."
"Well, he better be."
The meeting ends without more news. Pushing my way out through the throng, I feel my hands begin to shake. That knot has not loosened. Approaching the car, I mutter to myself, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this."
I get in the car, turn the ignition, and let the sound of the radio flood the car's interior anyway.
Somehow this moment, with all its dread and masochistic determination, seems at the heart of whatever personal defect has made me a Red Sox fan. "I don't want to do this," I say out loud, muttering in front of God and everybody like a bag lady, and then I get in the car and immediately do it.
By the time I'm sitting in the urban canyon where the newspaper building is located, bug-sized under the flood of a streetlight, sitting in the car and smoking and waiting, even though I still need to file, David Ortiz is up to bat in the bottom or the tenth, and then David Ortiz strikes out.
"That's it," I holler, pounding the steering wheel. "That's it. We're screwed."
I cross the street next to the canal, breathing in the musky scent of its standing water. "Why the fuck is Ortiz the only person who can save the friggin' game, anyway?" I demand to the empty street. "Why doesn't someone else damn well step up one of these times?"
Predictably, the pavement does not answer.
I enter the glassed-in limbo of the building lobby, pressing the after-hours intercom with especial force, since I know it will take some extra motivation for anyone up in the newsroom to answer the door given the circumstances.
I wait. And wait. And wait. I go back out and press the button again. I wait some more.
I might have to wait till the end of the inning, I think with a groan.
Finally someone else comes down in the elevator and opens the door for me. No one ever buzzes the door open, as is customary.
After an interminable elevator ride to the fourth floor, I rush through the empty advertising department. There's one person working late in one of the back offices, and I can hear the faint sound of his television as I pass through.
"Well, did we lose yet, or what?" I ask, bursting through the newsroom's double swinging doors.
"Nah, still 4-4," my editor says from his cube over near the wall-mounted TV.
I sit down. I open the word processing software. I type in my byline. I type in the dateline. I write about ten inches of text, before a roar goes up on television and some of the copy editors begin to shout.
Before I know it, I'm gathered with several reporters and a gaggle of editors near the copy desk, all of us riveted to the screen, our computers with half-written, half-read stories abandoned at desks behind us.
Mark Bellhorn muffs two bunt attempts. We curse. He then proceeds, nonsensically, to rip a single into right field.
"Oh, God," I tell no one in particular. "I don't want to see Wake."
"I know," my editor says. "Could be deja vu all over again."
He picks up the telephone. "My mother-in-law is probably going apeshit right now."
"She's a huge fan."
"The Red Sox. She became a rabid Red Sox fan at the age of 69."
"Are you serious? She managed to avoid them that long and still got sucked in?"
"How'd that happen?"
"Ah, shit!" we cry together, as Johnny Damon perpetrates quite possibly the worst bunt attempt in recorded history.
"Why would you bunt? Why???" I bark, storming back over to my computer. "Why would you bunt? You're Johnny Damon, for Christ's sake. Why would you bunt?"
Meanwhile, though, during the confusion of the pop-out bunt, Jorge Posada somehow spikes his own pitcher, and the TV pulls me back again.
One by one, other reporters and editors start filtering back, too, giving my editor cause to remark, "This reminds me of the OJ verdict. All of us standing around the TV like this."
I finish my story. My editor reads it, gives me the thumbs-up. I don't want to be in the elevator when the game ends, though, so I pull up a chair and sit watching, occasionally slinging comments back and forth. A time-lapse photo would show me staring upward, burying my head in my hands, staring upward, repeat.
Another reporter comes over just after Varitek commits his third passed ball while attempting to catch Tim Wakefield, to tell the editor he has filed. "You're going to want to proofread it carefully, though," he says. "I'm sure I wrote something in there like, "Ferguson said, 'I really feel that Varitek catch the ball, you stupid bastard'."
By the time it reaches the thirteenth inning, it's clear I need to get back home. Oh well, I think, stepping into the elevator. By the time I'm in the car again, it'll probably be over.
As I get in the car, Tony Clark strikes out to open the fourteenth inning. The fourteenth. I begin to chain smoke on my way home. I don't feel good about this.
Miguel Cairo gets his bat on it, but Johnny Damon is there and makes the catch.
I run out of cigarettes.
Now here we have a conundrum.
I pull into the 7-11. It's just down the street from my house, and it's next to a Chinese take-out restaurant. I leap from the car, slamming the door, grabbing a 20, hoping the guy doesn't card me, because I'm leaving the wallet.
In the glow of the storefront lights, I notice something peculiar, just then. There are several people gathered in each of these establishments, and every one of them is turned facing the same way, as if saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Every one of them is looking upward.
When I enter the 7-11, the sound of the game fills my ears. The employees of the 7-11 are looking upward, thoughtfully, listening on the radio.
The guy at the counter doesn't card me. He hands down my cigarettes absently, takes my money absently, counts out the change like a zombie, mumbles something, and I'm off.
Coming back out, I look over at the Domino's Pizza and the little family-owned sub shop across the way. Inside those stores, too, there are clumps of people, all of them looking up.
I peer into the Chinese takeout place as I head back to the car. There, the people inside are gazing at a wall-mounted TV, where a man in a grey uniform is up to bat.
The rest of the street feels completely still. No one on the roads. For some reason it has the hush and anticipation--and emptiness--of Christmas Eve.
I start up the car just as Bellhorn K's...again. "Dammit, Mark," I mutter around my cigarette.
Johnny Damon's up. I light up the butt, yank the car's wheel around in a sharp arc, peeling out of the parking lot.
Just a couple hundred yards up, I bump up the driveway and into the parking lot behind the house.
Strike one. Ball two.
The parking lot is full. I find myself a makeshift parking spot next to the house, put the car in park.
I roll the window down, pull out the ashtray, and listen.
"This is the third walk issued by Loaiza, three walks to go with three strikeouts," Trupiano says.
But it's on to Orlando Cabrera. "Loaiza from the stretch. The pitch..."
Cabrera strikes out. "Cabrera has a tendency, sometimes, to over-swing," Trup says.
"I'll say," replies Castiglione.
Manny's up. He looks at strike one. He fouls off strike two. Then, somehow, he walks.
"Once again, it's alll up to David Ortiz," Trupiano says ominously.
Suddenly overcome by a premonition, I smash my cigarette out in the ashtray, fling open the door, and hustle into the house.
"Can you believe this shit?" I say to Steve, flinging my keys down on the kitchen table.
He's sitting in the office chair next to the desk, gripping its armrests. He looks exactly like I did back on July 1, when the Sox lost in 13 innings to the Yankees. I've created a monster.
I flop down on the couch. Just then, David smashes a rocket toward deep right field.
"Oh! Get out!! GET OUT!!" Steve screams at the screen. The ball hooks foul.
"Fffffffuuuuck!!!" he punches the air, sits back down.
"So, how was your story," he asks without taking his eyes off the screen.
But I don't answer, because David's hit the ball again, and it's hooking down toward center field, with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams and Miguel Cairo all closing in toward it, and then the ball hits the grass and the camera swings around to show Johnny Damon storming down the third base line, and then shows the Yankees shrugging back to the dugout, and then back to home plate again, where figures in red jackets are jostling the cameraman to mob David Ortiz, and by the time I realize I'm screaming at the top of my lungs, my throat is already raw.