Scott O. Handy
I WAS trying to let the sound of my broom's sweeping drown out the
sound of Pops's and Mr. Marone's argument. But that was like trying to
drown out an orchestra with a transistor radio. I tried whistling. I
whistled Yankee Doodle Dandy and Take Me Out to the Ballgame
before giving up. It was useless. My mouth was so dry my tongue stuck to
its roof and then made a dry cluck sound every time I unstuck it.
In a few months, Pops would be dead -- suicide -- but, of course, I had no
way of knowing that. I only knew I was scared and that my mouth was dry. I
wished I had a piece of Bazooka to chew on, like that came in the Topps
baseball-card packs. I wished I was allowed to chew the Bazooka that came
in the Topps baseball-card packs.
Mom had told me, emphatically, that eavesdropping was a sin you could
go to Hell for, vs. the chewing of gum, which you could only get grounded
for. Because the one was harmful to yourself, which was bad enough, but
that the other was harmful to others, even -- Mom said especially -- if
they weren't even aware of it.
But, before I'd started sweeping, Pops backed Mr. Tates's Buick out by
the gas pumps, leaving the garage empty, leaving nowhere for Pops's and
Mr. Marone's words to go except to bounce off the cement walls and the
concrete floor and into my ears:
-- Burger, you are the ee-pit-toe-mee
-- Aw cut the crap
-- Vic Raschi couldn't strike out Jimmie Foxx's mother
-- That fat mutt was washed up
-- You know how dumb
-- Not on his best day. Not on a motor
I dropped the broom's wooden handle -- actually I kind of flung it down
-- on purpose, so it would hit the floor with more of a racket, bouncing
once then twice then rolling an inch or so one way then the next, before
it rested there for good. I put my palms to my ears and pressed as hard as
I could, trying to get them to meet somewhere in the middle. The sound
this made was like when you dip your head underwater and everything above
the surface goes straightaway warbly- and distant-sounding. I thought:
Yes! Score! I pressed harder. I was having trouble breathing for some
reason, even though my hands were nowhere near my nose or mouth. But I
could feel my forehead turning purple. But the underwater sound was even
louder now, it sounded like my blood was whaling as hard as it could on
the walls of my ears, and I could just barely make out Pops's and Mr.
Marone's voices and nothing specific anymore of what they were saying.
Yes! Yes! Score! Score!
I must've pushed too hard, because the next thing I knew I was laid out
flat on the floor. The broom was to my right, its long handle poking up
past my ear. It wasn't cold down there, like you'd expect a concrete floor
to be at about six o'clock on an April PM in Fox Hills, PA. It was
actually kind of snuggly warm, which must've been on account this was the
spot Mr. Tates's Buick was parked just a few minutes earlier. It was also
in this spot -- four months later -- that they would find Pops, inside Mr.
Tates's Buick, with the engine running, and the Yankees game still playing
on the radio.
Out of nowhere, a hand that wasn't attached to a wrist or an elbow or
even a face reached down at me. It was black around the fingernails and
its pointer finger was double Band-aided in that way you do when you've
cut the very tip and need the other Band-aid to anchor the first one on.
The hand grabbed me by the front of my school uniform and hoisted me back
to my feet with such gusto I nearly blacked out again, just from the
upward rush, till I was standing there upright like nothing ever
happened--except for the flashbulbs that kept popping in front of my eyes.
Mr. Marone scratched at the side of his cauliflower nose with a double
Band-aided pointer finger. His black mustache twitched in a way that
suggested he was about to say something but then didn't.
-- Gee, I told him, blinking in time to the popping bulbs, -- thanks.
Pops bent way down to give me the once-over and didn't say a word as
his big blue fish eyes moved side-to-side looking into each one of my eyes
one at a time. His thumbs were hooked up inside his suspenders, like he
was supporting his entire torso just by the first knuckle of each. -- You
okay, boy? he said, finally, breaking into that gap-toothed grin of his
that made his entire head look like it was being eaten from the inside
out. And like he already knew I was okay or else he wouldn't've had to
I grinned back at him and nodded, like: I guess so.
But then before I could even pick up the broom and resume my sweeping,
Pops turned to Mr. Marone and said: -- Old Fat Fuck Foxx would've croaked
for good he just done that.
Which Mr. Marone went just about cross-eyed over as he was picking up
the broom himself and said: -- That's it, Burger, I've had it, you're
Pops was at least a head and a half taller than Mr. Marone was, but Mr.
Marone was Pops's boss. But Pops tilted his head way back and laughed at
the ceiling, the way he did while listening to Amos 'N Andy on the
radio. It was actually more of a holler than a laugh. -- Holy mackerel,
Willie! he said, mimicking Freeman Gosden mimicking a Negro. -- We'ze all
got to stick together in dis heah thing. Remember, we is brothers in that
great fraternity, Mah-roe-nee's Garage & Auto Supply!
-- I don't know why I bother, Mr. Marone muttered. -- I really don't.
Then something funny happened:
As Mr. Marone was putting the big push broom in its corner, I jabbed
him on the butt of his jumpsuit and said: -- Pops is right, you know.
I don't know why I said it, what purpose I expected it to serve.
Revenge? A nine-year-old's defense of his wayward father (whom Mom'd
already told me, repeatedly, was beyond redemption anyway, even by Jesus)?
Pops had to catch his breath, like I'd sucker punched him one vs. stuck
up for him. Mr. Marone stopped short with the broom and instead of putting
it away held onto it and used it to push himself back off the wall with
and then spin around on like Gene Kelly did in On the Town and then
looked, not at me, but Pops: -- You don't say, he said, smiling with his
lips trembling and that made his mustache do the same jumpy twitchy thing.
His smile was so wide you'd think it'd've made the ends of his mustache
turn upward, but they didn't. Mr. Marone never opened his mouth, like Pops
did, when he smiled.
-- Raschi's only played four years, not twenty like Foxx did. It ain't
fair to compare him vs. Foxx's whole career. I mean, Foxx led the league
in strikeouts four out of his first five seasons. As his homers kept going
up so'd his strikeouts! Raschi had 124 Ks each of the last two years, and
he's only given up 31 homers, total. I'd say he'd strike Foxx out pretty
easy. Not just that, but if you stretch what he's done so far over twenty
years, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His nickname's The Springfield
Rifle, by the way.
I wasn't sure of what all I'd just said, exactly, though I knew where I
got it. Mom and Pops had gotten me the MacMillan's Baseball
Encyclopedia for my birthday that February.
Pops and Mr. Marone looked at me like I'd reached into one of their
pockets and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and lit one up. You'd've
needed a snow shovel to get their chins up off the floor. I glanced at the
Coca-Cola clock by the door. It was nearly 6:15. Mom'd be wondering where
we were. -- Sorry, I said, -- I'm kinda thirsty, I guess.
Pops burst out laughing so loud and so suddenly I worried he might
re-rupture his appendix. Mr. Marone, finally now acknowledging my presence
with his narrow little eyes whose lids looked like they were pumped full
of water they were so puffy all the time, looked straightaway again back
at Pops. -- What the
But then Pops did something he hadn't done since I was little: He
reached down with both hands and sort of half-tossed/-lifted me up over
his head, like I remembered him doing when I was a little kid. I stretched
my arms out in front of my face like Superman and went: Wheeeeeee!
like I was flying as he whipped me around in circles. It was funny because
I was still scared, up there alone above the head of my six-foot-three
father; but it wasn't the fear of falling; I wasn't afraid Pops was going
to drop me. It was the fear this would never happen again. I felt as happy
as I've ever felt, before or since. Which made all the Hell threats from
Mom worth it. In fact, I decided right then and there, being whipped
around for the very last time on the ride of my life: If Heaven's too good
for Pops then it's too good for me too. Wheeeeeeee!
Scott Handy is a freelance writer and journalist based in
Charlottesville, Virginia. His fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin
and AETHLON. His journalism and nonfiction have appeared in
C-VILLE, Blue Ridge Outdoors, America OnLine, and
others. He is currently at work on a novel.