oasting into the village, I half expected an explosion of bunting and a brass band pounding out “Hail the Conquering Hero,” instead all we got was the beginning of a drizzle and a whole lot of impassive quiet. Our tires hissed on the wet pavement as we turned onto Main Street, a quaint stretch of road framed by tall trees and tourist traps. Within seconds it came into view.
“I think that’s it!” I exclaimed in excited relief. “Ladies and gentlemen…the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
It didn’t look like much, I have to say, just a paradigmatic neoclassic form that could have just as well have been the local post office or town hall. I wasn’t disappointed though; it’s a rare occurrence when expectations match reality. Besides, it was the wealth of treasure conserved within that banal box of bricks which interested me, I mean, what the hell was I anyway, some crazy architecture buff?
“A childhood dream is a dream no more,” she quipped. “It is an honor indeed to share this momentous occasion with you.”
As luck would have it, I was able to snag a parking spot down the strip. We disembarked as if on a friendly shore and made our way up the street in the mist, arm in arm.
After I’d paid our admission, she touched her lips to my ear. “Are you excited, lamb, like really excited?”
“It’s hard to believe I’m here.”
The place was quiet as a church and smaller than I’d imagined. Gripping her hand in mine, we strolled about, perusing the collection of bats, mitts and plaques with appropriate genuflection. I took a few extra moments studying the Babe’s uniform. It was hard to believe such an attenuated collection of threads could have ever contained such a talent. Good ol’ Bambino, the best there ever was and a major hot dog aficionado; it’s well known he loved them almost as much as he loved prostitutes. A franking fantastic character that Babe: the all mighty Caliph of Clout – the Sultan of Twat.
“Imagine being so incredibly gifted, that your very name becomes synonymous with greatness itself,” I remarked with awe.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, like so and so is the ‘Babe Ruth’ of such and such.”
“Oh right, I can’t even think of any other examples. Maybe Wayne Gretzky?”
“No way!” I scoffed. “Gretzky was the ‘Babe Ruth’ of hockey…period.”
“Okay smarty-pants, how about The Beatles?” she proposed after a pause.
“Not bad, still, it’s not quite the same somehow. The usage would be more specific, less universal. Besides, The Beatles were a group, whereas Babe Ruth was a singular force. There’s a difference.”
“I guess that would make you the ‘Babe Ruth’ of annoyance,” she said with tender sarcasm, yanking at my coat sleeve.
“See what I mean? It fits every situation!”
We shuffled on, scanning the dusty cleats, pillowy bases, empty stadium seats, and fossilized baseballs: bombarded by the proximity of ghosts and the yellow inevitability of time. No lie, I was practically in the moment, nearly exalted. This was something I’d wanted to do ever since I was a kid, but the longer we spent walking around, the more everything around me shifted into abstraction. After a half hour or so, I felt deflated. There I was in the Hall of Fame, and I might as well have been on line at the DMV. I understood on some level what I was doing there of course; it was an escape, a distraction. Soon I’d have to return to my shitty little job…my shitty little life. This wasn’t a scene out of From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler. we couldn’t hide out in an old locker ‘til everyone went home; we weren’t on some whimsical exploit in search of Bob Feller’s lost jock strap.
“That plaque portrait isn’t very flattering,” she remarked, as we paused in front of Reggie Jackson, my childhood hero. “They made him look like a pedophile.”
“Jesus, they did. That’s awful!”
It was also pretty friggin’ hilarious, and for the next several minutes I was overtaken by a fit of laughter so disruptive, I was asked to keep it down by a passing guard. The release was a life-saver though, and I didn’t want it to stop.
“Let’s park it for a minute,” I said, taking a seat on a nearby bench. “I need to catch my breath.”
“You must’ve hit your funny bone.” she beamed, cozying up close beside me.
We rested for a bit, observing the scattering of fans paying reverent homage while I regained my composure. Like I said, the building was almost empty, just a few blank-faced voyagers bumbling about, looking underwhelmed. There was one young child, though, that stuck out like a cherry gumdrop. She must’ve been around three years old, with the face of a Botticelli cherub, eyes the color of robin’s eggs, and a Cheshire smile. Rotating my torso, I watched as she tossed her little body around in exuberance. Her father, a handsome man with a kind but beleaguered face, was trying his best to impart to her his knowledge of the game, but all she wanted to do was dance. As she swayed her snaky hips to the unknown music playing in her head, her long umber pigtails snapped through the air. Something was alive in that mausoleum.
“Look here Deedee, you see that mean-looking man?” asked the father in a scholarly tone. “That’s Ty Cobb, he was the greatest player in history.”
“Corn on the cob! Corn on the cob!” she sang with delight. “Ty Cobb, corn on the cob!”
Her father let out a deep chuckle, brushing a few stray hairs from her forehead.
“He played for the Detroit Tigers, a long, long time ago,” he continued. “Everyone hated him, because he was a very mean man and treated the opposing teams horribly, calling them names and trying to hurt them with his spikes.”
“I don’t like him my Baba, he’s a mean man, Ty Cobb, corn on the cob, corn on the cob!”
A wide grin spread over his face, as if he was tickled on the toes with an ostrich feather. “Are you trying to tell me you’re getting hungry?”
“Yes Baba, I wanna cupcake, can we get a pink cupcake? I really need one!”
“Of course, big D,” he replied, taking her hand. “But then we have to get you some real food, or else I’ll get in trouble with your mother when I drop you off.”
“That’s fine,” she said with a maturity that belied her years. “I love you my Baba, I won’t get you in trouble, don’t worry.”
After taking in a few deep breaths, I felt better. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, I realized there was nothing I could do to nudge myself back into orbit, so I might as well enjoy the freefall.
“These are the moments you remember for a lifetime.”
“I guess it must be a big event for you…finally seeing this place?”
“Nah,” I said, shaking my head. “It doesn’t feel like a big event, more like a little moment…a fleeting instant. I’d take one of those over a thousand big events any day of the week. One pristine, fleeting instant, shared with someone special. You know, some scientists believe that time as we know it doesn’t exist, that there is no past, no present, no future, it’s already all laid out. If I remember, the theory is that each second is its own Universe or something, they exist independent of each other and always have, but somehow we perceive the passage of time as a contiguous series of linear experiences. It’s only our mind piecing together an understandable framework, something that makes sense, when in point of fact each moment is static, like the individual frames in a reel of film that make up a movie.”
“That’s wild! But if each second is its own Universe in and of itself, then that would mean we have no control over our lives. What a horrid thought.”
“It’s a theory anyway – we are all merely cogs in the machinery, each of us elemental yet interconnected.”
“Some cogs have it better than others. Some cogs are bright and shiny and important, while others are destined to be dull and inessential.”
“Well, you’re bright and shiny…I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
“It doesn’t seem quite fair somehow,” she said, skating past my remark.
“I don’t think fairness plays into it. Everything is what it is, and that’s how it should be. At least that’s what some people think. For all I know they could be full of shit.”
Taking a look around, I realized we were the last two people in the room, the rest of the stragglers having vanished some time before. Checking my phone, I realized it was near closing.
“I’m starving,” I announced. “Whaddya say we take a mosey ‘round these parts and see if we can rustle up ourselves some grub.”
“What about our answer?” she asked.
“I believe, whenever I go someplace I’ve never been before…someplace I’d never even think of going…that I’m going to find some kind of an answer, some meaning that’s been buried like a treasure. it’s hard to explain.”
“Right, I think I understand.”
“So? What is it?”
“Maybe the answer is that there is no answer. Maybe we’re not ever meant to get to the real essence of things. Maybe our consciousness is just too limited.”
“That sounds like a cop-out.” She furrowed her brow.
“Okay, then try this on for size,” I said, pausing for a moment. “I’m having one hell of a time, sitting here with you now, talking like this – it’s nice. I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I haven’t been on auto-pilot, since I’ve been able to feel any actual emotion, other than a vague, ambivalent disgust.”
“Emotions are overrated.”
“No they’re not, don’t ever say that, not ever. You wouldn’t, you know, if you woke one day as empty as a discarded peanut shell. Trust me.”
“I knew we weren’t ever going to find an answer here. Not here anyway.”
“Oh no? Where then?”
Arching her back, she thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure…some mysterious place just beyond our reach, I suppose.”
“Well, in all we discussed, we’ve at least amassed enough clues to move on with the search, right? The search continues – whoohoo! Onward and excelsior!”
“I am a little hungry.”
“And we’re going to take care of that presently.”
On our way out, I spent a couple of quick seconds more with Reggie the pedophile, just to give a proper thank you for being there for me when I was a kid, and that was it – I could say I’d been to Cooperstown. Hallelujah and amen.
“Jeez, it got colder,” I said, lighting a cig as we started our way down Main Street towards the Mini. “Looks like it might snow too, terrific.”
After walking half a block or so, I paused by a memorabilia shop with an ATM sign in the front window.
“Let’s drop in here for a second, I need to get some cash.”
The store had a huge inventory of jerseys, caps, trading cards, and equipment from every conceivable sport. It was the kind of place I would’ve loved as a child; uniforms dyed the color of circus balloons, the pleasant reek of raw cowhide and Big League Chew assaulting my virgin olfactories. Swiping my card down the side of the machine, I took out 80 bucks, cringing when the receipt stuttered out of the slot.
52.70…all that’s left…fucking 52.70.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “I’m gonna faint from hunger.”
She hesitated, mesmerized by the racks of caps and helmets that stretched across the full length of the back wall.
“I think you should get a hat. Look at all the pretty ones they’ve got here.”
She was right too, they were pretty, but I wasn’t about to blow any more dough on an extraneous expense.
“Don’t any of these appeal to you…what about that one there?” she asked, pointing to a Kansas City Monarchs cap, one of those spiffy throwback deals.
Flipping the price tag over, I was disappointed to discover it cost 30 dollars.
“It is damn cool, but no,” I said, grabbing the crook of her arm and pulling her towards the door.
“We’re not leaving this store without something on your head.”
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” I groaned.
“Do you even have to ask?”
Scanning the shelves, I searched for the least expensive option available, my eyes landing on a row of Yankee helmets; the cheap plastic kind that they sometimes give away free at the stadium. Taking one down, I checked under the bill – 15 bucks.
“How do I look?” I asked, trying it on.
“So handsome!” She said, clapping her hands. “But will it be warm enough?”
“I always wanted one as a kid.” I wasn’t making it up either.
“Now you have to get it.”
I paid the young attendant at the register, who delivered a slight smirk in my direction, and we continued forth. 52.70…52.70…52.70. It had begun to drizzle again. I could hear the sad staccato of raindrops echoing in my head as they landed on my shiny new purchase.