Month: March, 2012

Four Years and 50,000 Miles Later

I spent the weekend in New Jersey. If you’d asked me a month ago what I thought about a jaunt to the Garden State, I would have shrugged and recited one of the many canned jokes I’ve heard about New Jersey that make fun of the way it smells, the shore, and the fact that you can’t pump your own gas. Being from the Midwest, especially with ties to Detroit, those jokes are never representative of the place or the people themselves, so I decided to go.

Lola and I returned from a weekend of Princeton exploration, counting the cars of on the New Jersey Turnpike as Paul Simon once did. Heading south, returning to DC  felt more like a punishment than homecoming. For miles I alternated between a thoughtless gaze out of the window and watching the odometer waiting for something momentous to happen, as Lola pacified herself by chewing on the slobber-matter fuzzy beak of her stuffed duck. She’d wag her tail when I reached down to stroke her side, but she looked so satisfied I didn’t dare disturb that.

Sometimes, people and animals, they just need to be left alone.

I got the MINI Cooper after much deliberation about finances. The decision to purchase a new car proved that everything could be turned into an argument where we were concerned. It was easy for him to say he believed that I should just save my money and drive the Volkswagen until the wheels fell off, considering he had just purchased a new BMW for himself that I was never allowed to drive. Besides, he’d say, if we were going to spend money on a new car, it’d have to be a family car, which was his demented way of saying me loved me and hoped I’d stay forever.

The family car was the next step in the Guide To Suburban Bliss, a handbook that some are armed with instinctively. We had been on the path to suburban utopia for three years and were 2.5 children away from living the dream in our generic suburban home in an even more generic development. All of the streets were named after animals, a diversionary tactic to create a neighborhood out of bland houses with even blander people living in them.

The talk of buying sensible cars always came back to the long-term plan, which for him meant marriage, pregnancy, home-cooked dinners, and a spiceless life of banal suburban existence. I was a sensible family car away from creating Facebook statuses of ultrasound pictures, whether I liked it or not.

We had a white fence installed and as I sat on the back porch watching the laborers digging deeper into the earth for stability, I felt like I was suffocating. Though the finished fence was just several feet high, the house suddenly felt like Alcatraz…few would even try to escape. Those that did? They rarely survived.

And in an act of defiance, possibly my first where this relationship was concerned, I went to Cincinnati and purchased the car that I wanted: Silver with black trim MINI Cooper with sport seats, and dual sunroofs. I was already envisioning how a Red Sox sticker would look on the back window and I pulled away from the dealership in the biggest purchase of my adult life, a hatchback with an oversized speedometer: a car that was not suitable for a family, because I did not want that.

There was silence when I returned home. The car became a symbol of everything he hated about me—a list which greatly outweighed the things he loved. Some were simple: he hated when I would lose the cap to the toothpaste. Some were complex: he didn’t like my freedom or my defiance. He resented the hatchback for not having room for a car seat, and he resented me for not seeing a future with him. And two months later, MINI and me left for good.

I never felt angry. In fact, I still don’t. Disappointed that the relationship I worked hard to fix for four years had ended, and frustrated that I spent years catering to the needs of someone who never once valued the things that made me unique. My value was assessed in a battery of tests, of hoop-jumping, to prove that I loved him and my existence became an obstacle course of jumping higher, running faster, and walking a tightrope with a tank of man-eating sharks below.

Instead of leaving town immediately, I spent one more night in Louisville. I checked into the hotel where we’d spent many evenings drinking Bulleit old fashioneds in a bar that F. Scott Fitzgerald used to frequent. It’s one of the last great hotels where the detailed luxuries of the lobby bleed over into the rooms as well with rich mahogany baseboards you would never see at a Holiday Inn.

Once settled, I collected my emotions which had been strewn about for weeks, and continued my mission to say goodbye to my favorite part of Louisville: Slugger Field, where the Bats play.

My love of baseball was renewed through this rocky relationship, mostly because he did not like baseball. On days when I needed to escape, I could watch a game on television alone in the den or I could go to the ballpark. I knew he wouldn’t want to be there, he was content to stay at home playing computer games or a variety of sci-fi movies that I lump into one category, though he always corrected me because they weren’t always Star Wars. In our four years I got him to the ballpark exactly once, and I had to lie about the origin of the tickets to do so.

I walked east, snuggled in an oversized sweatshirt that was his, the sun setting on my back. The field is nestled on the banks of the Ohio River, with Louisville’s petite yet pristine skyline as it’s’ backdrop. Across the river there’s an old fish restaurant that looks like a boat that always seemed to be a place where tourists would go for pina coladas and food poisioning, though locals seemed enthusiastic about their offerings. The jingle from their commercials played in my head as the sun setting created magnificent shadows on the ballpark’s parking lot and ticket windows, making the stout skyscrapers appear like the Goliath buildings of a bigger city.

It wasn’t time for baseball yet. The gates would remain locked for a few more weeks, as minor leaguers still fought for roster spots at camp. I would be leaving the next day to figure out life on my own, missing the day in which patrons would be ushered into the stadium’s concourse that had been fashioned from an old train station. But in a city filled with memories from my relationship, from college, from even better friendships, the only place I wanted to be was inside of this stadium where I had spent countless evenings escaping from everything—schoolwork, real work, and a relationship that spent years on life support.

As the shadows darkened and the moon rose, I peeked through the windows of the once train station.  There was the souvenir shop, the vending area with their locked metal doors, and with each passing glance I said goodbye. Goodbye to Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto, goodbye to section 102. Goodbye to Louisville and goodbye to him. Realizing I was alone, both in life and in the 400 block of Main Street, I sat down on the Pee Wee Reese statue, cuddled into the S shape metal support of his left leg, embracing my last evening in a city that I would no longer call home.

The months that followed were full of tears and sometimes regret. The questioning of whether I’d made the right decision crescendoed into moments where the only solution I felt was to run back to Louisville for comfort. But in time, I was relieved to never spend another day under someone’s microscope and in turn found what it meant to be resolute, autonomous, and confident.

Four years later, my car hit 50,000 miles on the New Jersey Turnpike. Still embracing the freedom of self-possession, still making decisions that are completely my own. There’s no greater freedom than realizing life is limitless when removed from the judgment and restrictions of others.

And in four years, I have changed everything. I finished graduate school, and the MINI and I have driven to countless baseball games, including two 22-hour road-trips to spring training. The hatchback that cemented the relationships’ demise has seen me on two moves across the country.

It’s been nearly 1500 days since I’ve seen his face, laughed at his jokes, or cried from a misunderstanding. Driving through the evening, returning to the life I’ve built for myself, I felt satisfied with the distance those miles and years have created. Not just because of the relationship I once had, but because a weaker and insecure version of myself got dropped off somewhere along the trip: and I finally feel the freedom and strength that didn’t exist before, and another 50,000 miles will make that even stronger.

Drunken Sabermetrics: One Man’s Quest

In an attempt to not press the snooze button for the tenth time this morning, I grabbed my cellphone and looked at the Twitter app. I typically read my timeline when I wake up as means to stay awake, but today I was greeted with a monologue of epic proportions.

To set the scene, Colin Wyers (@cwyers) of Baseball Prospectus fame had an undisclosed number of beers last night, then read this article. While Colin is known for his discussions about flaws in analysis, this intoxicated monologue had elements of humor, while still making valid points about the weaknesses in the article.

While the tweets were funny, I figured it’d be best to capture this monologue in a commemorative video since  many missed the tweets as they happened late last night while Colin sat among the cornfields with just his sabermetrics thoughts and a Shiner Bock.

Thanks for being a good sport, Colin. Here’s hoping for many more late-evenings of hoppy goodness and sabermetrics. Cheers, buddy.

On Sadness and US Cellular Field

The best and worst part about being a music fan is emotion. It allows you to feel and think and perceive things in a different light—really create an intimate soundtrack to life. So when days are happy and there is a cloudless sky, you can listen to “Victoria” by the Kinks on full-blast with the sunroof open enjoying one of the best bass lines ever written. Or you can remember where you were the first time you heard “If You See Her, Say Hello” by Bob Dylan—lying on the hood of your first love’s car when he took you for a ride late in the evening to the middle of nowhere just to be alone.

But there is also a playlist of songs that should only be listened to alone and in bed with blankets over my head. As an emotional girl, and someone who easily cries, it’s just for the best that those songs do not come on shuffle when in public—waterproof mascara is a lie. It consists mainly of Ryan Adams songs, songs ruined by men I have dated, and songs that have a general haunting quality to them. So I shouldn’t have clicked a link this morning containing “Blue Skies” by Noah and the Whale.

I am not a Noah and the Whale fan. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about them other than someone told me that one of their songs was once used on the OC or Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek or some equally ridiculous television show I would have never watched had it aired even when I was the target demographic.

But against my better judgment, I put on my headphones, clicked the link and started listening to this song, which ensures me that the blue skies are someday going to come and life is someday going to get better. But the singer sort of whines that to me in this condensing emo mocking voice that makes me feel as though I am the only and loneliest person in the world.

And while the song is playing, I’m just sitting at my desk trying not to think (or cry) and trying to look busy even though there is no one around. So I am scrolling through old photos on Facebook and I am hit with an image that on a day like today (with  emotional vulnerabilities saddening my ear drums with songs about blue skies) I wish I could just un-see—US Cellular Field.

Spare me your feelings on this ballpark. Spare me your feelings on the fan base, its location in what you may consider (I do not) an undesirable neighborhood on the wrong side of the loop, and most of all spare me your lectures on the modern ballpark. The fact remains that US Cellular Field easily became home when I lived in Chicago—both places of which are no longer mine.

The photo I stumbled upon was from my last game I attended: a rainy evening against the Kansas City Royals. It is also the last game that I have in my scorebook—and there is a big scribble on one of the pages that is a heart, broken in half, with exclamation points done in pen so harshly that the pen practically tore through the page with its indents.

He drove five hours just to tell me he was in love with me and I rejected him hastily upon arrival.

We had met a few months earlier at a Tigers game…a Tigers meetup, more specifically. A good friend puts together this meetup for a group of fans from SB Nation each season, and it was convenient for me to come to Detroit for a weekend of past-times with strangers from the Internet. Plus, the White Sox were playing and Edwin Jackson was pitching, so it just seemed fateful to make the trip to see an old friend and perhaps meet some new ones.

The gentleman in question sat across the table from me and was perhaps drawn to me for several reasons, none of them sincere. First, I was one of three females. Two, I was likely the only one who was single. Three, I was trolling hard in my White Sox hat because it was sunny and I needed a face shield and a way to show off my adversarial nature.  I think instead of asking my name he actually asked for my Twitter name, which was sort of awkward when he immediately added me and read my timeline aloud.

I would equate the relationship that developed over the next three 32oz beers at Hockeytown and nine innings at Comerica to be largely misunderstood. His way of being kind involved making fun of Juan Pierre, Adam Dunn, and threatening to put chewing gum in my hair. Clearly young and inexperienced with women, his way of showing affection was treating me like we’d met on the playground in third grade. I was expecting him to punch me in the arm during Red Rover and kiss me.

During the game, I won a game-used ball from the Tigers (which might have been rigged through the powers of social media) so when the game ended I had been instructed to report to the memorabilia booth to wait for my prize, rather than walking the four blocks to the hotel bar where the partying would continue.

I said goodbye to the group and assured them I would catch up after I’d collected the ball, knowing that he would decide to wait for me. This was fine, because I wasn’t sure where the hotel was anyway and assumed he could impress me with his navigation skills. While we waited for the baseball to surface from an usher who snuck into the clubhouse to collect the ball post-game, we chatted about life.

Our interaction was me saying something, him agreeing, then discussing how perfect and exciting he found me. Everything I said was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.  When I told him about my career he acted as though it were important or meaningful (it is not). You’d think I had told him I could cure cancer and solve world hunger, but instead I had told him a little about the writing I do and the places I’d lived.

Some women want to be admired in such a fashion, but I find such adoration off-putting. No thrill of the chase when someone fawns over you so much they trip on the stairs in a ballpark because they are too busy staring at you (that happened). Some might find happiness with a man who is so smitten he does not see the flaws, but I find it boring and predictable. Men  like this want love to be like a fairy-tale more than a woman does—and they tend to jump from the beginning of the story to the last page of happily ever after. I am always terrified that one of these men will turn into the one who proposes after three dates—just because he really felt something.

When the evening ended, he had my Twitter name, but not my phone number. It eventually turned into the occasional gchat conversation, and when he mentioned that he wanted to come to Chicago for a White Sox game and a day in the city before the season ended, I told him that it sounded like a good time, and he should let me know when he was in town.

Sometimes  we all say things like that assuming no one will ever take us up on the opportunity. “Hey, we should totally get drinks sometime!” is the blow off phrase that I have used dozens of times when I hoped I would never have to see that person again—and I think that’s understood.

He asked if he could come to Chicago to use my spare White Sox/Royals ticket with me, and I told him that would be fine. The tickets were a parting gift from someone in the White Sox organization and they were amazing seats that necessitated company. Five hours later he showed up at my front door.

Is it really sane to tell someone they are welcome to drive five hours and sleep on an air mattress in your studio because hotels are expensive? Of course it’s not, but it’s a situation I created for myself and the time between when he left Detroit and when he texted to say he had parked at the elementary school across the street from my apartment, I found myself repeating over and over “You’ve made a huge mistake.”

But he did just drive the width of the mitten state and I should be hospitable.

I decided that we would walk to dinner, which happened in absolute silence except for the awkwardness of each others’ breath as we walked up a hill. I tried to make conversation that seemed appropriate like, “this place on the corner has terrible pizza,” and “here’s the bar where they have turtle races every Friday,” but he seemed too nervous to even realize that I was speaking to him. He was also covered in a sweat that would rival that of Kevin Youkilis in the on deck circle. There was a seriousness about him that I had not seen in our first interaction—he wasn’t going to be teasing me about Juan Pierre’s OPS or sticking Trident in my locks—he seemed pensive, as though he wanted to say something.

And at dinner, he finally said it. Tucked at a high top table in a mediocre bar in Lincoln Square he told me that he had called his friend on the drive to say he wouldn’t be at his birthday party that night because he had to get to Chicago to tell a girl he was in love with her.

Since awkward jackassery is my finest quality most days I looked him in the eye and asked if he’d be having drinks with that girl after we finished dinner—because hearing he had serious feelings for me seemed just as preposterous as letting someone drive five hours for a platonic baseball game. Sometimes no matter how large the red flags, it’s easier to ignore them and assume that there is an innocent intent behind every malicious one.

Telling a girl that you hardly know that you are in love with her is just not something that sane people do and I firmly believe that.  To be in love in the first place is not an act that is reasonable and to vocalize that on a second meeting is a committable offense. Could I have handled myself in a more adult-like manner rather than a joke at his expense? Absolutely. But, there’s only so much one can do to hide their general disgust for these feelings being vocalized—that were founded on absolutely nothing more than a few hours at a baseball game a few vague gchat conversations—that I found it impossible to take kindly to.

Over fish tacos and Abita I told him that I did not see him in that way. In fact, I hardly knew him at all. I cited a list of things I didn’t know about him like his middle name, his favorite childhood toy, and what kind of car he drove as though this was information one needed to make an informed decision on love. In my best “it’s not you, it’s me” attempt, I told him that I could not be the girl that he was ultimately desiring. That was I bad news. That I was a loner Dottie, a rebel. I told him my life was in a constant state of flux that was unsettling. I think I might have also told him that I just was content to be alone, because life is easier that way.

And after breaking his heart, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I took him to a baseball game. I gave him an out and told him that if he did not want to go to the game, I totally understood… but I had tickets and I did not intend to waste them. So we took the train to US Cellular Field, where it started to rain.

I gave him the opportunity to leave again (honestly, I wished that he would have because staring into his sad eyes knowing that I had upset his universe by not reciprocating his outburst of puppy love)  but he decided that we could ride out the rain delay in the bullpen bar.

We sat silently in the bullpen bar for what seemed like three hours, though the rain delay was only forty minutes. I watched the television, I counted bricks, I told stories about the night that we watched the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in this bar.

Met with one word answers, I felt remorseful for the fact that I ruined his weekend and assumed he’d be over it by Monday, realizing I was not the girl he was looking for. But the look on his face made me feel that he would have been happier working a shift at his dead-end job at a pool store than sitting in the basement of a ballpark. The fact that someone would rather be inundated with the smell of chlorine tablets than my company drove me to the bar for another drink, and left me searching my cell-phone for any neutral ally that might be at the game.

I have never been so happy to see the grounds crew remove the tarp from the field. Somehow I thought changing venues from the bar to our seats could change everything—that we’d magically have things to talk about after the first pitch, but it didn’t happen. I spent seven innings buried in my scorebook, pointing out things of significance to my seat mate, who was brooding and temperamental.

He did not care that Carlton Fisk wore #27 with the Red Sox and its inverse with the White Sox. I pointed to the spot where Scott Podsednik hit a home run in 2005 World Series and he liked me even less. My  olive branch offering of nachos served in a plastic helmet  was not only rejected, but spawned a judgmental conversation about ingesting carbs and processed cheese.

I have never been so unhappy to be in a ballpark before for reasons much bigger than him. I had just finished graduate school and I knew that I would be leaving Chicago if I could not find a job there. With the season coming to a close, my discomfort shifted from the awkward date I’d somehow inadvertently created for myself to the fact that the ballpark I had called home for the last three years would be changing to a ballpark I saw once a season at best.

There is a montage of US Cellular field that plays in my head. There’s a rotating cast in my favorite black uniform tops and pinstripe pants, and songs playing in my head, most of them at-bat music like Gordon Beckham’s interesting choice of “Your Love” by the Outfield. Scenes include:

My first game was on a weeknight I attended with a classmate on a whim after mentioning our professor looked like Hawk Harrelson.

Tailgates, fireworks, and first kisses.

A game with a stranger who is now one of my best friends and seatmate for countless games thereafter.

The Frank Thomas statute dedication.

Missing Mark Buerhle’s perfect game because of a work commitment.

Making cup pyramids on the patio during the 2-hour unlimited food/drink pre-game celebrations with good friends.

The Fan Fest day where I sprinted towards the outfield wall full-speed and jumped to catch an imaginary ball before it jumped over the fence.

Watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup on the Jumbotron.

Days alone in the Upper Level with nothing but a scorebook and journal taking notes on the game I loved so much.

The game where the White Sox were destroyed by the Yankees, messing up my scorebook twice when they batted around.

And then the montage fades and I’m left sitting in the rain with someone whose feelings I have hurt and I am watching Southpaw run on the field in his rain jacket. While the mascot does joyous cartwheels and splashes in puddles, I have a stomach ache from too much beer and memories.

I excuse myself from our seats and I walk up to the concourse, and I stand against the railing filling in boxes of my scorebook, hoping it brings clarity. I watch him in his seat, sitting alone, and I draw a picture of a heart broken in two on the upper right hand corner of my page, so I have a way to remember in which game it was exactly that I felt like a horrible person for not reciprocating feelings to a guy that I’m sure really is wonderful, but just isn’t for me.

I tuck the book into my messenger bag and pace back and forth between the Italian sausage stand and Dippin’ Dots, wondering what I can do about everything. What can I do to make the Tigers fan happy, what can I do about staying in Chicago, what can I do to make the rain stop, and what can I do to enjoy my last game at the ballpark that quickly became home and the frame of reference for which all spring and summertime decisions had been based on for three years.

I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I walked to my favorite spot in the ballpark, sat down in an available seat and snapped a photo, which is the one I saw this morning. I sat there for two innings with my feet propped up on the arms of the seat in front of me, curled into the baseball seat fetal position, in the light rain realizing that all of the things I had wanted were right in front of me (the city, the ballpark, and a boy) and once again, I messed them all up.


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