“We don’t play in front of many people like you,” was the initial remark Josh made to me—or in the direction of my person—but it was the tacked-on laugh that I properly heard first. People talk about a mind’s eye, but they never talk about a mind’s ear. Someone says something to you and you don’t know what it is and you have to ask them to repeat themselves, but then you hear their words in your head, afterwards, in following, as if sound has a ghost and the ghost can remind you what the body had been trying to say.
My dad was a big fan of the jazz drummer Art Blakey and I grew up in his den listening to hard bop Blakey records that sounded to me like rock and roll without the words, a surging, seething, basso continuo of rhythm. Our favorite Blakey LP was from 1959, called Moanin’. The cover was just Blakey’s head and neck, the former cocked slightly in the direction of his left shoulder, cockerel alacrity.
He was the blackest, coolest looking man I had ever seen, and Josh looked like that, but in a baggy baseball uniform that you thought would be an awful fire hazard if he was putting on a pot to boil for tea, sleeves dipping down low. Wool uniform, cauldron of fabric, no ventilation in there, 1930s. Our backyard was caked with acorns, like an oatmeal pudding festooned with capped-chunks at the top of a green grass of skin. I liked the turmeric trim around Josh’s uniform, at the collar, sleeve holes, the shoulders, shade of wet infield dirt under July sun. Because of the acorns I could not practice sliding in our backyard. I’d give myself charley horses that I’d try to roll out of my sides and hips with clothespins.
So I practiced my sliding in a clearing of the woods near our house. The ground was smooth, like the ridge of your palm, grass with a spring-loaded floor. It was easy to slide and bounce right back up, like you’d stolen second and the the catcher’s throw had skipped past the shortstop and now might be time to lay a claim on third as well before the center fielder could arrow your ass. People always talk about the powerful throwing arms of outfielders being like guns, but I thought of them as crossbows, that arrow coming down, sky-piercing, halting your legacy as a baserunner—at least for that attempted trip around the diamond.