The Greatest Game



800 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

Neighborhood: Across the River, Letter From Abroad

The Greatest Game
Photo by Ron West

Some people say the 1958 NFL Championship game between New York and Baltimore was the greatest game ever played. Some say it was the playoff game where Carlton Fisk hit that home run. Some say it was the 1980 Olympics when the US Hockey Team beat the Russians. All those people are wrong because I didn’t play in any of those games.

It is 2004. I am 44 years old. I do not have regular income, unless you count the checks I get from our good friends at the Employment Development Department. I drive a car that was old when it was made, and I smoke cigars that linger in my beard long after they’re extinguished.

I play in a men’s softball league where my teammates get on my case about the errors I make, where I can’t hit, and where someone is always yelling at somebody about something, which is usually nothing. This is what I do for fun.

I play the game because it is the only game where I understand all the rules and most of the strategy. That and Monopoly, though to this day I don’t understand the whole thing about mortgaging properties.

I also play ball because when I’m playing ball, that’s all I think about.

At home, I am roommates with my ex-wife’s cat, a vile creature who alternates between screaming, “Why did you make Mommy go away?” and vomiting.

My age, my poverty, my car, my cigars, my athletic ineptitude, and Louise the bulimic cat lead me to believe I must change my life.

Where to start? Well, I keep the cat because I feel like she is a little part of my ex-wife I am supposed to take care of. Yes, I know it’s maudlin. Shut up.

My teammates improve my life by improving theirs. I become a part-time catcher, a position more suitable to my waning defensive prowess.

I cannot get a new car until I get out of debt and being in debt makes me nervous so I smoke. So first I will get out of debt.

By writing a musical.

On The Official List of Making It Big, “writing a musical” comes between “blacksmith” and “potato chip repairman.”

I make about a hundred dollars on the musical. I rethink my approach to Changing My Life.

For one thing, I put Changing My Life in all caps. This time, my age, my poverty, my car, my cigars, my athletic ineptitude, and Louise the bulimic cat lead me to believe I am irresistible to women.

Unfortunately, women, in general, did not get the email.

Over a short period of time, I have dates with too many women. Sometimes 4 a week. They like that I can make time for them until they find out why.

Louise the bulimic cat says, “You would not have to do this if you hadn’t made Mommy go away.”

My songwriting partner says, “Are these dates? Or are these Rondates?” I say, “What is the difference?”

He says, “A date is when interested parties do anything from have coffee to have sex. A Rondate is when you think it is a date and she thinks it is a business meeting about her one woman show, and you are too proud to admit your motive so you end up directing her one woman show.”

On The Official List of Making It Big, after musicals and potato chip repair is “directing one person shows.” I direct 7 one-woman shows. One of the women isn’t even an actress. (Read more about this in my next essay, Directing for Food.)

Happily, between one-woman shows 6 and 7, I meet Sally on the internet.

We meet. She says, “Your car seems fine to me.” She says, “You smell like chocolate.” How interesting. She has a damaged olfactory nerve telling her tobacco is chocolate.

Now there are some problems.

Problem One. She is 21 years younger than me.

I decide this is not a problem.

Honestly, in a lot of ways, she is way more grown up than me. For one thing, she has a job.

Problem Two. We can’t see each other regularly because the musical is going to open in Chicago.

I decide this is not a problem. It will solve the Poverty Problem, which is also now in caps.

Problem Three. Louise the screaming bulimic cat cannot come with me to Chicago. I decide this is definitely not a problem. I get a subletter for the summer, making it her problem.

I say goodbye to my softball team. They don’t say anything. I say goodbye to One Woman Show #8, and I tell Sally, “Maybe you can visit me in Chicago.”

Someone once said, “If a woman sees you do something impossible, you will win her heart.” The person who said this obviously saw Clint Eastwood take a bullet for the President in In the Line of Fire so Renee Russo was required by federal law to fall in love with him.

Impossibly, the musical I have written is on stage in Chicago. Impossibly, Sally sees the musical. More impossibly, I am in the musical. Even more impossibly, after the show, she and I walk down a hallway where impossibly happy audience members applaud me like I am Clint Eastwood who took a bullet for the President.

Sally loves the musical. She likes me. She goes back to LA.

A few weeks pass. I finish work on a Sunday afternoon and get on a plane. I am taking a 48-hour vacation to my own home, where Louise the bulimic cat accuses my Wiccan subletter of using her in satanic rituals.

Sally and I are getting together. Maybe we can play a board game like Monopoly, I say, though I do not understand the rule about mortgaging properties. But she says we have to go to her brother’s birthday party.

At the birthday party, I impress the family because I play catch in the backyard with the brother, who is 11, and who has no adult man in his life.

Once again I achieve the impossible. Usually, when kids see me, they think, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Child Collector. Outta here.”

Since it is a kid’s birthday party, it is over at 6:30pm, which I have not anticipated. We talk about going to a movie, but since I am merely vacationing in California, I have no idea what movie is where when.

Then I say, "Well, my softball team has a game tonight. Would you like to go to that? It is only about an hour and half long."

The girl who thinks I smell like chocolate and who thinks I have a nice car says, “Sure.” Bless her heart.

We go home. I change into my uniform. Louise screams and shows off her vomiting skill to Sally.

I have been away from the team for a while. I figure I will play catcher every other inning and get to bat a couple of times. As it turns out, the team is short-handed. Our manager, who normally plays in the outfield, is going to pitch, and he tells me, "Ron, third base."

I say, "Okay," but I haven’t played third base in this league in two years, and the last time I did, I played very, very badly.

Before the first pitch is thrown, I say aloud, "Dear God in heaven: Please don’t let me screw up in front of this girl."

We are in the field, and the top of the first passes without incident. In the bottom of first, I get up with the bases loaded and hit a single to right and get two rbis.

Now, we take the field. Because of the way our manager is pitching (or because of the way the wind is blowing) a lot of the right-handed batters are hitting the ball to me. A Lot.

I would like to be able to tell you that I field my position with aplomb, that I am the hero of the game. So that’s what I am going to tell you. Because that is what happens.

I field everything. I throw guys out at first. I start double plays. After every inning, the guys come off the field saying, "Great play, Ron West.” It is as if I have paid both teams to participate in an elaborate ruse so it appears I have done The Impossible.

At no point in the course of the game do I think, “I have to be on stage and dancing in 16 hours 2500 miles away.” Because when you’re playing ball, all you think about is playing ball.

There is a guy named Ray on the team I do not get along with. I do not know exactly why. Actually, I do. He is far more able than I am and I played poorly in some games and he was upset about it.

Ray has not talked to me in a year. He has not looked at me in two years. (It now occurs to me he heard me say, “I wrote a musical,” and he is suffering from homophobia.)

Tonight, Ray plays left field. I throw a batter out to end the fifth, and he comes off the field and Starts a Conversation. He says, "I don’t know who she is, but you have to bring her every time."

I get on base 3 times, I field almost all of the balls hit to me, I am awarded the game ball, and we win the game. Sally is delighted.

For a brief time, I am making money, I am cheered by fans, and my old car takes me home to have sex. I am a god. A minor god, but still.

The musical closes in September. Sally and I break up. The age difference which I decided was not a problem is actually a problem. I don’t get a new car and the EDD goes back to being my primary employer. I keep smoking. But then something impossible happens.

Louise the quiet little cat loves me.

Ron West lives in Los Angeles, CA. He and Phil Swann have written The People vs. Friar Laurence and other musicals.

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