by Terry Hargrove
I brought home another load of my stuff from school yesterday. I now have nine boxes of teaching materials that I won’t need anymore crowded around the computer in my room. Tests, reading skills workbooks, young adult literature, it‘s all here, and looking at it has made me slightly ill. When I wasn‘t paying attention, I became a hoarder. What am I going to do with this stuff? Peering up at it, I feel like I‘m a doomed gladiator in a stadium constructed of cardboard and copies of Romeo and Juliet and The Outsiders are screaming for my blood. It has made me sick.
So I stayed home today, but I’m not getting any better. This morning as she was throwing bags over each shoulder and stumbling toward the door, my wife-mate gave me quite the stare, I can tell you.
“I started the car for you,” I said. “To take the chill off.”
“Thanks,” she mumbled. “Because there’s nothing as uncomfortable as a car when the nighttime temp falls into the mid-50s.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied.
“And think about what I said last night. I’m serious. I know what I’m talking about.”
And she does. That steams me. I hate when I’m wrong about things, a state I find myself in a lot these days, and as much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong about Dan Uggla. Here’s how our conversation went.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It’s a computer, honey,” I said.
“Don’t be a smart ass. I mean this column. Did you publish this?”
“Yeah. Do you like it?” I asked.
“Who the hell is Dan Uggla?” she demanded. “What is this? Is your adventure now that you’re going to become a baseball fan? I know you’ve talked about becoming a weatherman or a professional fisherman or a cowboy, and I supported all those dreams, even the ones I laughed out loud at. But a baseball fan? What kind of adventure is that?”
“Well, you know,” I stumbled. “Dan is a former student of mine…”
“You think he is,” she interrupted.
“Yeah, I think he is. And I just thought it might be interesting to see how our fortunes, you know, coincide.”
She waved her hands in front of her face as if my arguments were gnats. Then she froze, with her fingers on her temples. I hate when she does that, because, even though she has denied ever thinking this, it means she has heard my statements and found them altogether ridiculous.
“I hear you, but this is altogether ridiculous,” she said.
“First, there is nothing in common between you and a professional baseball player. Nothing. Think about that word for a moment. It’s two words in one: no and thing. You have no thing in common.”
“Not true,” I said. “We had room 101 in 1993 and 1994, Or 1994 and 1995, I’m not sure which. Maybe it was 1992 and 1993. I’m thinking there might be some karma here, you know, in a parallel universe sort of way. Please stop waving your hands.”
“OK, OK. Let me speak to you in a language that you can understand. It has to be sufficiently vague, with a few incorrectly used scientific terms. If I get this, you think that your fortunes and Dan Uggla’s are tied together somehow. Right?”
“Right,” and I sighed in relief. “I was afraid you wouldn’t understand.”
“You believe that as his fortunes rise, so will yours, because the two of you are connected by the mystical power of room 101, which you shared in 1992/93/94/95. Somewhere in there. Am I correct so far?”
“You amaze me!”
“But dear,” she said, and she took my hands in hers, “You neglected the quantum entanglements. If your fortunes can rise as his do, isn’t the inverse just as likely? Couldn’t your bad luck flow to him?”
“What are you saying?”
“I think you know what I’m saying. You have lost your job. You are soon to be unemployed. What if your outrageous fortunes bend back toward your former student? Maybe it’s already happened. Where did you find his batting average?”
“On the Florida Marlins website,” I said. “Look, he was hitting .333. He was tied for the lead in home runs.”
“But that was two weeks ago,” she said. “What is his batting average now?”
It only took a moment to find it, and as I stared at the stat, I felt completely deflated.
“Oh no,” I murmured. “Look, his average is down to .281. Two players have passed him for the homerun lead.”
“We’ll call this the Hargrove Effect,” she said. “But there’s no reason to think it will stop here. Suppose Dan suffers some exotic baseball injury such as Second Baseman Elbow or Non-Turf Toe? Suppose he goes into a slump? What if he loses his ability to hit the long ball? What if, and it’s almost too awful to consider, what if he gets traded to the Pirates?”
“No! No! Stop it!” I screamed. “It’s too terrible.”
“Listen,” she added. “I’m sure young Dan has a fan club with thousands of adoring youngsters watching his every move. And it’s all good and well that he should. There are a thousand people who would love nothing better than to latch onto a professional athlete’s fame and feed off it like leeches, people who didn’t have to do any of the work he did to earn his life. Don’t be one of them. He has earned the right to be left alone. It’s his life. It’s not yours. Has he ever contacted you? Does he even remember you? Dan Uggla is part of a fellowship of professional baseball players, a fellowship that numbers perhaps a few hundred. You are going to be unemployed and middle aged. Your club isn’t as glamorous, but it has a lot more members. That’s who you’re writing for.”
And she’s right. She’s right. I closed the Marlins page and breathed a prayer for young Dan, a prayer that his fortunes don’t follow mine. So now I sit in front of the computer, and contemplate how far I have fallen. I still feel kind of sick, but I feel something else. Surrounded by a brown paper stadium constructed with the bricks of my old life, I almost hear a chant go up, a cheer, and I look at my hands and my aging arms, and I wonder if it‘s worth the risk of striking out. I’ve done stupid things before. It’s sort of a hobby of mine, and I’m getting pretty good at it. This might be the time to do something really stupid, astoundingly stupid. I think it might still be in me, to swing for the fences one more time.
I think, if he was here, it’s what Dan would do.