The sun was merciless today. I’ve always liked the term “heat wave” even though I’m not too keen on sweating all day, nor the constant possibility of heat exhaustion. But “heat wave” always seems perfectly cinematic when the weather lady utters it. My world was plunged into the sticky ninety-degree weather again in this series of hot days.
Complaining isn’t a preferred method in life or in journalism. Nobody cares and it is not the least bit therapeutic as it only drives me deeper into annoyance. But in truth, I have no place to complain for most of the day I sat in a cozy desk chair, tinkering through reports while lovely arctic breezes pushed through my hair. But throughout the hours at my movie theatre prison, I stumbled through the dark and dreary booth, threading films for the viewing pleasures of a dozen or so lost souls, trying to shake the grogginess from a night of insomnia and consistent days of Jack and Cokes, and all the while thinking forward to my night on the field.
It was Monday, and Monday’s in the early summer, as of last year, meant it was game day. The life of a movie theatre manager gives few luxuries, but I can say one of them has been active roster status in the Greater Philadelphia Area Movie Theatre Softball League. Since my graduation from high school I have searched for bridges between the days of state required physical activity and the long years of declining health ahead of me. After a failed attempt at starting the FM14 Party Express, I later switched movie theatres and instated the Jungle Beasts. This being our second season in, we were well on our way to working out the kinks in our playlist that kept us in a non-victorious prior season. Currently, we have yet to raise our own dirty, glove sweat hands victoriously.
Due to the sweltering heat, I swapped my regular summer time sports drink, (a pint of Lynchburg Lemonade) for a more nourishing jug of water. Today would be a rare un-inebriated day on the softball fields. The sacrifice was easily made. For the days preceding, I’d posted shop unintentionally in a glass of whiskey while giggling with my closest of droogs at such bar room entertainment as the lovable oafs singing karaoke. And not to say the two are linked, but I had been experiencing a pain in my pumper for going on three days. An episode of aching and pressure would hit my heart randomly. I chalked it up to not getting my weekly exercise at softball since the previous Monday was a bye week for the league.
I felt rusty during my first inning as I was thrusted into the role of pitcher. I was a laughable mess, throwing tall arcs that slowly landed in any direction other than the strike zone. My nervous laughter bellowed out after every failed attempt as if in my mind I was watching the latest viral epidemic. After two batters and about two dozen Parkinson’s-infused throws I retired from pitching for the night and took over third base.
From that base, my mind routinely wandered. My heart would ache after a brisk run around the plates leaving me to think about my declining physique. It had been years since I’d competitively played sports. Not since my unfulfilling high school wrestling career had I known intense dedication, regular training, or the life-ensuring triumph and earth shattering sadness of victory and defeat respectively. Looking back, I may have chosen my high school field as the Jungle Beasts’ home turf for the excuse to stroll through old stomping grounds. From my third base vantage point, I gazed upon the extravagant multi-million dollar gym the school had recently finished constructing. The impressive structure was to replace the old gymnasium where I had gone undefeated at home for two straight varsity seasons.
It’s times like this when even a person’s barely legal drinking age is not assurance enough against feeling old. Luckily, I look across the field at the overweight, backwards cap clad, goatee sporting Fred Durst caricature waddling up to bat and am immediately elated. My teammates are the youngest in the league by a decade or two. Every game I see wives sitting in lawn chairs behind the benches tallying scores while their kids take our softball day as an excuse to run wild in the adjoining fields.
It always surprises me to see one of these thirty-something year olds losing their cool on one of the teenage girls playing for the Jungle Beasts over a close call or foul ball. As the pudgy Durst fellow I mentioned earlier stumbled onto the field arguing with one of our female players over a second base play, I noted that fire churning in my stomach that I believe only happens to men when seeing a woman in distress. Ready to make a scene on the field, I began to step forward from third base until the girl silenced the lethargic fellow with a few normal volume, but recognizably hostile snaps that sent him trotting back to the benches with his palms held to the sides of his head as if he didn’t expect such a reaction with his ignorant and inaccurate play calling. I stepped back to base with a smile realizing that women aren’t always tied helplessly to rail road tracks.
As I mentioned, our team has yet to win a single game. That being said we know what it feels like to have our backs against the wall. But I’ve noticed a regular notion I feel when playing (and losing) against these older-in-age-and-softball-experience teams. I often feel like these games are between Young and Old the way kids’ games are between Shirts and Skins. I feel like we have things to prove because we’re much younger and much more agile than the other teams with their bad knees and mortgage problems. The Jungle Beasts are routinely the under dogs partly due to our record but also because who thinks a pack of kids can prosper over grown men? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take great pride in my youth. I feel older people are constantly attacking the young out of jealousy. My music isn’t too loud you’re just too old. My hair isn’t too long you just can’t grow any. And I’m not an alcoholic because a friend once told me that illness can’t set in until you’re at least forty.
There is only one exception to the age gap on the Jungle Beasts and that’s a wily senior citizen named Jim. Where the Jungle Beasts are the youngest team, Jim is the oldest player in the entire league. He’s a silver haired, mustache sporting, lean built guy with a pair of crazy bugged out eyes that live as proof that eyes are the windows to the soul. I have a certain admiration for any person that stands out from the norm. I’d say I particularly like people that are less unique and more so insane. Jim is a man with a lot of years on him and a lot more time punched in at the Psycho Mill. It’s easy for me to relate to Jim. He’s a wild card with a certain set of manners not easily found in people these days. He’s a harsh talker, doesn’t think anymore about telling a priest and an altar boy joke to an unsuspecting female than he does telling a chum the Phillies’ score. At the same time he’s a respectable guy who demands the same respect out of anyone else around him. A handshake from a guy like Jim always carried a special form of gratitude.
With Jim, I never got a whim of that willingness to suck the blood right out of a teenager’s neck for a few more hours of erectile functioning that some older guys give off. To Jim, he did his time on this earth and he did it the way he wanted to. He had a certain walk about him; the strut of a truly self empowered man. I have a theory that Jim avoided all the stigmas that come with old age by avoiding a lot of the chains that bind most people. He’s divorced, estranged from his kids, and has seemed to live many years as a perennial bachelor. He smokes his cigarettes, drinks his beers, plays his softball, and never answers to anyone whether it’s a boss, a wife, or an equal aged grandfather walking his granddaughter across our outfield during game play.
I’m proud to call Jim a friend.
But this day, Jim left early as the game wound down and the Jungle Beasts suffered another tight loss. Like always, I lined the team up and shook the hands of a few overzealous softballers. And with the sun falling and a cool breeze chilling our sweaty foreheads, I thought these were good days. Softball days kept those old men feeling young again. It was like this looked over, uneven field with its grass needing mowing was a fountain of youth. Players could come and bask in its life and energy while the kids ran around behind the benches. Softball is an excuse to go out on a nice day and play in the grass. The inner child in us all is calling and it’s saying softball.