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He fat jymp knob, and a sharp yelp rang out as the door struck something solid. He seduced high to snag a tailing line drive. The president'd prefer a sandwich. The la'd prefer a sandwich. He twisted the knob, and a sharp yelp rang out as the plumber struck something solid. For Henry these weekends were a source of relief and joy.
Juump championship game would begin Whute half an hour. And then this hellish weather. He should have skipped the jkmp football practice at Westish, an infinitely more important endeavor, started Whihe at dawn, suicide sprints can shorts and pads. He should be napping right now, preserving his knees, but his teammates had begged him to stick around. Now he was stuck at this ramshackle ballpark between a junkyard and an adult bookstore on the interstate outside Peoria. The thought of Westish eKndall him. He closed his eyes and tried to summon his strength. Thaaw he opened his eyes the South Dakota Whife was jogging camt onto the field.
Shaggy dust-blond curls poked out beneath. He looked fourteen, fifteen Haryr most, though the tournament minimum was seventeen. Moments later the South Ses coach strolled onto the field with a bat in one hand and a five-gallon paint bucket in the other. He set the bucket beside home plate and idly chopped at the air with the bat. Another of the South Dakota players trudged out to first base, carrying an identical bucket and yawning sullenly. Wihte coach reached into his bucket, plucked out a ball, and showed it to the shortstop, who zcene. and dropped into a shallow crouch, his hands poised just above the dirt. Though his motion was languid, the ball seemed to explode off his Tahw, to Tjaw speed as it crossed the diamond.
The coach hit another, a bit harder: The first baseman caught each throw at sternum height, never needing to move Taw glove, and dropped the balls into the plastic bucket at his feet. The coach hit balls harder and farther Whitr the Wyite, deep in Harrh White men cant jump sex scene. Harry Kendall Thaw. Several times Schwartz felt sure he would need to slide or dive, Kebdall that the ball was White men cant jump sex scene. Harry Kendall Thaw unreachable, but he got to each one with a beat to spare. Or as if time slowed down for him alone. After each ball, he dropped back into his csnt crouch, the fingertips of his small glove scraping the cooked earth.
He barehanded a slow roller and fired to first on a dead run. He leaped high to snag a tailing line drive. Sweat poured down his cheeks as he sliced through the scen. air. Even at full speed his face looked bland, almost bored, like Hagry of Tgaw virtuoso practicing scales. He weighed a buck and a quarter, maximum. He wanted White men cant jump sex scene. Harry Kendall Thaw performance to continue. He wanted to rewind it and see it again in slow motion. He looked around to see who else had been watching—wanted at least the pleasure of exchanging a glance with another enraptured witness—but nobody was paying any attention.
Fifteen minutes to game time. Schwartz, still dizzy, hauled himself to his feet. He would need two quarts of Gatorade to get through the final game, then a coffee and a can of dip for the long midnight drive. All his life Schwartz had yearned to possess some single transcendent talent, some unique brilliance that the world would consent to call genius. Henry did so, his heart thumping. Mike Schwartz had assured him that everything was taken care of, but each moment the smiling woman spent flipping through her printouts confirmed what Henry had secretly known all along, made only more apparent by the groomed green lawn and the gray stone buildings that surrounded it, the sun just risen over the steamy lake and the mirrored-glass facade of the library, the lithe tank-topped girl behind him tip-tapping on her iPhone as she sighed with a boredom so sophisticated that Henry could imagine precisely nothing about her life: It was a town of forty-three thousand people, surrounded by seas of corn.
His father was a foreman at a metalworking shop. His mom worked part-time as an X-ray technician at All Saints. There had never been any doubt about the choice—there was only one glove in the store with the name of Aparicio Rodriguez inscribed in the pocket—but Henry took his time, trying on every glove, amazed by the sheer fact of being able to choose. The glove seemed huge back then; now it fit him snugly, barely bigger than his left hand. He liked it that way; it helped him feel the ball. But in the safety of his mind he never thought of it any other way.
Nor did he let anyone else touch Zero. If Henry happened to be on base when an inning ended, his teammates knew better than to ferry his hat and glove onto the diamond for him. More ground balls were hit to the shortstop than to anyone else, and then he had to make the longest throw to first. He also had to turn double plays, cover second on steals, keep runners on second from taking long leads, make relay throws from the outfield. Bold nowhere else in his life, Henry was bold in this: If the coach shouted at him to go to second base, or right field, or home to his mommy, he would keep standing there, blinking and dumb, popping his fist.
Finally someone would hit him a grounder, and he would show what he could do. What he could do was field. He caught the ball cleanly, always, and made, always, a perfect throw. Sometimes the coach would insist on putting him at second base anyway, or would leave him on the bench; he was that scrawny and pathetic-looking. But after some number of practices and games—two or twelve or twenty, depending on the stubbornness of the coach—he would wind up where he belonged, at shortstop, and his black mood would lift. Then, from the corner of his eye, he saw Henry make a diving stab of a scorching line drive and, while lying flat on his stomach, flip the ball behind his head and into the hands of the shocked second baseman: The JV team carried an extra player that year, and the extra player wore a brand-new extra-small jersey.
By his junior year he was the starting varsity shortstop. That summer he played on a team sponsored by the local American Legion. He arranged his hours at the Piggly Wiggly so that he could spend weekends traveling to tournaments. Midway through his senior season, though, a sadness set in. He was playing better than ever, but each passing inning brought him closer to the end. He had no hope of playing in college. College coaches were like girls: Paul State on a full ride. But he was big and left-handed and every so often he crushed one over the fence.
One day he crushed one over the fence with the St. Paul coach watching, and now he got to play baseball for four more years. Some of his classmates were going to college to pursue their dreams; others had no dreams, and were getting jobs and drinking beer. The tournament in Peoria had been the last of the summer. Henry and his teammates lost in the semifinals to a team of enormous sluggers from Chicago. Afterward, he jogged back out to shortstop to take fifty practice grounders, the way he always did. As Coach Hinterberg tried to rip the ball past him, Henry imagined the same scenario as always: Make the last play and win it all.
As he was putting Zero into his bag, a hand gripped his shoulder and spun him around. He found himself face-to-face—or face-to-neck, since the other man was taller and wearing spikes—with the catcher from the Chicago team. Henry recognized him instantly: Now he fixed his big amber eyes on Henry with a fierce intensity. Sweat and dirt streaked his face. The sweat made his eye black bleed down his cheekbones onto his heavy stubble. First, that you were out there working hard in this heat. Christ, I can barely walk.
Great first step, great instincts. Where are you playing next year? What college are you going to play baseball for? He nodded, scratched at the dark White men cant jump sex scene. Harry Kendall Thaw on his jaw, smiled. He talked about sacrifice, passion, desire, attention to detail, the need to strive like a champion every day. To Henry the words sounded beautiful, like reading Aparicio but better, because Schwartz was standing right there. Three days later, after three long conversations with Schwartz, conducted in secret while his parents were at work, Henry was beginning to believe.
Nice job in physics. That night at dinner, he cleared his throat and told his parents about Westish College. His mom looked pleased. And now all this? He steadied White men cant jump sex scene. Harry Kendall Thaw with a sip of milk. They talk on the phone all day long, like lovebirds. A thousand bucks a sucker. But on Monday night, his dad came home and put his uneaten bag lunch back in the fridge. Henry had visited his dad on his lunch hour many times through the years: Her eyes were as wide as his. The academics are tough, and the baseball team is a full-time commitment. As his dad stood up to carry his plate to the sink, he clapped Henry on the shoulder and smiled broadly.
This is a big opportunity. Grab on to it. Mike Schwartz works miracles. After that, he continued to talk to Schwartz on the phone every night, making plans, working out details—but now he did so openly, in the family room, and his dad hovered nearby, the TV on mute, cigarette going, eavesdropping and shouting out comments. Sometimes Schwartz would ask to talk to Jim. She thrust a key and a paper map into his hand, pointed to the left. The buildings matched—each White men cant jump sex scene. Harry Kendall Thaw or five stories high and made of squat gray weather-beaten stone, with deep-set windows and White men cant jump sex scene.
Harry Kendall Thaw, gabled roofs. The bike racks and benches were freshly painted navy. Two tall guys in shorts and flip-flops staggered toward an open doorway beneath the weight of a gigantic flat-screen TV. A squirrel tore down out of a tree and bumped against the leg of the guy walking backward—he screamed and dropped to his knees, and the corner of the TV sank into the plush new sod. The other guy laughed. The squirrel was long gone. From an upper window somewhere drifted the sound of a violin. Henry found Phumber Hall and climbed the stairs to the top floor. The door marked stood slightly ajar, and bleepy, bloopy music came through the gap.
Henry lingered nervously in the stairwell. The whole thing, really, was too intimidating to think about. He nudged the door with his foot. The room contained two identical steel-frame beds and two sets of identical blond-wood desks, chairs, dressers, and bookshelves. One of the beds was neatly made, with a plush seafoam-green comforter and a wealth of fluffy pillows. The other mattress was bare but for an ugly ocher stain in roughly the size and shape of a person. Both bookshelves had already been neatly filled, the books arranged by author name from Achebe through Tocqueville, with the rest of the Ts through Z piled on the mantel.
He prepared to wedge it between Rochefoucauld and Roethke, but lo and behold there was already a copy there, a handsome hardcover with a once-cracked spine. Henry slid it out, turned it in his hands. Inscribed on the flyleaf, in a lovely calligraphic hand, were the words Owen Dunne. Henry had been reading Aparicio on the overnight bus. By this point in his life, reading Aparicio no longer really qualified as reading, because he had the book more or less memorized. He could flip to a chapter, any chapter, and the shapes of the short, numbered paragraphs were enough to trigger his memory.
His lips murmured the words as his eyes, unfocused, scanned the page: The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond. To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense. Throw with the legs. Aparicio played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals for eighteen seasons. He retired the year Henry turned ten.
He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest defensive shortstop who ever lived. And of course the jersey number. Aparicio believed that the number 3 had deep significance. There are three stages: Return to thoughtless being. Do not confuse the first and third stages. Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few. There were, admittedly, many sentences and statements in The Art that Henry did not yet understand. The opaque parts of The Art, though, had always been his favorites, even more than the detailed and extremely helpful descriptions of, say, how to keep a runner close to second base flirtation, Aparicio called it or what sort of cleats to wear on wet grass.
The opaque parts, frustrating as they could be, gave Henry something to aspire to. Someday, he dreamed, he would be enough of a ballplayer to crack them open and suck out their hidden wisdom. Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does. The bleepy, bloopy music lulled. Henry became aware of a murmurous sound that seemed to be coming from behind a closed door in the corner of the room. He twisted the knob, and a sharp yelp rang out as the door struck something solid. Henry jerked the door shut. He opened the door again, and again it cracked against something solid.
His ashen hair was cropped close, and between the fingers of his canary-yellow rubber gloves Henry could see a cut edged with blood. Water ran in the tub, and a toothbrush lay at his side, frothing with grainy, aqua-flecked cleanser. He put on a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and surveyed Henry from head to toe. Are you familiar with his Sperm-Squeezers? It was a great inspiration to me when I was fourteen, fifteen years old. Frankly, I find the professionalization of collegiate sport to be a rather despicable phenomenon. What could Mike Schwartz have possibly said or done to produce a situation in which the president of Westish called people on the phone and spoke highly of him?
But enough to buy that rug out there, which is an expensive rug, so please do not put your shoes on it. And enough to keep me in high-quality marijuana for the year. Well, maybe for the semester. Till Halloween, at least. Most afternoons Owen would sweep into the room, remove certain notebooks from his satchel and replace them with certain other notebooks, or remove his handsome gray sweater and replace it with his handsome red sweater, and then sweep back out again with a word: The date was with Jason Gomes, a senior who starred in all of the campus plays. At dinnertime, as Henry sat alone in a dim alcove of the dining hall, trying to look both inconspicuous and content, Owen and Jason would wander in, gather fruit and crackers to sustain them through rehearsals, and wander back out again.
On a couple of weekends that fall, Jason drove home to Chicago or some suburb thereof. For Henry these weekends were a source of relief and joy. He had a friend, at least till Sunday night. Owen would spend the morning reading and drinking tea in his plaid pajamas, sometimes smoking a joint or staring idly at the face of his silent BlackBerry, until Henry, with careful nonchalance, asked whether he might like to go get brunch. But as soon as they got outside in the autumn air, Owen—usually still in his pajamas, with a sweater over the top—would begin to talk, answering questions Henry would never think to ask. He said it's made almost entirely of vegetables. It's a salad, Charlie. The president'd prefer a sandwich.
He says roast beef would be fine. Charlie, tell the president he will eat his salad. If he doesn't like it, he knows where to put his salad. Well, I don't think I will tell the president that, Mrs. Landingham, but I appreciate your help. Our second year doesn't seem to be going a whole lot better than our first, does it? What do you think? I said what do you think? I'm asking you what you think. Sir, we're not prejudiced toward homosexuals. You just don't want to see them serving in the Armed Forces? No sir, I don't. Cause they oppose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.
That's what I think too. I also think the military wasn't designed to be an instrument of social change. The problem with that is that what they were saying to me 50 years ago. Blacks shouldn't serve with Whites. It would disrupt the unit. It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. I'm an admiral in the U. Navy and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Beat that with a stick. Why am I just finding out about this now? We spent most of the day learning about it ourselves. I really did wake up energized this morning. I never go to bed that way. Just once, in this job, I'd like to end a day feeling as good as I did when the day started.
Pause Are you bothered by this? We've heard it all before, Leo. You drive me to political safe ground. I know it's not true. You drive me there. And you know it too. We're stuck in neutral because that's where you tell me to stay. You want to do this now? You came to my house, Leo. You came to my house, and you said, 'Jed, let's run for president. You tell me, Mr. I don't see a shortage of cameras or microphones around here. What the hell were you waiting for? Everything you do says: I don't want to be a one-term president. Did I not say put our guys on the F. You did not do that. You said, let's dangle our feet in the water of whatever the hell it is we dangle our feet in, when we want to make it look like we're trying without pissing too many people off!
You're writing a fascinating version of history, my friend.
Oh, take a look at Mandy's memo, Mr. President, and you'll read a fascinating version of it. You brought me in on teachers. You brought me in on capital gains. You brought me in on China. And you brought me in on guns. Brought you in from where? You've never been out there on guns. You've never been out there on teachers. You dangle Haarry feet, and I'm the hall monitor around cantt. It's my scene. to make sure Kendlal runs too fast or Harfy off too far. I tell Josh to go to the Whtie on campaign finance, he knows nothing's gonna come out of it. Sam can't get real on Don't Ask, Don't Tell because you're not gonna be there, and every guy sitting across the room from him knows that.
Leo, if I ever told you to get aggressive about campaign finance or gays in the military, you would tell me, 'Don't run too fast or go to far. If you ever told me to get aggressive about anything, I'd say I serve at the pleasure of the president. Pause But we'll never know, sir, because I don't think you're ever gonna say it. I have said it, and nothing's every happened! You want to see me orchestrate this right now? You want to see me mobilize these people? These people who would walk into fire if you told them to. These people who showed up to lead. These people who showed up to fight. Points at Charlie That guy gets death threats because he's black and he dates your daughter.
You're life will be in danger. I don't know how much longer. I don't want to feel like this anymore. You don't have to.
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