Out At Home

by Willard Manus

“You’re making a big mistake,” Maz said. “You realize that, don’t you?”

As Billy hung his head Maz kept after him. “Have you really thought about what you’re doing?”

Billy made a face, prompting Whitey, a small, ravaged old-timer sitting nearby, to chime in. “It ain’t too late to change your mind, kid.”

“That’s right,” Maz said. “Say the word and all will be forgiven.”

Billy fought back tears. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I gotta do what my father says.”

“And just why is that?”
“Hey, Maz, give the kid a break,” Whitey said. “He’s just obeyin’ the Ten Commandments, the one about honoring thine father and mother–-“

”We’re talkin’ baseball here, not the bible,” Maz replied testily. He turned to Billy. “Tell me something. Has your father ever hung out in the bleachers?”

“You know the answer to that.”

“I want to hear it from you.”

“He doesn’t have time to go to ball-games. He works two jobs to make a living.”

“So he has no idea about what goes on here, right?”

“He roots for the Giants as best he can.”

“Rootin’ for the Giants is one thing, knowin’ what life is like in the bleachers is another. Ain’t that right?”

Billy could only shrug his shoulders.

Whitey spoke up for Billy again. “It’s a sin to go against the bible, Maz.”

“Who asked you to butt in?”

“I got every right to express my opinion.” He looked at Billy through his red, watery eyes. “Stick up for yourself, kid.”

Billy did just that. “My family is moving to Brooklyn,” he explained. “We found an apartment right next to Ebbets Field.”

“Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers!” Maz spat.

“I’ll be able to walk to the ballpark and catch a game whenever I want–-“

”Am I supposed to be impressed?”

“I’m just trying to explain why it makes sense for me to become a Dodger fan.”

“Once a Giants fan, always a Giants fan,” Whitey insisted. “That is an undisputable fact.”

“Don’t listen to him,” came the voice of a young bleacherite known as Lemonhead. He plumped down in a seat, two rows down from Maz and Billy. “Whitey is full of shit.”

“Lemonhead, if you know what’s good for you, you will shut your goddamn trap.”

“I heard what youz guys said to Billy. You got no business breakin’ his balls like that.”

“We’re doin’ it for a good reason. He intends to root for the Dodgers.”

“Can you blame him? He’ll be stuck in the middle of the Ebbets Field bleachers, surrounded by thousands of Dodger fans.”

“You’d root for Brooklyn yourself, if you were me,” Billy said.

“Never!” Maz shouted. “Never in a million years!”

* * *

The argument broke off when some of the other fans began to arrive. First was Wrigley, a large rotund black man who, despite the July heat, wore a dark suit and tie, and a derby hat. Chewing on a cheap cigar, he slipped into a seat not far from Maz.

He was followed by Louie d’Alessandro, a short, bald, squat gent with a pair of binoculars slung round his neck. Moving slowly, arthritically, he headed down the steps to the first row of the bleachers, where he plumped down and peered out through the protective screen at the ballfield, some five hundred feet away, where batting practice was being held.

Then Hershey the Vendor showed up, carrying a tray of drinks. “Getcha beers,” he cried out, “get ’em while they’re still cold and fresh!”

Whitey was the first to buy, then Maz. Lemonhead, whose close-cropped skull truly did resemble a lemon, started peeling an apple with his penknife. Wrigley sat meditatively, chewing on his stogie. Louie kept his glasses trained on the ballfield.

After gulping down some beer, Maz went back to work on Billy. “I can’t understand why you feel the need to become a Dodger fan. Look at Wrigley here. Why don’tcha follow his example?”

“That’s right,” the slightly tipsy Whitey said. “You should immulate good old Wrigley. He was born in Chicago and grew up in Wrigley Field. Then he moved to New York and came here to watch the Giants play–-“

”Correction,” Wrigley said. “I came here to watch baseball, not the Giants.”

“Okay, okay, we got that. You ain’t a Giants fan, you’re a Chicago Cubs fan–-“

”A loyal Cubs fan!”

“That’s exactly the point I’m makin’,” Maz said.

“And just what is that?” Lemonhead wanted to know.

“Wrigley sits here in the Polo Grounds bleachers, surrounded by Giants fans, yet he still remains loyal to the Cubbies.”

“You got that right!” Wrigley exclaimed.

Maz turned to Billy. “Did you hear that? It proves you can still root for the Giants no matter where life takes you.”

Louie turned and contributed his bit of wisdom. “It’s what’s in your heart that counts.”

Billy reminded them that when Wrigley first came to the Polo Grounds bleachers, he wasn’t alone, he had Louie by his side. “They knew each other from the post office.”

“We worked there together for thirty years,” Louie said. “Thirty fuckin’ years!” Wrigley added.

“But I don’t have any friends in Brooklyn,” Billy continued. “I’ll be on my own in Ebbets Fields.”

“So what? Are you scairt of those Dodger fans?”

“Wouldn’t you be?”

“Not for a single goddamn minute!” Maz shouted. The big, hulking construction worker lifted a fist and waved it around. “I’d punch out anyone who tried to give me a hard time!”

“Sorry,” Billy said. “I ain’t you, Maz.”

Maz threw up his hands in disgust. “I’ve had it,” he muttered. “I can’t get through to this kid.” He looked over at Louie. “Talk to him,” he said. “See if you can straighten him out.”

Louie lowered his binoculars and fought to stand up. Then, ever so slowly and painfully, he clambered up the steps and slipped into a seat beside Billy.

“I remember the first day you showed up here,” he said quietly, “with your lunch bag in one hand and a notebook in the other.”

“How come you always carry a notebook?” Lemonhead interrupted. “It ain’t a natural thing to do.”

“Shut up, Lemonhead!” Louie suddenly barked. “Mind your own business.” He turned back to the kid.

“Point is, you arrived here all alone. You didn’t know a soul, did you?”

Billy shrugged his shoulders.

“We could have told you to sit by yourself, at the top of the bleachers,” Louie said. “But instead Maz took a liking to you and invited you to sit down here with us. Within a month he allowed you to sit beside him. Do you realize what an honor that was? Maz was our leader! Yet he let you sit right by him!”

“You took my spot,” Lemonhead complained. “I sat beside Maz for years but then you came along and squeezed me out!”

“For a very good reason,” Maz said. “I’d had it up to here with your stupid remarks and nutty behavior!”

“Maz did the right thing,” Whitey cut in. “You get on everyone’s nerves,” he told Lemonhead. “You’re a mental case!”

“Look who’s talkin’, the original Bowery Bum himself!”

“Shut up, both of you!” Maz shouted. “I don’t want to hear no more crap out of you!”

“Blow it out your ass!” was Whitey’s blunt reply. Then he turned back to Billy: “I treated you pretty good, didn’t I? I bought you your first beer.”

“No argument there.”

“How old were you at the time?”

“Twelve,” Billy said.

“There you are. I helped you become a man.”

“That’s nothing compared to what Maz did for him,” Louie said. “He talked all the time to Billy...and not just about baseball either. He helped him grow up.”

“He also bought him the cap he’s wearing,” chimed in Wrigley.

“It was for Billy’s thirteenth birthday and to celebrate his first year with us.”

“That ain’t no ordinary baseball cap either,” Maz said. “It’s an authentic New York Giants baseball cap, the same kind of cap Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott wore–-“

”And don’t forget Willie Mays,” Wrigley reminded him.

“That’s right, the say-hey kid himself!” Lemonhead yelled.

“It was a special present, one I knew you’d like,” Maz said to Billy. “But now, in light of all you have said, I want the cap back!”

Tears came to Billy’s eyes. “But I love this cap!”

“Only a genuine Giants fan should be allowed to wear it. Only someone who is loyal to the team!”
Lemonhead reached up and tried to grab the cap. “Din’tcha hear what Maz said? Give him back his cap!”

“Let go, goddammit!”

They grappled over the cap. Lemonhead finally managed to wrest it away from Billy. He held it up and shouted, “It belongs to me now!”

Billy threw a punch at Lemonhead, landing a shot to the jaw that stunned him, made him drop the cap.

Billy scooped it up.

Lemonhead reached for his penknife, opened it and pointed the blade at Billy. “Gimme that fuckin’ cap! Hand it back!”

Billy reluctantly let go of it. Lemonhead clapped it atop his head and danced around, shouting giddily, “I’ve got your cap and now I’m gonna take your seat as well. I’m the one who’s gonna be sitting alongside Maz from now on!”

Billy shot an anguished look at Maz.

“Is that right?”

“I’m afraid so. Your time is finished here.”

“Maz, please–-“

”Shut up,” Maz said. “Go find yourself a seat in Ebbets Field.”

Billy looked around at the others. No one met his gaze. He turned, picked up his notebook and and started to climb the bleacher’s steps. Lemonhead suddenly lunged at him, shouting, “Gimme that notebook!”

“No, dammit–!”

Lemonhead produced his knife again. “Give it I said!”

Billy, in tears again, had no choice but to obey him.

Then he turned and started to make the long, lonely climb up to the top of the bleachers. Lemonhead opened the notebook.

“Hey, Maz,” he suddenly shouted. “You’ll never guess what he’s been writin’!”

“What do you mean? He’s been keepin’ score, right?”

“Keepin’ score, my ass! It’s full of other stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“I don’t know. You tell me. I don’t read so good.”

Maz took the notebook and flicked through it. Then he glanced over at the others and said, “It’s all about us–-how Wrigley always wears a black suit and derby, how he and Louie worked the night shift at the post office so’s they could spend their days in the bleachers, how Whitey gets drunk on beer all the time.”

Maz turned to another page.

“Listen to this.” He read from it. “I wish I could tell Maz and the guys just how much they have meant to me. I wish I could thank them for all the kindness they have shown me, a kid sitting with a bunch of grown men who treated me as an equal. I have come to respect, admire...and even love them.”
Maz put the notebook down. He and the other bleacherites sat in a stunned, embarrassed kind of silence.

Then Lemonhead cried out, “Who gave him permission to write about us? Who the hell does he think he is–-some kind of writer?”

He turned and called up to Billy. “You ain’t no writer! You ain’t nuthin’, do you hear? You’re just a dirty stinkin’ little traitor, a goddamn Dodger fan!”

The others stared down at their shoes. Billy looked upon them through eyes that were wet with tears.