I’ve been pelted with peanuts, bottle caps and bananas, and jolted in the aisle by guys who look innocently skyward but smirk to show that they meant to do it. In Boston last week I got bumped at the urinal and sprayed the wall. My wits and reflexes are viable though I’m seventy–one, and I was able to redirect the flow where it belonged. This was fortunate, for if I had sprayed the bruiser next to me, I likely would have suffered a beating.
I’ve had some of those.
It’s like this. As the tone–deaf relation of some team official finishes strangling the last note of The Star Spangled Banner, I’ll announce, in a friendly tone, “Can’t fault her—it’s such a wickedly hard song to sing.” Simple honesty compels a young man nearby to grunt agreement with me—the contrary old fellow who refused to doff his cap during the Anthem. He’ll scrutinize me and I’ll twinkle back. If I detect a gleam of curiosity, I’ll chuckle and say, “A little odd, to make a patriotic ceremony out of a ballgame.” Most folks shut me down at this point with, “That’s my country you’re talking about—sir,” though a glance should suggest that Sir has walked this land far longer than they. Others toss off non–sequiturs: “Well, baseball’s the classic American game after all.” “True,” I’ll rejoin. “Which is why the compelled observance of a patriotic ritual makes no sense in the land of the free.” One young man raised his beer to that sentiment in Milwaukee. Two beers later, he told me that his great–grandfather organized brewery workers during the Depression and got his skull cracked.
I told him in a confidential hush that I don’t really want to get my skull cracked, but that I don’t intend to crawl towards the grave on my belly, either.
The North Side of Chicago was loads of fun. “He’s just hiding his baldy!” a Bleacher Bum quipped. So I raised my fedora to reveal the snowy waves that Gloria ran her fingers through for forty–five years `til we lost her last winter. Loudly I proclaimed: “My young friends from the land of Studs Terkel, I’m not hiding my head or anything else—least of all my beliefs.” They were all in fine spirits on that balmy afternoon, so I fired my bullet–points as we bantered through the day:
* It’s a deadly dull song.
* It’s militaristic.
* Nobody can sing it.
* It cheapens the Anthem to play it at one–hundred–sixty–two ballgames a year.
* “And most of all, folks, here’s the main thing.” A spindly young man with stringy hair and gleaming gray eyes, the sort of guy you’d picture studying advanced physics or founding an anarchist commune, looked up at me with his chin on his fist. “The essence of America, the very reason we love this country—is freedom. Is independence. Is the god damn right not to stand for the Anthem at a damn baseball game on a Thursday afternoon against the damn red Cardinals of Saint Looey!” For this I received a cloudburst of claps (It’s always good form to dump on the Cards).
The South Side? Not ducky. I attended a day game for safety, but a battery whacked my head just the same. Just a double A.
In New York’s Citi Fields, a literary agent asked me to write a memoir of my Anti–Anthem Ballpark Tour. Yankee Stadium went about as expected. Two huge guys squeezed into the empty seats on either side of me and pressed against me with jovial menace. No problem. My extensive knowledge of Yankee history lulled them by the third inning, and in the sixth, one fell asleep dribbling spittle and beer on my shoulder.
I worked wonders in DC. A lesbian waitress, an NRA lobbyist, a Democratic congressional staffer from California, and a uniformed Navy vet from Virginia led a chorus of jeers that drowned out my effort to point out the irony of suppressing free speech right here in the nation’s capital. “Hey,” I proclaimed during the seventh inning stretch, with arms spread wide to accept their acclaim, “You should thank me for bringing you bickering folks together!” This was right after God Bless America, which I had just condemned as the impetus for the second coerced patriotic display of the day—which, furthermore, compelled allegiance to somebody’s god. Liberals and conservatives alike pelted me with foodstuffs, and I left Washington as The Great Unifier.
There are five cities left of the scheduled thirty. Miami is dicey, for I can’t figure out how to ensure that I sit among migrant Jews from New York and not anti–Castro Cubans. Texas could be fine, for despite their jaw–thrusting patriotism, I think they’ll respect my Texas–sized bravado. My chief fear is Atlanta. Listen. Up in Cleveland, the land of the Indians, I got a five–stitch cut in my lower back from a penknife or something while penguin–waddling through the concourse after the game. Why? Because I had supplemented my anti–Anthem routine with a rant against their racist icon, the savage Chief Wahoo. The toleration of bigotry is not in my game–plan—not now—not at this stage of life—not after so many years of ignoring it.
So when they start up with that god damned racist tomahawk chop, I will say my damned piece—yeah, right there in Georgia, the starting point of The Trail Of Tears, where the Devil went down.
Jon Sindell’s short fiction has appeared in Hobart, Word Riot, Zouch, New South, Many Mountains Moving, Prick Of The Spindle, Switchback, Crack The Spine, and elsewhere. A human, he earns his bread as a personal humanities tutor. He curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco for kicks.