Curveballs, Sliders & Snacks


Tristan can hear the distant cheering.  Under the blistering South Texas sun, just a couple blocks from his house, stands the American Little League Ballpark.  Faded white paint peels from the plywood boards of the field house.  Only the Coca-Cola sign looks new.

          “Hey batter batter, hey batter batter, swing batter!”

Before he reaches its rusty gates, he can hear the droning chatter of the outfielders.  They hunker into position, decked out in crisp polyester uniforms, their eyes drilling holes into the batter while hoping that their racket will prevent him from drilling one into the outfield; or worse, over the fence.

Tristan doesn’t actually play baseball.  His arm in a sling, he hangs around the four-foot baseline fences waiting for something to happen.  The crack of the bat might send that shiny white orb spinning into foul territory, out of play.

          “Foul ball!  Return that ball to the concession stand for a free snow cone!”

The tin can PA announcement is his cue.  In that mad rush for the wayward ball, Tristan knows the golden rule of foul balls: slide, don’t dive.  Divers taste the salty clay, feel it stinging their eyes, smell the sun-baked mud off of someone else’s cleats.  Savvy sliders are rewarded with the syrupy sweetness of snow cones, their lips turning red from the strawberry, or blue from the fruity coconut.

Tristan always slides.  This time he is the first one there.  His patience has paid off as he cups the ball between his cast and his side.  He sees the sweaty faces of the other boys, soured in midstride.  He makes up his mind: today it will be coconut.

Upon turning that stray ball in, he is reminded of the real reason they all hang out at the ballpark: the snack stand.  Housed in back of the rickety grandstand, below the press box, is the finest collection of teeth-rotting tasties a boy could want. Pony-tailed girls in team shirts hold Lik-A-Maid packets in their dark olive hands while whining grimy little brothers clamor for a taste of grape, cherry, or sour lime sugar. Cotton candy scents waft in the slight breeze. Briny-faced boys munch on dollar dill pickles. Their slurping almost makes Tristan pucker.  But then the spicy smells of Frito pies catch his attention. A team mom is loaded down with six of those crunchy concoctions of corn chips and queso , steaming chili sauce lathered on top.  Nearby, two brothers grapple over a greasy box of buttery popcorn, each balancing his bubbling cup of Coke.

And sooner or later, something lands on the ground.  A white wrapper; an unused dipping stick; crumbled fritos.  Half of a bubbling Coke.

Then another noisy chattering begins, piercing and squawking.  The wily white seagulls that have made the trip from the J.C. Elliot landfill have been waiting for wandering morsels.  Vultures of the sea, they are ravenous.  Feathers fly and beaks flicker and bicker over the litter on the grass.  Tristan knows better than to feed them anything.  When all the people go home, they will go home.

When the clanking of the bat ceases, when the chattering dies down, Tristan trudges home, his tummy full.  Maybe he’ll cut through the alley and outrun Bear, the bushy beast-hound who guards his favorite shortcut to the ballpark.  Maybe he’ll just take the longer route under the setting sun, taking in the cooling breeze under the purpling sky.  Yes, the long way today.  Anyway, he still has half a bag of Laffy Taffy to finish.

© 2009 Daniel Alegria

Starry Wars


No new stories forthcoming as of now because my wife and I have decided to remodel our kitchen before moving on with our lives.  We just decided it the other day, as easily as deciding to pick up McDonald’s on the way home.  We will probably look back for years and debate the financial merits of our decision, but sometimes you just have to go with a gut feeling, especially when you have one at exactly the same time.

That’s how Sally and I operate.  When we both have an idea at roughly the same time, or are feeling the same about handling a particular problem we are facing, you may as well write it in stone: that’s just what we’re gonna do.  And this is remarkable for many reasons, not least of which is I am a Star Wars person, while she is a Star Trek person.

I’d like to say we are both a couple of nerds, but that would fail to recognize the important differences in our quirkiness.  I, on the one hand, am a pure nerd, head full of useless information, always eager to share it, lacking in so many ill-defined social graces.  But my wife is a dork, and she knows it.  She comes from a family of dorks, strange but witty people who joke and pun all day and care not a whit what other people think of them.  They hold up signboards with their names… in airports…in front of people.  A nerd can’t help but make a fool of himself; a dork takes foolishness to an art.

Anyway, our marriage is fueled by these fine distinctions, as well as our polar opposite affinities for sci-fi humor.  She speaks to me in Trek references and I speak to her in Star Wars phrases.  And we understand one another.  The other day I was headed home from an excursion to Home Depot and I called her up.  The conversation went like this:  “Hello?” she answered.  “Hey, babe.”  “Hi honey; are you headed back?”  “I need you to move the fleet away from the Death Star,” I informed her.  “Okay, I’ll throw on some shoes in a minute.”  She knew that I meant I wanted her to move the Tahoe away from the front entrance so that I could load and unload the truck more easily.  No other explanation necessary; the woman knows me.

I still hope that she will one day acknowledge the superiority of the Star Wars saga.  She still loves William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the whole Star Trek enterprise (a pun :-P).  So for now, she drives at warp speed while I travel in hyperspace.  She invokes logic while I use Jedi mind tricks.  She’s a dork from the Midwest and I’m a nerd from a galaxy far, far away.  And we like it like that.

The Walmart Effect


My sincere hope was that Home Depot would carry a scientific calculator.  I’m not sure what made me think this.  As I approached the tool aisle I could already see from a distance that I would be disappointed.  There were only two different calculators hanging on hooks and neither one of them was smarter than a fifth grader.  Oh well; I tried.  I resigned myself at that moment to a trip to the Walmart across the highway knowing full well what would happen: the Walmart effect.

I went in with the intention of buying a Casio solar scientific calculator, the one I’ve used since my college days (since which the price has gone from $15.00 twenty years ago to $7.00 now; with inflation, that’s less than $4.00,  giving a clue as to how much they were screwing us twenty years ago.)  Alas, I came out with a calculator, a set of 500-thread bed sheets, a matching throw, Alice in Wonderland on DVD (what else would it be on?), and only narrowly avoided a ready-to-bake pizza, Starbuck’s dark chocolate mocha frappucino, and coconut M&Ms.  I went in intending to spend seven dollars and I spent a hundred and thirty-eight.

There comes a point at which convenience is criminal.  Even a convenience store jacks up their prices to prevent you from going hog wild.  But Walmart?  So much variety, so much color, so much of everything you need, want, or fancy; this plus millions of dollars of psychological research conducted over decades on unsuspecting shoppers in order to figure out what makes their wallets tick; all at rock bottom prices; it has its effect on me, to say the least.

I’m gonna love my new sheets, though.