Tuesday, May 10, 2011

exercises in restraint

I don't know how to throw, hit or catch a ball. I have no aim, no follow-through, no swagger. It's a glaring omission from my jock's repertoire, but I was a bookish kid, a late-blooming athlete. In school, I barely participated in P.E. Even tetherball filled me with existential dread.

My dad was an obsessive baseball fan, but he was a listener -- not a player. The dial on his car radio never strayed from 660 AM, New York's WFAN. It became the soundtrack to certain stretches of my childhood: every other weekend and then, for a few years after I'd moved to Phoenix with my mother, Long Island summers. But when my dad moved to Florida, that signal faded, and I didn't see him anymore. I read A Fan's Notes in my mid-20s, and it remains one of my favorite books. Exquisitely written, it's a brilliant portrait of the emptiness found at the heart of fandom.

My mom worked all the time, but she wasn't really a thrower anyway. She is a nurse, but once, she was a surfer. In her late teens or early 20s, she went surfing during a hurricane, lost her board and then found it again when it smashed her in the face. Late 1960s reconstructive surgery left her with a golf ball-sized lump above her cheekbone, which I don't really see when I look at her. She's my mother after all -- in possession of the first face I ever laid eyes upon. I never realized there was anything wrong with it until she told the surfing story, which delighted me as a child. Another beloved mom story: the time she drank gasoline. Another favorite: the time she and her first husband robbed two members of Steely Dan at gunpoint. Another favorite: the time she jumped off the Bayville drawbridge on a dare. Every time I rode shotgun over that bridge as a kid, I pictured my teenage mother, plummeting.

I didn't throw things to my half-brother, either. Seven years my junior, we mostly watched TV together. Sometimes we played Nintendo. During the excruciating Phoenix summers, we played Marco Polo in our condominium complex's swimming pool, enclosed inside a gated stucco fortress, posted signs warning "no lifeguard on duty." Mostly we floated on inner tubes, barely moving across the too-blue water, basted in chlorine, hors d'oeuvres crisping under the sun.

At the beach a couple of weekends ago, I tried to play frisbee, but quickly became frustrated with my ineptitude. My friends were patient, but I don't enjoy doing things I'm bad at. I bowed out of the game, sat on my towel, and watched Dicky wade slowly, gingerly into the rocky ocean. He hadn't been interested in frisbee. His white shoulders reflected the sunlight and I felt a kinship with him: we were aliens here, desert people. But really, we weren't: I spent my earliest years on Long Island, he on the Jersey Shore. Displaced persons, we craved the warm Atlantic.

I have spent several summers, with multi-year gaps in between, on this particular beach in Corona del Mar, and this will probably be my last. During those gaps, other lives were hatched. In front of Chris's parents' house, a "for sale" sign hangs with the "sold" attachment dangling beneath. It's not a private beach, but there is a gate at the end of his street, and his parents still hold the key for now.

My mother's home is also sold. In a few weeks, she'll move from her four-bedroom stucco Peoria home to a North Phoenix stucco condominium that she plans to share with my brother, who is now 25.

While I'm not a thrower or a catcher, I am tenacious. On the beach in Corona del Mar, Dicky moved carefully through the water, and I rose from my towel. I let Jesse toss me the frisbee again, and this time, I caught it in my cleavage.

Game, set, match.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this post!