Friday, January 22, 2010

The Author, Chapter Nineteen: The First Sunday

June 12

Saturday night Jeff finished Grave before he went to bed. He was wired when it was done, but he couldn't be bothered to go upstairs to get the second book. The second Wilcox book, he reminded himself, thinking of The Best Year. Instead, he brought his laptop to bed and tinkered with his own book, Hard Time. He knew he needed to add several chapters to help develop his main character, Harvey Clinton, to help justify his personal choices. A new chapter would not come, but he fixed several conversations that seemed clunky.

Jeff awoke more tired than he had been when he turned the light out, and he vaguely remembered dreaming of strange shapes and worlds. He realized that the more he stayed here, the earlier he seemed to be waking up, as it was just a little after nine. He hoped the trend did not continue. He didn't like waiting around for Stuart to wake up, and although there were many books to go in reading all the Wilcox books in a summer, he wasn't ready to start the second one just yet. Part of it was delaying pleasure, but partly he just wasn't ready to jump into another 400 pages.

Jeff went upstairs to find a movie and was taken aback when he found Stuart awake, sitting in the living room, watching baseball on television. The older man looked over his shoulder and saw him.

“Early East Coast game,” he said, “National League, Pirates versus the Braves.”

Jeff didn't know how to react. He thought he'd known just about everything about the writer. He had no idea the man was a closet baseball fan.

“Siddown if you want,” Stuart said, “Game's just starting. It's supposed to be a blowout, but you never know.”

Jeff sat down and watched 20 minutes of television he didn't care about. Occasionally the writer would point out the nuance of a play or the significance of an umpire's ruling.

“You ever play baseball?” Stuart asked during a commercial break that mostly plugged beer and shaving cream.

“No. I played basketball in junior high.”

“I played football when I was in ninth grade. Got my ass kicked all over the place and never tried it again. I never appreciated baseball when I was younger, but when I'm out here in particular, it's a great distraction. I got the super ticket thingee through the cable, so there are games all day on Sunday. Today's my day off, in case I didn't mention it before. We don't talk or think about books today.”

“Got it. Do you want breakfast or something?”

“Nah, I had some cereal earlier. So, since I'm using the TV, your choices are pretty simple. You can watch the games with me, Cardinals/Mets is on later, it's supposed to be a fucking barn burner, or you can go mow the lawn.”

Jeff spent another hour trying to get into the game, watching men strike out repeatedly, while Stuart got more and more excited about a potential shut out and Jeff got more and more bored.

Eventually he gave up and went outside to mow the lawn. There was a small shed behind the car port, and inside Jeff found a ride-on lawn mower. The battery had been disconnected for the winter and sat on a shelf by the door. Jeff took the battery and a charger up to the deck and plugged the battery in.

In the meantime, he went downstairs, got his iPod, and began to edge the lawn using a weed whacker while enjoying the soothing sounds of Tool. The smell of gasoline exhaust from the power tool was oddly enlivening.
He quickly chopped down the lengthy grass at the sides of the house and the carport and moved onto the bigger job of edging the yard and the driveway. It wasn't too hot yet, the sun still indirect, the grass still dewy, but he began to sweat with the labor. Once he reached the opening of the path to the beach he paused and looked down it, as if expecting to see the Henry Thorsen coming up the trail with his trusty shotgun.

Then he turned and saw the post, in the center of the yard. He approached it, meaning to chop away the grass that grew around it and over it. He primed the weed whacker and extended his arms to the post, wincing. The dead grass fell away from the post and nothing else happened. When the grass was clear, he put the weed whacker aside and knelt next to the object. It was still in shadow, as it had been the other morning, and he wondered if he would be able to make out more of the designs on it with better light.

He finished edging the lawn without incident and decided to take a break before beginning to mow. The battery sat on its charger as Stuart called him back to the couch, using the TiVo to show him several plays he found particularly impressive. The man's enthusiasm was infectious, and now that the Cardinals were showing the Mets what for, Jeff found himself a lot more interested in the game. If Jeff was being honest with himself, it was also because he was not looking forward to mowing the lawn, riding mower or not.

Lunch was nachos and beer, Alaskan Amber for Vic and Coors Light for Jeff. While Stuart was drinking less than Jeff was used to witnessing, he acted the drunkest Jeff had ever seen, getting boisterous and loud. As the afternoon passed quickly, Jeff forgot about the lawn and began to be drawn into the world of outs and strikes.
Dinner was more beer and a pizza that Stuart ordered. “None of that frozen frisbee shit, tonight,” he said. “This stuff is pricey, but you know what?”

“It's worth it?” Jeff guessed.

“Your damn right.”

Jeff wasn't the biggest fan of pizza in the first place, let alone twice in a couple of days, but he had to admit the delivery pie was excellent. It was in the Greek style, Stuart informed him, the flat crust painted with olive oil so the result was crispy, almost fried.

The pizza place was called Arturo's, Vic informed him, “And it's run by this short little Mexican guy. Furthest thing from genuine Italian you could imagine, but damn he knows what he's doing.”

True to his word they did not discuss books or “the work” at all, but when the Yankees finished creaming the Mariners, much to Stuart's dismay, Jeff was ready to call it a night. He was logy from heavy food and beer, but when he got up, he saw the battery and the charger on the deck. He returned them to the shed, figuring he'd mow the lawn the next day. It reminded him of the post, so before he went downstairs, he returned to the living room.

“Hey, Vic?”

“Hmm?” The man glanced over his shoulder from flipping channels to find the next exciting game.

“What's the deal with that stone post thing out in the lawn?”

Stuart raised his eyebrows. “That thing? No idea. It's been there as long as I've been coming out here. I always just assumed it was an old property marker or something.”

To Jeff's buzzing mind, the answer was sufficient at the time, but in retrospect, particularly when the truth came out, he realized that on some level he knew the writer was not being completely honest with him.

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