A Glutton for Punishment

Contributor: Phil Lane

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Shea Stadium looms like a bloated, blue behemoth. Such strange hybridity results when two disparate heritages are mixed. How had the marriage of the old, storied Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants yielded this blue-orange monstrosity? I myself am the offspring of a classically trained pianist and a somewhat well-known poet, so I’m living proof that when you mix words and music, you don’t always end up with ballads. But it’s New Year’s Eve and I know I’m supposed to be a new leaf turning in an old tree or something.

“Jimmy!” I can hear the voice even before I pick up the spastic cell phone which beeps, rings, and vibrates simultaneously, an alarm bell warning me of an encroaching domestic shitstorm. So this is love. It’s like a bloodhound with bionic senses. You can’t cover up your tracks or hide your scent or ever be silent enough to throw it. I muster every last quarter-inch of restraint I have not to answer it with an abrasive, monosyllabic “WHAT?” I opt instead for “Hey, Baby.” I’ve always hated this particular term of endearment but, then again, she is a big baby so what the hell?

Snowflakes fall in my hair and I remember when I was six and had head lice and got to stay home from school for a week: halcyon days. Snow collects on the Unisphere, the 150-foot steel globe that towers over the park. A lifetime ago, on our way to a ballgame, my father had explained that it had been meant to symbolize man’s conquest of space when it was been built back in the sixties for the New York World’s Fair. Forty years later, it seems like it’s here just to mess with me—some strange Orwellian construct meant to remind me that I am nothing, an insect, a cog in a machine, irrelevant.

“Babe, where are you?” she squeals into the phone. “The party’s already started, they have
jell-o shots (my favorite), Mindy’s here and I haven’t seen her in forever, they’re talking about playing a drinking game, everyone’s asking about you, I’m a little drunk already, can you tell? You can’t tell, can you? Be honest.”

Just as I’m mercifully hanging up, I notice a woman walking towards me. I watch her advance with prurient interest. She has these long legs that remind me of stilts which seem to transport her across the park. She is pale and with the snow falling around her, she looks like an apparition, a snow ghost. Just once, just once I wish I didn’t have to work for it. How much goddamned good karma does one person have to bank before a gorgeous woman throws herself at him? I swear she’s looking at me but then I’ve always had a vivid imagination, the kind that can cause one’s mother to burst into one’s bedroom at the most inopportune time. I think about my enduring suspicion of women; surely that indelible moment during my most impressionable years has been a contributing factor.

“I’m on my way, baby.” I try to sound oh so nonchalant despite my mounting intrigue concerning the woman heading in my direction. “Just out of the shower and getting ready right now. I’ll see you soon. Tell Joey to keep the beer cold for me.”

“Babe, you should wear your black shirt, you know, the one with the pink pinstripes, it looks so good on you. It’s just everyone here’s dressed up really nice for New Year’s so, you know, I just wanna make sure you’re not, well, underdressed.”

“Ok, sweetie, don’t worry about it. I’ll see you in a bit.” I enthusiastically press the END CALL button. The thing about cell phones is that you can’t slam them down the way you could the old landline phones of my youth. In this case, it was for the best, but sometimes I miss the good old days when you could say everything by the way you hung up the receiver. You could even do a half-slam to show that you were pissed but not quite enraged. That would have been the proper flourish for this call.

Just as I am about to get up and drag myself obligingly to Joey and Jane’s party, I hear a voice beside me on the park bench.

“Hi.” It is stony and unsympathetic, the exact opposite of Lauren’s flighty, valley girl intonation. “I’ve been watching you. What’s your name?”

Finally, the Karma Gods are paying me back, and after decades of building up credit. It’s about damn time.

“Jimmy,” I reply, hearing my voice waver and crack and cursing myself for letting the moment emasculate me.

Nevertheless, it is New Year’s Eve and I know I’m supposed to make a resolution. Shea glares down at me like a Jotun, studying my movements with terrible scrutiny. The Unisphere seems to be spinning wildly on its artificial axis, imploring me to make a wonderfully rash decision. Accordingly, I toss my phone into the snow. It seems to sizzle as it rushes into its rectangular grave. “So what are you up for tonight?” she asks, her craggy voice oozing smoke and slicing through the park’s clean breeze of tyranny.

“What do you mean?,” I ask back, my tenor still an octave too high.

“I mean I’ll suck your cock for fifty bucks.”

From its snowy resting place, the phone begins to ring again. Its muffled tones remind me of my deliberate tapping on the old upright piano as I attempted to play Auld Lang Syne on a New Year’s Eve long ago. My father had stood over me with a ruler, ready to correct my errant fingers if they misplayed a note. Sometimes I intentionally played it wrong, my own little shot at revenge. I was a glutton for punishment, then as now.

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Phil Lane's work has been appearing online and in print for the past decade. He lives in New Jersey and teaches English for a private tutoring company.
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