I looked at my watch. Ken looked at his. It was still too early, so we continued to hole up at Mike’s Tavern off Route 9 – a dark den with a cigarette machine, a juke box, and a television over the bar. The television was on. The bartender was watching a Mets game and chain smoking.
“You know why I like baseball? Ken asked. “Because I don’t have to watch it on TV.” He took at swig from his mug and continued, “It’s like this game here,” he said pointing to the screen above the bar, “I hear it, but I don’t have to see it. I can look at you and talk and still know what’s going on.”
“But what about the announcers?” I asked.
“Whadda you mean, ‘what about the announcers?’”
“The TV announcers. You know, they’re….they’re different.” I said.
Ken scratched his chin and looked up at the screen. “Oh yeah. Yeah – because they talk in a different language on TV. Sure. Yeah, I get it.” He took another swig and smirked at me from the corner of his eye.
I continued, “No, you know – like how these guys are all non-athletes. The TV guys, I mean.” And with that I started down a road with no clue as to where it might lead. Maybe a even fight. I barely knew this guy.
He continued to stare up at the screen. I could tell that he was now listening intently for some sign that there indeed was a vast difference between radio and television on-air commentary.
I pulled up closer to him, elbowed him on the elbow, and pointed up at the screen. “So you really didn’t know about the TV announcer thing? Dude, it’s maybe the most well known difference between the two mediums. No jocks on TV. Period.” I took a long drink of my beer. And waited.
Ken Burbank was perplexed. Though he didn’t want to show it. Showing it would be a sign of weakness. Real men never play their hands quickly. So instead, he smiled at me and then looked back up at the screen. And he was just about to acknowledge that he indeed was well aware of the ‘no jocks on TV’ thing. Of course he was. He wasn’t an idiot. But suddenly there was a flash of electricity in his eyes, and he started think-talking, “Hey…hey wait a minute, what about Phil Rizzuto?” He turned to me with wide eyes, “He was on TV and he was a Yankee! Are you fucking with me, yo?”
I let out a laugh. “Well, yeah – sure he was. But only after he was on radio.” I laughed and slapped the bar. “Really? I mean, the damn rule was the result of Rizzuto. The ‘Scooter’ rule, they call it. No jocks in TV. Period.”
Ken smiled. “Fuck you.” he mumbled. “Anyways, it don’t matter because what I was talking about was how I can hear the fucking game being played just like if it was on radio. I don’t need the TV. It’s ‘the spirit of the mind,’ or something like that.” And with that, he raised his hands above his temples and waved them around like sea fans in a current. “I can visualize shit. It’s like a gift.”
“Come on fucking Fernandez – you can’t throw that same goddamn pitch to this guy again. You gotta be fucking kidding me.” The bartender screamed at the television.
“Ha. A gift you say?” I finished my beer and put the mug down with a thud. “Some gift pal, if you can’t even tell the difference between the inflection of radio and television. Dude, the guys on TV rely on the visual to call a game whereas the guys on radio have to paint a picture in your mind. They’re totally different kinds of broadcasts. No way you hear the game the same way. No way. And yeah, I am fucking with you.”
Ken turned back to the television and then slowly turned his baseball cap backward on his head. I wasn’t sure what the hat thing meant, so I took a step backward just in case it was bad. But the truth was – I really didn’t want to mess with this guy. He was on this job for a reason. And it wasn’t his brain.
After a moment, I cleared my throat and spoke, “So, yeah, we should probably get going then.” Ken downed the last of his beer, pushed back his stool, and stood up – then he lunged at me stopping just short of making contact. We were nose to nose, but I didn’t flinch to the much larger man. He smiled. “Yeeaahh biioooch.” he said taking a step back and laughing. “Haha – let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“We good?” I asked the barkeep. He nodded. I put another bill on the counter. Then we swung open the padded door and stepped out into the sunshine.
It was time to go to work.
Jim Mitchem – this is an except from a short story and is not connected in any way with any other chapters on this blog.