We called them gulls because there was no sea, just a big lake and a lot of dirty rivers. We used to get real close and open our palms to impress both the gulls and Mr. Sphere. “Question of crayola and contrast,” he would say.
We never understood what the hell he was talking about, but we liked the free rein. “The gull carves invisible angles” said the smart ass among us, but Mr. Sphere knew our game, knew we wanted something from him and maybe we did, but we were too young to know what the hell we were doing. Smashing in sun roofs one night and pool hopping the next.
“A drunk pendulum, but in full control,” Mr. Sphere said and then lifted his glasses and let them get lost in that wild hair of his. I think that was the moment an invisible seance ignited within us. We felt all together like never before and were no longer interested in far away places or even next towns. We watched gulls much closer from then on, especially their kamikaze nose dive missions toward one of our abandoned brown paper bag lunches. We felt kindred watching their cadaver dance, pecking away like an oil rig and looking up every now and again, in between chews and swallows as if to say This is our town. This is seagull planet earth. We rule your endless human ruins, junk heaps and piles and mounds.
We made a pack to be like gulls and defy our own gravity and webbed feet. It was one thing to be a hawk, falcon, or eagle soaring from one mountain majesty to another, but to be a gull and dumpster dive and scrounge through frat boy vomit. That was the simple cement to us all, the stuff to build our future, the back alleys, utility infielder, heave and hoe of our soon to be anonymous 8-4 lives.
We sat everywhere together, but no place felt more like home than the dugout. It was partially below ground and would probably be called a semi basement if it were an apartment in the classifieds, but it was public space so we lived there for free, three times a week anyway, when our baseball teams played. We were in senior league. Weird name since none of us were seniors, but we were too old to reach Omaha’s Little League World Series so we were washed up I guess and they called us seniors-aged 13-17.
But who needed little league anyway! We played on real regulation diamonds. Pitchers had mounds that looked miles away from home plate. Bases were 90 feet apart. We could psyche out the pitcher and steal like Henderson and Raines, head first slides if we had the guts and most importantly we had dugouts. We arrived early and left late, loving to loiter in there long after the game, exploring all kinds of boundaries. That dugout was the closest thing to home other than our bedrooms and as we got older, only the dugout endured.
It was our fort and shelter and it felt ancient and essential when we found out about the dugout canoes used by Native Americans and Africans, Asians and Europeans too, all the way back to stone age peoples.
They renamed that diamond we played on. It’s now called Henry Aaron Field. It’s where the UW-Milwaukee Panthers play so there’s black and gold Panther colors everywhere and the dirt is a beautiful red and the grass is well manicured and what not, but I bet the corners of the dugouts still fill up with dry crunchy leaves.