It had been there for years, stuck in the corner of Tucker Bandwith’s bedroom, leaning against the wall. Tucker never touched it, not out of respect, more disinterest than anything else. He never called it a bat. To him, it was a club because he was into ancient cultures, long time ago cultures, Neanderthal and caveman cultures when supposedly men carried around clubs that helped them ward off monsters, dinosaurs, and saber-toothed tigers.
It was an official bat. Some old ballplayer used it, a real MLB player or that’s what Tucker’s dad said, insisted, in a slur, a drunken slur. He had some connection to the player on the bat, but he never told him what it was. Dad gave it to him in the hope he’d catch the fever and he did, but a different fever – cowboys and punk rock music. Had an album collection that snaked around his room. He wore string ties with brooches and combat boots. He sprawled out on the black and copper- colored shag carpet in his bedroom, read the liner notes of albums and listened to music, the names of songs and albums, even the musicians didn’t matter, only the love he had for the lyrics. He dreamed of becoming a rancher and the dream made its way from his head to his heart to his hands. He rode horses, held reins at the local, indoor stable and on the rare day when it was warm outside and the livestock roamed or reclined, he studied the ways of cows sprawled out on the earthen floor, especially the way their tails waved in the wild, unpredictable breeze.
But then there came a foggy day, so foggy that you could only see the bottom half of downtown skyscrapers and in the suburb where Tucker lived, the water tower completely disappeared. Tucker had never been part of such a day. No one in Broomsville had, Broomsville, the coldest town in the nation, with 347.7 below freezing days per year, but never any fog and then so suddenly this fog, like a Woody Guthrie dust bowl blues rolling in thought Tucker. His caveman instincts kicked in; he picked up that bat, that club and prepared himself for whatever might suddenly come in from the fog, into his private 8×12 bubble. Minutes seemed like hours. He had his Star Wars watch to prove it. He rubbed the bat and it was smooth. He stopped for a second and for the first time, he read the name wood-burned into the barrel. There were actually two names – Louisville Slugger and Pepe Frías. He wasn’t sure which one was the actual name of the player, but it seemed strange to name a kid after a town – Louisville though he knew a girl named Georgia. Anyway, he chose “Pepe” as the name and began to make up a little jingle to soothe his fear of fog…
“born in a railroad track town
wearing an imaginary crown
Pepe Frías makes me clench my fists.”
about a land that no longer exists.”
And he took his song to heart or to his hands; he clenched them and then squeezed them around the bat handle and a creature suddenly appeared out of the fog, a dwarf of a creature with a computer screen for a head, a keyboard chest with all kinds of letters from all different kinds of alphabets – Cyrillic, Latin, and Chinese. There was a purplish brown liquid oozing out from where a human’s belly button would be. It mumbled in low baritone sounds not making any sense. Tucker grabbed the bat and started swinging. The computer screen head soon popped off and that purplish brown liquid started oozing from its arms which were mufflers and from the legs which were mini cement coal plant towers. He kept swinging that bat round and round and up and down and he made solid contact each and every time and he didn’t stop until the creature stopped speaking in that horrible low baritone. A strange silence, a loud silence began.
The fog lifted and Broomsville returned to cold and dark and all was well and right and fine except for the animal rights activists who insisted Tucker had killed an animal for no reason at all. Tucker pleaded with them, insisted that it wasn’t an animal, that he didn’t know what it was, but it made a scary sound and seemed ready to attack, that it was an act of self-defense.
The activists didn’t believe Tucker. They chased after him and they had gas station nozzles that shot gas and large softballs which were actually hard and they reared back and flung them at Tucker who ducked down alleys, kept a decent distance, avoided his attackers, but they grew in number when word sprang up about Tucker “the animal killer.”
Tucker knew every Clyde needs a Bonnie so he ran to his high school and waited behind the old elm tree; he waited for the wonderfully blue-haired, skinny, daughter of a construction worker – Ms. Penelope Dagger. Nothing needed to be said. They held hands and raced toward the Ludding Sea. Tucker positioned the bat under his armpit. Penelope scooped up a decent sized branch and together they sprinted across back yards and over fences and along railroad tracks. They knew all the shortcuts and soon the water appeared. You couldn’t see the other side. It felt like forever, They waded out into the water and drifted, staying afloat thanks to the bat and the branch.
The sun crawled slowly across the sky. Tucker and Penelope tried to bury their fears and enjoy the salty smell and cold, but refreshing water; they tried to feel gratitude towards the wood that kept them afloat, but they couldn’t help looking all around, for the boat that would inevitably appear, an Animal Rights Activist boat that would kill them. Instead, a few minutes later, a canoe appeared and two paddlers asked about the bat and they knew Pepe Frías, knew he was from San Pedro de Macorís and knew his 1976 Topps baseball card, him smiling in a Montreal Expos uniform.
“Any friend of Frías is a friend of mine.” said one of the men. He smiled. “Give me that bat and we’ll give you a ride.”
Tucker handed over the bat, climbed aboard, and with the barter complete, he sang his song,
born in a railroad track town
wearing an imaginary crown
Pepe Frías makes me clench my fists.”
about a land that no longer exists.
No need to clench your fists,” encouraged the paddler. “You’re heading to a land that still exists. You’re already there. It’s the nowhere land.”
“The now here land,” added the other paddler.
Now here thought Tucker. He looked at Penelope. They enjoyed the cold breeze and the seagull soars up above and the purplish clouds on the horizon. It wasn’t long before a fishing boot appeared. The canoe paddlers said a few words and the fishermen extended their hands and Tucker and Penelope stepped on board and then a few miles up ahead a larger cruise ship came into view. Tucker and Penelope slipped onto the back deck and no one noticed. They eventually joined the shuffleboard crowd and made small talk with an old couple from Dusseldorf. The ship was headed south, to the Caribbean.
They watched the waves bubble up behind them as the ship raced on…
November 20, 2022 at 1:46 pm
Well done, Steve. I totally enjoyed escaping into this fantastical yarn.
I applaud the originality. I never have encountered a character who was a punk rock-loving rancher wannabe from the coldest town in the nation.
The highlight, though, was the wonderful surprise of the entrance of Pepe Frias into the story. It brought a smile. Thanks for saluting this Montreal Expo with a part in your story.
I love the line: “There were actually two names – Louisville Slugger and Pepe Frías. He wasn’t sure which one was the actual name of the player.”
I also thought your song lyrics were quite good.
Only one thing I stumbled over: I cannot figure out how Penelope and Tucker were able to wade into the water in the coldest town in the nation without turning into PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) popsicles.
Here is hoping that your follow-up to this tale will find that the cruise ship to the Caribbean takes Penelope and Tucker to the tiki hut where Pepe Frias is holding court with his buddies.
I cannot resist ending by offering two trivia tidbits about Pepe Frias:
_ He was the last player from the independent Quebec Provincial League, which folded in 1971, to reach the majors, according to baseball-reference.com.
_ He hit one home run in his big-league career. It came in 1979 against John “The Candy Man” Candelaria at Pittsburgh, proof once again that, as noted in your earlier story, there really was a nuclear reactor beneath Three Rivers Stadium.
November 20, 2022 at 2:20 pm
Thanks Mark for the wonderful reply. I’m glad you liked the story. I think I had the Polar Bear Club in mind when Tucker and Penelope headed into the water. It’s a club in Milwaukee. Its members jump into Lake Michigan on New Years Day. If I remember right, some take the plunge naked.
I got a kick out of your creation… “turning into PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) popsicles.” Hilarious!
I don’t know why or how I remembered the name, the player Pepe Frias. I knew nothing about him. Maybe I have one of his mid-70’s baseball cards? I’ll have to check my collection for the fun of it. But it worked out well when I found his Expos card on line and he had a smile and then him being from the DR made its way into the story, into the title. I assume it’s sunny quite often in San Pedro de Macoris.
I love the tidbits you added, both of them. There was some talk a few years back amongst local Montreal SABR members about doing some research on the Quebec Provincial League. If I remember right, it attracted a lot of outlaw players who were banned from other leagues.
And the one home run in his career and your connection of it to the nuclear reactor. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Thanks again Mark!
November 21, 2022 at 1:18 pm
A punk rock cowboy! That’s awesome. I can relate to the coldest town in the nation…seeing Buffalo just got blasted with a ton of snow. You had mentioned writing a story about being rescued by a bat. This seems really close. I’ve always had a thing for small towns and how mysterious they are (at least in my imagination they are all Twin Peaks). I really enjoyed how magical this trip of a story. I’ve never really liked realism that much, and I love how out of this world your stories are. But there is something that always ground them…some reaching out for meaning.
November 21, 2022 at 6:19 pm
I think most lyrics, even Spice Girls lyrics could be made into a punk rock song. Freaking snow like that in Buffalo and we’re not even at Thanksgiving, but then again the way the weather has been all messed up lately, maybe it will rain on Christmas. Yes, this was the bat story you and i talked about. I could have made it into a bloody massacre, but i don’t know much about those feelings. I think Twin Peaks is David Lynch, right? Kind of ahead of its time in that there are so many Series these days.
November 21, 2022 at 8:24 pm
I grew up on punk hardcore music. So I agree about the lyrics. I really enjoyed this story. As far as the messed up weather…yes, Lake Erie is five degrees warmer this late in the season then it’s ever been. We got about 2 and half feet. but just south of us…where the Bills play, they got 80inches! And it was all lake effect snow cause the lake was so warm.
November 21, 2022 at 9:41 pm
I would think It’s always good to know how to swim in case the big storm comes or know a cruise ship captain so he’ll serve us drinks at the end.
November 22, 2022 at 7:01 pm
Punk rock and cowboys remind me of that John Cryer (of Pretty in Pink fame) movie, “Dudes.” He plays a punk from NY and it’s sort of a buddy/road trip movie. I think I thought it sucked but it’s been a while.
Good stuff, Steve.
November 22, 2022 at 7:40 pm
Thanks Gary. I spent many early nights watching Two and a half men starring John Cryer. I always liked the banter connection him and his brother Charlie Sheen had in the show. I forgot about him being in Pretty in Pink…..that song Pretty in Pink by the Psychedelic Furs…..i don’t know if that inspired the name of the movie? but i always liked that song and the band….great name – Psychedelic furs. I liked the movie too. Seemed to go well with Breakfast Club. I guess i love the 80’s because i was a teenager during them. Makes Double K’s posts so fun to read plus he’s a great writer.
December 2, 2022 at 12:29 pm
What is so wondrous about these tales is that while the characters are (to steal gratuitously from Marianne Faithfull) strangers on earth they, and the situations they are in are still relatable, still recognizable to us–if they were all mad invention and no common humanity, the stories wouldn’t work, but boy howdy, do they get the job done.
December 2, 2022 at 5:47 pm
Wonderful. You done made my day wk! Hey, that rhymed! I pretty much tow the line at work. Gotta keep the day job. But then at night or in the early morning, I’m free to explore a bit and it’s hard work, but fun and it’s pretty damn great when someone relates to what’s written.