brewers baseball and things

another ancient chinese secret

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Thea Bannister didn’t like her first name. It was too close to tea and tea reminded her of China and she was afraid of Chinese people, especially old Chinese men because of the hair growing from moles on their naked arms. She had read in one of her mom’s Readers Digest magazines that Chinese mole hair symbolized wisdom. Thea was afraid of wisdom and perfection and power. She preferred gutters and drains and hunchbacks in corners talking to themselves.

Thea didn’t like her last name either. Bannister. Kids at school called her TB and Thea was no Einstein but she knew the TB were her initials and that to Thea was like cancer and not because she was born in the astrological month of Cancer, in July, like Andre Dawson and Mario Soto and hundreds, maybe thousands of other baseball players, but because TB upset people, got them whispering about boils, malaria, leprosy, polio, mumps, measles and how the world was suffering and that pissed off Thea. She didn’t want people to be upset and death was ok to her. She liked cemeteries; she liked the quiet and the sound of leaves on trees rustling from the wind and she liked frogs too. She saw one down by the swamp. No one believed here, especially her dad. He said there was no swamp in their town and even if there was, there would be no frogs in it, but she knew; Thea knew; she’d seen a frog and she never forgot the way it sat still for so long and those big eyes.

Thea’s dad said they had a great family name, that Floyd Bannister was the name of a former big league pitcher, a pretty good one too, not HOF good, but good enough to win 134 games and pitch 15 seasons, including one with the “winning ugly” White Sox 1983 season and daddy Bannister had dozens of them games recorded on old VHS tapes from that season and while he watched and cheered on the Sox and Bannister, Thea dreamed of becoming a sniper or a mercenary or someone who panhandled up enough change to fly to the Amazon and go searching for frogs.

Thea did share one thing in common with her father. She was drawn to the basement of their two bedroom house. It was humid down there, perfect for a frog and six feet under. Her dad liked it too. He built himself a makeshift bar and collected bottles and drank at night and sometime in the morning too. Thea grabbed one of her father’s middle age replica swords one late night and brandished the sucker high above her head like she was being yanked by a drunk kite, but she was in complete control as she slid her feet, sword still above her head, slid towards dad’s Hartland baseball statues lined up along the bar rail. There was Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn and a bunch of other Milwaukee Braves players. She wasn’t gonna do anything to them, just scare her dad and hopefully get him to go upstairs. She knew all the player names because when she was a toddler, they were her dad’s sweet lullaby equivalents, a roll call of Braves baseball players to help her sleep and yeh, she fell asleep, out of boredom, but now she was older and she practiced ways to get under her father’s skin and it worked. He did go upstairs the “night of the sword. Thea had the entire basement to herself, but it was late so she went to sleep and she had a nightmare of being chased down an alley by kids wearing Milwaukee Braves uniforms wielding baseball bats and mitts, cornering her under street lights and threatening to steal her milk money.

There really were boys at school who stole her milk money so this was no nightmare fantasy. This was reality and these boys were smart boys who always made Thea feel stupid in English class because she could never remember the prepositions and the teacher, a Mr. Edwin Hanover always called on Thea to sing the preposition song, “Aboard, about, around,” and so on and it wasn’t that Thea got tongue tied or suffered a brain freeze, she just didn’t know and that damn teacher used to raise his upper lip to his curled down nose and inhale heavily and shake his head at Thea.

Thea didn’t want to lose her milk money or get mocked by the teacher, so she didn’t go to class that day. She walked in the other direction of school, far away, to the other town whose name Thea always forgot, but she knew a man that lived beside the railroad tracks in a shanty with a blue plastic tarp. She had never seen him, but she had heard him. He spoke with an accent from inside the shanty. Well, on that day, he appeared and she watched him. The old man ran a hose through a fence and towards a wall and fastened it to a spout or whatever you call the place where water flows. Thea thought that was a nice thing to let the man have water like a restaurant or drugstore that leaves a sign in the window that says, “if you’re gonna sleep in the doorway under the awning, it’s ok, but when you gotta piss, use the empty bottle beside the window. Thanks.”

Thea walked closer to the man. He was small, smaller than Thea, and he looked Chinese and without any formal, hey, how you doing greetings, the Chinese man said, “DURING the storm and AFTER the war and ABOVE the clouds and Thea thought that maybe these were prepositions and she wondered how this old Chinese man knew and then he added, UP and DOWN, more prepositions, thought Thea and then it hit her and she wondered how she hadn’t known before, that voice, that broadcasting voice on one of her father’s VHS tapes, the voice of Chris Berman saying, Floyd “up and down” the Bannister and as she thought, this the Chinese man indicated with his hands UP and DOWN. He raised them high above his head and then brought his hands way down low and Thea didn’t know if this old Chinese man had mole hair, but she didn’t mind him at all because she mighta been barely 16, but she knew plenty about up and down.

Thea walked home slowly and the next morning she woke early and made coffee for her father, but she couldn’t remember if he liked milk or sugar in his coffee or both or nothing at all because she had never made coffee for him so she asked him and before he told her how he’d like his coffee, he told her about Eri Yoshida, that she once played in the Arizona Fall League and Thea had one question after another and so she asked them and her dad answered and they talked about Yoshida worshipping Tim Wakefield as a kid, about her wanting to one day throw a knuckleball like Wakefield and Thea drank the first cup of coffee in her life. She didn’t need any sugar.

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Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

22 thoughts on “another ancient chinese secret

  1. So, one of the things I like about your stories is that they get me thinking and take me on some mind adventures I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.

    This one got me to reflect on the fact that I actually have original Hartland baseball figurines from the early 1960s that my grandmother kindly bought for me, and I still have them today: Musial, Snider, Berra, Mays. Just looking at them transports me back to my boyhood.

    I also remember being given milk money to take to school each day (I’m thinking it was 15 cents?) and using it to actually buy a carton of milk from the cafeteria lady. I can’t imagine kids are given milk money today. Or that they even drink milk at school. Second-grader 2022: “May I have almond milk, please, with a frothy Cappuccino top?”

    Most of all, though, your story got me thinking of Roger Bannister, who was the first person to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Thinking of Roger Bannister made me flash back to my high school track days. I ran the mile and usually finished in the back, way behind the pack. One day, though, during a meet, I felt this sudden urge to kick into a higher gear for the last half-mile. I finished in a personal best time of 5 minutes, 3 seconds. I was ecstatic. It was my best time by a half-minute. As I was cooling down after the finish, my coach approached. I thought he would congratulate me. Instead, he raged at me, saying, “With just a little more effort, you could have broken 5 minutes.” My incentive was crushed; I never approached that mark again.

    I’d tell Thea that Roger Bannister went on to become an accomplished neurologist. Late in life, he told an interviewer, “I’d rather be remembered for my work in neurology than my running. If you offered me the chance to make a great breakthrough in the study of the autonomic nerve system, I’d take that over the four-minute mile right away.”

    • Hi Mark, Thanks for the thoughtful reply and for sharing some high school memories. That’s funny about kids asking for milk today, about there not being simply milk. It’s mind boggling and a bit annoying how many choices we have for every product – 30 toothpastes, 100 shampoos, 43 kinds of milk. I’m not a communist. I mean I like that people can pick and choose what they like, but somehow it all seems like a moneymaking, advertising scam with people building their identity on whether they buy an android or an iphone and so on.

      Roger Bannister. What a wonderful story of you reaching inside and finding that extra something to run a little faster. That you completed a mile around 5 minutes is definitely something to feel “ecstatic” about. But what an ungrateful coach or maybe he was always like that? Never satisfied. Always pushing his runners and jumpers to go even further?

      Bannister’s comment reminds me of Moonlight Graham in “Field of Dreams,” saying something to the effect that he was glad he became a doctor as opposed to a baseball player because of all the lives he helped save as a doctor.

  2. This is fantastic Steve. So much of this jars memories of being young. Like Thea, I was terrible at grammar and I couldn’t take apart a sentence into propositions and whatever else. I almost failed English every year in high school. Probably why I drifted to poetry…so I could skip the grammar. But mostly like Thea being unsure of everything. I definitely preferred gutters and drains and hunchbacks. One time some of my friends and I met a guy who was living in a shack he made for himself near an old rail road track. He told us how we wanted to live this way….and that we were all attached by umbilical cords to the comforts the modern world: our microwaves and tvs and fridges. Which made for some great art as drew pictures of what we thought this looked sitting at our school lunchroom table. I’m really glad you give us these characters that don’t seem to fit in. And yet find meaning. It really hits home for me.

    • Thanks Bob. I’m surprised to hear that you struggled in English in that you have such great command of the language, combining words and ideas that hardly anyone else does or can. In any case, I’m glad you found poetry and glad you shared some teenage memories here. That man living in the shack sounds inspiring. Has me thinking about how much I rely on this computer and TV and how little time I spend watching the light outside change to dark or stand around and feel the breeze. I do go swimming in the summer and that shuts my mind off for a few seconds. There musta been some old sci-fi thriller that predicted we’d all be glued to screens?Seems to have come true which makes it hard to walk on a busy street because everyone is looking down at their screens. It’s like playing dodgeball.

      • I know I spend too much time on screens. When I should, as you say, watching dusk turn to night. I’m pretty good in the summer months, but winter is usually hibernating time. I didn’t think reading was too cool while I was in school…right afterward, I got into reading. I guess my poor grades reflected that.

        • I find it hard to read, really hard. I always did, struggling with comprehension as a kid and like you, not having good grades because of it. But nowadays if I stumble on a book or poetry that I keep reading, it feels really great, like I feel a lot less alone. You are one of those poets that I’m talking about. I think one the words to describe your work is compelling among many other ones. I read a John Fante book last summer and it was like that, like feeling a lot less alone while reading it. It was called “Ask the Dust.” That feeling also happens when I read Charles Bukowkski’s books. I’ve only read three of them, but they are so honest and straight forward and though it’s hard to relate to his heavy drinking and success he has with women, it is like listening to a friend and friendships are a beautiful thing in this fucked up world we live in.

          • Thanks Steve. I will have to check out, Ask the Dust. And I agree, I feel less alone when I find writers/poets I relate to. Like your writing. It really touches growing up for me. And that search for meaning. However absurd it may be. Grade school never clicked for me, I had a terrible memory, and so could never recall facts off the top of my head. And why I hate Jeopardy.

            • I never liked Jeopardy either unless I happened to get one of the questions right. To this day, I have yet to finish a crossword puzzle, not even close.

              • Haha. Same…if I do get a question right on Jeopardy, then all is forgiven. I’m the worst at crossword puzzles. I don’t even try. And there can be 9 our of 10 letters showing on wheel of fortune…and I still won’t be able to get the answer.

  3. And I forgot to mention…the dream part, when Thea is being chased, reminded me of the scene in the move The Warriors, when the Warriors are being chased by the Baseball Furies.

  4. Alan Bannister was 98.6% as tall as Henry Aaron. That is all.

  5. I spend way too much time thinking about names — probably because my own name frequently leads to reactions that cause me to feel awkward and/or uncomfortable. But not just names, but initials, and how any good parent should pay attention not only to the name itself, but what do the initials spell out? But then, I also can’t help but feel sorry for those parents, because even if they do their best, the world and the culture is constantly changing, and you just don’t know if 13 years from now if your child’s name or initials will mean something embarrassing in pop culture.

    • You raise an interesting point Precious. I assume parents struggle over what to name their child, but as you suggest, they rarely pay attention to the initials. In any case, I’m sorry to hear that your initials have caused you to feel awkward or uncomfortable. I think you have a great name and great initials too – PS as in this letter is not yet over like extra innings!

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