It was the smell of pickles because nothing in the world smells quite like pickles or come to think of it, they weren’t yet pickles; they were in the beginning stages; they were only cucumbers, but well on their way, in the canning process which was something I knew nothing about as a 13-year old, but I had a hunch a jar musta leaked because the place reeked like vinegar. That’s what it was. Yes, vinegar. We were at Damien Murphy’s house or not his house, his parent’s house or pa-rental’s house as we called our moms and dads back then, pa-rentals, us the stowaway borders enjoying free food and rent.
Damien’s parents were out of town and they left his older brother in charge. Some charge. Benji bought us a case of fat mouth Mickey’s malt beer, the bottles like little glass grenades. I don’t’ remember the proof of the alcohol, but we didn’t need to know. We had all the proof we needed in knowing that we were on the slow journey towards a drunken attitude adjustment.
Benji left the beer beside the milk chute in the backyard, in some bushes out of sight from the Krosnoski neighbors. They were volunteers at the Zoo and liked to stick their nose where it didn’t belong. The beer being hidden added to the contraband feel of the night. We smuggled the beer and ourselves into the Murphy’s three story home. The back porch had four pillars which was very significant. It was the only house on the block with four pillars! We tiptoed in the dark, down the steps, into the basement. It added to the thrill.
Damian’s mother had the pickle jars in a back room in the same basement we were drinking in. There were 6 or 7 of us, four boys and a couple of girls. I remember Suzie Garcia more than anyone, remember her like it was yesterday because of that vinegar smell that filled that room. It’s stayed with me. What a crazy, wild, powerful sense is smell! One whiff of vinegar and I can see her again, that wacky Suzie Garcia. She had medium-length curly black hair and didn’t have big breasts or anything that would make us teens drool. It was the way she walked, on her toes, a hippity hop step and the way she ignored people, me included if she got bored by the conversation. I had never kissed a girl before. Fast forward 40 years and me, in drunken desperation, I try to track her down on facebook and I’m a hypocrite because I have no facebook account but I browse for old high school mates like Suzie Garcia in the hope she might digitally display her life through endless photos, but come to think if it, I’m glad I don’t find her. I wouldn’t want to find out that she had a husband, two kids, a dog, and a big house and was happy, because the Suzie I met that vinegar night was not happy; she was wonderfully distant and independent and seeing her happy would ruin the statue I’ve built of Suzie, the muse she’s become.
Suzie talked a lot about the Brewers which was an instant turn on. I had never been to a game with a girl, only one movie with Sarah Mankowitz, at the Bay Theatre, a James Bond flick, Never Say Never Again, a big mistake because of all that Bond macho shit…..left me no chance to score, not even a kiss. But now there was Suzie and she knew more than Yount and Molitor and Cooper. She did some heavy obscure name dropping like Thad Bosley and Dwight Bernard and with every name rolling off her tongue, I wondered how I would kiss her. All of us drank the beer and then we headed outside into a midwestern humid, swimming through apple sauce summer night. I still love that kind of weather.
If a genie came to me now….and offered me one magic wish, I’d slip into a time machine and return to that walk we all took, drunk on Mickey’s Malt and I would hijack Suzie Garcia and we would walk to the local yard and hop a train heading west and we’d sing and drink more beer and sleep in those boxcars and be brave like only teenagers can be. We’d catch squirrels and rabbits or Suzie would catch them with traps she’d make with her bare hands, a skill passed on by her hunter father and I’d have a bottle of Tabasco sauce that could turn any marsupial into a delicacy. We would talk and really get to know each other and she would sometimes ignore me and that wouldn’t bother me in the least because I would have my own private space too and best of all we would make it all the way to Colorado and Denver and only then would we realize that freaking 40 years had passed and that Denver had a baseball team and they were the Rockies and they were scheduled to play our very Brewers that night and that night would be tonight!
The Brewers lost last night 3-2. I didn’t’ see the game. I was asleep but I see that Freddie Peralta struck out 10 batters which almost matched the first outing of his pro career which was also in Colorado. He struck out 13 that night. Baseball has all kinds of these wonderful connections, enough to distract a human mind for an entire lifetime not to mention inspiring endless conversations with fellow baseball junkies like that golden Suzie Garcia.
And Suzie and I would go to batting practice tonight and we’d catcall Joey Wiemer and he’d walk over and sign our program. Joey went 0 for 3 last night, sending his average closer to Mendoza at .218, but he’ll keep getting penciled into the lineup and not only because Garrett Mitchell is done for the season, but because Joey takes incredible routes to balls and is fast and has a tremendous arm and I call him the Wiemer Schnitzel! Am I repeating myself? That’s what Suzie would say and then turn away and jot notes in the scorecard. I would never know entirely what she was thinking and I would love it that way.