Tuesday, November 15, 2016

An election night phone call.

That Tuesday night, as the horrible election news hit me and so many others between the eyes like a shotgun blast, the land line rang. I was expecting it would be Uncle Slappy, just about the only one who calls me on my home phone, but instead it was Hector’s wife, Teresa Quesadilla, calling me from her small concrete block home in Saltillo, Mexico.

I lived in that home so many summers ago, in 1975, when Hector, my manager and Teresa took me in and offered to have me stay with them.

I had been living in a small room in a small hotel about two blocks from Estadio Francesco I. Madura in Saltillo. My room was about 10’ x 12’, with a single bed, a chest of drawers, an armoire missing a door, a triangular sink pushed into the corner and a single window shaded by Venetian blinds with half a dozen slats bent or missing. Down the linoleum was a bathroom. Two flights down was a small front desk and a oscillating fan that blew the dust of the lobby around. There was also in the corner of the lobby, a spinet piano with the faux ivory missing from about every third white key.

Early in my season with the Seraperos, we had suffered a worse-than-usual loss. As if by extrasensory perception, just after the loss, my father called from New York, telling me (once again) that he and my mother—after 20 years of marriage and 20 years of almost constant fighting—were getting divorced, and would I please come home.

He caught me, my old man did, flatfooted. I looked around the hotel I was living in, I thought about the $200 a month (and two chicken dinners) they were paying me, and I said, ‘what the fuck am I doing this for?’

I chucked the few belongings I had into an old canvas duffle bag I had lugged with me from New York—a few shirts, some pants and shorts. Last, I threw in three or four paperbacks I had carried with me and some spare pesos that had rattled around in my sock drawer. I walked the steps down to the lobby, paid $18.50, my week’s rent and hoofed it to the stadium.

It was a good six hours or seven before game time and the steel door to the clubhouse opened only after I banged it a good three or four times with my meat hand and waited for one of the stadium maintenance guys to swing it open.

There was nobody in the locker-room, it was far too early for ballplayers to show up, but I could hear the drip drip drip of the leaking waterpipe that ran past my locker. Hector was in his small cinder-block office, sitting at his wooden desk and going over reams of paper filled with statistics.

I was on the club at that point for only one month or so, and had hardly gotten close to anyone, least of all Hector. Besides, I’ve never been one to make friends easily, if I make them at all. When I was a ninth-grader, in fact, some English teacher, Mr. Pike I think, had written on my report card that I was “a diffident young man, maybe too diffident.” To be clear, I haven’t changed all that much in the intervening 45 years—and certainly hadn’t conquered my diffidence back when I was 17, and playing ball.

“Hector,” I said I said in my cruddy schoolboy Spanish, “I am leaving the club. My father needs me to come home.”

Hector came out from behind his desk. He took my duffle bag from off my shoulder and put it on the floor beside himself.

“Jorge Navidad. You must stay with us. Your father is a big boy. He will be ok without you. And you will be ok without him.”

I tried to argue. But Hector cut me off, as a manager can do to a player who disagrees with him.

“No, Jorge Navidad. You will stay in my home, with my wife Teresa and me. This will be better for you and better for all of us. It is time for your father to leave you and you to leave your home.”

Hector picked up my duffle, went behind his desk and put on his Seraperos green windbreaker.

“We go home,” he said to me in fractured, trying-very-hard English. “Teresa you will meet, my wife. And stay with us.”

We walked the mile and a half through the town of Saltillo, to the broad, leafy street where Hector and Teresa lived. It was a small concrete block house, white, with a terracotta tile roof. It was ringed with a neat lawn and there was a walk of stones leading to the three steps leading to the Seraperos-green front door.

Hector opened the door from the landing at the top of the steps and directed me in. Teresa came out and the two of them spoke in a Spanish that was too fast for me. Though I missed 75% of it, I caught a bit. Hector saying to Teresa, “Jorge. Mi hijo Americano.”

Teresa took me by the hand and led me to a small guest room in the back of her house.

“This will be your room,” she said. And she gave me two kisses, one on each cheek.

That was the room I lived in for most of the summer and fall of 1975. That was the room Karmen and I shared for so many happy days that came too soon to an end.

It was Teresa on the other end of the phone now. Now, 41 years after that summer. It was Teresa calling, having seen the results of that horrible, hopeless election night.

“You come and stay here.”

I laughed her off.

“We’ll be ok, Teresa,” I lied.

“You come and stay here,” she said again hanging up the phone.

I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t thinking of it.

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