Friday, January 5, 2024

Blood in the Morning.

One morning almost 49 years ago, I woke up early next to my road roomie, Gordo Batista, the Seraperos' starting catcher, in a small hotel room in a second-tier Mexican city.

The room was bare, Spartan you might call it, if you were being charitable or anti-Spartan. There was a small desk, a cushioned vinyl chair and a whirring ceiling fan overhead, better at making noise than at moving the air.

"I forget," I said to the ceiling, "what city are we in?"

Batista thought for a moment. "We could be anywhere from Chilpancingo to Quer├ętaro. What difference does it make?"

"Tonight," I began, "and the next few days, we will play our games, have our showers, get our chewing-outs and then go to another place whose name we do not know."

"Maybe there will be a girl here after the game. Or two."

"But probably just a cerveza."

"Or two."

I rolled to my right out of bed, while Batista stayed in his and scratched at his large middle. I turned the caliente tap in the plastic bathroom and hoped the water would comply. After a couple of minutes I gave up and shaved cold. I was used to shaving cold. It was ok. I was only 17 and hadn't much to shave. To be honest, I still don't. I have to wait a month for a five-o'clock shadow.

Nowadays, I wake up to pee more times a night than there are hours in the night. But when I was young, I was like a reverse camel--not a ship of the desert, more like a cistern of the sands. 

Finally, Batista shoved over to the sink and I backed up to pee in the lopsided toilet. That's when I would have scared the pants off of me, had I been wearing any. 

I peed blood. A long, deep-red stream of blood, bleeding into the toilet water and making it blood, like a tea-bag infusing the liquid in a mug.

I was scared quiet, just about the highest-order of scared. When you can't make a sound because you're waiting for the other cosmic shoe to drop. The former heavyweight champion Max. Baer once described fear this way, "Standing across the ring from Joe Louis, knowing he wants to go home early." Fear, yes, but I bet Baer never pissed blood.

"Gordo. My pee."

He waved me away like I was a pitcher and he wanted a bender not heat.

"My pee is blood." I ignored his dismissal. "Do not tell Hector. He will send me to the hospital in this place."

"I will get Verduzco," Gordo said and he left our room to find Verduzco's, down the hall somewhere. 

Jesus Verduzco was a scrub utility infielder, mostly shortstop, who was 24 when I knew him and the sole college graduate on the squad. In the off-season he was a medical student at Tecnol├│gico de Monterrey. We would run together at times, perfectly in-synch, limbering up in the outfield. I once said to him, "we run in iambic hexameter," as our spikes rhythmed on the warning-track scree. He laughed, which made me think he understood.

I peed again before Gordo and Verduzco came back though I had hardly any pee left in me. Like going back to a scary movie for the second time, or talking to my mother, I wanted to see how bad it was. I didn't want any delay in finding out I was dead.

Once, some decades ago, I had a lump where lumps should not be. The doctor gave me a sonogram and then I walked back to work, to wait for the results. I walked through midtown not looking at traffic lights or taxi-cabs. I was that sure I was already dead.

Verduzco came into the little room, with Gordo behind him.

"You peed again?" Verduzco asked.

"Just a little."

"Was it more red or less red?"

"Less, I think."

"And was there any pain or burning?"

"No." I answered with truth. I was too scared to lie. "Just the blood."

Verduzco backed out of the room and I followed. I sat on my bed, Gordo sat on his and Verduzco sat at the small desk facing me. 

"You probably took a bad hop in the kidney," he said. "Or the rattle of the bus through the potholes in the mountains broke a blood vessel where you didn't even know you had blood vessels."

"I caught a line-drive in my ribs day before yesterday."

"That's it," Verduzco said. "You watch every time you pee. If it comes back or gets bad, we'll have to go to the hospital. I am not yet a doctor."

"But you won't tell Hector."

"I won't tell Hector. I won't tell anyone. But you must, if it gets worse. If you don't tell, it will get worse."

He looked at me like a doctor does when he tells you to lose weight or to cut down on alcohol. "Yes," I said. "Yes." I looked at my hands like I was a bad dog and had done something wrong.

Verduzco left the room.

Gordo and I dressed. We went to spend our meal-money, then headed to the ball-park to play whatever game needed playing. We never spoke of my bloody pee again. Even when I'd return from the men's room of the diner we ate in, Gordo didn't ask. 

Maybe he was as afraid as I was.

Afraid that we're all dying, every day. Peeing blood or not.

Even if we don't tell Hector.

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