American Flag


Saturday morning
Shopkeeper yawning
Hangs on his awning an American flag
Bag for the goodies
Misunderstood, he pins to his hoodie
An American flag

It’s yours
It’s mine
Wave it around in an infinity sign
Red white and blue against the sky
Richmond, Virginia
Fourth of July

Hey dolly, looky
Kids playing hookie
One’s got a cookie
An American flag
Robbie’s off duty
Thinks of the shooting
Feels strange saluting the American flag

And in Mrs. Jackson’s homeroom
They sing God Bless Amerikay
Just in case someone forgot
Where he was today

And in the seventh inning stretch they sing
God Bless Amerikay
Just in case someone forgot
Where he was that day

It’s theirs
It’s ours
Stars and stripes
Stars and bars
Red white and blue all over the sky
Richmond, Virginia
Fourth of July

Saturday morning
Everyone yawning
On every awning an American flag

Thanks for Visiting

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA


Tris McCall recommends…


  • A Bike Ride

    Okay, folks, here’s what you do. Head south from Virginia Commonwealth University on South Belvidere Street. That’s not a very fun ride – it’s a heavily trafficked street – but trust me, it’ll get better. Pretty soon, you’re going to reach the James, and if you stay on the trail, you’ll be able to ride right above the rapids on a suspension bridge dedicated to bike and pedestrian traffic. Get off at Belle Isle, which is a kind of sylvan wonderland in the middle of the city. Investigate the ancient abandoned buildings at your peril, or just let them haunt you at a distance; it’s an indelible experience either way.

  • Vegetarian Option

    Some Virginians argue for the Roosevelt. Old timers dig Julep’s, though it’s expensive. Me, I consider Heritage (1627 W. Main) the best restaurant in Richmond, and that’s mainly because the chef, who is from Jersey, always has a stupendous vegetarian pasta dish on the menu. Richmond is also home to the hemisphere’s best croissant – better, even, than the ones I’ve had in St. Martin. The Sub Rosa Bakery (620 N. 25th) in Church Hill pulls those suckers out of a huge wood-burning oven, and they knock me out, every time.

  • House of Worship

    The Remnant Church (12 N. 19th St.) in Shockoe Bottom looks like a classic Richmond rock club, and in a way, it is one: it’s wired for electric instruments, there’s a black box stage with a great wooden cross, the entrance foyer feels very much like a merch area, and the pastors are young and look as if they’re itching to pick up a guitar. They’re also all male, which is a common thing in these hipster evangelical churches, I notice. But I won’t throw stones from afar. If I ever do move to Richmond, I imagine I’ll find an occasion to discuss it with them in person.

Spread the word about this Musical Almanac:

MALIK


Malik heard the thwak. The umpire’s fist went up. Strike three, right there on the corner. In his opinion, anyway; Malik felt quite differently. But he never argued with the umpires, even when he was certain he was right. The umpire was just a man like he was, one he might meet on the street in Carytown sometime after the game. With a sigh, Malik began the long and shameful walk back to the dugout, bat dragging through acres of grass.

Why hadn’t he argued? The slider was at least six inches outside. The strike zone was not a matter of interpretation: its dimensions were fixed and accepted by managers and players and umpires alike. It did not melt down into a different shape when it was ninety-seven degrees and humid at the Diamond, even when everybody wanted nothing more than to go home and take a shower. The trouble was always the same. Malik did not stand up for himself, even when authority was on his side. He was not aggressive: he did not drive through the ball, as the hitting coaches always told him to do. A polite approach to the pitch would not play at higher levels. It barely played here in the Eastern League, a continent and two promotions away from the place he’d once aimed to be. When he was drafted, all those years ago, the scouts complemented his large frame, his powerful physique, his raw bat speed. The Madman Malik would be in the majors in no time flat. Instead he’d stalled in AA. This was his fourth season as a Flying Squirrel. They didn’t call him the Madman anymore. They called him, and not too kindly, the Mayor of Richmond.

At least he hadn’t had much of an audience for his latest flop. The stands were nearly empty today. It was Virginia hot and the Squirrels were expected to lose. Tomorrow would be different: it would be the Fourth Of July. A postgame fireworks show had been scheduled. Nutzy the squirrel mascot would chase the kids up and down the baselines. There’d be patriotic songs and typical minor league stunts; they were getting the trained pig ready for a dash around the infield. A capacity crowd would arrive at the Diamond and expect to be entertained. Malik shuddered.

He slid his bat, untroubled by the depredations of fastballs, back into the rack. Yancey, who always used too much chalk, was chalking up. He looked like Big Ben in the fog. The customary thing to do would be to give his teammate a tip: slider really biting today, watch for the pitch up and in, ball is really traveling to left, drop down a bunt, etcetera. But nobody wanted advice from a twenty-six year old multiple repeater, least of all Yancey, who wasn’t picked until the thirty-third round and had defied all expectations to make it this far. House money, I’m playing with house money, boys, he’d say. I’m in the afterlife; don’t touch me.

“Hey, Mayor,” said Yancey, from behind his cloud. “You know those statues? Those big Confederate statues?”

“Monument Avenue? Yes, yes, of course.”

“You. Me. A few other guys. Dynamite.” Yancey leered, made a pow sound, pulled his hands apart to signify an explosion.

“What? No!”

Aw, I’m just kidding. But c’mon, don’t they offend you? They sure offend me. Malik did not doubt that they did indeed offend Yancey, a Californian who’d demonstrated little interest in Southern culture. But he also knew that the young shortstop was obsessed with SportsCenter and was always cooking up stunts that, he felt, might attract the cameras to the Eastern League. It was unlikely in any case. For player in double A ball to make SportsCenter, he generally had to run through a wall or something like that. Yancey had only been with the Flying Squirrels for a month and already he was monkeying with the streetscape. Well, Malik had come to appreciate everything about Richmond — the farmer’s markets on the far side of the James, the old houses and churches, the VCU girls on bicycles in summer dresses, and yes, even the long line of handsome Confederate statues at strategic intersections on Monument Avenue. Stonewall Jackson was his favorite. OK, have it your way you old fart, we never had this conversation, said Yancey. If you’ll excuse me I got to go get a hit. Which he did: a whistler, right past the pitcher’s ear, on and through into center field.

No such luck for Malik. The rest of his afternoon was an exercise in futility: wrong guesses on breaking balls, feeble rollers, even a rare miscue in the field. Yes, he was definitely in a deep slump — the last one ever, he reckoned. The big league club had signed most of their new draftees, which meant that the rosters of the farm teams would need to contract to accommodate new talent. It was hard to see why the organization would waste any more time on a first baseman who had, over and over, failed to master the level, who’d lost all his power. The Fourth of July would indeed be Independence Day for him; he’d be on his own, a minor league free agent with a low batting average and a well-advertised lack of killer instinct.

The ride from the Diamond to Malik’s boarding house in the Fan District took about fifteen minutes. No matter how hot it was, he made the journey by bicycle. By now all the shopkeepers on the Boulevard and Broad knew him, knew he was a ballplayer, rooted for him in spite of his struggles. No hits today, hey, Mayor. Chin up, go get them tomorrow. Beautifully restored two-story residential buildings, many of them built just after the war, with brick stoops and columned front porches, bay windows and wrought-iron decorations on their roofs, peeked out between the great trees. He would miss this place when the team released him. It wasn’t so bad, was it, sputtering out in the minor leagues if his reward could be a relationship with Richmond. He knew right where to get summer corn ice cream and where in the James the pretty people bathed. This had become home; he’d grown protective of it. Don’t take shots at our statues unless you understand exactly what they signify.

Hunched over the handlebars, Malik swerved between cars. Only on his bicycle did he feel safe, and even then, it occurred to him that he wasn’t very. But the beauty of a bicycle was that if disaster struck, he wouldn’t be stuck in place. If the town needed to be evacuated, a bicycle — one with tires equipped for off-road excursions, as his was — could bypass traffic jams. Riots, too, were best negotiated by bike: they were more nimble than cars and motorcycles and much faster than traveling by foot. In case of a shooter… well, he was probably dead, but he liked his chances on a bicycle better than those he had if he was a passerby without a set of wheels, or stuck in the driver’s seat of a car at an intersection.

His phone buzzed. It was Yancey. He wanted to be sure that Malik knew that he was kidding about the dynamite. Ha ha it was a joke, c’mon laugh. Thought he’d get a more sympathetic response. But that’s crazy business; he’d never do anything like that. On the other hand, well, he had something planned for tomorrow. Nothing crazy. Just something Instagrammable to commemorate the Fourth.

The game had ended hours ago but Yancey was still at the ballpark taking grounders. Once he’d told the coach that he’d bring a cot in and sleep at the keystone if he could. Malik had to admit that he’d never felt that way, not even in high school, when his size and strength allowed him to overpower his opponents. He was always ready to go home. Perhaps that was the secret: the fire and desire was missing. And maybe his skills would never have developed the way the scouts hoped they would. Maybe, no matter how much he wanted it, he would never have caught up with the breaking ball.

A bang, like the crack of a bat, made Malik jump in his seat. Shouts, hollers on the streetcorners ahead, a man in a denim jacket with a roll of firecrackers. It was a cherry bomb, tossed on the curb in the general direction of the sewer. Bang from another rooftop, bang bang, smoke on the streets. Third of July, roman candle in the twilight. Malik smelled sulfur. Another bang and laughter. The throb of a subwoofer and the shotgun snare of a pop song, punctuated by a car door slam and the crackle of fuses. This would go on all night, he knew. He tucked himself down and pedaled for home.



In the boarding house the newsfeeds rattled away. Arkansas: a man walks into a club and shoots twenty. New York: a doctor with an assault rifle tears up a hospital. Bomb threats in Boston, fears of arson in Florida. On Reddit, survivalists ready for civil war. A truck driver floors the accelerator on a crowded street in New Jersey and slams into a park gazebo. Muslims run over outside a mosque in France. Blood on a beach. Stabbing spree in Portland, killer unrepentant, delivers white power speech in court. In the subways, say something if you see something. The threat can come from anywhere. Violence in Nevada casino, confrontation at rally, angry man swings sign around. Look both ways when you cross the street. Cellphones and laptops explode on planes. A dirty bomb strategically placed in Times Square or on the National Mall will kill thousands. Watch out. You could get shot in a gay bar. On campus. In church. At a screening of a Batman movie. You are the front line.

Malik swung a fireplace poker over his bed. Force of habit, really, no late night desire to knock a homer. Swinging things was just what he did. How would he react when it was all over — when the coaches pulled him aside after tomorrow’s game and told him the organization needed to make a move? If he didn’t cry — because he was pretty certain he wouldn’t — what would that say? Malik remembered Draft Day, all those years ago: the itchy suit (he had never worn one before), the hours of waiting with a grin, his mother’s jubilation when his name was called, the walk to the podium and the handshake with the Commissioner, calls from agents, comparisons with the greats, projections, platitudes. Take it in son, breathe, in a few years this will all be a blur. Only it wasn’t; it didn’t work out that way. Everything that happened that evening remained sharp in his memory. It was the days to come — the many long days of pop flies and sunburn and frustration — that had melted into a slurry in his memory.

Rogues stalked the dugouts of pro ball: drug cheats, gamblers, bigots, guys who’d slide into the second baseman with their spikes up. None, Malik had learned, were as reviled as the prospect bust. Coaches loathed underachievers; they didn’t want to play Malik, but the hope of the future couldn’t be benched. Fans saw them as a broken promise, a living, whiffing embodiment of organizational foolishness. Other players resented the signing bonuses and the headlines, all unearned. The writers were the worst. When Malik managed a few hits, the ledes were cautious: was he finally beginning to live up to expectations? Then he’d take a collar and the knives would come out. There was a flaw in the design, a deep malfunction, lassitude, a lack of moral vigor, a thick black mark on the blueprint.

Most of all, Malik hated himself. He’d let down millions of people in a distant city he’d only visited once — a trip he’d taken a few days after he’d been drafted. He’d met the general manager and the broadcasters, gone on the air and said the cliches he’d been taught. Did he believe them, even then? If he could retrace his steps to his first errant footfall, he would. But the path was lost in the ivy. He wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t strong enough or fast enough, and so he’d flopped. When Malik looked around the dugout, he could not help but compare his physique to those of the other players: he was still the most muscular, quickest to the top of the rope ladder, top of the bench press tables. Perhaps there was a deep stubbornness in him, unrecognized by coaches and scouts, that prohibited him from translating his natural talents into game time results. Malik envied the ballplayers drafted in low rounds, the ones like Yancey with nothing to prove, those whose every hit was still a surprise and delight.

He should be happy that Yancey even spoke to him. Then again, Yancey saw him as a rare beast and one that deserved protection, perhaps in a zoo. Two days after his call-up, he’d looked around the clubhouse and grimaced. Then he’d turned to Malik for sympathy.

“It’s whiter than a goddam Brooks Brothers in here.”

“You’re white, I believe,” said Malik, buttoning his jacket.

“God and it was a total whitewash out there in the stands, as I am sure you noticed. Fat old white guys, fucking collar-popped golf shirts tight over their sweaty boilers. Abigail, with her shades and her painters cap, two babies with the dipping dots. Jeez how does it feel when they boo you? You must want to run up on them with a bat. Kablam.”

They had booed him that day. He’d lost a fly ball in the sun. It bounced off the edge of his mitt and plonked on the grass in front of him. For a split second he stared at the ball in contempt and disbelief. Stupid ball, never doing what he’d asked of it. Thousands noticed his hesitation. Upon his return to the dugout he’d heard the catcalls. Was it racist, asked Yancey, was it a load of racist garbage from these wonder bread fuckers. No, not particularly, said Malik. This didn’t satisfy the shortstop. How could it be not particularly racist? Either it was racist or it wasn’t. There’s not a lot of gray area.

Malik attempted an explanation. First, they were not Wonder Bread anything; Wonder Bread came from the Midwest, where palates could be unsophisticated and food options were scarce. Virginia, on the other hand, was a bounty. New bakeries and groceries had popped up all over Richmond. You’ll marvel at the enterprise. In the years he’d been a Flying Squirrel, he’d seen Richmond transform from an afterthought, an ancillary part of the D.C. market, to a genuine destination. He’d watched a city rediscover itself. As for the people, they’d paid their money for their tickets and they had the right to express themselves as they wished. Some of their ribbing did cross the line. But he’d learned not to let it bother him. No, it didn’t bother him. He was aware that he’d underperformed. The ethnic composition of the clubhouse was what it was. There were more black and Latino players at the A and AAA level at the moment; that was just where the prospects were in their development. It was only happenstance that made the roster what it was. Of course it would be good if there were more African American players. Not just in Richmond but throughout ball. You cannot blame Richmond for an institutional problem.

Well aren’t you a regular tour guide, said Yancey. I see now why they call you the Mayor, hope you get some kickbacks from the chamber of commerce. Malik sensed no malice and smiled. Imparting wisdom always grounded him. He felt settled, a little less hounded by his feelings of failure. But the next game he’d stepped out of the box and looked around at the faces in the crowd and found them abject. He was a specimen in a great green dish and they were the evaluators, alien to him, safe behind the glass rim, probing for a reaction. He searched the stands for signs of empathy and was unable to locate any. Vulnerable in plain sight he was, subject to the anger and disappointment of thousands of strangers. Frightened, Malik struck out; later in the game, he struck out again. The following day it rained. It was a great relief.

Fourth of July dawned hard and hot. Malik felt no hurry to get to the Diamond. Instead he took a long ride, through the Fan District, through the Jackson Ward, prize of the real estate developers, with its crumbling old churches and new restaurants, into the Downtown and the area of replenishment, waking up and stretching after a long sleep. He passed the State Capitol on its grassy hill, designed by Thomas Jefferson to be more impressive than the ones in the District of Columbia — and it was, in Malik’s opinion, a better expression of classical virtues, a glorious little Parthenon that had never come to recognition. Well, maybe sometime soon. It had been, ever so briefly, a national capital. With its columns and its handsome lines, it certainly looked the part. Nowadays it punched below its weight. How funny it would have been if history had unscrolled itself otherwise, and this port at the fall line of the James had become not a modest city of two hundred thousand, a geographical also-ran, but a great metropolis in its own right. Could’ve happened, thought Malik. Was America now done with its shifting around, would growth now happen in other regions? Had exhaustion set in, or was there some possibility of transformation left, some dormant civic muscles that had not yet flexed?

Long before game time, the Diamond parking lot was full. Children, face-painted and firework-frantic, queued up at the press entrance to run the bags with Nutzy the Squirrel. Tailgaters heading for the Little Caesars Pavilion, spilling out of the backed-up pickup trucks with ketchup and buns and links of meat to grill. Malik pedaled between parked cars. One kid recognized him, sort of. Papa isn’t that one of the baseball players. He’s so big! Get a autograph. Hush, Bobby, he needs to play today. Let him concentrate.

The great concrete and steel horseshoe of the Diamond baked in the sun. Malik locked his bike and slipped into the cool of the concourse. Then he took the elevator down to the basement, and the small changing area near the janitorial services. He’d often liked to catch his breath here, sometimes before games, more often after a day of futility on the field. The quiet, broken only by the steady bump and scuffle of bodies filing into the bleachers overhead and the rattle of concession wagons pushed to their destinations, sodded him. If this was his last time, the last seconds of the dream before rousing, he wanted one final moment in his sanctum. He swung open the door, sat on the throne, exhaled, pressed his face in his hands.

A low electronic mumble, like a transmission from a computer behind a great laboratory panel. Malik strained to hear it. It was words, yes, definitely, and he could make some of them out. Even here, in the basement of the stadium, he could tell that the announcement had a different feel and tone from the ones that he was used to: a little cooler, a little more crisp, less spacing between the words. Malik strained to disaggregate vowels and consonants from the buzz of the fluorescent lights. The voice was male, that he knew, male and determined. Proceed directly to the nearest exits. Walk in an orderly fashion. For the safety of you and our guests.

An evacuation! It had to be. Active shooter, somewhere on the grandstand, or a bomb, or a bomb threat, or a gas attacker, or worse. The explosives could dislodge a concrete wall, send detritus tumbling his way; he’d be entombed like a pharaoh. He had to run. Hastily, listening to the message repeat, he hiked his pants up and charged out of the stall. Don’t panic, Malik, set an example. Soon everyone will be filing out. Looking about him he reached the top of the concourse. No danger in sight. He scanned the ramps for trouble. Below him the hot dog vendors carried on. The parking lot — and his bicycle — stretched before him. Heart thumping and mouth dry, palms sweating and eyes darting, a wreck, really, Malik burst into the sunlight.

First he noticed that everyone was still walking the other way. Only then did he realize that he couldn’t hear the message anymore. Nor had it been broadcast on the concourse. Was he privy to a secret that no one else was; would they all fall prey to folly, and he’d be the only survivor? Or had it been an auditory hallucination? Just get on your bike, Malik, get on and put distance between you and the stadium. They’re releasing you anyway: let go.

All around him, children, alternately laughing and kvetching, continued to file into the Diamond. His was the only face pointed toward the Boulevard and Broad. Behind him he could hear applause. Malik stood still. Then he turned around and entered the clubhouse, put on his Flying Squirrels uniform, and readied himself for the game.


Only he wasn’t in the lineup.

Malik did a double take, re-read, checked the chart on the dugout wall. He wasn’t in there, he wasn’t even batting eighth. Well, that cinched it: by tomorrow he wouldn’t be a Squirrel anymore. New talent for a new day. The Malik experiment had run its course. He filed his game bats away in the rack, took a seat at the end of the bench, and prepared himself to be a pinch hitter if the need arose. Which it wouldn’t; he’d been around and knew how this went.

It had been different, long ago, when he was a kid on the ballfields of Biloxi. He was the clean-up man, or the third place swinger, always delivering in a big spot, turning around fastballs, meeting them with a wood-barrel kiss and scorching them far past the gloves of outfielders who could never outrun his drives. He’d be on second with a grin, and everybody would cheer, he’d slide into third and pop up with bravado, and everybody would laugh, he’d stride for home like it was his rightful place, his own private kitchen dish and everybody else a rude borrower. They’d ogle. And it was nice, very nice, to please the people, the family and friends who said he was bound for big things, to bask in the untested but unquestioned assumption that Malik would join the circle of the greats. He had the most valuable thing in the world, and he didn’t even know it then: a future. It was the ultimate currency, the lubricant that made all his interactions easy, the promise that his pals wanted a hot piece of. If it had just been more of a challenge, he may have developed coping mechanisms that could guide him through adversity. Or he may not have; who knew? Missed opportunities: they could drive a man mad.

Malik didn’t like where he was sitting. The door to the clubhouse slanted too far to his left — if there was a need for a mass exodus, he’d be trapped behind the bodies of the other bench-warmers. It was better, in a way, to be on the field: a person had more room to maneuver during his mad dash to the bullpen and the parking lot beyond. True, he was exposed. But the roof of the dugout was rickety. An explosion might shake the panels free and pin him to the ground. He could imagine it: the great green slab with the image of the flying squirrel on it, caving inward, trapping his legs as madness swirled around him. Malik had taken to doing this, whenever he was in a crowded public place: calculating the best escape routes in case of an emergency, figuring out contingencies. How to deal with a shooter, a bomber, a stabber, a maniac in a truck with a lust for vehicular homicide.

Through the aperture between the top step and the dugout roof he scanned the capacity crowd. Faces of strangers: some chewing, with sausages stuffed in them, others explaining a fine point of the game to a neighbor, others impassive as accountants at an audit. American flags, distributed before the game, stars and stripes on stiff cloth stapled to a cheap wooden dowel. Some fans shook them back and forth in time to the beat of a pop song. Others waved them around in an infinity sign. Red, white and blue, against the sky.

“Yancey,” he called to the shortstop, who fiddled with his glove. “Hey Yancey.”

“Yeah?”

“Did you happen to, um, by chance, hear an evacuation order?”

“What? For the Diamond?”

“Yah before the game. Maybe an hour and a half before. Over the loudspeaker.” But maybe not the loudspeaker we’re used to.

He’d been there since eight in the morning and hadn’t heard a thing. Cool it old man, before you start a stampede. Full house today, do not distract me. I need to get my hits. But Malik couldn’t understand why Yancey wasn’t stretching with the rest of the players in the lineup. It made no sense: he was the leadoff man. He ought to be on the field. Unless: he knew something he wasn’t telling. That would explain his jitteriness. Yes, Yancey knew something. Yancey, c’mon, tell me what you know.

“Cut it out. You’re bugging me.”

“I know you know.” Malik knew he knew.

“Come on!,” He slapped his glove on the bench. “Jeez, you were supposed to be the stable guy on this team.”

All over the stadium, players, coaches, and umpires removed their caps. Would you please stand. On Independence Day, we honor America. A young singer with bright red lipstick who had in the past twelve months achieved a measure of national renown, and, in so doing, called attention to the Richmond musical underground, approached the microphone. Go on, Yancey, get out on the baseline. Go stand for the anthem. But he wouldn’t go. Go on go.

Then he sprung from the bench as if he’d been on an ejector seat. Yancey, hands full, charged to the on-deck circle and faced the crowd. Just as the singer began her first phrase, he blew an airhorn, unfolded a poster, and raised it above his head. Black Lives Matter, it read, blocky letters on chartreuse.

Some polite applause, including a clap and an approving nod, Malik noticed, from the singer. Others in the stands were not so accommodating. A group of young men by the dugout began to jeer. One chucked his American flag at Yancey, who held his sign higher. Okay get off the field you made your point. You’re not a pundit, you’re a ballplayer. Put the sign down and let’s get on with it. Alone on the pine, Malik was overwhelmed with shame. Yancey hadn’t known anything about an evacuation order after all; he’d been nervous because he was poised to pull a stunt. Everybody had seen the famous image of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulders, challenging a contemptuous crowd in Cincinnati to re-examine their priorities. That was remembered, rightly, as a beautiful gesture. Well, Malik could make a beautiful gesture, too. He’d leave the dugout and stand there with Yancey. He’d face the crowd.

Malik put a heavy foot on the top step and launched himself up on the field. Another two steps and he’d be by his friend. And he had every intention of taking those steps, too, but he saw a flash, and felt a terrific crack on the side of his head, and a splash of fluid that he feared was blood. Then all six feet and four inches of the Squirrels first baseman fell to the grass, like a dying quail.

Six days later, and after many bleary attempts, Malik finally cleared the concussion protocol. He’d be able to swing a bat and take grounders. The Squirrels decided to add him to the disabled list just in case. The beer bottle that had smacked against his temple had been intended for Yancey, but the chucker was no Whitey Ford; he’d been hard at the bottle in the tailgate area for hours before gametime, and his aim was compromised. In police custody the man had bawled. He hadn’t meant to hurt the Mayor; in fact, Malik was his favorite player and had been for years. Over and over he apologized. Malik was too nauseous to respond.

He had not been released. The Squirrels, it turned out, had no intention of letting him go: he hadn’t been in the lineup on the Fourth of July because the skipper felt he needed a rest day. Instead, the team had made room for its newest promotions by cutting Yancey. He hadn’t made it Sportscenter, but one weblog dedicated to the major league team decried the transaction. Yet the comments section soon filled up with voices of reason: something had to give in the Squirrels infield, and Yancey, whose talents were modest at best, was no major loss. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that his release coincided with his anthem protest. Most readers had never heard of Yancey at all. No one frets much about the end of the run for a thirty-third round draft pick. Those characters aren’t expected to do anything: they’re organizational filler, extras, background for the protagonists.

The manager paid Malik a visit at the boarding house. Hope you’re feeling better. How many fingers ha ha. Look, son, you might not realize this but you’re getting older. We don’t none of us know what’s going to happen next year. But we sure appreciate what you’ve done for the franchise. For the remainder of the season, we want you to have this.

It was a patch, a C in team colors. We don’t ordinarily do this, you know. But in light of —

“Skip, I can’t accept this.”

“Why not?” He’d been an ambassador for the city, everybody knew him. They called him the Mayor, didn’t they? This was just formalizing it for a few months.

Malik flushed. He knew what was happening: he was getting a baseball sinecure. Maybe a day on the field before the organization said goodbye. A sweet little ceremony to dashed hopes. Well he didn’t want it. No crowing about a low batting average and bonus money poorly spent; he’d rather fade away. An outright release would be more merciful. Look just take it, said the manager. Game’s not easy for everybody. There’s something to be said for being a good organizational soldier.

“On the front lines?”, Malik asked.

“If you like.”

“I’m not… I’m not sure I do.”

“Think about it.” He left the C on the dresser and turned out the lights. Malik put a pillow over his face and tried to sleep.

What manner of enterprise was this, he thought, that chewed a man up by twenty-six, made him a laughingstock before his peers, a downed palooka, the subject of cruel dismissals, jeers from the stands, potshots, you name it. He’d had an opportunity to end it well: to stand up on the field with Yancey and lend whatever authority he’d accrued over the past four years to a gesture that, futile as it was, certainly seemed to come from the heart. He’d even messed that up — or had it messed up for him. Any swing he took would be feeble now. Strong he still was, but the conviction had gone from his wrists. Malik lifted the little C from the night table and slid it in an envelope, licked it, sealed it, addressed it to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Thank you for every opportunity, he wrote on a note. I will spend the rest of my years wondering if I squandered it. That part he didn’t write down. But he believed he burned it on the back of the stationery with his stare. Head still hurting, Malik packed a suitcase, unlocked his bicycle, and pedaled off into Richmond, Virginia, in search of something — anything — else.

– Tris McCall

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Pick our next destination:


Ann Arbor, Michigan: “Hopscotch Otters Collegetown Blues”
Atlanta, Georgia: “King of Pops”
Austin, Texas: “Chelsea”
Baltimore, Maryland: “(That’s What I Like About) Baltimore
Billings, Montana: “Tight Times (In the Land of Silence)”
Cambridge, Massachusetts: “You Could Meet Me There”
Camden, Maine: “I Dream Dead Ends”
Charlestown, South Carolina: “He Eats Well”
Chicago, Illinois: “Gurleez”
Columbus, Ohio: “O Columbus”
Dearborn, Michigan: “Unbeliever, Respect the Veil”
Denver, Colorado: “Conspiracy Theory
Houston, Texas: “Houston Calls the Space Cadet
Indianapolis, Indiana: “A Girl With a Bicycle”
Jersey City, New Jersey: “Paul Simon, I Had to Ask”
Las Vegas, Nevada: “All the Money in the World”
Los Angeles, California: “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby”
Miami Beach, Florida: “Every Day is Children’s Day”
Monticello, New York: “Sector B”
Nashville, Tennessee: “You’re No Good to Anyone”
New Orleans, Louisiana: “The Unmapped Man”
New York, New York: “The Prince of Daylight
Northampton, Massachusetts: “The Blue Door”
Orlando, Florida: “Nowhere to Go But Down”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: “Backstage @ The Hungry Bum”
Phoenix, Arizona: “On Indian School”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “Kate Beaton
Portland, Oregon: “Turbulence at Night”
Raleigh, North Carolina: “I Like America”
Richmond, Virginia: “American Flag”
San Diego, California: “Route 52
San Francisco, California: “Joe Panik”
San Juan, Puerto Rico: “The Tantrum”
Seattle, Washington: “Take Me to the Waterfall
Washington, D.C.: “You Used to Sing About Manhattan”
Wilmington, North Carolina: “Somewhere Down the Line”
Yountville, California: “The Sybarite”