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THE PORTSIDER

Fishy Growing Pains
By Staff Writer

"Forceps."

"Forceps."

"Scalpel."

"Scalpel's right here."

"Okay. Forceps, you're playing left field. Scalpel, you're at second. Let's go get 'em, guys."

Larry Forceps and Dante Scalpel weren't the most talented ballplayers on the Kwiguk Contractions, and that was just the way Dr. Dimitri Trofimova liked it. He hired them precisely because they were bad ballplayers. Bad ballplayers with the names of medical instruments that Dr. Trofimova vilified. Why Dr. Trofimova chose to use a baseball club to bad-mouth modern medical childbirth and promote his system of Russian Waterbirth, and how I came to manage a team with a delivery spa in the center field bleachers, is a story that's shorter than it sounds.

It began in the last year of Stalin's rule, although Dimitri didn't know that at the time. He just knew that he'd had enough of life in Uelen. It was a small town right on the Bering Strait. At night he could just make out the twinkle of lights from Alaska. When his wife, Marianna, got pregnant, Dr. Trofimova decided he wanted his child to be born into the freedom of America. So he bribed a herring boat captain to smuggle he and the missus across the strait. What Captain Orsov forgot to mention was the possibility of bad weather.

The S.S. Gorky ran into a storm the first night out. The wind whipped the little boat south through the Gulf of Anadyr, on into the Bering Sea, and nearly to the tip of Kamchatka. Captain Orsov promised the doctor that once he caught his load of fish, he'd head north and drop them off in Alaska. But the herring proved fickle. This was the infamous "Year of the Pickled Herring." They acted drunk. They didn't swim straight; they snapped at each other; and the damn herrings just wouldn't get caught. There was a massive vodka-tanker leak that fall around the herring breeding grounds and apparently it disrupted the genetic code.

Every day Dimitri stared out at the wine-dark sea, pouring strong black coffee into the water. It couldn't hurt. And every day Marianna grew great with child. Finally, Captain Orsov threw in the towel. He took his bath towel and threw it into the ocean, vowing not to shower again until he caught herring. It was the bath towel that did it. The potent scent of a sea captain's residual sweat sobered them up. The herring cleaned up their act, the S.S. Gorky filled its catch, and in April, Dimitri and Marianna were set in a little rowboat off the Alaskan shore. By this time, Marianna was closing in on nine months. As Dimitri rowed them through the Norton Sound, her contractions started. Dr. Dimitri Trofimova began sweating profusely. Did I mention he was a podiatrist? If his wife was giving birth through the metatarsals, he could help.

He searched the shoreline for a safe landing spot. He saw a tiny inlet, where the waters appeared calm. He rowed hard, Marianna now gasping every minute. The rowboat touched a sandy bottom and Dimitri jumped out. The water was warm. He had landed in a tiny hot spring. He tried to gently lift Marianna out of the boat, but she was unwieldy. She tumbled into the water and suddenly felt a great relaxation. Her weight was supported. Before she knew it, right then, right there in the warm water of the hot spring, she gave birth. It was a boy. He came out with a minimum of pain and Marianna hugged him tightly to her breast as they sat in the warm salt water. They named him Seward.

Dimitri became America's first waterbirth proponent. He settled near Nome and as the years went by, he perfected a warm-water labor pool. He sold them door to door, a tough sell until he figured out that he should call it a hot tub, and then point out the added value of waterbirthing. Seward grew up, as American as igloos and polar bear, and played baseball during the brief summers. Dimitri saw how much the Alaskans loved the game. Many years ago, some hardy settlers had built a ballpark in Kwiguk. It overlooked the point where the Yukon River emptied into the Norton Sound—and where a natural hot spring bubbled. Dimitri saw opportunity. He bought the ballpark, did a bit of refurbishing, and installed one of his labor pools in the center field bleachers. He joined the Independent Alaska League. They were glad to have him, as there was only one other team, the Anchorage Beards, a team of gay lumberjacks who served as covers for Alaskan lesbians.

He hired me to manage the Kwiguk Contractions. How he got my name, I'm not quite sure, except that I did a mail-order replacement on an otter-skin ottoman for a hirsute man named Troy. Doesn't matter. I traveled to Kwiguk and met my team. Yes, Larry Forceps and Dante Scalpel were lox, and so was Caesar Jones. But Sammy Chugiak and Darren Kwigillingok could both hit the ball, and George Shageluk was a decent pitcher.

The best part of the team, however, was the bleacher Labor Pool Room: "The Place to Head When It's Time to Deliver Your Pitch!" We'd be playing the Beards and from the curtained spa in center field, we'd hear screams that had nothing to do with a ground rule double. After about an inning and a half, the drapes would part and there was Dimitri, holding up a little newborn like that baboon displaying Simba on Pride Rock. The crowd would cheer, and the lucky ones who had bet on a fourth-inning birth would collect.

It all seemed so natural. A little human being coming into the world in the warm salty waters of a center field spa. Boats in the sound hooting their horns in congratulations. Seagulls cawing, as if welcoming a new life. The Kwiguk team proved that contractions are a natural part of life. They shouldn't be forced. Birth and death are the only things human beings are guaranteed; each comes at its own pace. You induce a contraction and you're going to end up with something as fishy as drunk herring.

From the experience of a lifetime in baseball and at least one reupholstery involving otter skins, this is your devoted correspondent, Staff Writer.

—EFQ

 

Back during his playing days, the only time STAFF WRITER thought about contraction was when it came to reducing his waistline during spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Now, as he gazes out the window of the old firehouse in Minneapolis toward the pressure-inflated teflon roof of the Metrodome, all he can think about is hot air.

© 2002 Elysian Fields Quarterly

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