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FICTION

In the Stands
By Sanford Tweedie

Soon as I'm out of the cab, I'm scanning the crowd, checking each face. Some people see a crowd as a clump of bodies. Me, I look into the eyes. One set at a time. A quick glance and I decide. This one wants an autograph. That one wants to touch him. Most are content just to smell his stinking pits. They're harmless. But I can't get lulled into believing they all are. Because if I do and the Merchandise gets damaged, I'm out a job.

You see, the 'Dise, he's a looker. Poster material. On TV every week. He's kids' stuff. The girls squeal for him. Course, he's prettied up for the cameras. In person, he ain't so perfect. This crowd we're in now is paying him no attention. Too caught up in getting into the stadium to notice the Merchandise. We're just a couple of guys getting dropped off at the ballpark on a Saturday afternoon. Easy.

At breakfast this morning, the Merchandise closes the sports section and says he wants to go to a baseball game. We're not even at home. We're working Chicago and he decides he wants to see a ball game. So I ask him which team he wants to go see, White Sox or Cubs?

"Who cares," he says. "I just want to see a game. Today."

The 'Dise gets something stuck in his head and we have to do it. He's used to getting his way. Spoiled, that's what he is. Don't get me wrong, I like him. We've been together going on three years now—longer than most Hollywood marriages. Probably because I don't judge him. The 'Dise knows that I'll never write one of those tell-all books about his stunts in the Club 99 bathroom or the Hilton pool at four in the morning. Nobody but the hotel management would care if he wasn't Mr. Famous. Let him write about it someday if he wants. That's his business.

Of course, his business is mine, too. I'm only around as long as the Merchandise is on the shelf. We need each other. I need the Merchandise for the job, for the living, and he needs me to run interference for him, to give him some breathing room. When he's yesterday's lunchmeat, I'll still need to work. Sure, there'll be new Merchandise after this one's forgotten, but in the meantime I've got to keep this one upright.

So we're walking unseen into this afternoon game at Wrigley Field. It's a warm day. Muggy. The Cubs are playing the Cards. Cards are on top of the division, have been for a while. The Cubbies as usual are floating near the bottom. They got nothing to gain by winning, but they can hurt the Cards' chances in the pennant race. It's like that. If you're not on top, you're trying to knock off the guy who is.

We pass a souvenir stand. I tell the 'Dise he ought to buy himself a baseball cap. Keep the sun out of your eyes, I'm saying. Keep people from recognizing you, I'm thinking. We take our time trying on different ones. He likes the White Sox cap because the "Sox" looks like "Sex" in that old-style script. But I see this bringing too much attention from those who don't like the team across town. Next, he tries on one of those bright-red Cards hats. Even worse. I'm beginning to wonder if this cap business was a good idea. Finally he picks out a Dodgers cap. Says L.A.'s been good to him. Okay by me. I pick out a Cubs hat to give the homers a little moral support.

Cap, shades, khaki shorts, T-shirt: he looks pretty much like everybody else. We make our way to our seats and still nobody's noticed him. Even at this late hour, the 'Dise has been able to get us box seats only a couple of rows off the field near the first base dugout.

The players are still taking batting practice. A couple of them come over to the stands and sign autographs for kids holding out programs and pens. These kids, smiles pasted on their faces, run up the stairs without glancing at the Merchandise. He chuckles. It's probably the first time he's been passed up for someone else in several years. He's enjoying being a nobody.

But this place begins to make me nervous as more people file in. We're so close to the field. Too close. Everyone's behind us. I can't see what they're doing back there. I can't see their faces, their eyes. My back begins to itch. No, I don't like this place one bit. And I tell the 'Dise so.

"Relax, Thumper. It's a ball game," the 'Dise says, gesturing to the field and the athletes in their showy white uniforms. "These people," he flips a hand over his shoulder, "have come to see the players, not me."

But the guy behind me is cracking peanut shells in my ear while his kid screams at everyone in a uniform, "Hey, dude, over here!" A woman in front of me waves her Cubs pennant, blocking my view on each pass. And the game ain't even started.

Finally, the Merchandise asks, "You working today?"

"Sure," I say. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Then I'm giving you the afternoon off. Lean back and enjoy." He slaps my thigh and smiles the grin that's made him so much money that he has to hire a guy like me. "If anything happens, you have nothing to worry about, my friend, because you are off duty."

But I'm edgy. I'm paid to be. Some of these kooks don't just sit on their couches and scream at the TV. They come after the goods. So the 'Dise pays me to step in for him at any moment.

To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Spring 2002 issue.

—EFQ

SANFORD TWEEDIE does not expect to become rich enough to have his own bodyguard, as his income is reliant on his professing at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. He is currently at work on a book of essays concerning his experiences as a Fulbright recipient living in the former East Germany. His favorite era of baseball was ruled by potbellied Detroit Tigers like Willie Horton and Mickey Lolich.

© 2002 Sanford Tweedie

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