I've Done What I Can
by Rick Lopez
He had a clutch going on me, his free hand up deep under my arm, as if I belonged to him then. Cream-colored latex gloves and heavy boots. Vaseline on my bicep, his tool-hand pressing a broad furrow into my upper arm, buzz of electricity throwing ink into my skin, the needle a blur. It was, as he said, "like being scratched." Not pain, but a deep centering hum that put tension into your teeth. It did not distress me.
It was my first time, and I found myself trying not to betray the way it felt: this conceptual intimacy.
"No. Just wired."
Two feet of snow outside, gas heaters exhaling in the corner, losing to the chill. Me in short-sleeves, letting a stranger scar me for life.
"Who is it? he asks me."
"An old-time ballplayer..."
"What's it mean? he tries again."
"It's a political thing..."
And it is, and I don't mean to be evasive, honestly I don't, but you see there were these wild drawings all over the wall and I've got blood and ink smeared across my arm and it's fifty degrees in here and I need to pay attention to this very particular kind of fun I'm having these days, wrapping my arms around this new-found smile I wear so often now, this fun I'm having, this world I'm learning.
Forty years old, a tattoo parlour, 12th and Wayne. At last I'm a grown-up. I've got black ink in my skin, got another few thousand books to read, got a high-gloss polish I'm putting to the fluid of my world-view. Got my heroes in a row.
The quiet envelops us, hints of breath in the air, I'm cursing the rotting soul of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, that tension in my teeth. It's been nearly 75 years now since he up and banished eight White Sox for throwing the World Series and I've got the sign, it's clinging to my left shoulder where it can feel my heart thumping away. It was 1919 and cold black ink fell from an American sky. Oh a few of them deserved it, a few of them spent hot hours sweating into the cups of gamblers who were smarter than they were, setting it up and laughing and sneering like weasels are apt to do. Gin, tobacco, and cold hard cash, trading away the dreams of thousands, ideals and innocence that were not theirs. But listen: My boy here, he hit .375, best in the series, had the only home-run, played flawless defense, all this in his blood. I would've taken the money too if my boss were as tight and humorless as Comiskey, my boy just went along, just wanted to play his game, just wanted to hit that ball.
There's books, all the books say it ain't so. But they just don't get it, stuck in the dead rock of archaic laws. It's not my fault, I've done what I can.
So I got the sign on me, cold black ink in my shoulder, a message to no one. Just a small gesture begging justice, a few words to imprint a feeling I have, another passion to add to my string of passions.
And the gloves snap off: "That's it, it's done..." I walk quickly to the mirror, eyes wide open, thinking the word "hard-core." And there, etched into me:
Re-printed with permission from "Baseball and the 10,000 Things."
After a 20-year sabbatical from the world of baseball, Rick Lopez has returned. Follow his chronicled journey in "Baseball and the 10,000 Things" as part of "The Whole Shebang" at: http://www.bb10k.com/BB10k/BB10khome.html