She had been so distracted by trivial stuff–death, quarantine, widespread panic–that she’d completely lost sight of the looming possibility that threatened to bring an end to the lives we’d been living for the past twenty years.
“Any news?” she asked hesitantly, when I called to tell her I’d be on the 5:10 train.
“They’re stacking the dead like cordwood in Downtown Crossing . . .”
“I know that,” she said, confusing Boston with Italy. “I have the TV on the news all day.”
“Everybody who’s been paying attention knew it was coming.”
“Well, I’ve sort of been distracted.”
“You’ve got to keep your wits about you in a plague season.”
The line went silent, we said goodbye, but when I walked in the door an hour later she was holed up in a corner of the couch, a glass of chardonnay in her hand, obviously devastated.
“There, there,” I said.
“I mean–don’t cry. The Pats will pick up some hot young gun with the 199th pick in the draft, and things will be fine.”
“I’m not crying because I like him, I’m crying because I won’t have him to dislike anymore.”
So–it was a Richard Nixon kind of thing, “You won’t have me to kick around anymore.”
“I’ve never understood why you hate him so much,” I said.
“He’s such a suck-up, he never says anything at press conferences. Just a big you-know-what eating grin and blah-blah-blah.”
“We’ve gone over this before. He has to appear before reporters, but he can’t say anything that will get other teams riled up.”
Margaret Fuller: “At least he’s not going to an AFC East team.”
She looked down into her glass–not satisfied with my answer, but what was she going to do about it? We’ve always had a Margaret Fuller-Thomas Carlyle thing going with the Patriots: The moonstruck Fuller said “I accept the universe,” and when Carlyle heard about it, he said “She’d better.” She hated Brady with the fury of a thousand pep club members who will never displace the head cheerleader in the high school quarterback’s affections–but now he was gone.
“Cheer up,” I said. “I’m going to be home for the next two weeks . . .”
“How is that supposed to cheer me up?”
Carlyle: “Margaret is such a dingbat!”
“No, I mean cheer up, there’s lots of things on the Boston sports scene for you to hate.”
She sniffed, then looked up at me with those eyes made cornflower blue with the assistance of cutting edge soft contact lenses. “Like what?”
“Well, we have a wide receiver who grabbed a woman’s ass in a disco a few years back.”
I moved my head around to get a full frontal look at her. That seemed to cheer her up a bit. “I don’t think I ever knew that.”
“The Boston media didn’t count it against him.”
“Because you need good hands if you’re going to generate a lot of yards-after-the-catch.”
“They put up a memorial to Jackie Robinson at Fenway.”
“Who’s Jackie Robinson?”
“The first African-American baseball player.”
“But that’s a good thing.”
“No it’s not–they gave him a tryout 1945 that was a travesty of a mockery of a sham, and were the last team to integrate in 1959, so it was lip service.”
“Well, that was a long time ago. What are they supposed to do about it now?”
“They could name something after Pumpsie Green.”
Ted Williams, Pumpsie Green
“What’s a . . . Pumpsie Green.”
“It’s not a what, it’s a who. Elijah Jerry ‘Pumpsie’ Green was the first black player the Sox signed. I used to have a baseball card of him. He has a totally bitchin’ cool nickname, don’t ya think?”
“How did he get it?”
“Not even he knew, it was just something his mom called him.”
The absurdity of that factoid seemed to calm her down a bit. “Who’s the other player whose nickname you like–the one we saw in that restaurant in Newton?”
“You guess? Honey, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of you than that night when you went up to him when he was making suggestive remarks about every woman in the joint and got his autograph.”
She gave me that smile I love so much, the one that says “You’re an idiot, but you’re my idiot.”
“How did . . . Dennis . . . get his name?” she asked.
It’s sad as we age to see a loved one begin to forget basic facts of life that were once second nature, at the tip of tongue and finger. “I gave you a mnemonic device for that.”
“You come up with the weirdest ideas for presents,” she said. She’s still sore about a perfectly good Danish dish rack I brought back from the Wellesley Town Dump for her one Valentine’s Day.
“No, a way to help you remember. Who did I go see the night I borrowed your car to drive to Brandeis and you broke up with me.”
“I don’t know.”
“Jay McShann. And what was one of his big hits?”
“Give me a hint.”
“Hootie’s Ignorant Oil. And what’s ignorant oil?”
“Uh, sounds like oil for the ignorant.”
“Sorta. It’s what they call alcohol down south, because it makes you do stupid things.”
“So . . . Dennis got that name because he likes to drink.”
“That’s one possibility.”