With a great deal of trepidation, I have walked into Smokey’s. I don’t know anyone. I’ve never been anywhere close to it. It looks grimy, dark and god only knows what’s going on inside.
Why am I going here?
Because if I can’t attempt things that are hard, then why work this theme at all?
On the main TV, the US is playing Japan in women’s fastpitch softball, finals. US is up 3-0.
So it’s worse than I thought, because of all the sports I cannot stand, baseball is the one that I am not only most uncomfortable with, due to finding it savagely boring, it’s also represents one of those barriers for me into the world of the normal.
Baseball, though it may not quite have the status is once did, is still an iconic American sport and to be an American is, in part, to know things about baseball.
Except the last time I did anything that resembled baseball, I got hit in the nuts. And while football to the groin will always be football to the groin, baseball has always resembled a dense, boring mystery that I had to pretend to know about and absorb by osmosis, faking my way through masculine rituals and all the other bullshit that comes with sports that I suck at (which is pretty much all of them) growing up and now getting old, I never hesitated to take a shot at baseball when I could, in part to dissociate myself from the kinds of obsessives that I can’t talk to (though have plenty in common with) and in part because sports obsessives tend to view me with distain-though they have plenty in common with nerds.
So everything I know about America’s Pastime I have learned through absorption from my Mom and my brother-in-law.
And I shimmy up to the bar and ask what a man in a coat advertising plumbing services from across the street is drinking. Which is how I end up with a Rolling Rock, watching women’s fastpitch.
In Smokey’s there is one pool table, a pinball machine that hasn’t been turned on in I don’t know how long, as bar stools sitting in front of it and what appears to be a small water heater sitting on top of them cut off the possibility of playing the machine, and every single wall seems to be part of the definition of cheap. Fake brick around the lights, cheap walls from the 60’s, splotty paint and plaster covering various holes: I wonder for a moment if Smokey’s was ever a nice tavern, where the locals came, celebrated and went back to their homes.
Now it seems a little sad, surviving on a crew of people I do not understand…but are friendly to me. I fake baseball knowledge, I watch plays and I listen. Guys with unlit cigarettes hanging from their lips chat and are OK with me talking to them about the game. The young punks who come in to play video poker have smiles for the old guys at the bar, under their tough veneers and edges born of being poor.
I could stay here and have another. The bartender even asks if I want another, and I have the feeling that if he didn’t think I was alright, he wouldn’t ask. But I have to go; the theme demands it and honestly, I’m just glad that things didn’t play into what I was afraid of.
It’s a good lesson for not letting my scares run away with me. Go, check it out. Be nice. Have a beer. Listen. You might just enjoy yourself, internet pundits be damned.