Friday, November 23, 2007
Proctor's Orders (Mensa, part 3 of 4)
Only one other English word can be made from all the letters of INSATIABLE. What is it?
Sunday, June 10. 9:30 am.
I enter the testing room where about twenty other wanna-be Smartypants are seated at a bunch of long tables. Answer sheets are passed out: multiple choice. Jesus Christ, this is going to be like taking candy from a baby. They pass out Number 2 pencils. Are there any other kind? I take a peek at my test booklet. Lots of math and English questions. Lots of pictures, too. Baroque little analogy puzzles. Pictures, for fuck's sake. Was this the room for the Baby Mensa test? I wept thinking about all the high IQ pussy I was gonna get.
The proctor reads from a rule book:
"Make sure you fill in each circle completely otherwise it will not be counted."
"Do not write in the test booklet. Use scrap paper."
"You may not go back and complete a section once we have finished with it."
"There is no penalty for guessing."
That last one hits me like a thunderbolt.
No penalty for guessing.......
The proctor says, "Are there any questions before we begin?"
At this point I must reflect on a moment in my childhood that sealed the books on my future as a member of Mensa. In fact, my entire life may have gone in a different direction if I had only learned early on that there is no such thing as a stupid question.
When I was about twelve years old, I was on a Little League team, the White Sox. Our uniforms and hats were green. Early on in the season I was handed a grey, broken-in first baseman's glove from the equipment bag and told to play first base. Apparently our regular first baseman had been grounded for stealing a Playboy from the X-tra Mart. This glove was a gem. The leather was soft and soothing and it wrapped around my hand like new layer of skin. A first baseman's glove is wide and deep, like having a laundry basket on the end of your arm. It's hard to miss the ball if it's thrown even remotely in your direction. First base is also relatively easy to play. For the most part, you run to first, step on the bag and stick your hand in the air. A moron could play it.
I made the All-Star team that year.
At bat I was....decent. I'm the kid who just swung for the fences every time. If you keep doing that--no matter how bad of a strategy that is--you're going to improve. Well, I had pretty much been swinging the exact same way since I was eight, and I had perfected a powerful but aimless rip. If the pitcher threw it nice and slow and right down the middle, you could kiss that bitch goodbye. It worked about 25% of the time which meant that I was actually one of the better hitters on the team, but since my skill at the plate was limited, I was never involved in any "strategic moments." They just sent me up there and hoped for the best. I don't remember ever being called upon to bunt or take the pitch.
And it's a good thing, too, because I never really understood what "take the pitch" meant. And I was too embarrassed to ask. I tried to figure it out all by myself, but instead of watching what a guy did at the plate when he was told to take the pitch, I'd be on the bench rocking back and forth, trying to figure out what "take the pitch" meant.
After weeks of undercover work, I noticed that they would only tell guys to do it when they were...at bat. "Bunt" meant bunt, I was positive of that, so the only things you could do at the plate was either swing...or don't swing. Using my keen sense of deductive reasoning and my grasp of modern American slang rather than my powers of observation (i.e. being AWARE of my world instead of living in a self-involved fog), I came to the conclusion that "take the pitch" meant "take a swing at the pitch."
Take a cut.
Take a chance.
See what happens.
I found this concept very positive and encouraging in a general sense, but not very much so when it came to my own role in the success of the team. Why had I never before been asked to take the pitch? I felt they had little faith in me. I'd show them, boy...
Bottom of the ninth. Bases are loaded. Two outs. We're down by a run. We need one to tie, two to win and advance to the championship game where we will play the White Sox (from another town).
My knees are trembling as I walk toward the batter's box. I look across the plate, past the on deck circle to the dugout where our coach, Paulie Walnuts, is standing behind the chain-link fence barrier scratching his crotch and picking his ear simultaneously, a feat of dexterity which I did not think he was capable of. Paulie Walnuts is a hot-headed Italian guy whose idea of coaching is to whip the fungo bat at our ankles like a snapped rotor blade from a Black Hawk helicopter. He calls it "the vaffancul bat."
So I step up to the plate and I'm watching Paulie Walnuts do his scratching/picking thing and he's looking right at me the whole time, his aviator shades hiding his eyes, his cap resting just oh-so gently on the top of his hairdo, giving him about six inches of extra height. Scratch, pick, scratch, pick.
He's giving me a sign. Guess which one.
"Holy fucking fuckcocker," I think. (I was new to cursing) "This is terrific! Pressure's off! Now I don't have to decide whether to swing or not. Coach just ordered me to swing at the first pitch. So be it."
I stare down the pitcher, wishing I was wearing my glasses. Bring the heat, piss-shitter.
The pitcher rears back and launches one, a wild throw that soars over the backstop and into the parking lot. I'm too busy swinging to notice. Strike One. A collective groan from my dugout and the crowd. I gather up a fistful of grape flavored Big League Chew and stuff it into my cheek. Paulie Walnuts screams my name, a look of utter disbelief on his face, as if I had just stuffed the bat up my ass. He scratches his crotch and picks his ear with such exaggerated force that I worry he might end up putting himself in the hospital. Obviously he wants me to take a BIG FAT CUT at the next pitch. I blast a lakeful of purple spit onto home plate and throw Coach Walnuts a conspiratorial wink which, in retrospect, must have looked like the beginning of an epileptic fit. I'm sure he would have preferred that to what happened next.
The pitcher throws one right down the middle and I swing so hard that I spin myself right out of my Roos. Strike Two. In the dugout Paulie Walnuts is eating his own hair. My teammates are lunging at the chain link fence, thrashing it like prisoners about to riot. Walnuts starts tapping the vaffancul bat against his open palm, staring at me with murderous intensity.
"The fuck is their problem?" I think. "I can only do so much up here."
Paulie Walnuts screams at the top of his lungs, "MARK! DON'T......SWING!"
The moment stands there in time.
My only thought: "So THAAAAAT'S what 'take the pitch' means."
Everyone's watching me have my Moment of Clarity. The other team realizes how big of an asswipe they have in the batter's box. My father searches for the cyanide capsule that he saved from Korea. My mother frets. Of course if I had hit a grand slam she would be fretting as well, worried that I might catch a cold as I rounded the bases.
The catcher tosses the ball back to the mound and says, "Throw it right down the middle, Stevie. He's not gonna swing."
Stevie does just that. Strike Three. Game over. The shame and regret fills my skull like thick mucus and I feel I might drown. I stand there as the other team runs around whooping and cheering, throwing their gloves in the air. I'm frozen, stunned at my own stupidity, tears welling up in my eyes. My teammates walk out of the dugout and don't speak to me. Paulie Walnuts comes over and pats me on the shoulder. I look down at the ground and head for the parking lot. I can hardly see. There's a loud hum inside my head and my jaw feels like it's about to snap away from my skull. Parents are looking at me, but I don't say anything and neither do they. Straight to the car. It's locked. I yank at the handle, desperate to hide on the floor of the backseat. My father comes over and unlocks the door. I get inside and just stare out the window. No one in my family says anything for a few minutes, not even my mother, a world record to this day. I cry quietly in the backseat all the way home, hoping my sister isn't staring at me.
We don't even fucking stop for ice cream. Dad tries to drop me off in an apple orchard and drive away, but mom is adamant about taking me home and tries in vain to defend me: "Well, I think they should outlaw those crazy signals. What is this, the Navy?"
I never played baseball again. If only I had asked Paulie Walnuts what "take the pitch" meant....I would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now.
NEXT: Part 4, The Stupefying Conclusion